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Yangtze River to Sichuan

China's most important waterway

overcast 33 °C

We are gliding up the Yangtze River on a 'Five Star' three-day cruise. The water is strong and yellow from a heavy sediment load, and mist dominates the morning landscape. The musty smell of mildew pervades every inch of the boat's faded golden glory. The carpet is slightly better than most we have seen (we were told that the hotels are just so busy that it is not possible to clean them!), however one has to stand in the shower to open or close the bathroom door, which then grazes the loo seat, and our 'hi de hi' river guide is driving us mad with phone calls to make sure we heard each of his many announcements over the speaker system that rips through each cabin. He even came in to our cabin and turned it back on just as I had figured out how to turn it off!

We pay Western price for everything, including the tours (we get a significantly higher charge and a different coloured ticket to all the others; so much for blending in...). So much energy is invested into relentlessly ripping off all others that it is actually unpleasant. Somehow it is easier to accept such corruption in places where folks really are struggling, but everyone here has the latest iPhone, air conditioning and there are Porches, Mazaratti, and McLarens galore on the roads (along with an exact replica of a Range Rover Evoque renamed the Land Wing). In protest of our unfair treatment, Tony has rigged a beer cooling system using the air conditioner, so that we don't have to be victim to the price gouging at the bar. "That'll teach the clever little fucks" he announced proudly.

We have been to see the ancient 'hanging coffins' of one of the fifty-five small tribal groups within China. We were careful to follow all instructions and slipped as carefully as we could on the stone steps. It is still a mystery how the coffins were placed high on inaccessible cliffs, down precipitous gorges over 2000 years ago. Also incredibly mystifying, is how they have full cell-phone coverage in such places when, at home, ours cuts out in our living room.

Sailed passed the Longevity Village, located in impossibly high and steep terrain. Access from the river valley is through a natural cave system that extends 8 km into the mountain. There are ~200 residents remaining, with an average age of 86. Scientists have been perplexed how these folks live for so long without any modern conveniences - little things like running water and electricity. Turns out that their diet is very high in selenium, which happens to be the mineral missing from NZ soils. So if you want to stick around for a bit, start downing selenium!

China truly is a swarm of humanity, all of them smoking, sneezing, eating, coughing, and hoicking. The volume at which they interact is mind-numbingly loud - at one stage our guide was standing next to us, speaking to just us two (the only round-eyes on the boat), and had her microphone on full noise! At the train station or park a family or group will sit on the few spare seats around you, and proceed to yell across to each other, often waving their arms across your face to accentuate the flat, nasal sounds of shouted Manderin. Yet these noisy hoards are indeed very clever.

An impressive dam on the Yangtze is made even more impressive with outdoor escalators, cooled by a simple water system, to carry tourists to the top. Temperatures hit 50C here, so the black hand rails would otherwise be too hot to touch. The sheer scale on which they do things is unparalleled. Massive bridges span remote gorges to create road transport links, a complex system of bullet train tracks are being erected to link the cities (which they are also building in astounding numbers and with stunningly bold architecture) and dozens of tunnels are being dug through mountains. In this area the dams raised the water level by over 90 metres and forced the relocation of over 1,000,000 people. History, animal life, and thousands of years of tradition were literally swept away by the waters. Noah got nothing on dese folks!

English is now taught in all schools, so many of the young ones run up to us and try to practise their rudimentary language skills. Occasionally, we strike someone who's English is surprisingly good. Like the other night when Tony changed his mind about ordering rice with our meal and communicated this several time to the waiter in his usual generic Asian accent.... "No ri, no ri, no ri". The waiter finally responded, "Yeah, I got that"! In spite of his charm, we are minor celebrities in many of the places we go. Wherever possible we wander off usual tourist trail, and try to stay and eat in local spots. Correspondingly the staff, management and folks on the street want to have their picture taken with us, which is a tad disconcerting given that we have been on the road for a month now, and are in dire need of a hose down.

Have been to see the pandas -- indescribably cute to see them sleeping in the 'staffie' pose, and visited a massive dig that is unearthing the Chengdu township that was here 3000 years ago. Stunning pottery, gold and jade works, and lots of ivory from ancient elephants that once roamed here.

T- shirt(s) of the day: "Whoops, apocalypse"; 4 year old wearing "I dream of sex" and a cool young dude with images of several hipster beards on a t-shirt that read "Also care about what has the fecundity" (WTF???)
And for Riley: Clothes have no gender

Last note -- they may be hugely innovative and clever, but NZ is still missing from many of the maps!

Posted by 2kiwisontour 05:14 Archived in China Tagged panda sichuan chengdu yangtze_river Comments (0)

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