We arrived in Yichang in the afternoon, and met our new guide and driver who told us about the city and took us to a government run museum that was dedicated to artifacts from the three gorges project excavation. Although this museum seemed a little run down and was by no means as big as the Shanghai museum we’d been to, our museum guide did a great job explaining how they’d found artifacts dating back 6000 years. He told us that thousands of archeologists excavated for over two years before the whole area was flooded and the three gorges dam project was complete (2009). Later he took us to another room that had jade, ceramic pottery and bronze artifacts they’d found that were relatively young (100 to 150 years old). The museum was selling a few of these items in order to raise money for renovations. Although we are not antique collectors, a number of items caught our eye and we unexpectedly bought a beautiful red jade incense holder dating back 125 years. Hopefully it makes it back to the USA (China shipping).
Later we had a yummy and spicy dinner and then our guide took us to our river boat, which is really a big cruise ship (not Royal Caribbean size, but larger than expected). When we got to our room we were surprised by the size of it and gladly unpacked for the next 4 nights (we hadn’t stayed anywhere long enough to bother unpacking since Auckland). The rest of the ship didn’t offer much entertainment so we were thrilled to have a large room with a balcony. We spent a lot of time playing cards and enjoying the scenery from the privacy of our own space.
The Yangtse River Cruise took us through gorges, the now famous dam, stepped farmland, new towns and absolutely beautiful scenery. It was hard to imagine how the river must have looked before it was filled because it is still dramatic after rising an average of 155 meters. The river is much safer now for boats to travel, but the downside of this is that there are now many more boats and barges. It is difficult to imagine how the water will not end up incredibly polluted with the extra traffic and changes to the natural purification process of before (the air is already rather polluted). We were especially curious to hear the local people’s opinion of the project since so many people’s villages were flooded (over 900,000 people were displaced by the project). Generally, their impression seemed mixed, with the younger generations having more favorable opinions because they ended up with larger homes and more space, and the older populations being less thrilled because they watched an entire lifetime of memories be flooded and have a harder time adapting to the many changes.
The day we went to the dam and passed through the 5 lock system was very interesting. The dam is enormous, but not at all attractive. The power the station generates is now critical for Shanghai and many other cities on the east coast. Another day, we went on a smaller boat through the lesser (a.k.a. smaller) gorges which are too narrow for the big ship we were on. This was some of the most spectacular scenery with many waterfalls, caves and tombs in the mountain. We also had the pleasure of hearing a local boat man singing, as well as our day guide and both of them had lovely voices and sang beautifully.
The cruise ended in the incredibly large, yet virtually unknown city of Chongqing (pronounced chong-ching). Though we only had one full day there, we saw so much and had a couple of adventures. Our guide, Tina, first took us to their zoo where we saw many pandas. These pandas actually have very nice habitats in the zoo and we were able to get incredible close! Unfortunately, many of the other animals we saw were not quite as lucky; the elephant and giraffe habitats especially were a bit sad. We also visited the General Stillwell residence and museum, which is the only museum in China that is dedicated to a foreigner. We realized how incredibly ignorant we were of the alliance between the US and China during WWII in fighting the Japanese. US General Stillwell is still very highly regarded here in China for the help he supplied during the war (and resentment towards Japan still runs deep). The museum, also government run, provided us an opportunity to see a local painter paint a beautiful watercolor in less than 10 minutes. Here, we finally found traditional paintings of the 4 seasons that we had been searching for as souvenirs. We are quite proud of how effective our negotiating has become and can’t wait to enjoy the 4 paintings in our home – again, assuming China mail gets them to us! We are definitely done buying souvenirs for ourselves!
After our incredibly spicy yet delicious lunch, Tina walked us through a more local food market that in almost any country other than China would have been where we’d want to eat, except we suspect the menus included mostly things we would prefer not to eat. Still, seeing and smelling it firsthand was worth it. Tina recommended that we plan on going to a “hot pot” restaurant for dinner near our hotel as hot pots are very traditional for the area. Basically, a large steel pan is build right into the table and filled with oil, and then you order skewers of different meats and vegetables to cook in the oil. On the surface, the experience is not so different from fondue, right? Except in China, the skewers that are most popular are ox stomach, duck throat and chicken feet. While we thought we could be brave at the time she said to go and we really planned on it, when we walked up to the restaurant later that evening, it all felt a little “too” local for us and without our guide with us to make sure we didn’t order something we didn’t want to eat, we essentially chickened out (no pun intended).
One of the problems with travelling so long is that certain comforts are unattainable. In Chongqing, I finally gave into my need for a haircut. Tina had pointed out where she goes to get her haircut and it was practically across the street from our hotel, so Raj and I took a walk to check it out. In much the same way as shop workers usher you into their stores if you show any interest, a young man encouraged me to enter when I looked in. With a deep breath, I went in and with some sign language indicated I wanted a trim. The guy took me into the back to wash my hair and it all seemed relatively similar to how it would be in the US. Then he transferred me to a chair and the man who was actually cutting my hair came over. I tried to indicate that I just wanted a little bit cut off and he went to work. The first bit seemed fine, but as time went on, it seemed like he was cutting more and more. With the language barrier, I had no way to make sure it was okay, and Raj had decided to go for a walk rather than sit and watch. So, in the end, I have a new hair style with lots of short layers – not the best look for me 😦 Oh well, I’ve learned my lesson – next time, I’ll just buy barrettes and tie it all back 🙂 In the end, it cost me 45 RmB (less that $7), and I’m pretty sure they upped the price for me! In any case, don’t be surprised if you don’t see me in too many pictures for the next few weeks!