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Published: October 10th 2012
Oct. 8. Last night we boarded our Yangtze cruise boat, the Victoria Jenna, in Chongqing, by some measures the largest city in the world with 33 million people. Fortunately, we passed through the city at midnight, so we weren't held up by any traffic here. I can't imagine what that must be like!
You may have heard of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze, largest dam in the world and controversial because it displaced over a million people and flooded a huge area of farmland and animal habitat. In the town of Fengdu we met with a woman whose family was relocated. In 1998 when the dam was completed, her family had the choice of moving to a big city, to a town in the same province, or just "uphill" from their old adobe home. They chose the second option. She changed her job from farming to running a store, and she bought a three-story cement block house for her husband, herself, and her son's family of four, using the compensation money from the government. Although occasionally nostalgic for the village they had to abandon, she finds her life much more prosperous and happier now. Getting one's
livelihood by raising vegetables on half an acre could not have been easy. This, plus the fact that she can remember a flood in 1980 that destroyed their previous home, made her quite satisfied with the dam construction! Perhaps others whom we didn't talk to were not so happy, but we saw lots of new homes along the river that are probably an improvement on what had been there before. Now the river is "tamed" and navigable for large boats, so tourism has greatly increased, bringing more prosperity.
Oct. 9. If I could take you all along for any part of the trip I think I would choose this part as the most beautiful. And there is plenty of room for you. Our ship holds 400 passengers but has only about 80 on board. Such luxury! Cabins are as nice as any we've had on other cruises, and everything is new and clean. We all breathed a sigh of relief after imagining something like the train accommodations.
There are three narrow sections or gorges that we pass through on this cruise from Chongqing to Yichang (hence the name of the dam), the Qufang, the
Wukia, and the Xiling. Think of Franconia Notch with a wide river running through it, and you get something of the idea. Many Chinese landscape paintings depict the scenery of the gorges, and the fog that swirls around the peaks is a near-constant feature, one that we saw today, too. At first we were disappointed by the foggy weather, but I think overall it added authenticity and even majesty. We saw the sun coming up as a golden ball through the clouds of the first gorge, and after we had been passing through the longer second gorge for about 45 minutes, most people left the windy observation deck to go below. I stayed out and put Handel's Messiah on my headphones.
"Lift up your heads, oh ye gates! And be lifted up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in." Unforgettable!
Later in the day we were taken up a small tributary, Shennong Stream, in little sampan, or peapod, boats propelled by five oarsmen. We were treated to the sight of a group of Rhesus monkeys on the bank! At one point our boatmen got out on shore and pulled the boat along
with ropes to demonstrate what their Tujia ancestors used to do for a living, towing boats against what was then the strong and dangerous current. Sometimes fifty or more men would lash themselves together and claw their way along the steep mountainside, occasionally losing the battle against the current and being pulled into the river and drowned. Think of that before complaining about a tough work environment!
At night we reached the dam itself and passed through the five huge locks, each one taking about 40 minutes. As big as our ship was, there were about five other boats that also went through each lock with ours. The set of locks lowered us from about 175 meters above sea level to about 80. We were impressed with the precision achieved by our captain in guiding the ship to within about two feet of the wall of the lock without scraping!
The next morning, Oct. 10, we took a short bus ride to view the dam and lock system from above at a beautifully landscaped visitor center reached by four long outdoor escalators. Today the weather was warm and sunny, although still very "hazy" (smoggy?).
The dam cost $30 billion to build and employed 20,000 people, half of whom were women working as welders and "Cat" drivers, preferred to men for their work ethic and lower propensity to drink or smoke. According to local guide Jack, there were 0 driving accidents! Actually, we've seen few bars and little indication of alcohol consumption on this trip - wish we could say the same for cigarettes.
Back at the Jenna we had our last lunch on board, a nice mix of Chinese and western foods, and we had to say goodbye to our phenomenal waiter, Lance, who memorized our preferences from day 1 and anticipated every need (aside from being ever-so-adorable and looking about sixteen). Next up: five-hour bus ride to Wuhan, quick overnight stay at Central International Hotel, then flight to Hong Kong.
Here's one for the Small World annals. On our ship is an Aussie group from Canberra, and one of the women is a co-worker of our good friend John Lovering. G'day, John!
Ship Victoria Jenna
Three Gorges Dam
Going through the locks
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