Downstream On The Yangtze River

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May 9th 2010
Published: May 9th 2010
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Chongqing is said to be one of the three furnaces of China, when I got there it was already 35 degrees and only nine in the morning. The city is massive, all I could see as I left the train station were high rises, and the sky was depressingly gray and hazy due to such pollution. Thirty million people are said to live in the municipality, that's almost as much as the population of Canada! I counted over sixty cranes at work on my way from the station to the downtown area. China is growing at such an insane rate that all you really see looking around any city are the multitudes of cranes hard at work. I've never seen such a thing in all my life.

I got to the hostel where I booked my ticket aboard a Chinese cruise ship to go along the Yangtze River or Chang Jian as it's known in Chinese. I figured it'd be nice to travel by boat once again and take a break from buses and trains, which had already combined for a total of hundreds of hours of travel on this trip. I walked a small area of Chingqing and got some supplies from a supermarket so that I wouldn't have to spend on overpriced food on the ship. That evening I arrived at the port and boarded. I was in a four bed dorm, in second class. I very friendly Chinese family shared the room with me and had another next door. There was the grandparents, the husband and wife, uncle and his girlfriend, and two sons. One of the sons was a ten year old who seemed intrigued with me, I guess he never saw many westerners. His English was passable, and I was able to communicate with him, unlike the others, who could hardly speak a work. His English name
was Michael, which he chose because of Michael Jackson. He taught me some basic Mandarin and I corrected some English of his. They had a laptop and we watched a lot of this mini-series called Sparticus which was brutally graphic but very well made! I met two Ozzies aboard, we were the only foreigners on the ship. I explored the boat a bit, it wasn'y big by any means nor that luxurious but the way I've been traveling it was very comfortable for me.

The Yangtze river (literally meaning long river) is said to be the birthplace of Chinese civilization. It is the longest river in China and all of Asia, over six thousand km long, running from Qinghai Province until Shanghai in the East China Sea. We arrived early morning at Fengdu Ghost City, built long ago and modeled after the Chinese Hell of Taoist mythology. The place comprised different temples, ghoulish statues and gates and even had a cheesy fun house-esque display within displaying horrish scenes of hell. The weather on this day and unfortunately for the rest of the cruise was dreary and rainy. Although fittingly it worked well for this sort of place. The rest of the day I relaxed, read, and looked on at the river. They watched me do pushups in the evening and then all tried their hand at them (Chinese people rarely exercise), I gave them some tips and they would be quite sore the next day!

The next morning, in the company of more rain, I explored the White City, more temples and such and I was tired and not interested in the place. It had nice cloudy hills surrounding it though. The real meat of this cruise however was a few hours later when we boarded a smaller boat and explored the lesser three gorges, beautiful scenery with menacing cliffs on the either side of the gorges. The water was a pretty shade of light green and we cruised along the gorges for a few hours, taking in the views. We got on these small rafts and explored a smaller section of the gorge, while some local guide explained things to which I had no understanding. It was a long day and in the evening I wanted to take it easy. The middle aged Chinese father took out his laptop and, using google translation technology, we were finally able to communicate directly, the program seems to be getting way better than I remember when I tried it years ago for English-Spanish translations!

The Chinese family was concerned because they always saw me eating instant noodles and invited me with them to have dinner at the restaurant on board. The food was quite nice, Chinese communal fare, lots of rice and tofu, veggies, eggs, and eggplant. They had a bottle of liqueur as well. I think they were impressed at how much I was able to eat, and while I insisted to pay my share the father wouldn't take my money. I was grateful for the invite. That evening I played games on my Ipod and everytime I messed up I would yell out "Shit!" Soon after Mike, who was playing on his PSP, was yelling out "Shit!" as well, LOL! I'm a bad influnece to kids...

On the final day, I awoke late and grabbed my gear, the cruise was over and we were to transfer to a bus to visit the famous Three Gorges Dam, which was known as the biggest hydroelectric dam in the world and was controversial to many Chinese and beyond. Luckily we got a guide who was able to speak quite good English so instead of being lost at what was going on around me I was actually able to get some proper facts this time. The Dam had been in the planning for some seventy-five years. Its power output was enough to light up three New York Cities! Twenty-Six generators powered it, and the biggest ship locks in the world were built to shuttle traffic through as well. China long stated that the dam was imperative to their growing energy demands and would save the environment by reducing the amount of coal consumtion of the country, always a good thing. Also it would prevent flooding along the Yangtze that had always been a big problem. On the other hand, many critics stated that the dam was destroying biodiversity and the sad fact that 1.3 million people had been displaced by its contruction and whole towns were submerged and lost forever. Still I guess there are always pros and cons to anything. The dam was massive but sadly due to such bad weather, came out as very hazy in my photos.

After the dam tour I got on a bus and headed to the town of Yichang (pop. 4 million), and then from there took a five hour bus ride to the giant town of Wuhan (pop. 9 million). Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province and one of China's most populous cities, a traditional port city and was once three seperate cities that eventually merged. Again the pollution in the city is quite visible and skyscrapers dot the landscape.

Getting off the bus, I was quite lost, as the driver just dumped us off on the side of a highway instead of a bus station late at night. I went up to some young and pretty Chinese girl, and although couldn't speak a word of English, seemed like she was heading in the same direction as me and was willing to help me out. I followed her along two buses as she spoke to me in Mandarin and I didn't understand a thing she said. My saving grace was my English-Mandarin phrase book which at least allowed the exchange of a few sentences. She seemed quite stressed though, I guess she was late for something. After pointing me in the right direction she gave me her phone number, which was sadly useless since I don't have a Chinese phone and ran to parts unknown.

I got lost soon after again and asked this other Chinese chick for help. Thankfully this one actually spoke decent English. I checked in at the hostel and noticed she was hanging around and asked if I wanted to eat. Famished as I was I agreed, and along the way she told me that this area of Wuhan had lots of Universities. Her's was some Uni of Fine Arts and we walked through it. I was shown some of the artwork that they made, some of it was this really weird and abstract stuff. Some of her classmates were welding bits of metal together and creating certain abominations I couldn't relate to.
We ended up getting food and then she bought me green tea which was cool. I hung out for a while more before taking off and getting some sleep.

Today I update my blogs, then will try to walk a bit of Wuhan before going on the road once again...

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