Tuesday, December 16, 2008

12.15.08: Yangtze/Yishan

We spent much of the next day on another, smaller boat, exploring China's Three Gorges. I suppose they were beautiful--one of them is depicted on the ten-yuan note--but honestly, my head and the sky were both so foggy that nothing much registered with me.

the second night on the boat wasn't as bad as the first, with the help of earplugs, Tylenol PM, and extra blankets. Our meal was tolerable, too, thanks to our local guide, Harry, requesting more vegetables and less "meat" on our behalves. Harry, by the way, is one of the craziest characters we've met so far, sort of like a Chinese leprechaun with dyed red hair, who responds with a hyena's laugh and "sank you very much" to just about every inquiry.

Before bed, our group tried to make the most of being on the boat with beer, wine, mah jongg lessons (surrounded by a crowd of curious Chinese passengers) and having Ammy read our palms and fortune cards. Looks like Seth and I are in for a happy, life-long marriage. Good stuff!

We gratefully disembarked on the third day, and moved on to the ultimate destination of our river journey, the Three Gorges Dam Project. This ambitious undertaking is the largest dam int he world, built over the last ten years or so and meant to supply about 10% of China's power through hydroelectricity. I wasn't particularly interested in the first place, to be honest, but the civic engineers on our trip (there are two) were sorely disappointed, as we were given very limited access to the project and could only view it from a distance. Nor surprisingly, our local guide was unable or unwilling to answer any of their more controversial questions, like what happens to all the toxic waste and garbage in the river once the dam causes it to stop producing oxygen and become stagnant.

(Thank goodness for our Intrepid group: Oliver, Korina, Joan, Clare, Ross, Li, David, me, Seth, Sarah, Ruth and Amy)

We stayed the night in Yichang, which was apparently a small country town until about five years ago, when a dam-related development boom began. Now, there are plenty of wide streets, modern buildings, and construction sites everywhere you turn. We ate a delicious group dinner (exotic mushroom soup, marinated beef strips, crunchy lotus root, spicy tofu, chicken with greens, pumpkin with dates...) which almost made up for the rank slop served on the boat.

I will mention that one of the high points of our last few less-than-stellar days has been spending time with our group. We are really lucky because everyone is pretty friendly and caring and can roll with the punches. Joan, our buddy from the Great Wall, has sort of taken on the role of group Mum, due partly to the fact that her own kids are the same age as half of the young'ns on this trip. She also, however, has a biting wit that, spoken in her thick Scottish brogue, can crack up the whole group at tenser moments. The English Clare, a teacher-cum hotel manager-cum civic engineer is as sweet as sugar with sparkly blue eyes. She seems to laugh at the same Chines absurdities that I do, so that's been fun. Ross and Amy, also Brits and recently graduated art and fashion students, respectively, are quieter but absolutely hilarious, especially when Ross gets going with his faux-American frat boy impressions. They are at the beginning of a six-month trip all around Asia and India. Ruth, our sole Austrian, breaks the stereotypes of a stern and serious German-speaker with her sunshine smile and great attitude. The other five--David, Li, Sarah and Oliver from Australia and Corina from New Zealand are great, too.

We are now on a five-hour bus ride to an overnight train to Yangshuo, entering the third portion of our trip. The first ten days were amazing but the last few I could have lived without. I hope that the final part tops them all.

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