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The Inscrutable East

Promised to keep up to date in China and have fallen behind, yet again.  The good news is I was able to change my ticket (kudos to Eugenia at Airtreks- my round-the-world ticket brokers) and extend China for two additional weeks, so this took some of the pressure off my travels here.  But pressures there are many.  China is not an easy place in which to travel.  This is mostly due to the minimal English spoken here.  It is one thing not to be able to hold a conversation; it is quite another not to be able to figure out how to get somewhere because no one can give you any information and all efforts to pronounce the place you want to go are met with a shrug.  This is not to say that all of my encounters have been negative.  Sometimes people do the sweetest things and, for a moment, you forget how pissed off you were 5 minutes ago.  Like the guy who was going to walk me back to my hotel in Tangkou because it was after 10 pm and, apparently all of the taxis stop working before 10 pm.  Unfortunately I didn’t know the name of my hotel (definitely my fault for not having someone write it down for me in Chinese), and even though I knew where it was I could not communicate it.  I knew it was only about 5 minutes from the center of town; the problem was that it was a rather deserted 5 minute walk and  I was not ecstatic about doing it by myself.  Luckily, a taxi driver came by and, after another 10 minutes of negotiations (conducted by my new friend) he agreed to take me, and I paid him 20 yuan (about $3- or 3 times what the trip was worth) to drive me around the corner.  The plot thickened when I arrived at the hotel and found the door locked and chained. (Locking the door at night is not uncommon in Asia- chaining it up is.)  After yelling a bit, I managed to wiggle under the lock and between the doors at which point someone came down the stairs.  Next day they wanted me to pay for the broken door.  I knew better than to take a hotel room that’s not in the center of town, but it was right next to the bus station and they pounced on me when I got there.  One interesting thing I have learned in China- everyone speaks English when you arrive and before they have your money; afterwards, not a word. 

Ah,  but I digress.  This was to be the Yangtze River story.  I traveled on the President 6- Yangtze Paradise.  Against my desire I was on a Chinese ship.  But it was wonderful.  Also started out with a couple of glitches.  As I was being shown to my room I commented about how happy I was to have my own room.  The response was that I didn’t.  Hissy fit #1- especially since the woman who had booked it had gone through hoops getting me my own room at a negotiated price.  I showed them that my ticket was definitely for more than 1 bed in a double room, and after a bit I was shown to my room without a balcony.  That I was okay with- the absence of a refrigerator was what pissed me off.  At approximately $450 for 3 nights I really wanted a refrigerator.  The next morning I renewed my nudging and ultimately, paid an additional $10 for an upgrade to a lovely room on the next floor up with a large double bed, refrigerator and balcony.  Talk about your happy camper!

The food was really very good and plentiful.  The dining room had all round tables which seated 10.  I would estimate there were about 150 guests- about 50% Chinese, 30% a German tour group, and 20% assorted others with a fair sprinkling of Americans.  There were 2 tables of what were the assorted others and I ended up with a lovely young Swedish couple (who had won the trip based on a business plan they had submitted at their university), 3 Poles (2 men who were colleagues at a university in Poland, and the wife of one of them- 1 man spoke English fairly well and the wife of the other made charming efforts),  2 older German speaking Swiss men who did not join in the conversations much at all, and 1 British woman- Jennie (who I liked very much but who gave me an invalid e-mail address- if you read this Jennie, write!)  The other assorted-other table was all English speaking but it seemed rude to try and switch tables.  I enjoyed hanging out with Nolan (who managed to make it into many of my pictures for those of you who actually look) as well as with Connie and her daughter Cecilia.  Cecilia was lovely and I liked Connie a lot as well until she dissed me at the airport.  The English speaking group rounded out with 2 fascinating guys from Hawaii and the daughter of one of them, and a South African couple who swept up the dance floor.  The Germans pretty much kept to themselves and the Chinese did not speak a word of English and did a lot of hawking and spitting.

The Three Gorges were magnificent.  Much discussion was had about how much the water has risen since the dam was built and how much it will still rise before it reaches its final level.  Our guide at the actual dam (which was huge and very impressive and which would have been a lot more impressive if the day had been less hazy) told us about the wonderful relocations that were done to the million or so whose homes disappeared, but the westerners among us did a lot of wondering- like what about the cemeteries- since we all know that Chinese people are reverential to their departed ancestors.  Lots more questions, but none of us really dared to ask them.

Oh, back to the food for a moment- I was getting there before I digressed to the people.  The center of the table had a rotating platter and all of the dishes were served “family style” in large bowls placed on this platter.  Every meal had a batch of appetizers (which I often managed to miss) followed by a soup, 3 or 4 main courses, 3 or 4 vegetable platters, and, of course, all the rice you could eat.  Then a little dessert and fruit.  Most of the food was quite good and nobody ever went to bed hungry!

The cruise officially started after dinner hours the first night.  The second night was the captain’s welcome banquet and the third and last night was the captain’s farewell banquet.  Wonder what they do on a 4 night cruise.

Evening entertainment was sweet if not brilliant- cruise-like, not Vegas-like.  All of the staff went out of their ways to be helpful.  Seems the Chinese cruise ships have discovered tipping (the envelope with excellent English instructions that was placed in our rooms the last night perfectly resembled tipping suggestions back home- why nothing else does is an interesting question) and I think most of us (can’t speak for the Chinese group) obliged.

There were a few covered shore excursions and I paid for the one extra that was offered although missing it would not have been a tremendous loss except for the cutest tour guide I have had to date.  (Her English name- all of the Chinese that work with foreigners take English names- was Betty and I dubbed her Betty Boop.  She was a teensy little thing with a big smile, good English, and an adorable attitude and I wanted to tuck her under my arm and take her back to the boat.  When she overheard me talking about her, I explained what I had said (not in so many words) which caused her to break into that very Asian giggle and caused one of the other tourists to wonder if I had put her out of commission.) 

One of the other excursions involved taking another boat to an even smaller boat in order to have a little cruise down a side river.  This boat was propelled by 2 guys using oars and 1 guy giving directions.  This was all well and good until we got to the point where the water was too shallow to oar and they showed us how the guys pulled the boats around.  At this point we all felt like pampered rich people watching the slaves at work and most of us wanted to get out of the boat to lighten the load.  Very weird tourist attraction.  Our guide for this excursion was another lovely woman (who looked about 25 but was probably closer to 50) who sang for us on the trip back.  She had a lovely voice so I tipped her at the end even though I did not buy her book or DVD.

I stayed up the last night to watch us pass through 2 of the 3 locks (there are 4 but the last will not be used until the water reaches its final level) although you would think I have seen enough locks after the 17 or so we passed on my Russia cruise last summer (feels like it was about 10 years ago as opposed to last summer).  The last morning we got the tour of the Three Gorges Dam.  A good time was had by all.

Great cruise- worth the splurge.

Now I’m in Xi’an and tomorrow I go to see the terracotta warriors.  Thus, off to bed- which I had planned to do 2 hours ago.  Now I just owe Shanghai, Hangzhou, Huang Shan, and Hefei.  And I am storing up a batch of unrelated Chinese thoughts that I need to share when I have more time.

Stay tuned.

Article from:http://blogs.bootsnall.com/myrainasia/the-inscrutable-east.html