Wow, I’m surprised I didn’t get more of a response to that disgusting market in my last post! Perhaps eating dead sparrows and sheep testicles is a bit more mainstream than I thought?
I sure hope not.
Anyways, on with the story. As I mentioned, the first on-shore excursion during our Yangtze River cruise covered the site of the enormous damming project, which upon its completion would raise the water level over 60 meters and solve a great deal of Central China’s flooding problems, as well as generate tons of electricity to help out those billions of people they have living over there.
At this point you might be tempted ask, “But Justin, didn’t you say you were taking a cruise along that very river? How does a six-story cruise ship make it past a dam that’s holding up sixty feet of water?”
To such a question I would first answer “Why, with the world’s largest shiplock, of course!”
And then I’d correct myself by saying “Actually, the largest five.”
Then I’d most likely take a quick bathroom break, to keep you all in suspense.
Ah, that’s better.
A shiplock is something like an airlock on a spaceship, only bigger. Much bigger. First, two enormous metal doors open, allowing up to four cruiseliner-sized ships to enter. Once the lock has filled up and the outer doors have closed, the water level rises and an inner door opens allowing the ships to proceed to the next lock. Continuing this way through all five locks raises the ships above the dam in just under three hours. It was pretty incredible of a thing to see, particularly when those mind-blowingly huge metal doors slammed shut with a thunderous clang and the air filled with an eerie cry as a number of giant metal buoys began to creep up the wall with the rising water.
It was only a few instants after passing through the final lock that the announcer came on the loudspeaker to tell us that the ship was about to enter the first two of the three gorges. The view was magnificent, but unfortunately much of it was obscured by fog even thicker than we’d been experiencing in Beijing (which I neglected to mention before, but it was pretty thick).
Thankfully we were soon offered another opportunity to see some magnificent cliffs during the (much clearer) second day’s excursion: a small ferry through the “Lesser Three Gorges.” Because of the weather, I found this to be even more incredible than the actual three; I was shocked to hear that the water level in this area had already risen halfway to its final level, and that half of the gorges we were seeing were being concealed beneath the muddy-brown water. It really is a shame they decided to go on with this project and destroy so much natural beauty, but I guess they did what they felt they had to…
Our third and final shore excursion was by far the most interesting in my opinion. As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the major side-effects of the damming project will be the relocation of over a million people who live along the Yangtze’s lower riverbanks. Our final stop took us to a town that was to be completely flooded within the next couple of years, and as such was already well on its way to total destruction.
Much of the town lay in ruins; piles of rubble and bricks were already being cleaned and trucked off to be reused at some distant location. The few people who remained on the streets walking pets or selling vegetables seemed to be living among a dangerous network of wrecking balls hanging from cranes, fallen power lines, and condemned buildings. It felt like we were walking through a town where a bomb had just gone off…only everyone was going about their daily lives like nothing was wrong at all.
It was here that we actually saw the butcher of whom I posted a picture in my previous entry (I just didn’t have anything more suitable to put next to a description of a “disgusting food market”). I got some great videos of the guy cooking a huge piece of meat with a blowtorch as it hung from a thin wire strung between a traffic cone and the lower half of what was once a street lamp. You can just see the outside of one of his displays in the left of this shot.
This town truly was a taste of third-world life, too; although they seemed to have such modern amenities as electricity and running water, it really didn’t feel very much more developed than the small tribe whose thatched hut my dad and I stayed in for a night once in the foothills of the Himalayas. I guess it really puts a perspective on how ridiculous it is that I can’t seem to function even without high-speed internet.
But interestingly enough, this little excursion wasn’t really meant to take us through the town at all. Instead, our intended destination was a temple set high atop a mountain overlooking the town. My dad and I just decided, as we have a tendency to do, that our time would be better spent splitting off from the tourist group and exploring at our own pace. This meant wrapping up the temple in half the time allotted, allowing us to hike down the mountain ourselves and enter the town unescorted.
But don’t take this to mean that the temple itself wasn’t interesting; in fact, it was probably one of the most unique I’ve seen in a long time. Having lived in Japan for eight months now, I have to admit that I’ve started to get a bit used to extraordinary ancient structures as part of my every day life.
This one was different because of its rather unique theme: “Heaven and Hell.” The place was filled to the brim with brightly colored statues of all sorts of demons, dragons, angels, and so forth – each with their own unique look. All around the courtyard were stone carvings of various beings conducting all sorts of heinous acts. These pictures I have chosen not to post, but take my word for it – it was quite an interesting location to stroll around.
After the three day trips concluded, we spent the final day of the cruise partaking in the various on-ship activities that had been set up for us – including a gaudy crew fashion show and talent show. 70’s night in the bar was particularly amusing, to watch all of those fat party animals in their pink polo shirts and strap-on sandals getting down like it was, well, the 70’s.
After the cruise we were once again met by a tour guide with a sign, only this one wasn’t quite as attentive as the previous had been. We first had to wait in a “line” to purchase tickets up a short tram that would take us from the temporary docks up to the permanent ones, built at the level which the water would eventually reach. To acquire the tickets my dad had to take an elbow to the gut from a man who felt that he needed a ticket even more than us. My dad decided to express his displeasure towards the man’s actions by responding in kind. The guy didn’t seem to mind very much. I guess when you have zero respect for those around you, you learn not to expect much from them either.
We next began the task of lugging our bags further uphill to the tourguide’s van, who didn’t feel that my dad’s knee brace, cane, and clear difficulty moving his huge luggage warranted any form of assistance. He seemed to be even less pleased with us when we asked him to deviate from his usual tour schedule and stop by a restaurant so we could get a quick bite to eat, as he gave us nothing but dirty looks and groans from that moment on.
He did, however, take us to a very interesting little area of Chong Quing, our port of disembarkation. After dropping us off at a silk factory where we were given a very interesting tour of the process from silkworm to bedspread, we wandered outside to find ourselves covered by falling confetti from the opening celebration of a furniture store across the street. Accompanying the confetti was music and four dragon-creatures that danced around for the crowd’s amusement. And to get us to buy furniture. Because dragons are, um…made of furniture. Or something.
And not only that, but right out front of the silk factory was also a huge street market…for pets! Little puppies and kittens running around in baskets as people bargained their prices down to their heart’s content. We even saw a baby pig up for sale…and it smiled for the camera!
But when the tourguide finally decided that he wouldn’t deal with us taking over the tour any longer, we hopped into the car and caught our flight back to Shanghai where we’d kill a single afternoon before continuing back to Osaka, Japan.
These daylight hours were mostly spent revisiting areas I’d already been to, particularly because my dad was shocked by the crazy architecture in Beijing and I told him how much better I thought Shanghai’s was. At night, however, we were offered just one more surprise to put the perfect lid on our overseas adventure.
A huge “International Tourism Festival” filled the streets of Shanghai with hundreds of thousands of people fighting for a glimpse of the electrified floats, each one representing a different foreign country. I climbed on top of a bus stop to get a bird’s-eye view, which I thought was fantastic. Apparently the observers below liked my idea too, because before I knew it I was hoisting up tiny Chinese kids up by their arms (at the request of their parents) so that they could get a glimpse of the action as well.
So, finally, the Mega Trip comes to an end. Now I can get back to having more creative titles for my posts (my dad suggested that I was giving up an element of my creativity by following such a generic naming convention, “The Mega Trip Part X,” but I didn’t want to abandon it once I’d already started.)
Next time it’ll be back to life in Kyoto, the thing that brought you all to my site in the first place. Or so I’m assuming.