Hi from Chengdu, China

Welcome to part 2 of my insights from China – a country of rubble and cranes… The amount of building and infrastructure work going on over here is absolutely amazing.

We were all quite sad to leave Yangshuo, as we’d had a great time. We headed back to Guilin where we caught a train to Wuhan. I was wrong about the train being a soft sleeper – it was another hard sleeper.  From Wahan we had a never ending bus ride to Yichang. The traffic around Wahan was crazy. We were stuck in a traffic jam for about an hour. But no one really minded, we just sat there and watched everyone go about their everyday life. I did get a bit of a shock though when I saw a taxi man get out of his car and relieve himself in the middle of the traffic jam. I wasn’t sure if I was really seeing what I thought I was seeing until I saw the tell-tale puddle near his car. There was another poor Chinese man stuck in the back of a truck with a load of fruit. I think that would have been an uncomfortable journey. 

We eventually made it out of the city and crossed a bridge where we had our first viewing of the mighty Yangtze. A very swollen, fast flowing brown river. Much dirtier than the Yarra!

We didn’t arrive in Yichang until after 4pm (we were supposed to be there for lunch). As well as the traffic jam there were road works everywhere.  No one could sleep on the bus, as just as we would be falling asleep we would suddenly jump out of our seats as the bus flew through a pot hole or dodged around some rubble. Unlike Australia where we do small sections – they seem to do huge long stretches at once, and there doesn’t seem to be as much of the big machinery that we use. A lot of the men just seemed to be using sledge hammers and picks.

From Yichang we caught a boat for our 3 day cruise down the Yangtze. I don’t know where to begin to describe the boat to you. Let’s start with the good things. Firstly I made it back to land, so the boat must have been sea-worthy, but that wasn’t something that I was confident about when I first got on. Oh – the beds were the softest we’ve had, and I had the best sleep I’ve had on this trip, and I suppose the meals were okay, but I think that’s because I was hungry.

I’m struggling a bit with the food. I keep trying the local dishes, but there isn’t a lot I like. There seems to be lots of noodles in the morning – particularly on the trains and boat. They’ve all got these bowls of noodles and you just add hot water and satchels of flavouring. I just can’t come at noodles for breakfast. I mean I don’t eat 2 minute noodles at home, so there’s no way I can do it here. I was going to bakeries and buying stuff from there for breakfast, but that really only worked in Hong Kong. Here I’m finding that the bakery stuff is way too sweet. Everything I try has weird stuff in it, is really sweet or drenched in butter or so oily. I can’t walk into a bakery now without my tummy doing flip flops. Having said that I’ve had the occasional really yummy meal, and I’m getting quite good with my chopsticks. Had Yak meat tonight which was beautiful. Not sure about the little birds on sticks, or the chicken heads, necks, feet, etc. Best snacks I’ve found so far are ice-creams – I’ve tried numerous varieties, and haven’t had a bad one yet!

Now where was I? Ah yes, the Yangtze trip, and the boat. Well I’ve told you the good things about the boat. We were staying in First Class, but it was the worst first class I’ve ever seen. The rooms were so musty. The first thing Sam (girl I’ve been sharing a room with) and I did was take off the lovely leopard print doona, and got out our sleep sheets. We were both dying for a shower, as it had been 2 days since our last one, but we took one look at the shower (which was the toilet as well), and we went hunting in our bags for our thongs. I forgot to mention that the toilet was western style, but there was a disturbing pool of water that you had to stand it to go to the toilet. The drainage in our toilet/shower was less than ideal. I attempted a shower (cold water – no hot), but it was almost impossible because our shower head was dribbling water (no pressure) in every direction, but not right down. If you haven’t realised by now I am quite girly when it comes to my bathroom facilities, but I think after this trip I’ll be able to camp anywhere!

Despite the facilities on our boat, it was a very relaxing trip. The Yangtze trip was a real eye-opener, not for the beauty of the scenery (which didn’t come close to the area around Yangshuo), but for the shear magnitude of what the Chinese are doing with the 3 Gorges dam project. Before continuing I should mention that the cliffs of the 3 Gorges were nice, but I spent most of the time trying to imagine what they would have been like when the water level was 60 m lower. Gosh they would have been awesome then.

Before we got on the boat we went out to the dam site. It isn’t the dam that is amazing, but the other infrastructure they’ve put in place. New roads, tunnels, bridges, building of whole new cities in a few years, and relocation of so many people. When they destroy a town or building that the river is going to cover, they knock down the old buildings (otherwise they might become shipping hazards), they clean the bricks so they can be re-used, they stabilize the hillside and even kill all the rats! The water level is at 135m, and by the time the project is finished it will rise another 40m to 175m. So there is still lots of work going on and all along the river there are signs saying 175m. So you know where the water is going to rise to. All the way along I was trying to imagine the water level 60m lower, but at the same time trying to visualise it 40m higher.

All of the guides were very pro dam. I suppose they have to be. Some people would have liked relocating to brand new bigger apartments further up the hill, but I’m guessing a lot of the older people were reluctant to move., We stopped in at Fengdu, the “city of ghosts”. Most of the Chinese boat tourists got off the boat to visit the temples and statues devoted to the gods of the underworld, but our group just wandered around the rapidly disappearing city. The place looked like a bomb site. But the amazing thing was that there were still several hundred people living amongst the rubble. It was one place where you really didn’t want to bargain for your fruit or water. I pretty much just paid them what they wanted.

The people were so friendly and we stopped in at one place and had a beer. They tried to feed me, and took great delight in showing me the weirdest food they could find, and killed themselves laughing at my reactions. All the demolition seems to be happening by hand. They have these weird bamboo sledge hammers which they allowed me to try and swing – bit heavy for me.

Our tour group is getting along famously. Paul, one of the English lads is a constant source of amusement. Some of his antics reduce us to tears. The other night he performed a mock marriage between Pia (our tour leader) and a Chinese boat passenger. We had jokingly decided that she had proposed to him earlier that day when she offered him a piece of cake. Even since that moment he took a ‘real shinning’ to her and would pull up a chair and sit beside her whenever she was on the deck. We thought it was hilarious, and so did the group of people he was with. No one could understand a word of what each group was saying, but laughter broke down all the communication barriers. We were all roaring, clapping and crying with laughter.

As you can tell I’m still having a great time. (Despite some of the culture shocks.) Before I finish I’ll just mention a couple of other things that have struck me about China. Firstly the country does have a dirty fee about it. Mainly because of the rubbish, rubble, bathrooms and pollution. But the contradiction is that they have people sweeping the side or the highways… The other thing that I haven’t mentioned is the spitting. Yes there is lots & lots of it… At the moment it isn’t bothering me – it’s just part of the experience. The other day on the way to Chengdu I had great fun in counting the number of times the bus driver opened his window to spit. Between 7am and 8am I counted 5 huge big spits out the window. It got better – he only spat another 2 times after that. The women beside me spat into a plastic bag twice during the 4 hour bus trip.

Spent today visiting the pandas and wandering around Chengdu, a little city of oh about 11 million people!!! Crossing the street is almost a death wish. Vehicles don’t seem to pay any respect to the green men telling me I can walk. I swear I have no idea what the road rules are over here. Numerous times I could have sworn that the bus we’ve been in was going to be hit but some other moving vehicle, or worse we were going to clean up a cyclist or pedestrian. The only way to make it safely across the street is to wait until a local comes up and I just cross whenever they cross, and try to keep them between me and the cars, motorcycles, cyclists. I figure if they get hit first I might survive.

Must go – this has been an epic of an email. Tomorrow we’ve off to the big Buddha and Mount Emei where we are staying in local monasteries. I’m off now back to the hotel to take advantage of a great shower and a huge big bed – not sure what we’ll be getting at the monastery…

Take care.

Lots of love

BTW – HAPPY FATHERS DAY DAD!!!

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