China 14: Boats, Trains and Planes

Monday, April 21st, 2014

We are sitting at Chengdu Railway Station waiting for our fast train which will take us to Chingqing and ultimately the river boat called the Blue Whale. We have been told the bus picking us up at the other end will stop at a supermarket so we can get snacks for the boat.

This morning we drove for about 40 minutes to the Panda Research Station. The first sighting amongst the trees caused great excitement but eventually we saw big ones, mothers, babies and adolescents. They are very cute but not very good at breeding so need a lot of help. The arrow bamboo they eat is very specialised so much of the bamboo in the park was for decoration and keeping it cool. They have air conditioned living quarters for vey hot days. Before we left we saw a film on the life cycle of the panda. There were some Wendy Wu tour groups there as well so I thought of all our WW friends.
The train is now travelling at 156 kph (was doing 196). Little settlements growing rice in terraces are flashing by. Now and again 20 or 30 high rise buildings just appear and then we go back to small farms.

I’m now in the cabin of the Blue Whale. The bed is firm but I think it will be OK. I haven’t come across a bed I couldn’t sleep on in China. Our outlook is across the jetty which is not very attractive but we will be moving away later in the evening. It has been wet and grey so we were pleased when Xing Xing told us the luggage would be carried aboard by porters. There were a considerable number of steps to negotiate and we kept looking at each boat to see if it was ours. We were joking that some of the dreadful looking boats were ours but we seem to be on a reasonably new one. We had to book dinner for tonight as it is not included. We have chosen sweet and sour pork for eight o’clock as we have a meeting at 7.30.

At our seven thirty meeting we had a masseur and a Chinese doctor giving us each a massage. The doctor told me I had a problem with my neck affecting my leg and he suggested massage and acupuncture. Hmmmmm. I think I agree with him but will wait until I get home.

Dinner was ordinary. I can do much better sweet and sour pork myself. Let’s hope the food improves tomorrow. We watched the amazing city lights of Chongqing as the boat pulled away from the jetty.

Tuesday, 22nd April, 2014

We travelled for seven hours to Fengdu overnight. If we had gone by train it would have taken an hour and a half but that is not the point. Our local guide lived in the new city of Fengdu across the river but we could hardly see it for mist and rain. To get to the shore we walked through another boat and up and down lots of ramps. Then there were steps (legs are out of practice) and into a long golf buggy. Finally we arrived at Ming Shan and the City of Ghosts. As it is on a mountain it didn’t get drowned by the rising water. The temples have been restored and are now a tourist Mecca. It is all about the afterworld ruled by Tianzi. One waxworks display depicted all the tortures one can expect to face if one doesn’t lead a good life. There were a number of tests we had to do such as walking over a bridge hand in hand. This ensures that John and I will be together in the afterlife and for 20 yuan we have a photograph to prove it. One final test was to balance on one foot on a round stone but we avoided the photographer that time.

Wednesday 23rd April, 2014

Life on board the Blue Whale is comfortable. I spent the morning eating breakfast (all we are having is cereal, fruit and toast although the choice is immense). There are 20 Western tourists on the boat and 190 Chinese. We were advised to get to brekkie early as the food just disappears as if a swarm of locusts has arrived. We then saw a video of the Three Gorges and the dam although it was made before the dam was finished in 2009. We can see the high water mark where the winter level is. I also finished one book and started another from the boat library.

Around 11.00 am we entered the QuTang Gorge which the newsletter described as the most Splendid. We stood on the roof deck of the boat and got blown to bits. After lunch we entered Wu Gorge, the most Elegant. I was happy to view this from my cabin. The Goddess Stream Boat Excursion took us in little yellow roofed boats up a steep sided valley with a coffin secured in a cave high on the cliff. To out surprise we saw a boat cleaning up the rubbish floating in the water. Later we saw it dumping the rubbish below the high water level so come next winter it will all wash back into the river. The local guide shrugged and said there was nowhere else to put it. When we could no longer go any further we stepped onto a floating pontoon. A man dressed in a blue costume was playing a trumpet like instrument which sounded like the bagpipes only worse. Next thing all the Chinese tourists were in a circle dancing. I felt I was watching modern Chinese culture. A few women my age were having fun throwing rocks and sweets at a lizard. Xing Xing said they were educated in a time where science was more important than morality. Maybe Mao didn’t care for lizards?

Tonight was the farewell banquet but the food on board has been very ordinary. Kerryn made it to dinner so we sang happy birthday one day late. She is only eating rice. A glass of sherry was beside each plate but John wouldn’t drink his. He has taken a strong dislike to Dynasty and Great Wall wines. We have been drinking a French red in our room which is quite nice.

The Blue Whale Talent Show took place at 8.15pm. We recognised our table waitress as one of the dancers and were impressed by the voice of the head of the dining room. It was a lot of fun, ending in a chicken dance we were forced to join, followed by a Congo line. The macerina was starting as we made our escape.

Thursday 24th April, 2014

We are waiting at Yichang Railway Station for our fast train to Wuhan. Today we will have been travelling by boat, bus, train and plane. At 12.08 am we were woken by the sound of the first lock. Looking out from our balcony we saw a coal barge next to us. Together we dropped as the water drained away. I saw the gates open and then went to bed but was woken many times by strange noises. In the morning we were up at a quarter to six. I had to return my library book unfinished so I’ll never know what happened.

Fortunately our tipping kitty started in Shanghai paid off the various staff members on the boat. We were soon on a bus to view the Three Gorges Dam, the locks and the not yet completed small boat transporter. Our guide, Sean, was very entertaining, starting with a rap sending up the cruise boat. In two weeks he will be leaving his job with the Dam Authority and taking rich Chinese tourists to Europe for shopping trips. All the guides work very hard and try to work their way up the ladder to more travel and better pay. They mainly seem to be university educated and speak quite good English.

Later: the train trip of two hours passed quickly with typical Chinese scenery of paddy fields and small villages. Our plane was delayed by 45 minutes and after landing it was an hour’s drive to our hotel near the city wall in Xian. Just as well we had a large lunch as the only dinner was a chicken burger on the plane which was pretty awful. It is now after 11.00 pm so I’ll try to send this and go to bed.


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