Chongqing Province (pop 40 million)
Chongqing is a relatively new province close to the centre of Eastern China, having split from Sichuan in 1997. It is home to the mighty Yangzi River that has carved out one of China’s greatest natural wonders, the magnificent Three Gorges. Because of the importance of the Yangzi, it has had strategic military importance over many centuries. Its capital is Chongqing City (formerly known as Chungking), a megalopolis that is one of the fastest growing cities in China.
History. Stone tools unearthed in the Yangzi River valleys show that humanoids lived here two million years ago. The ancient Ba kingdom ruled here for more than 2000 years before subsequent Qin, Sui and southern Song dynasty rulers took over. From 1938-1945, Chongqing city was the Kuomintang’s wartime capital. Refugees from all over China flooded into the city during WWII. More followed when construction of the Three Gorges Dam forced more than one million people to be relocated.
The city was the focus of attention in 2012 for its role in one of modern China’s biggest political scandals, when Gu Kailai, the wife of Chongqing’s Communist Party boss Bo Xilai, was convicted of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood. Allegations of corruption, extortion and even espionage surrounded the case. Bo was stripped of his office and eventually expelled from the Communist Party.
I caught the 14:50 bus from Zigong, Sichuan (only two buses per day, the other at 08:00) to go three hours to Dazu in the far western part of Chongqing province. It is near the Unesco listed Dazu Buddhist Rock Carvings. Whenever you pass through any city, it’s amazing to see all the high-rise apartments and the sea of cranes building new ones. This is hilly country with orchards and small, planted fields. Every square inch of ground is growing something. This might be expected with so many mouths to feed and so little arable land that is rapidly being consumed by urbanization.
I then experienced one of the most screwed up evenings of my traveling life. Thinking that I was arriving at the new Dazu bus station, I hitched a ride on a motorcycle to the old bus station as all the directions were from there. It turned out that the bus had arrived at the old station in the first place. The motorcycle driver thought I was a fool.
The only recommended hotel (that was just 50m from the bus station) had no rooms. So I started to walk around to find one. After 3 hotels had no rooms, a fellow offered to find a hotel for me, hailed a cab and jumped in with me! It became apparent that we were going a long way and I had no desire to pay for the presumed expensive hotel, or stay a long way from the bus station, so I got out, apologized to the nice fellow (who was now a long way from where we started) and started looking for a place to stay. I was a little disoriented but thought I could find my way back towards the bus station. After 3 more hotel refusals, I was getting surprised that everything was booked in this, the off-season. A young woman in the lobby of hotel number 6 spoke some English and after a phone call to a friend who spoke better English, it became apparent that there were only 2 hotels in all of Dazu that were ‘eligible’ to have foreigners stay! So her and two friends drove me to one of those hotels (Cairns Queens Court Resort) and I got a room for the expensive (for me) price of 218¥ ($33). It’s funny when you have a problem finding something and obviously don’t know a word of Mandarin, they immediately start to write it out in Chinese script! Go figure.
She was very surprised that I came to China and didn’t know how to speak Mandarin. I explained that because it is a tonal language and the script was so different, Mandarin was very hard to learn. I also did not have a year or two to spare. She did not think that was a good excuse. She kindly wrote out all my transport connections to get to the caves. Most encounters with Chinese aren’t this positive, but I have had several wonderful helpers like this. They can save your bacon. I wasn’t certain where I was which I find difficult to deal with. One thing I have learned to say is thank-you: xie xie ni.
I went out to find something to eat. The only menus were in Mandarin with no pictures. The enthusiastic waitress took me to the refrigerator, we were joined by the cooks, I pointed to some kind of meat and vegetables and a stir-fry was whipped up. All the customers laughed at my flip-flops – I think they associate it with poverty. I was getting used to odd things by this point. I went to bed wondering what excitement was waiting for me in the morning. This is the adventure of independent travel. These ‘mini-epic’ occurrences are the ones that stay in your memory longest. Adds spice to the trip! Keep smiling.
I have been carrying stuff for breakfast: cereal (only available in Wal-Mart), instant coffee, sugar, margarine and jam, then buy milk and fruit most nights. I also have a cup, bowl, spoon and Swiss Army knife. All hotels and hostels have a kettle or hot water source. This has been a godsend and gives me a reasonable start to the day. When you order an ‘American’ breakfast at your hostel, you get one fried egg (poached is unknown – the idea of boiling eggs in water is very strange), no salt and pepper, white bread that is barely toasted, no butter or jam, and bacon that is barely cooked with a large amount of uncooked fat (make sure that you ask for it crispy – they won’t understand this but try anyway). I now carry margarine, jam, salt and pepper. They certainly add to the enjoyment.
I was also able to find a compass (a clunky thing and the only instructions were in English!), so I am now able to become orientated in the grey, sunless skies due to smog and also at night. I don’t understand how people with no direction sense can function. The skies mean that there is no need for sunscreen or sunglasses in China.
I find it interesting to watch most young travelers and their way of travel. Most do not carry a guidebook and miss many things. They traipse all over the place retracing their paths. They also don’t spend the money to see the good stuff. I have found my rough itinerary for seeing Eastern China that I did at home, and my large National Geographic map of China invaluable to plan routes. I end up seeing most everything I want to in an efficient way. I think I will succeed in my plan to finish this part of the country. These youth often criticize my rapid movement and think that they experience authentic travel more than me. But I doubt it. I walk all the streets and see a lot of the local scene.
I got into a discussion over this with two guys last night. I was up at 06:00 having a coffee and reading. These two guys came in from a night bar-hopping. Drunk, they wondered what I was doing up so early!! They said that they would sleep till 3 that afternoon. I guess that is what they mean by having a better cultural experience.
My friend, Leon, gave me hell for not seeing the fabulous Sichuan opera in Chengdu. It was my only evening in Chengdu and frankly, I forgot all about it. You can’t do it all.
Chinese are very obsessed with wealth and power. They pay for dinner and buy all the drinks – this is a Chinese custom but also one associated with showing wealth. They respect Westerners because we are viewed as being sophisticated and rich. They are also very brand-conscious, again viewed as associated with sophistication – that is why many (but not as many as other countries) of the stores are big brand names. This is especially apparent in the central square surrounding the clock tower/monument in Chongqing. All the buildings are covered with massive screens like Time Square and all the stores are the most exclusive brand names. But then again, you don’t see the sophisticated dress that you see in Russia, Japan or South Korea – that is, spike heels, short leather jackets, excessive thinness, great hair, perfect make-up. The fashion statement here is jeans with short-shorts/short skirts with leotards. Contrary to North America, where second-hand is almost cool, here they would only buy brand-new. No second-hand stores exist. It is not surprising that Chinese women look very much alike – all about 5’3”, similar body types, flat chested, and of course identical coloring, eyes and skin tones.
DAZU BUDDHIST ROCK CARVINGS
Don’t miss these. I have seen all things Buddha – Nepal, India, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos. Cambodia, Japan and now China – all the best and still have some places to see in Indonesia later this trip and Tibet possibly in the fall. I will have then seen them all. Even more than the 26 Mayan ruins I saw in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. But Dazu is one of the best. There are many sites around Dazu but only two are commonly visited and I did not go to the other, North Hill.
Baodingshan Rock Carvings (Treasured Summit Hill). Carved from 1174-1252, there are thousands of figures carved into a U-shaped cliff. Unesco World Heritage listed, they are the most recent of China’s best sites, but the artwork here is arguably the best. There are 14 big niches under overhangs and two caves with thousands (supposedly 50,000) figures depicting the entire Buddha story. Many still have original paint, mostly blues, reds and gold. The highlights are esoteric Buddhism, a depiction of Hell like in many Catholic churches (think torture, boiling cauldrons, and gruesome figures), the Buddhist happy world, parental love, the peacock king, nine dragons, water from a pond above is channeled into a dragon’s mouth bathing a baby Buddha, Buddha entering nirvana (a 31m lying Buddha with only the upper torso carved), and the most amazing one of all is a gold Avlokiteshvara (or Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy) with 1007 hands fanning out from her, entwined and reaching for the skies. Each hand has an eye, the symbol of wisdom. This is fronted by a wood temple and has been under renovation for the last 4 years so I had to show a lot of effort to see most of it). Following this are the three Huajin saints (one holds a 500kg pagoda in his hands – the sculpture cleverly uses draped clothing to support the arms), the Buddhist Wheel of Life, buffalos (10 water buffalos show the gradual process of taming mental activities), and finally the Cave of Enlightenment. It is quite a show.
After cresting the hill, there is a great temple. When I arrived, there were 4 monks chanting with at least 80 old women doing salutations. Outside were two groups of old ladies knitting and making cloth shoes. They were fun to josh with. It was then a long walk back along a road and the usual knick-knack stalls.
The site is 15km NE of Dazu and can be reached with bus #205, 20 minutes. I caught it at the Hong Yun Shang Ye Cheng bus stop (lists bus’ 101, 102,103 and then 205 on the back) that is on the south side of Huan Beibu Dongduan about 100m from the corner of Wuxing to the north and Dadao to the south. My hotel was 6 minutes south on the west side of Dadao. Admission was 135¥ ($22.50), the bus 3¥ (50¢!).
I caught the bus from the old bus station (bus #101 stops directly across from the hotel and then at the station) to Chongqing City. We went through an amazing number of very long tunnels in this very hilly countryside.
CHONGQING CITY (pop 32 million in the municipality, 7 million in the city proper making it the second largest city in the world after Tokyo).
Once a walled river fortress, it is the fastest growing city on the planet. Billions of yuan have gone into development, launching a major construction surge. Despite this, there is still an old-China atmosphere around the docks and hillside alleyways that link them to the rest of the city.
After arriving at the Caiyuanba Bus Station (the main one in Chongqing), I caught the metro to a stop in the center of the city. I had procrastinated on booking a cruise down the Yangzi to Three Gorges Dam because I was so unsure what I would end up with. So I and visited Harbor Plaza Travel Center to try to arrange a trip. Every thing on the luxury and tourists boats was booked for the next two days, but there was one bed (shared with someone in a two bed room) on Century River Cruises, supposedly the best of the luxury lines. For 2950¥ + 3% for the credit card, I grabbed it. They have English guides, include some of the tours offered from the boat, go through the locks of the dam, start from Chongqing and have good food. The other two luxury cruise lines are Viking (whose river trips are available only with their long tours through China. The Trip Advisor reviews were poor.), and Victoria (the cost began at $850 and included no tours but their boats are supposedly more luxurious as they have a swimming pool and basketball court, both of which I could care less about).
I stayed at the Yangzi River Hostel that is popular because it offers river cruises catering to the low-budget young backpacker. For 450¥ (less than ⅙th of my cost), they share a room with 6 bunks, get no meals, are on a ‘tourist’ boat, start after a 3-hour train trip to Wanshou skipping the first part of the voyage, have Chinese-speaking guides, get no tours, and don’t do through the locks of the dam. For 2200¥, they get meals and tours included. I think I am getting a better deal.
So I have 2 days off the tourist trail. In Chongqing, I visited: Huguang Guild Hall (a large, gorgeous museum complex that once served as a community headquarters for immigrants to Chongqing); Arhat Temple (a Buddhist temple now sandwiched between skyscrapers), and walked over the new Dongshuimen Bridge across the Yangzi (great views up and down the river with skyscrapers as far as the eye could see through the pollution haze). I then took the Yangzi River Cable Car back across to downtown (built in 1987, it is now kind of creaky). Dongshui Men is one of the two ancient city gates, all that is left of Chongqing’s once magnificent Ming dynasty city wall, which stretched 8km around the entire peninsula between the Jialing River and Yangzi River (more than 30m tall in some places, there were 17 gates punctuating the wall before demolition began in 1927). Stilt houses were once a common feature of Chongqing, rising vertically instead of horizontally to save space on the mountainsides, and now only a few crumbling vestiges remain. And finally the Three Gorges Museum that showcases the cultural relics flooded by the dam along with a great scale model of the river and gorge. The two most interesting things in the museum were the plank roads built along the cliffs and the crews of boat trackers – the small armies of men charged with pulling the boats upstream. There were many great pictures taken in 1910-1912 by the American Luther Knight and the German Fritz Weis.
Chongqing is famous for its bangbang army, porters who could carry their body weight up and down the hills from the docks using a bamboo pole or bangbang. They have been around for hundreds of years but their numbers exploded to 100,000 or more when a million poor, uneducated people were resettled from the Yangzi River valley with the building of the dam. Earning 30¥ per day, its surprising they still thrive in modern China as an integral part of the alley-way riddled areas of the cities.
Chongqing is a confusing city to navigate as there are so many circular streets and no grid system. I kept walking the same circuitous route back to my hostel trying to follow the few landmarks I could remember. I bet dollars to doughnuts that I am the only person in this city of 30 million wearing shorts and flip flops. People point and laugh. Maybe they don’t have hair on their legs to keep warm?
Chinese are the least intuitive people I have ever met. Try to get the ingredients spread evenly on your Subway club sandwich is impossible. Your Big Mac comes with only two pickles (always stacked on top of each other) and try to get more. Try to buy 3 or 4 bananas instead of 15 or 4 oranges instead of 20. It always ends in some kind of argument. They lack patience in all these interactions. My patience gets tried too, if you can believe that. They can’t believe it when I simply walk away.
CRUISING THE YANGZI
This is China’s longest and most scenically impressive river. The world’s third longest river, it starts in the mountains of Qinghai Province (north of Tibet) and flows 6300kms through seven provinces to end in the Pacific north of Shanghai. The Three Gorges, with the Terracotta Warriors and the Great Wall, are the big three in China. Astonishing panoramas slide past. The journey is more important than the destination.
It is a welcome break from all the land travel. Both October and November are good months to go. The temperatures are cooler and the crowds slightly smaller (April and May have the best weather and the highest prices). The natural scenery is far more dramatic than its historical sights. Riverside towns are modern rather than old and charming.
My boat, the Century Star was only a three-minute walk from the front door of my hostel, check in was lightning fast, and I had a look around. It had six floors with an open top deck with a large glassed-in bar. True to advertising, it was very swanky. My two-bed room was tastefully appointed with an en suite bathroom, comfortable beds, small but lovely balconies and 5 English channels on the TV. There are 181 passengers.
We left the dock at 21:30. The views of the city were impressive – massive modern suspension bridges and neon lit skyscrapers. There is nothing small-time in modern China. I was the only non-Chinese on board and I prepared for a quiet trip. After a while, there were only three of us on the top deck as we have missed the Captain’s opening party. With minimal English, when it is determined that we are all doctors, they shook hands. Chongqing was left behind in about 40 minutes. The river has no flow and even though Chongqing is 660km from the Three Gorges Dam, I assume the reservoir reaches this far.
On deck 5, I am introduced to his group of eight doctors, all from the same hospital in Chongqing on a trip together. Four are playing ma jong on a deluxe mechanical table. A small centre piece pops up and all the tiles are dumped in and the second set of tiles is delivered. The first set is shuffled inside ready for the next game. The dice are rolled mechanically in the pop up bit to start the game. I have played before and catch on quickly but it has been a long time and they are impatient about explaining the intricacies in their basic English. I don’t understand the way money changes hands at the end. Down in my room on the fourth floor I met my roommate, a balding Chinese guy in his fifties. His English is zero and interaction minimal. He offered me whiskey and as I rarely drink, I refused, but think that may be impolite in this society. We hit the sack and he thankfully only snores a little. I am a short sleeper at the best of times, and it would be hell with a big snorer. I later find out that his wife is also onboard.
The route stretches 660kms between Chongqing and Yichang in Hubei province. It is then 1000km to Shanghai and the ocean. The initial stretch is slow-going and unremarkable and we pass through at night. The countryside is attractive terraces on small hills with the occasional small town. Small town is relative here and usually refers to something less than a million people. I got up at 04:30 and sat in the roof top bar in the dark writing this. The three gorges – Qutang, Wu and Xiling – commence just east of Fengjie, lasting about 200kms towards the end of the trip. Caused by the tectonic Indo-China/Himalaya uplift, like the Grand Canyon, the river has carved the canyon through the limestone over millions of years.
Fengdu. Passing the drowned town of Fuling, we arrived at Fengdu at 08:00, the first port of call, 170kms from Chongqing. Nicknamed the City of Ghosts, it was inundated in 2009 and its residents moved across the river. The new town was recently connected to the high-speed railway nine hours to Shanghai. The tour cost (290¥ – $49) goes up Ming Shan with its ghost-focused temples. We climbed to the top of 400 steps through many Tao/Buddhist temples, most recent reconstructions since the 2008 earthquake. They are all about heaven and hell, a recurring theme in most religions. We passed over the middle of three bridges to see if we passed the test. The most amazing was at the very top with gruesome depictions of torture and evil.
Four or five boats are at each tour site resulting in huge crowds. Each guide has a loud-speaker and the noise is intense.
Meals are interesting. Most people eat with reasonable manners (the women and educated men) but others… they put their head down over their plate usually with a bowl under their mouth, and shovel, chew with their mouth wide open making tons of noise, talking while they eat, slurping and spitting out the bones onto their plate. They serve themselves from common dishes with their chopsticks. It is a cultural difference that I need to tolerate. I asked if they enjoyed the duck and then made a quacking noise when they didn’t understand. They thought I was weird. Maybe they make a different sound for duck?
I am a VIP on the boat and sometimes the two stewards sit at this table for meals. They speak reasonable English but conversations are still limited. They get some tours of foreigners but rarely independent tourists. The ship is deserted after lunch as everyone naps. I would love a nap but my roommate lies around in his underwear and watches loud, vapid TV. Dress is not that important for the rest of the passengers. I’m glad I didn’t bring my suit. Things are very casual which is nice. The bars, hairdresser, massage and weight room get almost no use with this non-party/non-spending crowd.
All the villages on the river are new and built since 1996. The look is the same – Soviet-style apartment blocks with a downcast, paint-peeling, sooty look to them.
Shibauzhai Pagoda. This is a 12 story, red, wooden pagoda, 56m high, built and leaning against a big chunk of rock. The bottom nine stories were originally built during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and the top three stories above the height of rock were added in 1956. The stairs inside the pagoda pass by steles and statues of deities and generals. Architecturally unique, it has round windows and is built without nails. The duck well proved that the well was connected with the river after a duck was put down the well and appeared in the river. The rice flowing well provided free rice until a greedy monk enlarged the hole stopping the flow of rice forever proving that greed doesn’t pay. Views from the temple on top are panoramic. Since the dam was built, the climb is now 175m less than originally and the rock and pagoda is now an island reached by a swaying suspension bridge called the ‘drunken bridge’.
My VIP status continued as I had my own private guide. She was a lovely girl and we had a lot to talk about. She says that all the young people have left for work in the cities. This was one of the included tours on the trip.
Fengjie (pop 1 million), capital of Kui during the periods known as the Spring and Autumn (722-481 BC) and Warring States (475-221 BC). Here is White Emperor City (Baidi City). At the mouth of Qutang Gorge (and the start of the Three Gorges), this is another optional tour costing 290¥. The head tour operator suggested I skip it as it is not that interesting and more about a Chinese folk tale. Architecture is from the Three Kingdoms period (220-280). Baidi City has become an isolated island surrounded by water. The view looking toward Qutang Gorge is depicted on the back of the 10-yuan note. I got off the boat after the touring people left, but it is just another Chinese ‘village’.
Qutang Gorge. This comes into view soon after Fengjie, towering into huge slabs of rock, its cliffs jutting out in jagged and triangular chunks. The shortest and narrowest of the three gorges, the 8km gorge is over almost as abruptly as it starts, but is considered by many to be the most awe-inspiring. After Qutang Gorge, the terrain changes to a 20km stretch of low-lying land.
Wu Gorge (Gorge of Witches). 40km in length, its north bank has towering cliffs and peaks. Shennv Stream (Goddess Stream) is a newly developed scenic area on the south side developed since the construction of the dam and one of the included tours. We got out of our ship and boarded small sightseeing boats to go up the narrow side canyon under stunning high limestone walls ending in a series of peaks. A narrow slot canyon leaves from one side. At the end of the canyon is a developed tourist area with a big dock and street hawkers selling food. All the other cruise boats tourists were there and literally a thousand tourists. I thought we had 50 minutes so I walked up a barricaded road along the stream emptying into the end of the lake with a young Chinese woman. Continuing only about 15 minutes up we came to an apartment where all the locals servicing the tourist area lived and then returned. There were a some very pissed off people especially the old man who reluctantly consented to less us go through the barricade. In fact we only had 15 minutes there (I couldn’t believe the Chinese girl not correcting me – she was not very intuitive). There was no harm done, all the other small boats and people were gone and we arrived back at our ship with lots of time. We actually got to see some nature. Just opposite where we had docked on the north side is a set of stairs climbing up to several monasteries perched on the vertiginous hillside. It looked like a great place to go too. After Wu Gorge, the river moves along a flatter 45km section into Hubei province past the large city of Badong on the south bank. A movie about the dam was shown on our third evening. In English with Chinese subtitles, it was good.
THREE GORGES DAM.
Time-line of the Three Gorges Dam. 1919 – The dam is proposed for the first time as a means to control the many disastrous floods. The land between Yichang and the coast is the breadbasket of China. It is relatively low-lying rising only 65m from sea level to the dam. 1992 – Construction is approved for the west end of Xiling Gorge. 1994 – Construction is started. Phase one consists of building the diversion channel on the south side of a small island in the river. 1997 – resettlement of 1,397,600 people starts. 240,000 cultural relics are saved from 1087 sites (723 are burial sites and 364 architectural). Phase 2, the north part of the dam starts – making the coffer dams, building the double lane 5-step locks, the elevator ship lock (takes 45 minutes for a ship to traverse and is for small boats and container ships) and the north 2/3rds of the dam with the spillway and half the hydroelectric generating capacity. 2003 – The 5-lift lock is completed and the first power is generated. Phase 3 – Where the diversion channel was the second half of the hydroelectric generating part of the dam is started. 2009 – The dam construction is finished – it is 185m high and 2,335m long. 2010 – maximum water height of 175m is reached (low water in the spring is 30m less). The massive project took 17 years to this completion stage setting 100 world records for a dam.
Functions of the dam: 1. The primary function is flood control. With hundreds of catastrophic floods, the worst was the disastrous flood of 1931 (1/1000 year flood) when 145,000 people died. 1998 also saw a terrible flood. Over 300,000 people have died over the years. The cost of 180 billion ¥ almost offsets the cost of one major flood year. 2. Hydroelectric production. With 32 turbines producing 22,500 MW (700 MW per turbine), this dam is the world’s largest artificial supplier of electric power but still supplies only 3% of China’s electricity. 3. Shipping. With construction of the dam, shipping capacity is increased from 10 to 50 million tons per year. 4. With more even flow of water, saline incursion upstream of the ocean is lessened.
The dam is built-in a low seismic area and is designed to withstand an earthquake of 7 on the Richter scale. Military considerations were taken into account in case of a war. The Yangzi River deposits more than 500 million tons of silt every year into the reservoir. During the spring flood, silt is flushed from the reservoir hoping to prevent loss of reservoir capacity.
Locks. Most tour boats don’t pass through the dam as they finish their journey upstream and take buses one hour into Lichang. Only the top-end luxury cruises do and we entered the first lock just after midnight. I got up and watched the process through the first two locks. There were 5 ships in our group and we were next to a barge carrying rock. There was only 2’ between the sides of the lock and us and the barge. At the back, we got to see the massive lock doors close.
The lock system is north of and separated by a small mountain from the main structure of the dam. It is the most complex ship lock, has the most continuous stages and the highest drop (the maximum head distance is 113m) of any set of locks in the world. The locks have two channels of five steps each. Each step is 280m long, 34m wide and at a minimum 5m deep. Each lock drops the boat 22m for a total of 110m. Add to that the 65m above sea level of the height of the river below the dam and you achieve the 175m height of the reservoir. It takes about 4 hours to go through all the locks. You can appreciate the size of the last four lock doors that must have been at least 50m high sitting on 10m concrete abutments.
We finished the cruise with a 3-hour tour of the dam. 3-4,000 visit on an average tour day. 40,000 visit on Oct 1, National Day and first day of Golden week. 1.3 million tour the dam every year. The tour starts on the high hill between the locks and dam and ends next to the north end of the dam. You never tour the dam itself and don’t see the turbines. The day was apparently very nice but still had heavy overcast – for about 200 days a year, the dam is barely visible through the mist and cloud.
Xiling Gorge. It is the longest and perhaps least impressive gorge and we pass through it after the dam on the way to Yichang, 38kms from the dam. Sections in the west end have been submerged where the Three Gorges Dam is built. Traditionally the most hazardous gorge, many hidden shoals and reefs routinely holed vessels. The limestone cliffs have much more tree cover but this section is still quite lovely.
The overall quality of the cruise was excellent and good quality for the money. The ship was excellent, food was superb and the waitress at our table very sweet and attentive. On the last evening we had quite the banquet. Tour costs at 290¥ seemed a little much and for the cost should be included.
I only interacted with three passengers to any degree – one of the doctors, an Ob/Gyn specialist using only traditional Chinese medicine, a young woman from Shanghai that I walked with in Shinnv Stream, and Wu, an 18-year old university student from Beijing who I taught to play Yaniv, an Israeli card game that is my favorite. Most of the other tour boats seemed to have a much higher proportion of foreigners. All were in group, I assume on tours.
Yichang, Hubei Province (pop 1.2 million). A taxi ride for the 8km into town was 100¥. I dickered and got it down to 50, but it still should have been less. This was obviously not a real taxi, but an illegal free-lancer. Yichang is easily the ugliest place in China. It looks like everything is under construction. I am staying at the pleasant Yichang Hotel for 158¥. 10 cards for prostitutes were slipped under my door. Condoms are part of the room’s sale items.
The next morning, I caught a flight to Lijiang, Yunnan, in the far southwestern part of the country to go to Tiger Leaping Gorge. I will be starting a new leg of the trip, working my way NE to Shanghai, then south to Hong Kong. One month to go.