Sunday, September 02, 2012

2012 Asian Adventure - Cruising the Three Gorges (Part Two)

Day Five

Hilltop temple in the morning mist along the Yangtze river.
On our last full day on the Yangtze Explorer we had a choice to make.  We could either go to the relocation village or we could go to the Ghost City.  The relocation village would take you to a village relocated after the water level rose to see how people were taken care of after the dam was built and "get a glimpse of real life in China".  The Ghost City is a temple that represents the Chinese afterlife.

Now, our tour group had been together for a whole four days and we were already getting along awesomely so it was no surprise when everyone said, almost in unison, "Ghost City!"  Our guide was a little flabbergasted I think.  Most of us tour goers are interested in the old China and all the history.  The guide was pushing the modern China.  China has a very different way of looking at its history.  History is to be forgotten and put away to allow for the new, be it a new dynasty or a new form of government, to be front and center, one example of how Confucianism affects Chinese thought.  Elders are to be respected but, as soon as they die, all pictures, painting, or other images of the Elder along with all of his/her possessions are to be disposed of.  That is how China treats its history ... they dispose of it.  I think, it has only changed recently once they realized travelers would pay to see it.

So, instead of seeing the modern China of the relocation village, we went to the Ghost City.  Our guide came with us ... a bit reluctantly I think.  While she said she was not religious she said the city made her nervous.  It may have been the depictions of ghosts and the tortures of Hell ... or it may have been the over 600 steps we would have to climb to get there.

A protector of the heavenly realm.
After climbing steps from the ship up to street level we took a tram to the entrance of the Ghost City.  From there we walked the shop-keeper gauntlet and then up even more steps up to the temples.  To make it feel bit more like Hell, a new escalator had been installed next to the steps we went up ... but they were not working yet.  At the top we passed temples and shrines of various protectors, warriors, and gods.

We reached a set of three bridges -  one of the tests needed to pass into heaven.  One gives you health.  One gives you wealth.  One gives you love.  If I remember right you had to cross the bridge in seven steps so The Wife and I held hands and walked across the love bridge.  Neither of us was thrown into the water so we passed the test.

Golden God.
After another temple we walked a path lined with representations of ghosts, each representing a sin or a virtue.  The statues looked very new but they are supposed to be old.  The temple were built almost 1,600 years ago and rebuilt a thousand years later so a lot of the complex is close to six hundred years old.  This temple complex, unlike many we saw, was not destroyed during the cultural revolution because the soldiers were afraid - They didn't want to end up in Hell.  Who would?

An inebriated ghost.
At the top is a temple to the head deity who determines if you go to Hell or Paradise.  In the temple there were statues depicting the tortures of hell.  Many of these were pretty gruesome.  I see why the superstitious soldiers left everything intact.

By the time we'd gone through the whole temple complex and had returned to the ship I'd pretty much sweated through every item of clothing I was wearing.  It didn't seem hot but the humidity ....

There were things scheduled that afternoon aboard ship.  I ended up skipping some of it.  After a shower and lunch I skipped the Captain's tour of the bridge and the Chinese painting and Calligraphy demonstrations.  Instead I went to the ship's spa and had a ninety minute Chinese Acupressure massage.  When I showed up at the spa I pointed at the acupressure treatment.  They looked at my choice and asked if I were sure I wanted that and tried to steer me more towards a Swedish style massage.  I insisted and take into a room by the tiny little lady who proceeded to kneed my muscles with the strength of an amazon.  I swear she could have snapped your neck like a twig ... with one tiny little hand.  I also discovered that a little pain, when applied appropriately really relaxes your muscles.  The ninety minutes went by like seconds and I left feeling incredible

My massage ended in time for me to join the mahjong class already in progress.  I watched over the Wife's shoulder and learned the basic rules.  After coming really close to winning her first game, the Wife turned her place over to me where I proceeded to lose the next three games ... coming close to winning only once.  (SH from San Diego won all four games.)

We were all winding down from our three days on the ship and we were all ready to move on to the next stage of our China trip.  We were all getting a little tired of the hazy sunshine and the lack of wildlife - I saw a total of four birds over the three days.  Our guide and the ship's crew couldn't really give us an explanation for the lack of wildlife.  We all suspected a combination of habitat destruction by the dam and pollution.

Our last full day on the river ended with a Captain's dinner with a variety of Chinese food.  All the staff were in costume. We dressed up as best we could - I didn't really pack any really nice clothes but I did have a button down shirt and a nice, but casual, pair of pants.  The food, which up until then was excellent (we all ate way too much on that ship), was only mediocre.  Chinese cuisine is not on the top of my list but it was good enough.

I mentioned that I'd developed a disinterest in cruising.  I have to say my experience aboard the Yangtze Explorer has change my opinion a bit.  Small, intimate, informal cruises up interesting rivers now have an attraction.  I'm already thinking about taking cruises up the Nile and Amazon rivers someday.

Day Six

Our ship had docked in Chongqing the night before.  We had time to kill before our afternoon flight so we got on a bus and went to a shopping district in old Chongqing.  Our guide gave us some time and the Wife and I wandered around, priced a few things, explored the exotic shops (at least for us) and restaurants.  This street felt more authentic compared to what we'd seen in Shanghai.  We didn't buy anything.  We did look at the food ... but octopus tentacles on a stick didn't seem appealing.

Chongqing market street - the Panda is our guide ... follow the panda.
From there we went to the airport.  This is where the weirdness started.  Our next flight was taking us to Lhasa, Tibet and security was tight ... excessively so.  Our guide had told us she was worried about Tibet.  We were on a group visa which meant if one of us got sick and couldn't travel then all of us would not be able to go.  We could not be carrying an "excessive amount of literature" like magazines or books about Tibet.  We had to start being careful what we said and who we spoke to.  The guide also emphasized how lucky we were to have gotten our visa since Tibet had been shut down since some tourists unfurled a "Free Tibet" sign and several monks had self-immolated.

We got through security without any issues and we took the short flight to Lhasa.  From the plane you could see the hills become mountains and plains become valleys.  As we approached the Lhasa airport I looked out the window and saw anti-aircraft missile batteries ... we weren't in Kansas anymore.

Flying over the Himalayan foothills.
We were met at the airport by our Tibetan guide (Full blooded Tibetan - not a Chinese Tibetan), Max, who led us to the bus and talked about Tibet on the way to Lhasa (The airport is about an hour outside the city).  From the beginning you could see there was some tension between our two guides.  I perfect example of the Han Chinese - Tibetan relationship.

Lhasa is divided into old and new towns.  Old Lhasa is Tibetan.  New Lhasa is Han Chinese.  Lhasa is now half Chinese.  We passed through new Lhasa on the way to our hotel and passed several mining and drilling ministry buildings.  I now know why China wants total control of Tibet.

We checked into our hotel.  I crossed the street to a small store and bought some soda and water ... I even used one of the hand signals to indicate that I wanted six cans of Coke Zero.  The rest of the evening was resting, eating, and resting some more.  I felt very tired, had a mild headache, and I felt like I was floating - all altitude related I suspect.  Lhasa would be our highest spot during our Asia trip at 11,450 ft (3,490 m).  Our Tibetan adventure would start tomorrow.

Pictures from days five and six (06/27 - 06/28/2012) can be found in my 2012-06 China Google Photos album.

Our 2012 Asian Adventure continues ...

1 comment:

  1. Love it!! My mum and I want to learn mahjong! That's amazing about Tibet and security

    ReplyDelete