A Visit To China

While walking through the Lethbridge Seniors one year ago, I found a brochure called “ Treasures of China” detailing an 18 day tour of China.  The brochure gave all the details of hotels,cities and all the things they would be doing.  The trip included all meals, hotels and local guides plus all fees and transportation.

The Great Wall

The Badaling section of the Great Wall, close to Beijing

The tour included Shanghai and touring the city, the Jade Buddha Temple, the Bund, the Yu Yuan Garden, touring a silk factory and seeing how silk is harvested and made into cloth.  From Shanghai the tour would be going to Hangzhou to see the beautiful West Lake,
West Lake Hangzhou  - sunset

West Lake Hangzhou – sunset

visit the Lingyin Temple and tour the Dragon Well Tea farm. Suzhou would be next ( the Venice of the Orient). The tour includes a canal ride through the city, visit a silk rug factory and tour the Masters of Nets Garden.  The tour would then set off for Yichang to catch a cruise ship to sail the Yangtze from the dam, 600 miles north to Chongquin through the Three Gorges.  The cruise would include touring the dam sight, boarding a ferry and  sampan to view the gorges of the Shennong Stream, home of the mandarin duck, golden monkeys and hanging coffins, to say nothing of the breathtaking sights of the Wu Gorge and Qutang Gorge. 
view obscured by the constant air pollution

Cruising the Yangtze

A stop in Fengdu  would allow a tour of the ghost city.  A quick visit to the city of Chongqing would be followed by a trip on a bullet train to Chendu…… home of Research Base of Giant Pandas.  After a visit with the pandas the tour would continue on to Xian to view the Terra Cotta Warriors.  From Xian the tour would go to Beijing where a visit to the Great Wall, Tian An Men Square, The Forbidden City,and the Beijing Olympic Center.  As well as enjoying a Hutong Tour in a Rickshaw, the last day would be a free day to be spent touring on your own or shopping for those famous discounts and “knock off” products.   It looked like one would see and do a great deal and I was excited to think about it.  I brought home the brochure for Brian to read but never thought he would be interested. 
Panda Research Base

Enjoying lunch – Panda Research base Chendu

After reviewing the brochure he was interested and we agreed… let’s go for it!


There were a series of pre trip meetings planned but as luck would have it, we could attend only one…. in November 2012.  At the meeting we met perspective travellers and the tour organizers from Triple D Tours, a local travel company.  They gave a detailed account of what we could encounter and showed photos of some of the sights we would be visiting.  While both of us had some reservations, we bit the bullet and paid up. 

How these ancient warriors were made remains a mystery.

Terra Cotta Warriors – replicas

When one visits China, you must obtain a Chinese Visa prior to going.  The tour company would help with the paperwork and send it in for us.  As part of the application, we would be submitting our passports with the application.  The deadline for the Visa application changed a number of times, and finally we realized we would be in Mexico when the applications would be sent in, so we had to apply and arrangement for our own Chinese Visas.  Speaking with the Chinese consulate in Calgary, they provided the on line application instructions, so early March we drove to Calgary and dropped off our applications.  We returned the following week and the process went off without a hitch.  The rest of March was spent  planning the needed items ( electrical plug ins, back pack, hand sanitizers, Chinese currency, and setting the list of items to take etc.)
Watching the everyday life of the people

Cruising the Grand Canal in Suzhou

The laptop would be staying at home as internet would be sporadic, also I was trying to pack light.


Considering I had a year to plan and organize, just days before we left for China I bought some books on China. Fodor’s “China” provided more information than I wanted but pages 757 through 781, titled “Travel Smart China”  was helpful and confirmed my concerns about food and hygiene.  The information aided in planning what to take and I was glad for the small packages of toilet tissue I prepared, to say nothing of the hand wipes and small packages of kleenex.  It was also helpful so I was able to avoid using a “squatty potty.”  Leaving the books for last, I did read “China Survival Guide – How To Avoid Travel Troubles and Mortifying Mishaps” by Larry Herzberg and Qin Herzberg on the flight on our way to Shanghai.  I highly recommend this book.  I found it very helpful and should have read it before leaving home.  However it did prepare me for  some of the cultural norms…. like spitting copious amounts of sputum in public is an accepted practice, and also westerners should not get their nickers in a knot when it comes to pushing and shoving when in crowded places.  I actually got quite used to it and learned to do it myself.  I only hope the next busy day at Walmart….I don’t “hip check” someone!  It talked about the traffic in the large cities ( they are ALL large) and warned pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way and crossing a street is a very dangerous activity!  If anything it was a mis-understatement!


After all the planning, packing and making sure things were looked after at home, we went to bed early April 7 2013. 

Each leaf picked by hand

Harvesting Tea at the Dragon Well Tea farm

I was too excited to sleep so the 2 a.m. alarm came way too soon.  Triple D had arranged a small bus to take 18 of us from Lethbridge to the airport, so on a very cold, icy morning we set off on our journey.  As it turned out this trip was likely the most dangerous part of our journey.  The roads were icy and the bus bounced all over the road.  Thank goodness traffic was light  until we hit Deerfoot Trail in Calgary….then it got really hairy!  We arrived at the airport in good time and spent extra time on the tarmac waiting to be de-iced, then it was off on our first leg to Vancouver.

China Trip–Arriving In Shanghai

Our flight leaving Vancouver was delayed by an hour with electronic issues, so we had a bit of a wait before making our long flight ( 12 hours) to Shanghai. Once again I was seated with Allyn

My Air Canada seatmate - Allyn

My Air Canada seatmate – Allyn

and as it turned out he was my seat mate for all our Air Canada flights.  Allyn was perhaps the oldest in our group, but he kept up with the group without any problems.  Allyn continues to work as a pastor despite being a few years beyond retirement age.  During our trip we found he could play the piano so we made good use of his talents while on board the cruise ship.

I don’t think many of us slept on the flight over so we were a pretty tired bunch when we arrived.  The Shanghai airport was pretty easy to navigate and we didn’t have to go far to claim our luggage. 

Waiting for everyone to get their luggage - Shanghai airport

Waiting for everyone to get their luggage – Shanghai airport

In fact we felt quite at home as we quickly spotted a KFC. We had a bit of a wait as one of our group, found they were missing a suitcase.  Air Canada eventually was able to locate the suitcase and promised it would be delivered the following day ( which it was.) We all passed through immigration without difficulty and made our way out to our waiting guide….. Michael Hai.  Michael is employed by Shanghai East Travel Co which was contracted by China Pac to be our guide for our entire tour.  If we could have hand picked someone we could not have done better.  Some members of our group had been to China and said Michael was by far the best guide they encountered.By the end of our 18 days we felt we had a new friend, son or grandson.  He was a very gracious host and also acted as our local guide for Shanghai.

We trekked to a waiting bus where we off loaded our suitcases ( which were going by snail bus to the hotel) while we boarded the Maglev bound for Shanghai.

Magnetically levitated train

Magnetically levitated train

The Maglev is a magnetic levitation train.  It is the first commercially operated high speed magnetic levitation line in the world. The top speed is 431 km/hr. making it the world’s fastest train in regular service.  During a test run on Nov 12, 2003 it went 501 km/hr.  It cost 1.2 billion US dollars to build and was completed  ( 34 miles) in under 3 years.  There are plans for expansion but they have been put on hold twice.

When we walked out of the train terminal we were hit with the smells of the street vendors and it was smelling pretty good and made a great first impression.  We got on a bus to take us to our first dinner in Shanghai.  All of us were agog with the maze of traffic, buses, cars, scooters, bicycles and pedestrians all sharing the same space. It seems the six lanes of traffic were trying to accommodate 8 lanes of traffic and as Michael explained, traffic signals and laws are treated simply as a suggestion. We all agreed we could not drive in China and 18 days later, no one had changed their mind.  On the bus ride to dinner we passed miles and miles of high rise buildings.  The high density housing has to be seen to be believed. 

The Shanghai sky line at night

The Shanghai sky line at night

As we neared the city center and the financial district of Pudong, we were impressed with the beautiful buildings lit up at night, making for a great first impression of this very modern city.  Chinese say Xian is old China, Beijing it today’s China and Shanghai the city of the future.

Our guide Michael explained the meal set ups for us.  We could expect our hotels would provide a buffet breakfast which will be a combination of western and Chinese food.  Lunch and dinner would be served “ Lazy Susan” style with the food placed in the center of the table and one simply turns the table to be able to reach your wanted item.  The table settings included chopsticks, forks ( sometimes you had to ask for them) a small plate about the size of a bread and butter plate, a small bowl, a small cup ( no handle) and a glass.  Our meals included a beverage and the choice was local beer, Pepsi, Seven Up or water and of course Chinese tea.

Our table awaits - Lazy Susan style

Our table awaits – Lazy Susan style

( It became obvious during our trip the Pepsi Company likely arrived in China first.) While Coke products could be found, you had to go looking for them. Most meals started with the arrival of a large bowl of rice followed by several other dishes some containing small amounts of pork or chicken, a fish dish ( usually carp so too boney for most of us) dishes of cooked veggies.  Soup was often served second to last.  You knew the food delivery was done when the watermelon came out. I think only twice did we get something other than watermelon…of course the cruise was buffet style so I don’t count that.

After our dinner we board the bus bound for our Shanghai hotel, the Jin Jiang Hotel.  We were glad to have our luggage waiting and we all quickly our room keys and head to our room.  Upon entering the room, one of the room keys must be inserted into a slot just inside the door, to keep the power flowing.  I read about this in the book I read on the plane over, so it wasn’t a surprise.  Our luggage arrived quickly and it wasn’t long before we settled into the king sized bed.  The book I read, explained Chinese like their beds hard and after several hotels…I can attest to that. A full day awaits.

Touring Shanghai April 10,2013

Both of us slept well, it may have been due to the fact we were awake for more than 24 hours!  All breakfasts will be served at our hotels and will be a combination of western and Chinese food.  The coffee was welcome, even if it was so strong a spoon would stand up in it. 

One of the youngest our of tour, Maryann was so easy going and so much fun.  She took many many photos and I hope to see them.  I know she got some great shots.

One of the youngest our of tour, Maryann was so easy going and so much fun. She took many many photos and I hope to see them. I know she got some great shots.

Certainly there was enough western choices to satisfy our group and we quickly learned to eat a hearty breakfast given some food options later in the day may be a mystery.  Michael was waiting for us and took us to the bus to start our long day of sight seeing. While driving through the chaotic traffic ( we had a driver), so Michael was free to talk. Michael explained the facilities we may encounter and rated them for our benefit. #1 might be a bush somewhere ( quite frankly I would rate this better than #2 and # 3#2 is a trough when one squats and does what one has to.  At some point, without notice,
A # 4 squatty potty.  The paper is disposed in the garbage can as seen here.

A # 4 squatty potty. The paper is disposed in the garbage can as seen here.

a rush of water will enter the channel and send the debris on it’s way down the channel to who knows where. #3 is a hole in the ground that may or may not have foot holds.  #4 is an enamel bowl placed into the floor, complete with places for your feet, at ground level and commonly referred to as a squatty potty.  Toilet tissue may or may not be present – check by the door, sometimes you find it by the entry. #5 is a western toilet with or without paper.  #6 is a western toilet, with paper, a clean sink, soap and towels for drying.  We found most restaurants have several squatty potties and one ear marked “handicapped” with a western style toilet behind the door.  We frequently had long line ups for the “handicapped” stall, however by the end of our tour, several brave ( and flexible) souls had adapted to the squatting position.  I did not! 

Shanghai “ The Paris of The East” prior to WW2 was a booming city and known for it’s art, architecture and business.  During the 30s and 40s the city suffered raids, invasions and occupation by Japan. 

"Our Group"  It was a challenge to get this photo as the locals kept lining up with us!

“Our Group” It was a challenge to get this photo as the locals kept lining up with us!

After the war the Communists won the civil war and China became a communist country in 1949.  For the next 30 years Shanghai’s industries soldiered on through periods of famine, drought, reform and suppression. The city was central to the Cultural Revolution and the Gang of Four’s base.  The “ January Storm” of 1967 purged many of Shanghai’s old leaders and the Red Guards set out to destroy the four “olds” – Old ways of ideas, living, traditions and thought.  A a result many historical areas were destroyed or left to ruin. Our first stop today would be the Jade Buddha Temple.
Burning incense and bags of "ghost" money

Burning incense and bags of “ghost” money

Completed in 1918 this temple is relatively new by Chinese standards. In order to save the temple when the Red Guards came to destroy it, the monks pasted portraits of Mao Zedong on the outside of it’s walls so the Guards couldn’t tear them down without destroying Mao’s face as well. The temple did suffer from neglect but has since been restored to it’s original beauty. 
White Jade Buddha      aaah...no photos please   oops!

White Jade Buddha aaah…no photos please oops!

The Temple’s great treasure is it’s 6 1/2  foot tall seated Buddha made of white jade with a robe of precious gems, originally brought to Shanghai from Burma.

When we arrived at the Temple, we found it very busy and very smoky. This was a holy day and many people were there, burning incense and praying. In the center of the courtyard was a large caldron( I think it’s called a censer) with an equally large fire burning.  People would place their burning incense into the caldron as well as large red paper bags. Chinese people burn incense both as an offering and as a way of communicating with spirits through the smoke. ( There was a great deal of communication going on as the smoke was very thick).  We later found out the large red bags contained “ghost” money. 

Ladies "prepare" the ghost money by crunching it up and putting it into red paper bags.

Ladies “prepare” the ghost money by crunching it up and putting it into red paper bags.

It’s a scented paper resembling cash and it’s offered up to the spirits in hopes/ prayers of abundance.

We returned to the bus and went on to The Bund (Riverside Parkway). The waterfront boulevard shows the city’s pre 1949 past and it’s focus on the future. The city rebuilt the promenade, making it an ideal gathering place for tourists and residents.  Early morning you find the Bund full of people ballroom dancing, doing aerobics, walking and doing tai chi.  Across the Huangpu river is the Oriental Pearl Tower

Pudong skyline in the background. Notice the "Bottle Opener" building.  Taken on the Bund

Pudong skyline in the background. Notice the “Bottle Opener” building. Taken on the Bund

and a building referred to as the bottle opener…for obvious reasons.  This area is the financial district of Pudong and is less than 20 years old.  Michael said while the national bird of China is the crane, he indicated at any given time 20% of the world’s building cranes can be found in the city of Shanghai and when we passed a building crane we all laughed at seeing the “ National” bird. It was quite amusing when our group stopped for a group photo, we became the tourist attraction as many locals joined in the line up and took their photos with us. The Bund is a great place to take photos of Pudong’s famous skyline.  The photos however are not clear due to the air pollution
The air quality was listed as acceptable.  Hard to see much across the river.  Oriental Pearl Tower ( with it's 3 globes) on the right

The air quality was listed as acceptable. Hard to see much across the river. Oriental Pearl Tower ( with it’s 3 globes) on the right

which Michael described the air quality as “acceptable.” The river also appears polluted and is very busy with barge after barge making it’s way along to and from factories.

We were scheduled to  go to visit a kindergarten in the afternoon, but from 1 to 3, it was nap time.  Rather than waste time, Michael arranged for us to tour the Jinmao Tower. This building is 88 stories ( 8 being the Chinese number implying wealth and prosperity). This art-deco building houses one of the highest hotels in the world.  The Grand Hyatt takes up the 53rd to 87th floor and when you are on the observation deck, you can peer down into the 88 story atrium. The observation deck gave us a 360 degree view of the massive city, however much of it obscured in the ever present smoky haze.

We left the Jinmao Tower and went to a local neighbourhood ( of 90,000) to go to our kindergarten visit.  The children were excited to see us and took each of us by hand up the stairs to a small gym.

Our lovely hosts and performers

Our lovely hosts and performers

  The children preformed songs and dances for us.  Many of us were surprised to see the class was made up mostly of little girls.  I think we expected to see more boys, given China continues with their “one child” policy.  Our group had brought along gifts for the children so before leaving we presented them to the teachers.  The children were so very cute and so very boisterous.

We had time before going for dinner so Michael arranged for us to visit an open air food market and mix with the locals.  Michael indicated his mother shopped here on a daily basis.  The market was covered but open at both ends, allowing pedestrians, bicycles and the odd scooter to squeeze down the aisles.

Fresh frog for dinner?

Fresh frog for dinner?

  There were a variety of stalls and sanitation was limited at best.  Some stalls had a rusty sink, and I did see a couple of coolers, but for the most part, our health inspectors would be appalled at the conditions.  Given the “bird flu” had struck Shanghai all the poultry vendors’ stalls were closed. 
This was the cleanest stall I came across.  Don't those feet look yummy?

This was the cleanest stall I came across. Don’t those feet look yummy?

I think I was most grossed out by the large green “live” frogs for sale and the eels!

After this eye opening visit we went for an early dinner. We were to attend an acrobatic show later , but found time on our hands. Once again Michael arranged for us to tour a local market near the theatre before going on to the show.  The market had several upscale vendors crammed into tiny spaces.  There was also the usual “trinket” shops and also lovely restaurants and tea houses

One could easily get lost walking down these alley ways.  Lots of unique shops.

One could easily get lost walking down these alley ways. Lots of unique shops.

.  The alleys were narrow and one could get lost quickly.  We left the market for a brisk walk to the theatre.  Earlier in the day Michael stressed the importance of keeping our group together and when he wanted to remind us to keep together , he suggested we stick together like “ sticky rice.”  For the rest of the trip, one or more members would yell out “ sticky rice” when someone would fall behind.  However, this night the “sticky rice” concept didn’t work and Brian and I found ourselves way behind the group and not sure where to go when they turned the corner.  This was a bit hairy as I couldn’t remember the name of our hotel, in case we did get lost and needed to get back to somewhere.  We came across a theatre and it was the right one.  Once inside we found we had not been missed.  Thank goodness this never happened again, but it was scary.

The performance was wonderful and amazing.

These girls were very talented and never dropped a plate until the end when they did it on purpose to prove they weren't glued to the poles.

These girls were very talented and never dropped a plate until the end when they did it on purpose to prove they weren’t glued to the poles.

  It reminded me of the recent Cirque D Soleil we had been to a few months ago.  This was indeed a long day but chocked full of new experiences and sights.  The traffic continued to amaze us.  It seems like 8 lanes of traffic trying to squeeze into 6 lanes.  Horns are blowing all the time and we can’t believe so few accidents happen.  It was good to get back to the hotel and go to bed.  We have an 8 a.m. start.

Hangzhou April 12, 2013

This was to be another long day of fighting traffic and touring the city and area.  First stop – breakfast.  This hotel served less western food but the pastries and fruit were enough for me. We got on the bus by 8 a.m. and met our local guide Danny.

Taking a leisurely boat ride on West lake. Too bad the air pollution is so bad.

Taking a leisurely boat ride on West lake. Too bad the air pollution is so bad.

Danny was a stark change from Michael but he was enthusiastic in his delivery. Our first stop this morning was West Lake. West Lake is freshwater lake located in the historic part of Hangzhou. You can find numerous temples, pagodas, gardens and artificial islands within the lake. It was made a UNESCO world heritage site in 2011, and was described as having “ influenced garden design” in the rest of China as well as Japan and Korea.  Over the centuries it has been idealized as “fusion between humans and nature”.  This time we went on a boat tour of the lake.
Amazing serenity amidst the hustle and bustle of the big city

Amazing serenity amidst the hustle and bustle of the big city

The beauty of the lake is marred with the ever present air pollution and the visibility was poor.  West Lake is a very popular place both for the locals and tourists and as a result our bus had to park a great distance away.  Brian really had a time and his hip started to give him grief, but he soldiered on and we eventually made our way back to the bus and entered the impossible traffic as we head out of town to the Dragon Well Tea farm.

We have been blessed with above average temperatures and today we hit 25.  Most of us were not prepared for the warm weather ( although not one person complained).  It was a pleasant trip into the hills to see tea being grown and harvested

hand picking the tea

hand picking the tea

.  This area is famous for it’s Longjing tea.  Literal translation of the name is “ Dragon Well Tea” and is a variety of pan fried green tea.  It is mostly produced by hand and is renowned for it’s high quality and earned the “ China Famous Tea” title.  There are many claims of health benefits of Longjing tea including lowering cholesterol, cancer fighting and even weight loss.  Rather than drinking 15 cups of the tea daily to achieve health benefits, you can buy concentrated tablets. 
pan frying the tea leaves

pan frying the tea leaves

I bought tea and the tablets…so far they haven’t done anything to help the weight loss!  We toured the tea farm, watched how they hand picked the leaves, how they heat the tea leaves ( to stop the fermentation process) and had a short seminar regarding the grading of tea and how to prepare it.  We all were treated to a lovely cup of tea and then were told the resulting leaves were edible, and indeed they were.  While the tea is expensive, once brewed, the leaves can be reused up to five times…I’ve tried it and it is true.  The tea cleans your palette and leaves it sparkling but dry, so you feel the need to drink more tea.  Certainly a bonus for someone who doesn’t get enough fluids a day and may contribute to the bladder and prostate benefits they claim!

We left the tea farm and head for lunch but arrived an hour late due to…the TRAFFIC!  Talk about organized chaos!  After lunch off to the Lingyin Temple. The Lingyin Temple is a premier showcase in the West Lake area and is notable as one of the 10 most famous Buddhist Temples in China and is considered a leading center for research relative to Chinese Buddhist culture

Buddhist Monks at Prayer - a forbidden photo

Buddhist Monks at Prayer – a forbidden photo

.  The temple can be traced back to 317 AD and was given it’s name of “Temple of the Soul’s Retreat” by Huili, an Indian monk.  Over the years it has been subjected to many changes of fortune,  The main building seen today is the result of the restoration carried out in 1974. 

We got off the bus and started our trek towards the Temple.  Brian was still hurting from the morning walk so opted to stay at the start of the path and wait for us to return.  As we start our ascent to the Temple, we come to a place called “Stone Carving at the Peak Flying from Afar.” The peak itself is called “ Peak Flown From Afar”. It was so named by the Indian monk Huili. 

Laughing Buddha - no real resemblance to Brian

Laughing Buddha – no real resemblance to Brian

The peak of limestone ( all surrounding peaks are sandstone) was so different he felt it must have flown from his native home of India…hence.. the given name of Peak Flown from Afar.  The caves of this area shelter about 330 stone statues dating from the 10th to 14th centuries.  A favorite for many is the “Laughing Buddha.”  Legend has it the Buddha has a large belly because he keeps all the world’s troubles in it.  Now if anyone has seen my hubby, they will know he has a nice round tummy.  While waiting for the group to return, he noticed a local resident watching him and smiling. Eventually the man approached Brian and gave his tummy a rub ( apparently rubbing the laughing Buddha’s tummy will bring good fortune.) Brian laughed but a local guard had issues and appeared to give the man what for!  Likely he was told “don’t mess with the tourists!”

We were pleased to be there during a ceremony and saw many monks at prayer, combined with incense,  bell ringing, chanting and singing. I found out ( after the fact) photos of the monks is prohibited.  Ooops!

Pagoda of Six Harmonies - also used as a lighthouse

Pagoda of Six Harmonies – also used as a lighthouse

Once again we saw the worshippers burning incense and creating smoke communications.  Following our tour of the Temple we walked up to the Pagoda of Six Harmonies. Some of the data I have looked indicates one can climb up the 7 story pagoda but either it was closed or no one mentioned it.  Apparently it provides great views of the Qiantang River where in years gone by, lanterns in the Pagoda’s windows acted as a lighthouse for ships on the river.

During the day our local guide Danny had been telling us of the ancient story of the butterfly lovers.

Impressions of the West Lake performance - appears to be walking on water

Impressions of the West Lake performance – appears to be walking on water

Danny revealed he has been trying for most of the day to arrange enough tickets, for everyone on our tour, to attend the evening show held on the West Lake. The story is loosely based on the “butterfly lovers” tale, which is somewhat similar to Romeo and Juliette in that they are both based on unrequited love.  The production called “ Impressions of the West Lake” was developed by Zhang Yimou who created the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics.  
A feast for the eyes and ears

A feast for the eyes and ears

Twenty of our group of 26 agreed to pay the additional cost to attend this show.  For those of us who did attend, it was an outstanding performance and we hated to see it end.  The show opens with music and then the trees on the surrounding islands are cascaded with a variety of color and spot lights.  Off in a distance comes this creature dressed in white and seemingly is walking on water.  It becomes obvious during the show, there is a very large stage which is about 4 to 6 inches under the surface of the water.  On occasion, from this underwater stage, a large triangle rises up and the edges release a cloud from the dry ice, making a surreal scene.  The show was breathtaking.  You can enjoy the show by logging onto YouTube and typing in “ Impressions of the West Lake.” 
The Butterflies of " Butterfly Lovers"

The Butterflies of ” Butterfly Lovers”

Single photos and words cannot adequately describe this beautiful production.  Though we arrived late back to our hotel room, those of us attending were so glad Danny had been able to get us tickets.  We have to be up and have our suitcases out by 715 for another full day of touring tomorrow.  We go to bed, happy but tired.

I just can’t resist one more photo of our evening West Lake performance.

Beautiful setting and staging

Beautiful setting and staging

Sandra.  Sister to Pat S.  The two couples have travelled a great deal together.  Despite two knee replacements, she kept going up and down stairs, doing the long walks and keeping up with the group. She was also pretty quick to veer off and do some shopping.

Sandra. Sister to Pat S. The two couples have travelled a great deal together. Despite two knee replacements, she kept going up and down stairs, doing the long walks and keeping up with the group. She was also pretty quick to veer off and do some shopping.

Harry - married to Sandra and brother in law to Don & Pat.  Harry has a wicked sense of humor and kept us laughing.

Harry – married to Sandra and brother in law to Don & Pat. Harry has a wicked sense of humor and kept us laughing.

Shanghai–Hangzhou April 11, 2013

We were up early to pack our bags and say good bye to Shanghai.  We had a couple of Shanghai sights

Hollowed Natural boulder - found in the inner garden

Hollowed Natural boulder – found in the inner garden

to see before leaving the city and our first stop was the Yu Yuan Garden in the old part of the city, referred to as the China town of Shanghai.
Chinese gardens - more about structure, rocks, water and less about plants. Calming none the less

Chinese gardens – more about structure, rocks, water and less about plants. Calming none the less

This is an excellent model of classical Chines gardening architecture which I find place more value on hard scaping ( rocks, buildings, water features) than on plants. Built in 1559 as a private garden for Pan Yunduan, it covers more than two hectares and features – Big Rockery, Naturally Hollowed Jade boulder, Hall of Emerald Touch of Spring, Opera stage and an Inner Garden.

Since the 18th century, the garden has been a marketplace and a social center where local residents gather, shop and practice qi gong in the evening.

Outer courtyard of the Yu Yuan Garden - the Tea House

Outer courtyard of the Yu Yuan Garden – the Tea House

The garden is a piece of Shanghai’s past and is one of the few old sights left in the city. To get to the garden itself you must wind your way through the Yu Gardens bazaar.  This was to be our guide’s first introduction to the shoppers in our group who wanted to stop to shop instead of viewing the sights. By the time we left China, several in our group had to buy an extra suitcase to bring home all their goodies.

The winding walkways and corridors bring you over stone bridges and carp filled ponds and through bamboo stands and rock gardens. 

Only the Emperor could decorate his living quarters with a dragon so the architect of this garden got creative with this dragon like head by adding an eagle's talon, a unicorn and a butterfly antennae

Only the Emperor could decorate his living quarters with a dragon so the architect of this garden got creative with this dragon like head by adding an eagle’s talon, a unicorn and a butterfly antennae

The garden was a refreshing treat from the hustle bustle of the marketplace and outer courtyard complete with street hawkers all trying to sell the same roller skate attachments and squishy balls.

We left the garden and travelled to the Silk Carpet Factory where we introduced to the silk worm, their growth and development to the production of the silk cocoon.  Today silk manufacturing is dependent on silk production farms and not the worms found naturally. The worm eats only the leaves of the mulberry tree.  In old days, the silk was so valuable, anyone taking silk worms or mulberry seeds out of China would be put to death! The silkworm isn’t a worm at all, it’s a type of caterpillar.  When the silkworm has had it’s fill, it spins a cocoon from a single strand of silk, two to three thousand feet long!  According to legend a Chinese empress discovered how to harvest silk when a cocoon fell into her tea.  She plucked it from the teacup by the loose end of the silk, then unraveled the whole cocoon. To harvest silk commercially,

soaking the cocoons before unwinding the single strand of silk thread

soaking the cocoons before unwinding the single strand of silk thread

cocoons are first steamed to kill the pupae inside.  Next the cocoon is dunked into hot water to dissolve the sticky coating and binds the silk. We viewed a demonstration of harvesting the cocoon and how they unwind the delicate silk strands and form silk threads. The demonstration included using old methods and tools and I couldn’t help but wonder if a new mechanized system of harvesting isn’t used and this demonstration was just for tourists. I took a peek at the internet and the equipment used today is similar to that seen on our tour and given the amount of human labour required, it may help to explain the cost of silk.

After touring this part of the plant we were taken to the retail area and given lots of time to shop.  Our group had the chance to pull a batt of silk fibre to place onto a square which would eventually become a silk quilt.  I think the said over 2000 batts were required to make a single queen size quilt. 

Group members stretching the silk to make a silk duvet/comforter

Group members stretching the silk to make a silk duvet/comforter

The quilts were not too expensive,however the silk duvet covers we upwards of $300 and beyond.  We also had to opportunity to see women using the silk to make silk carpets.  Again this is all done by hand and a large carpet can take one person a year or more to complete.  They last a long time and are often willed generation to generation and can be a good financial investment. 
Hand weaving a rug

Hand weaving a rug

One lady from New York ordered  a carpet custom made.  By the time it was completed three years later, it was worth well more than she paid for it.

Our next stop – lunch – at a Mongoli style restaurant and as it turned out, my worst meal.  Similar to the Mongoli restaurants here, you grab a plate or bowl and put your raw ingredients in and then take it for cooking.  In this case four cooks and a large round grill did the cooking, and each cook stirred and tossed each dish as it passed around from cook to cook.  The problem with this method is, depending on the people ahead of you, you ended up with some of their choices, mixed in with yours.  I’m pretty sure I got fish sauce and hot sauce in mine, so I ate very little.  One could help themselves to the rice and a dessert table of fruit and cookies, so that pretty much made up my lunch that day.

After lunch we board the bus for a drive to Hangzhou.  Even though we were driving through the “countryside” we never felt we were far away from towns and cities.  From time to time we did see single family homes

rural high density housing - often seen rising out of a flat horizon

rural high density housing – often seen rising out of a flat horizon

but more common were high rise complexes in the middle of no where.  It was not uncommon to see  40 to 50 story, high rise apartments, perhaps 20 to 30 clustered together  sudden spring up from the landscape. Our guide explained many industries had moved to the countryside, so we speculated perhaps that is why we suddenly see these out cropping of buildings.  One of our group did a quick count and figured one of these clusters of buildings could easily contain the population of our city of Lethbridge.

After fighting local Hangzhou traffic we made it to the city around 6 p.m. Hangzhou has a long canal running through it, formed by the meeting of the Yellow and Yangtze rivers. 

Grand Canal with China's national bird..the "Crane" in the background

Grand Canal with China’s national bird..the “Crane” in the background

It is referred to as the Grand Canal and is a major waterway for transport from north to south. Hangzhou is famous for it’s West Lake area and is one of China’s most photographed areas. As we had arrived earlier than planned Michael arranged for us to stop at the lake for some additional sightseeing.  It turned out we arrived at sunset and more of us kept snapping until the sun went down.
sunset at West Lake Hangzhou

sunset at West Lake Hangzhou

A short time later we had dinner and then on to our hotel – The Vanwarm Hotel Hangzhou. The room was comfortable however the lighting was poor.  In order to get things from the suitcase I had to use my flashlight. 

West Lake Pagoda at night - reflecting off the water

West Lake Pagoda at night – reflecting off the water

One of the books I read had indicated power supply could be iffy and suggested taking a flashlight.  I didn’t expect to have to use it when all the room lights were on…but it was needed.

Margaret Marie - Maryann's roommate - her great sense of humor and easy going manner made for a fabulous travel mate.

Margaret Marie – Maryann’s roommate – her great sense of humor and easy going manner made for a fabulous travel mate.

Hangzhou to Suzhou April 13, 2013

Luggage out at 7 p.m. then catch the bus at 8 a.m. as we head to Suzhou, The Venice of the East.  Once again the countryside has out cropping’s of high density housing mixed with single family homes and farms.

low rise jean building

low rise jean building

We pass a new building under construction and currently referred to as “ The Low Rise Jeans” building.  The photo rather explains the situation.  As we drive along we see canola being grown in very small plots, and the farmers seem to be putting up temporary green house like structure, to start the vegetables perhaps.
small plots of canola can be found growing all over south China

small plots of canola can be found growing all over south China

Every small piece of land seems to be put to use growing something. This south part of China is very good farm land and while not farmed in large acreages like Canada, the land is put to good use.  The farmers apparently don’t “own” the land, but they are able to grow and keep what they like.  Our guide was telling us the farmers in this area are quite prosperous.  We did find out, the “State” owns all the land and most of it is leased for use either as homes, farms or industry.  An interesting concept similar  to many First Nations of Canada.

Suzhou is known as a place of culture, beauty and sophistication, having produces many artists, writers ad politicians over the centuries. 

traffic on the Grand Canal Suzhou

traffic on the Grand Canal Suzhou

It has developed a local culture based on refinement and taste. Unlike other large cities, Suzhou has banned glass & steel high-rises from it’s traditional “Old City” Suzhou is threaded by a network of narrow waterways. All of these small channels lead to the “Grand Canal” which is a main conduit of trade and travel within China.

On our drive to Suzhou we stopped at a highway rest stop for what turned out to be a memorable place.  It’s quite a large place and includes the normal facilities …. I didn’t use them but found out they were rated a very poor 4 with poor cleanliness…some of the smell noticeable outside the rest stop.

Duck heads anyone?

Duck heads anyone?

Inside there were a variety of food vendors, a grocery store and a convenience type store. We were hit with an overpowering smell which we never could figure out, the source.  We found several interesting food items which my have been the source, but hard to say.  You could purchase BBQ duck heads, BBQ duck feet and the whole  BBQ duck…head included.  There were other BBQ items but we couldn’t really identify them.

Upon arriving in Suzhou our first stop was “Master of the Nets Garden.”  Listed as another World Heritage sight the garden demonstrates for combining art, nature, and architecture.

Barrier of the Clouds Rockery

Barrier of the Clouds Rockery

It was first built in 1140 but has changed hands a number of times, with the new owners changing it’s name and expanding the garden.  The garden is divided into east and west portions.  The eastern portion is the residential area and the western garden is an ensemble of buildings around the Rosy Cloud Pool.  The two dominant portions of the garden are the Barrier of Cloud grotto and a cypress tree dating from the Ming Dynasty.  The areas to the south of the Rosy Cloud Pool are used for social activities and the areas to the north for intellectual activities.
Five Peak Library - featuring Ming Dynasty furniture

Five Peak Library – featuring Ming Dynasty furniture

Before going for lunch we stop at the silk embroidery manufacturer.  This is a dying art as it takes years to become a “master” and it is very hard on the eyes.  The people doing the embroidery are limited to the number of hours per day they can work.  We had an opportunity to meet one of the “masters” who was in her 70’s and had been doing this since her teens.  She is one of only a handful of “masters” remaining. As with any stop we encounter street vendors selling all sorts of goodies and

Jan - wearing his "ponytail" hat

Jan – wearing his “ponytail” hat

Jan just couldn’t resist this charming hat with attached ponytail.  During the trip we got to know Jan and found he was a great travelling companion and kept us in stitches with his wonderful sense of humor.

After our lunch we set off by boat to tour the side canals of the Grand Canal. The Grand Canal is the longest artificial river in the world and links the Yellow and Yangtze  rivers and the oldest part of the canal dates back to the 5th century BC.  The total length is 1776 km however only some sections are open to navigation.  Today it is divided into 7 sections linking various cities and towns along the way. The Grand Canal Suzhou section refers to the part from the Wuqi Bridge to Yazi Ba and covers about 82 km.  Coal, construction materials, rice, oil and agricultural products are shipped to the bordering cities and towns.

You travel close to shops and homes and could watch people washing

Washing the Car....DON'T BACK UP!

Washing the Car….DON’T BACK UP!

their car  in the river…well not in it, but parked next to it.  In addition we saw ladies washing clothes by hand ( beating the clothes) and hanging to dry.  Given the water is polluted and dirty I am not sure how clean the clothes get.  Perhaps they avoid wearing white
Doing laundry the hard way

Doing laundry the hard way


After a lovely cruise we were taken to our hotel the Pan Pacific Hotel – Suzhou.  The hotel backs onto a historic park containing the Panmen Scenic area, Ruiguang Pagoda, Panmen City Gate and the Wumen Bridge. We had checked in around 4 p.m. so we were left plenty of time to wander the gardens and area.

The Water gate

The Water gate

The Panmen Scenic area was officially opened in 2001.  The area contains the Panmen Gate and is the only gate left of the original 8. It’s truly amazing to see the defense system built so long ago and realize it’s sophistication complete with a large portcullis which could be lift or let down to control the flow of people of vessels needed to defend the area.

The 13 storey Ruiguang ( Auspicious light) Pagoda was built in the 220 – 280 period as a way to repay maternal love.  Reconstructed in 1004 the pagoda of today is 54 metres tall and has 7 stories and 8 sides. 

Ruiguang Pagoda - Panmen Scenic area

Ruiguang Pagoda – Panmen Scenic area

The third story was the core of the pagoda and in 1978 a “heavenly palace” was found hidden in it and found to contain several precious relics. I spent about 90 minutes touring the area and taking photos.  The air off in the distance is so polluted but here is a photo of high-rise apartment buildings downwind of a belching smoke stack.

After an early dinner we were back in our room by 7 pm. 

smokestack blowing smoke towards the apartments downwind

smokestack blowing smoke towards the apartments downwind

After a refreshing shower it was off to bed for a good night’s sleep.

April 14, 2013 Suzhou to Shanghai by coach, Shanghai to Yichang by air

Today is a travel day, by bus, plane and boat. We left Suzhou early in the morning by bus.  We travelled out of town on our way to the Shanghai airport.

Single family homes on the outskirts of Shanghai

Single family homes on the outskirts of Shanghai

It’s interesting to see the contrast between city and rural, although their rural isn’t the same as home where you can travel for miles and not see a building.  Here you see a cluster of 30 high rise buildings rising out of the landscape in what appears the middle of nowhere. As we approach Shanghai we see more single family homes which are obviously very expensive,
Gated community complete with golf course

Gated community complete with golf course

as well see a private golf course with  a gated community of expansive homes.  However on the drive we have also seen signs of poverty with people living in nothing more than a shack.

We arrive at the very busy Shanghai airport and go through the check in process.  It’s a very busy airport and we experience the usual delays at check in and security.  Some members have had their checked luggage screened and have to go with security while their bags are examined.  None of our group was found to have contraband but apparently some fluids looked interesting.  This is the first real taste of using one of China’s busy airports and we eventually found out they are keen for everyone to get their exercise before boarding. 

substandard rural housing

substandard rural housing

Check In and Security are often at opposite ends of the airport.  Once passing through security Michael thought we may enjoy a taste of western food, so off we went to find the Burger King which was strategically based on the opposite end of the airport, from our boarding gate. The staff at Burger King were ill prepared for an order of 27 and it took a long time to get the food and some orders never did arrive.  Following our lunch we walked a great distance to our boarding gate where we found our flight delayed.  ( I don’t think any of our flights actually ever left on time.)   This delay did allow some of our group the opportunity to scout out “Coke Zero.”  I think I mentioned before Pepsi products can easily be found, but locating a coke product can be a challenge and after awhile our members got very good at scoping them out.
Our " Coke Zero" queen and bargaining guru

Our ” Coke Zero” queen and bargaining guru

Pat E was particularly challenged by the food situation and could often be found scouting the local areas for a convenience store where she could stock up on western goodies and “Coke Zero.”  By the end of the tour she had us trained to let her know whenever we found goodies.

We arrived in Yichang and was met by our local guide Christine.  We were to be a short distance away( one hour)  from our cruise ship however the ship was on the far side of the dam, so we had an extra long (2 1/2 hr.)  but very scenic bus drive to the ship. As a result we arrived later than planned.  In order to board the ship, we have to board a small tram to take us down the slope to the ship. 

Stunning vista taken from the bus on our way to the cruise ship

Stunning vista taken from the bus on our way to the cruise ship

Our ship is the MS Yangtse 2. Built in 2011 she carried 42 passengers and has 160 crew.One could take the stairs, but the tram was more of an adventure.

We were quickly given our room keys and advised our luggage would be along shortly. I was very impressed with how they brought our luggage on board. I’ll let the photo do the explaining.

Bringing the luggage onboard!

Bringing the luggage onboard!

Our room was very small and when our luggage arrived there literally was no where to put it.  We didn’t have time to unpack as it was time to eat.  Instead of the “ lazy susan” service, the meals were buffet style which we really enjoyed.  With the lazy susan style, each dish contained just enough for a portion for each of the people at the table.  If you didn’t like something, you ate less.  The buffet was enjoyable as when you found something to suit your taste, you just filled up.

We had an orientation session following our dinner and were offered a room upgrade for half the price.  About 4 couples in our group ( us included) agreed to pay for a much larger room.  All the room have a veranda but at least the upgrade room had two chairs on the veranda, instead of the one.  Given the ship is relatively new, it has not been kept up and looks tired an worn.  Our group all agreed the beds were the hardest beds we encountered on our tour.

Cruise ship ( not ours) docked by the dam

Cruise ship ( not ours) docked by the dam

I was disappointed to learn we were not leaving the dock until 5 p.m. the following day.  I later found out we should have caught the ship down river from the dam.  The area had high winds and rain in previous days and the result was a traffic jam at the locks.  Freight takes priority over people, so the ship was not allowed through the locks the previous day.   The area is beautiful but marred with the ever present air pollution.

Yangtze River Cruise April 15, 2013 Touring The Three Gorges Dam

The dam - 181 feet above water ( 600 feet deep in total) and over a mile wide.  Generates 11 times the power of the Hoover Dam

The dam – 181 feet above water ( 600 feet deep in total) and over a mile wide. Generates 11 times the power of the Hoover Dam

Michael promised this part of our China tour would be at a more relaxed paced, however we had to have breakfast early to catch the bus by 830.  Woo hoo, an extra half hour this morning!  This morning we are off to tour the dam site and locks.  The air is very thick this morning and made worse by the calm warm weather.

In preparation for this blog I have tried to do some research to gather more information on the building of the dam and the pros and cons of the dam.

We missed the opportunity to sail through the locks due to recent poor weather causing delays.

We missed the opportunity to sail through the locks due to recent poor weather causing delays.

While touring the USA we have visited many mega projects and the construction of these projects are interesting and make for a great read. After seeing the railroad built across the Florida Keys I purchased and read the book,” The Last Train to Paradise.”  I learned so much more about the railroad and hoped to find something similar about the construction of the Three Gorges Dam.  I found no such book ( yet.) The internet has some information but given the various sources the information is one sided, either against the dam or painting a glowing picture of it.  I can’t seem to find a middle ground.

The concept of the dam is over a hundred years old.

When completed the lift station will be able to lift smaller vessels from downstream to the reservoir level in a matter of minutes

When completed the lift station will be able to lift smaller vessels from downstream to the reservoir level in a matter of minutes

In 1990 construction began on the dam which would become the largest power generator in the world. In addition to the dam, the “lock” system is big enough to handle containerized sea vessels allowing Chongqing to become the world’s farthest inland seaport.  Construction of the dam was completed in 2006 and the last of it’s 34 generators installed last year.   I find it difficult to obtain facts and articles regarding the project. For instance I found articles indicating the cost anywhere between 27 Billion ( US) to 75 Billion. ( Just a bit of a gap); In the construction of the dam, 13 cities, 140 town and over 1600 villages have been submerged.  I did ask if the cities, towns and villages were destroyed/ moved prior to the flooding and was told yes.  However the literature I have found indicates otherwise and says these flooded areas ( including mines) are leading to the pollution of the water.  In the process 1.3 million people were displaced and once again the literature indicates these people for the most part are worse off, while our guides tell us they are much better off. 
 Trying to make farmland on the once " Mountain Top"

Trying to make farmland on the once ” Mountain Top”

The farmers were moved from the fertile valley to high mountain tops where they are scratching out small plots to grow their produce and also plant fruit trees to harvest.  I am not sure they are better off.

The following information is taken directly from the website  www.chinadam.com and spells out some of the controversy.


Table: Summary of the arguments in favor of and against the dam


 Issue : Cost

Negative: The dam will far exceed the official cost estimate, and the investment will be unrecoverable as cheaper power sources become available and lure away ratepayers.

Positive: The dam is within budget, and updating the transmission grid will increase demand for its electricity and allow the dam to pay for itself.

Issue: Resettlement

Negative: Relocated people are worse off than before and their human rights are being violated.

Positive: 15 million people downstream will be better off due to electricity and flood control.

Issue: Environment

Negative: Water pollution and deforestation will increase, the coastline will be eroded and the altered ecosystem will further endanger many species.

Positive: Hydroelectric power is cleaner than coal burning and safer than nuclear plants, and steps will be taken to protect the environment.

Issue: Local culture and natural beauty

Negative: The reservoir will flood many historical sites and ruin the legendary scenery of the gorges and the local tourism industry.

Positive: Many historical relics are being moved, and the scenery will not change that much.

Issue: Navigation

Negative: Heavy siltation will clog ports within a few years and negate improvements to navigation.

Positive: Shipping will become faster, cheaper and safer as the rapid waters are tamed and ship locks are installed.

Issue: Power generation

Negative: Technological advancements have made hydrodams obsolete, and a decentralized energy market will allow ratepayers to switch to cheaper, cleaner power supplies.

Positive:The alternatives are not viable yet and there is a huge potential demand for the relatively cheap hydroelectricity.

Issue: Flood control

Negative: Siltation will decrease flood storage capacity, the dam will not prevent floods on tributaries, and more effective flood control solutions are available.

Positive: The huge flood storage capacity will lessen the frequency of major floods. The risk that the dam will increase flooding is remote.


I have found a great deal of worrying information including information that the builders and others were corrupted and materials and construction systems may have been jeopardized and the dam may fail in the future.  Given the volume of water, the resulting devastation is unfathomable.

Completion of the project is almost done. 

Local Attire

Local Attire

The construction of a small vessel lift, which has been delays several times, has resumed.  When it is finished, small vessels can be loaded into an elevator type system and lifted to the reservoir level, taking just minutes instead of hours and of course frees up the locks for larger vessels.

Following the tour of the site, our bus returned up to the ship in time for lunch.  We remain docked and leave around 5 p.m.  We have an afternoon to relax and catch up with some housekeeping things.  We finally can get laundry done ( at a price) and I think most on our tour took advantage of this.  It was interesting to see when the laundry returned…Brian had nicely ironed underwear.  At home his shirts don’t get ironed, so a little treat for him!

After a little nap we went to the upper level and sat out and enjoyed talking to others and just relaxing.  Shortly after leaving the dock we sailed through the Xiling Gorge.

Fishing the Reservoir

Fishing the Reservoir

The area is 66 km in length and is the longest and deepest of all the gorges with cliffs rising to 4,000 ft.  I stayed on the upper deck snapping photos and enjoying the setting sun. The overpowering smell of Jasmine was a refreshing change from the city smells.

We have been told, prior to the flooding, all the vegetation that would fall below the waterline was removed, so the shoreline has several feet of bare rock above the water. We never did see any regrowth so I wonder how they keep it so clear…or perhaps I really don’t want to know how it’s done!  The waterway is very busy with boats and barges hauling their cargo up and down the reservoir. I missed the Captain’s welcome reception, but was on time for dinner. There was entertainment that night but we opted for an early night.

Heading into the Xiling Gorge

Heading into the Xiling Gorge

Don S - Pat's other half.  Don and Pat have done a great deal of travelling and we enjoyed hearing of their past adventures.

Don S – Pat’s other half. Don and Pat have done a great deal of travelling and we enjoyed hearing of their past adventures.

Pat and Don had some extra excitement.  When we arrived in Shanghai...no suitcase.  Fortunately it showed up the next day.  Her favorite expression..." Where's Don?"

Pat and Don had some extra excitement. When we arrived in Shanghai…no suitcase. Fortunately it showed up the next day. Her favorite expression…” Where’s Don?”

April 16–Sailing into the Shen-nong Stream ( via ferry and sampan)

MS Yangtse 2 Our Cruise Ship

MS Yangtse 2 Our Cruise Ship

This is a day most on tour have been looking forward to.  We will be boarding a ferry and sailing into the Shen-nong Stream where we will get on small paddle boats to enter the narrow parts of the stream.  This area is home to mandarin ducks, golden hair monkeys and the hanging coffins.  We are fortunate to be one of the first group boarding the ferry so most of us were able to get space on the upper deck. 

Travelling the river or fishing.... not sure

Travelling the river or fishing…. not sure

The weather is definitely cooler now and most of us are sporting light jackets.

We disembark at Badong and board the ferry for a picturesque trip upstream.  The scenery is beautiful but devoid of wildlife of any kind.  We see people fishing but not sure what they are catching ( if anything.)  We arrive at a small floating dock and board our paddle boats.  The boats are powered by men with large wooden oars.  Upon closer inspection, it seems the men pulling the oars are not young men. 

70 and 80 year old men propelling our boats upstream.

70 and 80 year old men propelling our boats upstream.

Our guide tells us they are in their 70s and 80s and one of the men on another boat is in his 90s.  They have been relocated up the mountains and make the trek ( often 2 – 3 hrs. )from their hilltop homes, down to the stream daily, to work on these boats and also farm in a small way.  The job of moving these boats is hard as we go upstream and their backs are bending with the effort.  Prior to the flooding of the river, the river was very narrow and rapid. Going upstream was hard and dangerous.
Demonstrating "trackers" pulling the boat upstream

Demonstrating “trackers” pulling the boat upstream

For generations, men worked as “trackers” pulling the boats through the gorges. Rather than wear wet clothing, trackers in previous generations wore nothing while pulling the boats upstream. Today the men no longer get wet ( other than sweat) and are dressed appropriately for the weather.  They gave us a demonstration of how the trackers used to pull the boats upstream.  Our boat neared the shore, two men jumped off carrying ropes, which they stretched out full length.  They then proceeded to use the ropes ( still attached to our boat) to pull us upstream. 
Our paddle boats - note the men with the oars

Our paddle boats – note the men with the oars

A pretty easy job on  the quiet stream today but one can only imagine how difficult it would have been to pull a boat through raging currents and rapids.

As we continue upstream, we see construction of a large bridge and notice a highway being built on the mountain tops.  We get to see this road all three days of our cruise and yet see very little traffic on it.  The government is putting in infrastructure to support transportation and growth in the area. During the relocation process factories were moved to these hillsides to help secure jobs for the local people. 

building the mountain top highway

building the mountain top highway

Despite attempts to keep the residents close to their previous locations, many people left the area and moved to the big cities.

We had been told we may see the golden hair monkeys on this trip into the stream, but we did not.  We did see one “hanging coffin” and the photo I have does not really given one the proper perspective.  The photo was taken with 20 x zoom and then edited to zoom in further.  In reality the coffin was barely seen with the naked eye as it is very high up on the cliff and scientists still cannot prove how these coffins were placed here.

Hanging Coffin of the "Bo" people

Hanging Coffin of the “Bo” people

It is thought the most likely method was lowering the coffin and men by ropes from above. It seems a dangerous job for the living.  The Bo people of this area left  during a war and went to other populated areas where they assimilated into other populations and their culture lost.  By examining these coffins the scientists are learning more about these lost people.

China’s hanging coffins come in three types.  Some are cantilevered out on wooden stakes ( as  in this photo).  Some are placed in caves while others sit on rock outcroppings. 

Hillside memorials for the dead

Hillside memorials for the dead

Most of the coffins have been opened and then restored and in some cases, secured in place so none will be lost.  The ones in this area are thought to be about 400 years old, but others in China date back 1000 to 2500 years.

Upon return to our cruise ship we set sail towards the Wu Gorge.  This is the second of the three gorges.  It winds 45 km with 12 peaks on each bank.  Sometimes it looks like you are going straight into  a mountain when the river turns and the scenery changes once again.  The most famous of the peaks is commonly known as “Goddess Peak.” 

Goddess Peak

Goddess Peak

There is a rock outcropping near the top and when seen from below, looks like a girl looking down at the boats in the river.  This is the tallest of the peaks and is the first to get the morning light and the last to have the evening light as is known also as “Looking Sunglow Peak.” There are several “legends” about the peaks and the “goddess.”  The most common story is about the girl named Yaoji, the youngest daughter of the Queen mother in the western heaven. On a mid autumn day Yaoji and her 11 sisters descend themselves to the secular world to enjoy the scenery.  They found the gorge to be beautiful and dangerous so they decided to stay to protect the boatmen and in time transformed themselves in 12 peaks and Yaoji is their delegate standing on the northern bank.

For those of us who upgraded our rooms, Ian found out we were entitled to dine in the private dinner room on the 5th deck.  We decided to give it a try during lunch. 

Private dining room - had to try it once

Private dining room – had to try it once

We received a cool reception and after making a few calls the head server “allowed” us to enter the room and have a table.  However he also reminded us the food served here is the same as the main dining room.  We felt as welcome as an ant at a picnic and after our lunch, decided we missed our group and would not be returning to eat here.  Ian and his traveling companion Pat 
Ian - kept us laughing... and spending!

Ian – kept us laughing… and spending!

have taken this trip before and have been very helpful is preparing us for the trip ( before we left home) and also helping some of us get “good deals” when shopping. They both prefer to sit at the back of the bus and we find there must be monkey business going on back there given all the laughing and noise.

We spend the after sitting out and enjoying the scenery.  We see lots of buildings and small towns but they seem devoid of people and the buildings look empty. 

Ian's partner in crime...and fun

Ian’s partner in crime…and fun

The mountainous peaks trap the air and the air is thick and blue and worsens as we travel upstream. At 4 pm we dock at FengJie while some people took the optional White Emperor City  tour.  Baidi or Baidicheng city literally means “White Emperor City”  and much of the city has been relocated higher while the older parts of the city was submerged.  The Baidi Temple now sits on an island – formed when the rising water cut off the land access – and is accessed by a bridge. We did not take this tour but those who did said they enjoyed it. We sailed away at 7 pm an went back to our room to enjoy the verandah as we sailed away.

Sunset on the Yangtze River

Sunset on the Yangtze River

The scenery today was spectacular and will end the post with the addition of more photos.  While doing further research I found a video on the dam which had a fairly even bias on the dam.  It’s worth a watch.  You can view it by going to Youtube and look up “ Un-gorgeous 3 Gorges – China” or trying www.youtube.com/watch?v=3z9K82ZVdMA

washing clothes in the dirty water

washing clothes in the dirty water

Prior to the flooding of the river, there were several types of stone engraving on the rock walls.  In this area, the engravings were reproduced higher on the mountain so the memory of the etchings would be preserved. For a better view double click on the photo.

Prior to the flooding of the river, there were several types of stone engraving on the rock walls. In this area, the engravings were reproduced higher on the mountain so the memory of the etchings would be preserved. For a better view double click on the photo.

farming on a mountain top

farming on a mountain top

Sunset Pagoda

Sunset Pagoda

April 17, 2013 Last full Day of the Yangtze River Cruise

Scenery upstream of the city of Fendu

Scenery upstream of the city of Fendu

This morning we will dock in the city of Fendu. The new Fendu was built between 1985 and 1993 in anticipation of the old city flooding with the building of the Three Gorges Dam.  The new city is built high on the mountain, ( Ming Mountain)well above the current water line.  The morning is warm and the day gets warmer and very humid.  At times taking a photo of something off in the distance is impossible due to poor visibility. 

Ghostly masks for sale and the usual trinkets

Ghostly masks for sale and the usual trinkets

We set out to tour the “Ghostly” area  and wend our way upward to the reconstructed temple.The entrance to “Ghost City” is littered with wooden shacks housing a hoard of vendors trying to sell ghostly masks, food and drink and the usual trinkets.  It’s a bit of a climb so Brian opted to wait it out until our return. As we make our way to the top we pass many grotesque looking sculptures. 

One of many ghoulish sculptures

One of many ghoulish sculptures

Apparently they are to scare off evil spirits although it seems there was a story to each of them.  I’m afraid by now I’m getting a bit “Templed” out and may not be taking as much notice of my surroundings. Our guide indicated we may be put to a test in order to be allowed into the 600 yr. old temple.  Considering the temple has been reconstructed I’m not sure how they can say it’s 600 years old. If one passes the tests they can be deemed pure of heart and would be allowed to enter.

As you approach the Temple from the back side, you come to three bridges. 

Our tour directors Donna and Bob crossing the "Judgment Bridge" together.  Donna with a camera in front of her face.....as usual!

Our tour directors Donna and Bob crossing the “Judgment Bridge” together. Donna with a camera in front of her face…..as usual!

One bridge is for health, one for judgment and one for money.  One can pick which bridge they choose to cross, or they can cross all three.  For the first test, one must cross the “judgment” bridge. As you cross the bridge, you cross it with your loved one or you must be thinking about who you want to spend eternity with.  You must cross in 9 steps without slipping or falling.  Sounds pretty easy but the curve of the bridge and the worn stones make for a very hairy crossing and staying on your feet can be a challenge.  I think no one makes it across when it’s raining or wet.  If you slip you are deemed to be a bad person and you will spend eternity in the rivers of hell.

The stone test.  Move the round 200 lb. stone so it comes to rest on top of the pedestal

The stone test. Move the round 200 lb. stone so it comes to rest on top of the pedestal

I missed the second test but did find the information on it. You have to roll a 200 lb. ball onto a stone pedestal.  Many have tried and failed.  There is a local villager who can do it in one quick motion, but it took him two years of practice to hone the skill required.

The third test is standing on a small round rock with one foot and count to 3 while doing it.  Apparently you are to be facing into the Temple while doing it, but no one told our group so they did it with their back to the Temple and many of our members aced this test.

There are many ghoulish places and objects but the one that turned my stomach and made me take a hasty retreat was called the “ Ghost Torturing Pass.”  It was models of people being tortured in unspeakable ways and a place I’d like to forget as it was extremely graphic.

We made out way down the hill on an outside walkway and did not see Brian. 

Dakota and his sweet waitress

Dakota and his sweet waitress

We realized he had been left further up the path so our youngest tour member Dakota made the trek up to fetch him.  Dakota is very young and was travelling with his mother.  He proved to be a real asset to our group and we routinely used his strength and speed as needed.  He is a real credit to his mother as he is so kind hearted and genuinely a sweet guy.  He was taken by one of our on board waiters as seen in this photo.  They make a cute couple but none of us had room in our suitcase for her.

We make it back to the ship for lunch which had a special treat for us… a plate of chicken feet.  I’m pretty sure it went back to the kitchen untouched.  We sailed away early afternoon and most of us enjoyed the day just watching the scenery pass by as we sat on our verandah. 

Distant mountaintop, now an island.  Had water buffalo grazing on it.

Distant mountaintop, now an island. Had water buffalo grazing on it.

We were surprised to see a number of water buffalo on an island, grazing happily in the sun.  No photos…could barely see them with the binoculars.  They weren’t alone on the island, their human caretaker was on the small island ( once a mountain top) with them.  Have no idea how they get them off and on the island.  This is the first time we have seen grazing animals.  The small amount of beef we had was listed as Australian beef and most dairy products are from New Zealand.  Given the scarcity of farm land in south China, I’m sure they can’t afford to use it to graze cattle on.

This evening was our farewell dinner followed by a show put on by staff and passengers.

Staff providing evening entertainment - much better than the passengers!

Staff providing evening entertainment – much better than the passengers!

We took the song “ Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore” and reworked the words to pay tribute to our guide Michael, who coincidentally was celebrating his birthday.  Upon return to our room, we have to pack and be ready to leave early in the morning.

I’ll end with just a couple of photos from today.

Off loading coal.. or ore

Off loading coal.. or ore

Factory moved to the river's edge

Factory moved to the river’s edge

Double click to increase the photo size and read more about the 3 bridges

Double click to increase the photo size and read more about the 3 bridges