De Wuv Boat

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December 7th 2014
Published: September 30th 2017
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Today's title is courtesy of Kamie. It is his Mandarin pronunciation of "The Love Boat."

Today was another interesting, funny, and long day in China! We were up around 5:30am... showered, dressed, and suitcases packed. We ate another fishy egg with toast breakfast and then put our checked bags outside of our room with our tour group luggage tags attached.

After breakfast this morning I got tickled and it was because of Newman - he is free entertainment for us. He immediately started telling us he was buying a tea set for some friends getting married. As we were looking at the tea set we were all waiting to check-out of our rooms and he tells us he almost started a fire in his room and short-circuited one of the outlets so he was waiting to see if they were going to make him pay for it. His explanation of how this happened to him was hilarious. I started grinning, then laughing, and then I just rolled. That guy.

We then met at 9am for our Hutong and rickshaw tour. This was an optional small group tour. We left the hotel at 9am and drove to the Hutong area of Beijing. Hutongs are the way most middled-aged and older Chinese grew-up living - one story homes with tiny alleyways and in courtyards. Jason, our guide, 31 years old, lived in one of these courtyards with his family and seven other families. His grandparents had seven kids at the time and then when his dad, the oldest in the family, got married, he brought his wife in to the hutong. One hutong family fixed food together, showered in a public shower together and used the bathroom facilities in public bathroom facilities together. The tiny courtyards were for all families to use. Basically, they were crammed together in these tiny areas to live and that is the way it pretty much was until the 1990s. Seventeen percent of Chinese used to live in tall apartment buildings and today it is over 80-some percent live in tall apartment buildings. Jason explained his life growing-up in a Hutong - the goods and the bads. It is an old style of living that is going-away now. The government has chosen to tear down most of the Hutong areas and build tall apartment buildings. Jason's family was displaced from their family Hutong in 2000. It is now tall apartment buildings. There are only two Hutong areas left in Beijing and they are now government controlled - the government pays someone to pick-up the trash in the alleyways, the government pays someone to clean the public toilets (there is one every 80 meters), and the government put in electricity (for heat and cooling) in 2007 before the 2008 Olympics. Electricity is expensive so the government subsidizes 60 percent of most of the remaining Hutongs bills. There is soooo much to say about the Hutongs but here is what I thought: it is an old style of living that is now full of old people, some very poor people who have no choice, and some people "not right" (as we saw). Yes, there are some rich people who live in the Hutongs to this day but that is because they are old rich people and that is the only type of life they know. Chinese superstitution says the lower you are to the ground (living) the stronger your feet are planted so you will grow to be more successful. The young Chinese today, Jason and his wife, for example, choose to live in their own apartments and do not choose to live with their parents. Today's tour was interesting and smelly - we saw meat hanging outside to dry today in some hutongs and the sewer system does not work well in this area which both probably contributed to the smell. We initially took a rickshaw ride (talk about a rickety ride) through the poorer areas back to the inner Hutongs. Then we walked through some of the Hutong areas and Jason explained what the markings, etc on the outside of the doors meant. We then went to a home hosted visited with a genuine kind man who welcomed us into his home with hot green tea, warm prune and chestnut cookies, smiles, and lots of interesting information. He was approved by the Communist government, after retirement at age 55, to welcome foreigners into his home. He is paid for doing this and must attend meetings to know what he can or cannot say to us. This is his retirement income and you can tell he enjoys having us in his home. It was Sunday today so his wife was at their son's house cooking for his son and his son's new wife at their apartment. This man was very sad that his son had chosen not to live in the Hutong with them but instead, had purchased an apartment in another part of the city with his new wife... because the son wanted to avoid "trouble." It was clear that the Hutongs might not be crime free. There was even a police station in the Hutong area we visited. Lots and lots of interesting information this morning.

By the way, the Chinese have washers (most of them) but noone has a dryer. All of the Hutongs, apartments, everywhere - there are clothes hanging outside to dry even in 30 degree (or colder) weather. While we were in Beijing we were very lucky according to our tour guide because there had been a huge wind so no smog, sunny blue skies, and clear air. It was only today that the smog rolled-in and we could see what it might really become like. Having said that, the cars everywhere are covered in a smoggy dust. Can you imagine how their clothes are "clean" or not?

After another rickshaw ride back to the outer area, we walked to a pharmacy, we saw one side was over-the-counter medicines, another side was prescription medicines, and then we were taken to the back where they sell Chinese herbal medicines. It was interesting. It smelled pleasant back there. Customers order different items by weight, the scale was sitting on the counter. Jason said Chinese medicines have no side effects and he was very much a fan of this type of medicine.

After our Hutong tour we were taken back to the hotel, grabbed our carry-on bags and checked-out of the hotel. We were all then taken to a different area of Beijing that we had not seen before - a more hip area full of apartments and more younger people. We ate a restaurant very popular with the locals. Today our spinny table was full of spicy foods. It was my favorite meal - spicy chicken with peanuts (kung pao I believe), spicy noodles, and some extra spicy potatoes with okra which set my mouth on fire but I liked it. I had some steamed rice, some flaming hot green beans (really good), and a few other items too. Kamie had all this and some other oddities like pork-filled eggplant and any other odd looking thing they put on the table. We had a contest before lunch to see who could grab the most red-skinned peanuts with their chopsticks in one minute. Everyone grabbed at the same time. It was hilarious chaos. Kamie tied for second at our table with 16 peanuts. I gave-up at about five. We were told today the red-skinned peanuts are good for your blood and if you are giving birth and need extra blood, you should eat red-skinned peanuts. Well, they go well with the beer they served us. Hot tea, beer, and Coke were the drink offerings today. I stuck with the beer as the hot tea today was not good.

We were then transferred to the Beijing airport to fly to Yichang ~ the starting point of our four night upstream river cruise. Yichang is pronounced E-Chang. We walked into the Beijing airport and saw it from a different perspective than we did when we had arrived late at night a few days ago. It is impressive. We all sorta "aaahhed" when we walked-in. It is an architectural marvel. We went through security and they took all of Kamie's lighters. He was not happy. We then took a 5pm flight from Beijing to YiChang but we sat on the runway

The number of electrical boxes is how many family lives in that one little courtyard of 4 rooms
for almost 30 minutes waiting to take-off as the airport was busy tonight. Kamie had a middle seat, I had a window seat and a random Chinese guy had the aisle seat. It was just over a 2 hour flight so no biggie. They actually served a meal but we were not hungry and did not eat. Kamie slept. I slept a bit and then started reading my Kindle and then the stewardess came and told me my window must be opened. It was pitch black outside. Air China is the only airline I've ever flown that tells you when you can or cannot have your windows open to the outside.

Just a couple of quick last notes about Beijing first ~ last night they turned the heat on in the hotel (we had been freezing, sleeping in sleep pants, t-shirts and sweatshirts). The Chinese government controls what day the heat is turned on and off. It was very hot so we opened our windows which face the restaurants on the side of the street - and all night long we heard cats crying. Not mating. Crying. It was terrible. We have not seen a single cat on the streets so after my dark and stringy chicken yesterday my imagination went wild. Even Kamie was disturbed by the crying. Meh. The next morning we were told by two other couples that the restaurant they went to across the street was serving "cat ears" on the menu. I discussed this with Jason and he said "yeah" - it was no big deal to him. He said if it has four legs, they will eat it.

So,more about Beijing... we were told everything we said in our hotel rooms would be monitored and I will touch on that and say it's a good thing we are not paranoid. There was a green box next to our TV that lit-up everytime we coughed or talked. Who knows, right?? As for the rooms, we were told to not leave anything laying out while we were gone for the day and always lock-up our suitcases and use our safe for money, computers, etc. There was a very large safe in our hall closet. However, we chose the safe code and locked the safe with our belongings. We got back late from touring (around 9pm) so I was asleep by 10pm and woke-up at 1:30am and
Double Happiness Sign outside Hutong...Double Happiness Sign outside Hutong...Double Happiness Sign outside Hutong...

...means someone in the Hutong just got married
wanted my laptop from the safe - and the code had been changed. I called housekeeping - she came up - I pointed, she called someone, a guy who was clearly woke-up came-up with a machine and unlocked our safe. At around 2am. No shame in their game unlocking it and changing the code so no shame in mine making them unlock it in the middle of the night. Good thing we have nothing to hide.

Back to Yichang... we arrived, we were escorted to our tour bus, and about 45 minutes later we saw our cruise ship. I wish the ride from the airport to the boat would have been in the day. This area is definitely very different from Beijing from what I could see - hilly area. I also noticed we took two toll highways to get to the cruise port. Once we got off the bus I was impressed with our ship. It looks beautiful, lit-up and much more modern than I expected. It is Victoria Cruises Sophia riverboat. It has six passenger decks, all with balconies. There are 121 people onboard and maximum capacity is 220ish. Good for us! We were walked onboard with a band playing then we were all sat in the dining room (very nice) and given hot tea and a "Welcome Aboard" speech. We were finally given our room keys and our bags were delivered to our rooms. We were in our rooms by 9:30pm/10pm and alseep shortly thereafter. Kamie got a lighter from the captain who also smokes. Kamie can only smoke on the balcony and other outside areas of the ship. Good.

Our room... so far... well... Kamie calls it De Wuv Boat because we have two tiny single beds - separated by a sliding glass door to the balcony so we can't put them together. He is over in his little bed snoring right now as I write this. We have a TV I don't think works yet, a small desk, a microwave and frig, two tiny closets, and a small, somewhat older bathroom. Everything smells like bleach in the bathroom - too much, actually. It actually smells like the bleach is hiding a sewer smell. Eh. The balcony is big and nice and there is no separation between balconies so we could walk all the way down the side of the ship on balconies if we wanted. We can see just a tiny bit in the dark and we are clearly looking directly at the mountainside. This is going to be interesting.

One remarkable thing happened to us yesterday. When we booked this trip it said you can pay $60 extra per person to upgrade from a Cabin C to Cabin B. You could pay $100 extra per person to upgrade from Cabin C to Cabin A. The difference between Cabin C and Cabins A or B was listed as a higher deck and a fruit basket. We heard the river had a bad smell so we wanted a higher deck so we paid the $60 extra per person and booked for a Cabin B. What luck that was! We got a cabin on a higher deck but we also get free Internet, free sodas, free happy hour with liquor daily, free laundry service each day, free tea and cookies each day, and we get to eat in the Executive dining room each day for our meals - we actually get to order dinner every night from a menu instead of sitting at another spinny table. For a measly $60 extra per person. Only five of us on this trip signed-up for this (we are traveling with some real cheapskates despite 7 of the men traveling with us being private air pilots) and when they told us about the amenity package, a couple of couples tried to upgrade their cabin. The cost to upgrade now is $79 per person. We lucked-out on that deal for sure. The Internet for the cruise is $25 and we would have been paying 8 Yuan for each bottled water plus buying Sprite, etc. Money well spent. The fruit basket, however, is questionable at best and we are so not eating any of it! Also, I brought a tiny can of "human-friendly" OFF spray for bugs and I'm glad I did!! There are little bugs flying in our room (no screen) through the door so I am going to spray down our balcony, our sliding door, and our room. Bugs be gone!

I'll write more tomorrow, hopefully. They state that Internet access is sporadic through the gorges. Today has been a long, interesting day.


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