The Three Gorges

March 26, 2007 - Chongqing, China

From our night train, we had a 4-hour bus ride to our boat. Fortunately we had a few stops along the way. One was to visit the Yangtze damn, the largest damn project in the world to date. I was impressed by the 2-way, 5-lock, ship lock used by large boats to get past the damn. There was also a smaller single-lock “ship lift” that a small vessel could pass the 130 meter water differential in 40 minutes. Made me think of my friend Greg in NY who was so impressed with the Hoover damn in AZ. We arrived at the boat, our accommodation for the next 2 nights while we cruised up the Yangtze river through the 3 gorges. The Yangtze is third only to the Nile and Amazon as the world’s longest. And we boarded the boat from a town past the first gorge so we only saw the second and third gorges. We stayed on a traditional 400-passenger Chinese boat and our accommodations we very basic. We all had first class accommodations, which was a private room with a toilet and cold-water shower. The room had a TV, but more importantly, the TV outlet we could use for our computer. There were second and third class dorm room-style accommodations without private toilets. These folks had to use the public toilet on the boat which was interesting. See the photo. We watched the movie “Borat” that night which we felt was only marginally okay.

The next day we disembarked our large boat and embarked a 200-passenger vessel to enter one of the smaller gorges. We again boarded an even smaller boat to explore a mini gorge. The weather was marginal and the water level was at the 157 meter mark. We felt we were about 5 years too late for the full beauty of the 3 gorges.

[Terry: This is probably the only way to see the gorges, but Mark’s face froze when he saw the Chinese guide holding up a flag for us to follow. When she started talking into the megaphone, I knew Mark was having horrible flashbacks from his last China trip. Malissa did warn Mark that it was too late to see the gorges... they did fill it up pretty high and they are expected to complete it before 2009. The gorges were still very beautiful; the weather just was cold and misty so not the optimal condition for photos.]

To our MahJongg friends in Hawaii:
That night, after dinner, the group planned to learn and play MahJong. We were told that the boat had a MahJong room where we could rent MahJong sets. We got strange looks when we asked about it. I tried to find our local guide but he was no where to be found. No worries, in Yangshuo, we bought some Mahjong cards to play on the train. The cards are not traditional but pretty much work the same way and are a lot easier to use in tight places. Unfortunately there are no Roman numbers on the cards so anyone we play with would need to learn the Chinese kanji on the cards as well as the game. So before boarding the boat we bought a magic marker in a supermarket and I wrote Roman numbers on all the character cards and the wind names on the wind cards. We went to the game room where other passengers were playing cards, but the lady at the bar would not let us bring the beer we bought at the boat shop into the game room. They wanted to sell their own beer. Same with the dinning room. So basically beer was non-transferable to any other location on the boat. They locked the stairs that lead to the sun deck, so that was no good. We ended up bringing stools from our rooms and the dinning room into a small room at the end of the corridor and used an old TV table in the room to play MahJongg with the one set of cards we had. The others in the group watched and drank beer. We taught two of the passengers and played a few hands.

On a side note, the beer was 4 Yuan, about 50 US cents, for a 24 oz bottle!

[Terry: After MahJongg the group went to the karaoke room which was just the game room from 10 pm. The Intrepid group tour for China are more into drinking beer than playing games. We miss Dave and Namita, our game buddies from Cambodia/Vietnam tour. But karaoke is more fun once we had beer in our system. Mark said that I was hogging the microphone. Our group is from England and Australia so aside from Madonna, they didn’t recognize any of the songs available from the short list of American songs. So I had a ball singing Debbie Gibson’s “I get lost” and “One moment in time” by Whitney Houston. Even though our group didn’t know the song, they all sang it with me to mask my bad singing. Mark had fun taking pictures then tortured us later with his show and tell.]

The following day we were done with the boat and took a 4-hour bus ride to the town of Chongqing. We arrived about 1 pm so we had some time before dinner. The group was going for a hot pot dinner and we decided to meet them. So after getting cleaned up, Terry and I went into town to do some exploring before dinner. We managed to get a taxi to take us to Liberation monument, a monument to celebrate the end of the war with Japan, and the center of the shopping district. From here Terry and I would attempt to find the Luohan Temple with a faded copy of a map with little details. While trying to figure out a posted city map, a local offered to help. He told us the fastest way to the temple. This was not the way suggested by the sign, but it seemed faster to me too according to the map so off we went. We passed a noddle shop and not having had lunch, we were hungry and so went in. I pointed to a bowl of noodle soup that was being prepared for another customer and held up one finger. Then we sat down and waited. While waiting we watched the cook making long skinny noodles from a blob of dough. It was fascinating. He dropped them into the pot of water, cooked them, then put them in a bowl of soup. We then realized it was our soup! The shop forms the noodles for each order by hand! Check out the photos and video. [Terry: The noodle soup was only 50 US cents and aside from Mark’s favorite Tantanmen in Japan and our favorite Pho in Vietnam, it was the best noodle soup we ever had.]

We continued to the temple. On the way I used a public toilet. A lady sat outside collecting money. It cost 3 Jiao which is about 1.4 US cents! And who says you can’t buy anything for a penny anymore? After the visit to the Buddhist temple which was uneventful, we walked around, stopped for a beer, and walked around some more. At one point a little boy selling flowers decided the best technique to sell to me was to grab on my leg and not let go. He kept saying, ‘hello”, probably the only English he knew. I kept telling him, “Boo Yow” (don’t want), but he hung on tight. When I pried his hands apart, he just grabbed me again and held on tighter. I think the locals were amused. See the video. [Terry: The boy selling the flowers was barely old enough to walk on his own! He was really cute but we didn’t want to encourage a begging culture. We were told that many kids make money this way instead of being in school.] Terry and I were wiped by 6 pm. We were meeting the group at 7 pm for dinner and so we dragged our feet another hour. For dinner we had Sichuan “hot pot”. A boiling pot of what looks like lava. A concoction of peppers, hot oil, pepper corns, plus loads of hot stuff with no English name. We were really looking forward to trying it but it was a disappointment for the most part. The experience was fun, but the food was just too hot with no real flavor of its own.

The following morning we took a bus to the train station and a 4 and 1/2-hour train. On the train we got some great tips for visiting Australia and New Zealand from our follow traveller Alice. We arrived at ChengDu. Our room at The Shufeng Garden Hotel is simple, but the nicest hotel room we have had to date. You will need to wait for the ChengDu Journal for those photos...


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