Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Great Wall has been overtaken by Vikings! And now they come home....

Never easy to say "goodbye!"
Greetings tonight from Newark Liberty International Airport!  Your writer snuck out of Beijing last night to tend to some other business back home, but left the Band in the excellent and ever-capable hands of Dr.'s Schilf and Pennington as well as our chief guide in residence, Christine.  It was a bittersweet morning to see them take off for the Great Wall without me, but I knew they'd have the best of times as I flew home up and over the North Pole on my way to "Snowmageddon" (aka, NYC).  Gee, now that I'm here, it is difficult to
actually FIND any snow, but I suppose it is best to be safe rather than sorry (right, Jay Trobeck and Shawn Cable?)

Just messaged with Dr. Schilf and he tells me that the gang has had breakfast and will soon be loading the buses ONE MORE TIME to head to Beijing's Capital Airport.  MY, has THAT place changed since we first landed there in a dust storm in 1999!  There are now umpteen terminals and gosh knows how many gates.  The security lines were long and slow yesterday afternoon, but I don't think that's the norm. There are even hundreds of shops in which they can spend any last remaining Yuan.  HA.  Come to think of it, they went to the silk market after the Great Wall, so I bet you money they have no money left! 

There is proof tonight that they DID make it to the wall.  Here is a photo of Emily Whede from her Facebook page.  (I was very honest with them that I'd think nothing of stealing any photos that showed the wall tonight!! - So far, I've only seen this one.)  Thanks, Emily!  Geesh, you really climbed up there!


For those of you who are watching these sorts of things, here are the flights that bring the Augie band home today:

Thursday January 29
Delta Air Lines  #188
Beijing, China to Detroit, MI
11:20A depart
11:50A arrive  (how about that, it only takes 30 minutes to get here!)
       
The group goes through Passport Control and Customs in Detroit.



They then connect to:

Delta Air Lines    #1913
Detroit, MI to Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN
3:31P  depart
4:37P  arrive

Some of the (flutes and alumni) group continues on to Sioux Falls via a Delta flight:




Delta Air Lines  #2215
Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN to Sioux Falls, SD
7:40P  depart
8:45P  arrive

Others will board Reading Bus Lines once they receive their luggage and head for Sioux Falls.  We anticpate an arrival between 8:30 - 9:00 p.m. if the flights are on time.

THANK YOU for following our journey.  Hope you've enjoyed keeping up with us!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Blue Skies, Big Smiles, Final concert a resounding success!


Beautiful day along the canal enroute to Downtown Beijing
Beijing is the capital of the most populous country in the world, China.  With a population of 21.5 million people, it is the nation's second-largest city, after Shanghai. It was also the seat of the Ming and Qing dynasty emperors until the formation of a republic in 1911. As one of six ancient cities in China, Beijing is the political, educational and cultural centre of the country and as such it is rich in historical sites and important government and cultural institutions.   Today, it has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, with about 140 million Chinese tourists and 4.4 million international visitors in a year.

The city is marked by its flatness and arid climate. There are only three hills to be found in the city limits (in Jingshan Park to the north of Forbidden City) and mountains surround the capital on three sides. Like the configuration of the Forbidden City, Beijing has concentric "ring roads", which are actually rectangular, that go around the metropolis and serve as good reference points as one attempts to move about the city. Beyond the ring roads are the most-visited portions of the Great Wall of China.
Entrance to home of Chinese President (Chairman)

And yes, there is smog.  On a summer’s day with clear blue skies and excellent visibility the pollution levels in Beijing are way above the standards set by the World Health Organization. In winter when coaled fired heating is used and there is no wind or rain to remove the pollution, the levels of pollution measured by the US embassy (the most reliable source) is off the charts and at least 30 to 45 times the recommended safety levels. What is even scarier is Beijing is not the most polluted city in China.  It is not even in the top ten of the most polluted cities in China.

Yet we have been SO lucky.  It’s been almost beautiful in Beijng!  Our guides tell us that the smattering of snow that heralded our arrival the other day, followed by a bit of wind yesterday drove out the “bad stuff” and left us with blue sky.  Cold, but blue!  That’s not to say that the air can’t be bothersome, but nothing like what some of our students expected (or even hoped for?)  Arthur, the guide on Bus One indicated that he had worked very hard to give us APEC BLUE SKIES.  (As you recall, the APEC Conference was here a few months ago and all industries were shut down for a few days to clear the air for Obama et all....... :-)

Beijing Concert Hall, near Forbidden City
Today, Monday, students have the morning “off.”  At 1:00 we gather to head toward lunch and then our rehearsal and final concert in China, at the world famous Beijing Concert Hall.  The students don’t know this yet, but I’m bringing in McDonald’s for dinner.  Seriously.  It kills me to do it, but our timing restrictions are such that it’s the best move for us.  Besides, I have to get them to begin to transition back to real life, right? 

Built in 1985, Beijing Concert Hall was China's first ever professional concert hall with high quality sound facilities. The performance space on the first ground seating over 1,000, while art exhibitions are mounted on the upper levels. most concerts held here include the instrumental & vocal music, Western and Chinese.  The Augustana Band first played this hall in 1987, shortly after it was opened.  In the concert hall, a lower platform reduces the space between performer and audience. A 15-panel reflective board hung above the stage in three groups sends sound waves from below to every corner of the hall, maximizing the acoustic effect.

How did we do?   We (THEY) did GREAT.  Wonderful crowd, wonderful final concert. 
Tomorrow – the GREAT WALL!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Riding into history....and Pandas!


Beijing's hutongs are a glimpse - fast disappearing - of what the city used to look like before the skyscrapers took over the skyline. A hutong is a narrow alleyway formed by joining together courtyard residences. When you hear people speak of 'the hutongs', they will often be referring to the neighborhoods formed by these alleys.

Development has destroyed many of these traditional neighborhoods, but some have been preserved, most notably those around the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower. These hutongs, close to the Forbidden City, are the spacious and orderly kind that would have belonged to aristocrats and top-ranking officials in their day.  Beijing's poorer hutongs are far more haphazard and cramped,
but are still an important part of the city's history. Each hutong has its own name - sometimes many layers of names - and its own set of stories.

We began our day by a visit to these hutongs near the city centre, and once we arrived near the area, each of us grabbed a partner and jumped into a rickshaw, skillfully driven by an area resident.  Off we went, in a long line (there were at least 34 separate rickshaws!) weaving our way through the narrow streets and alleys.  Our specific visit was to a hutong purchased by a family in 1959....it is worth more than $50 Million today.  Seriously....I'm sure that's what our guide said.  :-)    Four small buildings facing a quardrangle (courtyard.)  The owner talked about life here, and how since his family is gone now, he rents rooms to honeymooners and more.  Quite interesting indeed.  I'm not aware of anyone who would pay the going rate to purchase this, but one never knows!
For many visitors, the aim to go to Beijing Zoo is to see the giant pandas and that's where we headed next.  The first birth of a giant panda in captivity occured at the Beijing Zoo 1963. The first artifcial insemination breeding success in the world was achieved at the Beijing Zoo in 1978. As a symbol of friendship, the giant pandas have been presented to many countries. 

Of course, our students were not going to miss the chance to meet the VIP - very important pandas! The Beijing Panda House is composed of two parts, namely the Asian Games Panda House and Beijing Olympic Games Panda House. The Asian Games Panda House was constructed in 1990. During the Asian Games 1990, the giant panda "Pan Pan" was chosen as the mascot of the 11th Asian Games in Beijing. The giant panda "Jing Jing" was again chosen as one of the mascots of the 29th Olympic Games 2008 in Beijing. So Beijing Zoo built the Olympic Games House.  Seems to me that everyone enjoyed this 30 minute visit.....but these Pandas sure don't do much.  Well, they eat bamboo.  But that's about it.  HA!  And we're off to lunch!


Our stop following lunch was at Zhongguancun High School, one of Beijing's top high schools and built in 1982 in the heart of the Zhongguancun Technology Park - the "Silicon Valley" area of Beijing. With 4,000 students on three campuses, and a widely recognized staff, the school is considered to be one of Beijing's "Model Schools."

The campus is a beautiful environment, advanced teaching facilities, building technology, art, sport activities, venues and unique studio, museum specimens of wild animals. The school entrance examination results improved steadily.  The school has  very close relationship with the Chinese Academy of Science.  In fact, the director of this important agency was with us for the mid-day concert.

This high school has a band of some 90 members.  This group has won several national competitions and an international event in Belgium just last year.  They were seated and ready to play for us when we arrived - yet we performed first for about 25 minutes, then they played for us.  We combined the groups for two finale numbers.  All in all, fun.  We may have recruited a few students today!  When they basketball players heard of our season back home, they lined up to hear more about us!  

Off to dinner, and then another easy evening with no activities.  As we have a free morning tomorrow, it will be tomorrow afternoon before we learn what people were up to....I'm sure there will be some good stories!


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Forbidden City, forbidden foods....


Oh my goodness, morning came early today.

That said, it was a heck of a way to begin our visit to Beijing!  J

10-year old boy performing for us.
Not a soul was late for our early departure, despite the fact that we averaged about four hours of sleep for the group last night!  It was a good thing that this was true, too, as we were off to visit the Peking Opera School for Children, a 40 minute drive from our hotel.  Beijing is not a terribly busy place on Sunday morning, although as the day went on, things got MUCH busier.  One thing we learned was that 20% of the vehicles in the city are NOT allowed on the streets/freeways one day each week (M-F) but that everyone is allowed to drive anywhere they like on Saturday and Sunday.  Interesting, yes?  But I digress……

The Peking (Beijing) Opera School draws students interested in   Beijing Opera has proven to be remarkably resilient, having survived the persecution of actors and the banning of most of the plays during Mao’s cultural revolution preserving the art form known today as the Peking Opera, a heavily stylized program begun during the Qing dynasty in 1750.
Can you say "Limber up?"  Uffda!



Visually stunning and with a very distinct musical style, the plays are based upon Chinese history and literature.  It involves singing, dancing, speech, mime, acrobatics and symbolic visual effects.  Heavily painted faces symbolize individual character qualities – red for loyalty and courage for example. 

11-year old playing lead female role
Chinese parents are really pushing their kids to become involved in activities and educational pursuits.  Their one-child policy has caused parent-aged young people to want to be sure their kids are not lonely (as they may have been) and so they actively create opportunities for them.  This particular school finds kids from 4 – 12 coming  2 – 3 times a week for three hours each day.  It’s run by actual Peking Opera actors, and they are fabulous to watch as they work with their kids. 

We observed several classes – from gymnastics to singing, from make-up to acting.  I don’t know of any of us who were not touched by these kids and by the joy with which they tackle this activity.  At the end of our visit (90 minutes in), the group performed for us with full make-up and costume.   

WOW.  What fun.  What neat kids.  So glad we did this visit - our first time here!
Ten year old playing oldest character in play.





 













 
On the steps of the Temple of Heaven.

Our next stop was at the Temple of Heaven, one of the city’s most well-known and beloved parks.  Dedicated to Heaven, it was built in a curious and rare combination of architectural styles and technology from Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties. Temple of Heaven is then divided by two enclosed walls separating the inner part from the outer part. The Temple of Heaven is made of a lot of beautiful buildings, the most important being the centerpiece,  the Altar (Hall) of Prayer for Good Harvests: This wooden building of 38 meters in height and 30 meters in diameter sits on a round foundation and three level white marble stone. It boasts as the most symbolical attraction in Temple of Heaven. The Hall is the most recognizable building with its cone-shaped blue roof crowned with a gilded knob–a real marvel for the eyes. The one that can be seen today is unfortunately not the original for it was burned by a fire in Temple of Heaven, but it takes all the exact shapes, colors and posts of the original one. Indeed, there are inside the hall 28 huge posts which were used to indicate time. The black, yellow and green colors of the inner roof are like everything in the altar, representing the Earth and the Heaven.

Like many places in Beijing, Temple of Heaven was designed in line with the ancient Chinese symbolism and mystical cosmological laws. Every detail has been meticulously arranged and decorated in line with the codes and manners to worship the Heaven. In China, number 9 used to be designated as the emperor’s exclusive number. As a result, the Circular Altar was erected with 9 slabs. The interior of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is also dominated by the same kind of law. Every element corresponds to the Earth Solar System. Temple of Heaven is definitely where intense numerology is prevailing more than ever. With that knowledge in mind the visit was like entering in a world where natural laws govern human’s activity on Earth.  How did the Emperor use this temple?  He used it to offer thanks for good harvests, prayers for rain and for the annual Chinese New Year celebration.
The gang in front of the Forbidden City.  I'm sure glad we did these jackets - I could spot them anywhere!


Lunch was served near the Temple and then we headed off to the centerpiece of the old city of Beijing, Tiananmen Square. It is the largest city square in the world, occupying an area of 440,000 square meters (about 109 acres), and able to accommodate 1,000,000 people at one time.

In the south of the Square is the Mao Zedong Memorial Hall. Mao Zedong, the hall was built in 1977. It is divided into three halls: the main hall, the north hall and the south hall. The remains of Mao Zedong are laid in a crystal coffin in the main hall.  To the west is the  Great Hall of the People which was built in 1959 (the home to the “congress” of the PRC and seat of its leadership.  To the east, the National Museum of China and to the north, the The Forbidden City, also named the Palace Museum. 

The Forbidden City shares the honor of being one of five world-famous palaces with the Palace of Versailles in France, Buckingham Palace in England, the White House in the U.S. and the Kremlin in Russia. The palace, the most magnificent and splendid palace complex in China, was listed as a World Cultural Heritage Building in 1987. It was built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the construction of this group of buildings took fourteen years from 1406 to 1420. In the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it was the imperial palace where twenty-four emperors ascended the throne and exercised their strong power to the nation.  Up until the early 1920’s, this area was inhabited by members of the Emperor’s family.

4:30 p.m., "Closing Time" at the Forbidden City
Suffice to say, this place is huge.  HUGE.  (Those with pedometers attached to themselves today show we walked more then 7 miles today.  Yikes!)











The Snack Market vendors were waiting for us.  Scorpion, shark, cat, fruit....all on a stick!
A quick trip to the Beijing Snack Market followed our journey and then we headed off to dinner and an early return (7 p.m.) to the hotel.   Ahhhhhhh, what a day!











Rachel Burger tries Grasshopper on a stick.  She's my hero. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Xian to Beijing


Entrance to the Drum Tower in Xian.
Saturday, January 24 found overcast skies and, who knows, smog (?) quite prevalent in Xian.  Yet up we were, rarin’ to get to breakfast and be checked out/on the bus by 8:40 a.m.  Some of these mornings seem earlier than others…yet they are all pretty much the same.  How is that?

Muslim Quarter entrance.
Our plan today had several parts:  a visit to the ancient city of Xian (with the walls, that is) as well as to the Drum Tower and Bell Tower.  The Bell Tower bells rung to awaken the citizens of old Xian in the early morning   The city had quite a history within those walls including one point at which the city was surrounded by invaders who attempted to starve them out.  Scores of people died of hunger but the city prevailed.
and announced the dropping of the drawbridge/opening of the doors to the walled city and the Drum Tower drums announced the closure of the same each evening.

We watched performances of drummers in the Drum Tower (how appropriate, eh?) and then enjoyed a bell performance at the (I know, you’re catching on here….) Bell Tower.  Afterwards, we were turned loose on the streets of the Muslim Quarter of Xian where today shop after shop after shop offers a variety of wild and interesting snacks and meals.  Some on stick, some on a   You could buy almost anything in these shops, and some did, but you could also just walk along and marvel at a life we simply are not accustomed to.  All in all, it was a fascinating visit.
roll, some, well, we just weren’t sure HOW one was to eat some of these things….!

Lunch was followed by a chance to walk the Xian City Walls which today are actually a bit shorter than in previous centuries, but impressive nonetheless.  Our guide also explained that while the walls are thick with brickwork on the outside, the inside was filled with dirt AND rice.  Yup, rice.  (I’m enthralled, but the guide didn’t know whether it was cooked, sticky, or otherwise…!) 

To some, the best part of being on the City Walls was the chance to exercise by riding a single bicycle, a tandem bicycle, or just plain walk or run.  Some of us (ok, Paul, Kathy, Darrell, Christine and I) took a golf cart ride around to   Imagine riding an old bike on a cobblestone road…fun for all!
Tony and Ian head off on the wall....
enjoy the scenery and observe our students trying to figure out these bicycles!

All good things must come to an end, and thus did our visit to Xian.  Off to the “new” high-speed train station we went (a 45 minute drive from the city center) and then, crazily in my opinion, our buses parked nearly ½ mile from the station.  “What?  We unload HERE?”  “Yes, sir – this is as close as buses can come to the station itself.”  SO, off we go, schlepping thousands of pounds of luggage across a busy street, up stairs and through an expansive “square” to the point of check in.  In all honesty, my first complaint of the trip…this was dumb planning.  Who would build a beautiful station and then not allow you within a half-mile of it?   CRAZY.  I am going to write the Chinese President tonight and complain.  J   Ok, well, maybe not.  But at least it’s in the blog.

The good news is that we got through security and to our gate to board the “Bullet Train” to Beijing.  Then, what to our wondering eyes do appear?  Since Christine had heard some complaints about the train food last time around, she decided to shake things up a bit and provided McDonald’s for all prior to boarding.   Oh my, you should have seen the lemmings rush to cheeseburgers/chicken sandwiches, fries and Coca-Cola!   (I don’t want to admit it, but the first few bites tasted pretty good…)


So now, we are on a 6-hour train ride, whizzing through the Chinese countryside at 300 km/hour (180 miles/hour).   Wheeeeeeee!   It’s dark, it’s foggy, and there’s not much to see, but we’ll be arriving in Beijing about 11:00 p.m.  

Tomorrow?  Another early morning.  Uffda.   We are seeing back stage at the Peking Opera starting at 8:30……

Cheers!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Soldiers, and horses and more, oh my!


I think it would be fair to say that most of the Band was believing that today would be yet another highlight of their trip to China….a visit to the site of the Terra Cotta Warriors.  I think it would also be fair to say that they were not disappointed!

The Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses are the most significant archeological excavations of the 20th century. Work is ongoing at this site, which is around 1.5 kilometers east of Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Mausoleum in Lintong, Xian, Shaanxi Province. It is a sight not to be missed by any visitor to China.

Upon ascending the throne at the age of 13 (in 246 BC),
Qin Shi Huang, later the first Emperor of all China, had begun to work for his mausoleum. It took 11 years to finish. It is speculated that many buried treasures and
sacrificial objects had accompanied the emperor in his after life. A group of peasants uncovered some pottery while digging for a well nearby the royal tomb in 1974. It caught the attention of archeologists immediately. They came to Xian in droves to study and to extend the digs. They had established beyond doubt that these artifacts were associated with the Qin Dynasty (211-206 BC).

Life size terracotta figures of warriors and horses arranged in battle formations are the star features at the museum. They are replicas of what the imperial guard should look like in those days of pomp and vigor.

The museum covers an area of 16,300 square meters, divided into three sections: No. 1 Pit, No. 2 Pit, and No. 3 Pit respectively. They were tagged in the order of their discoveries. No. 1 Pit is the largest, first opened to the public on China's National Day - Oct. 1st, 1979. There are columns of soldiers at the front, followed by war chariots at the back.  The area was listed by UNESCO in 1987 as one of the world cultural heritages.
 
Our visit to the area took about four ½ hours – 2 hours to drive out and back, and the rest of the time wandering through the discoveries, taking pictures, having lunch and more.   Some of our more creative people managed to get FaceTime calls home with warriors in the background….how things have changed, huh? 

We left the area and headed to a rehearsal at the Xian Conservatory of Music’s new Concert Hall.  What a beautiful place!  We were among the hall’s first visitors – it just opened in the fall.  Seating 1000, we understood that all tickets had been purchased for tonight so we were not at all surprised to see most all seats filled when the concert began.

Dinner, by the way, was at a hotel called the Xian Garden Hotel, near the center of the city.  We saw the Wild Goose Pagoda and a stunning new sculpture park and new/refurbished area with public event spaces including a large new concert hall and theatres.  During our 2003 visit by the band to Xian, we could barely see anything through the smog……today was lovely – sun, not too cool, and you could see the mountains fifteen miles away.   Not bad.  Not bad at all.

And tonight?  A truly memorable concert event in Xian.  Nearly ever seat was full, and even school kids sat rapt with attention as the band performed on instruments not seen before.  For the first time, some of the audience sat above and around the band - as different sounds were made, or as the percussion took our their "toys" people would jump forward in their seats and look down, smiling broadly, poking one another and laughing with joy.  I frankly was amazed at how well behaved these kids were - and we hope that we sparked a new interest in music in many of them.....and who knows, an interest in joining us at Augustana perhaps?  

Today, we say goodbye to Lucy and Fei Fei, two good friends!

Tomorrow - an early start to a long day of exploration of Xian followed by a six-hour bullet train ride to Beijing!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Yangzte River - what a wonderful adventure!


Remember the old Carpenter’s song: “Where Do I Begin?”  It seems that is appropriate today as I attempt to capsulize four nights/three days of cruising “up” the Yangtze Rive with The Augustana Band and the Victoria Selina.

When last “we” talked, I indicated that we had arrived on board in darkness and begun to explore the ship.  That exploration continued for some, well into the night.  Seems another group that was to be on board was having flight issues so we didn’t even leave the dock for the voyage until around breakfast time on Monday. Many of our gang was surprised by the 6:30 a.m. wake up call and later by the booming voice of Cruise Director Andy Li inviting us to breakfast.  You only get one hour to eat, so you best be down on deck two!  Anyway, it was during this time that we actually got the ship moving and felt like the “cruise” had really begun.  And the breakfast?  A sight for sore eyes with foods that were “recognizable” to these American stomachs….after four mornings of noodles and vegetables laced with chicken feet, it was good for our students to see scrambled eggs and sausage.

As you may know, the Yangtze River is the third longest river in the world, just behind the Amazon and the Nile.  Officially, it measures 3,900 miles and it is fueled by rainfall and glacial melt in the summer.  The Yangtze valley is home to 1/3 of China’s population and it has more than 700 tributary rivers.  We didn’t realize that the Yangtze is the name given by Chinese ONLY to the section close to Shanghai and the sea……the rest of the river has six other names.  Overall, Chinese refer to it as the “Chang Jiang” or “Long River.”  But I guess we still we call it the Yangtze.  No one seems to argue if you do….

Back to the fun.  On day one, several students rose early and met Dr. Hu, the ship’s medical officer for Tai Chi.  While some of our group went off for an additional excursion (we had three included and three that cost an additional amount to take), Dr Hu gave a presentation on theory and practice of traditional Chinese medicine.  I heard of several people (including some of our group) who went for an acupuncture and/or “cupping” procedure – all of which seemed to offer relief for whatever ailed the person in question.

Lunch buffet is served promptly at 12:00 and, on the first day, the French and Germans on board got the first places in line.  (I assure you that will not happen in the following days…)  There are just over 200 persons on board this ship, and while they only offer two buffet lines, things do move rather quickly. 

Following lunch, we boarded buses to be transported from the mooring in Sandouping to the site of the Three Gorges Dam Project – the largest water conservancy project ever undertaken. Operational in 2003 and fully completed in 2009, this massive damn is located in the middle of the longest of the three gorges, the Xiling Gorge.  The dam has three purposes (and our guides drilled us on this answer several times):  flood control, hydroelectric power production and navigation improvement.  The project cost about $28 Billion US dollars and has 26 generators designed to generate 18,200 megawatts of electricity annually – mostly to the large cities in the east (Shanghai, Beijing and more). The goal is to have this power fuel 10% of all energy needs in the entire country.

The dam has been controversial of course, with environmental issues leading the way, along with sensitivity toward the needed relocation of more than 1.5 million people who lived along the river banks.  When the dam was built, it effectively created a massive reservoir behind it, some 180 meters higher (or deeper) in many places and cultural relics, homes, cemeteries and all that was known, was gone.   Think of this: when our ship took on the five step locks to go from sea level to the top of the “current” river for sailing, we rose some 40 stories!  Amazing.  Despite the concerns, many of the younger Chinese think the dam is great.   One of our guides told us, “Before the dam, I lived along the river in a 130 sq foot home.   After the dam was built, I was moved to a brand new 900 sq ft apartment.  TWO bedrooms.  A kitchen!  I love it!”  “But,” he went on, “You can understand that this move was difficult for my grandparents who left everything that they knew…” 

Our tour took us to a very modern visitor center and we rose several stories via outdoor escalators.  They seemed miles long, but thank goodness for them!  Atop the hill, we could stand and view the entire project – the locks, the downstream and upstream river, and the dam itself.  There is a bump called the “Jar Hill Observation Platform” which one has to climb – I mean, why not?  Lots of pics were taken and as it was a nice day, it was great to be out and about. 

Back to the ship, and time to get ready for the Captain’s Welcome Party  on deck 5  (the Yangtze Club).  Some fabulous snacks and drinks were served and then it was time for our 7:00 (on the dot) dinner.   For those who could stay awake, the crew put on a “Chinese Dynasties Show” featuring costumes and customs of Chinese native peoples ranging through all periods of Chinese history. 

Day two found us hearing the “Breakfast is Served” voice of Andy again and at 9 a.m. we broke into our bus groups and headed off the ship for a voyage up the Shennong Xi, also known as the “Goddess Stream.”  Located in the entrance to the Wu Gorge, we boarded 30 passenger motorboats and our English speaking local
guide  who entertained us with stories about life along this amazingly beautiful and ever-narrowing waters of the stream.  The cliffs are pocked with post-holes marking the route of a Han-dynasty plank road built for military access.  There were hanging coffins along this route too, but they’ve been removed for safe-keeping.  (The Ba – local people) believed that when one died, the higher their coffin could be placed along the cliffs, the easier it would be for the deceased to get to heaven.   HOW  they pulled this off is beyond any of us! 

At the end of our journey upstream, we were unloaded onto a floating dock where we waited for the other 200 people to join us and enjoy the peaceful nature (and five star
(ahem) toilets) that had been made available.  J  Our guide was a beautiful young lady who told us she had been sent from her village (high atop these hills) to college to learn English.  She was the first person in her village to have had this opportunity so it was important for her to return to the village and promote it by working as a tour leader.  It’s hard to believe that if given the opportunity to leave, one would come back...but we’re awfully glad she did.   

When one sits on deck and takes in the river, it’s an experience unlike any other.  When passing cities with their massive cranes signaling yet more housing projects, the sight of the cranes is present, but you don’t hear construction sounds.  You see freeways, bridges and cars, but you don’t hear the sounds of traffic.  What you can hear is the sound of water breaking over the bow of the slowing moving vessel as it cuts through almost glass-like water.   What does pierce this quiet?  The chortle of a passing river barge’s engine while carrying 500 cars to whom knows where…an occasional rooster who doesn’t realize it’s late afternoon……a bleating lamb, perhaps seeking its mother on the mountainside.  A jumping fish – maybe a catfish that will appear on the dinner buffet in just a few hours? One cannot sit her without pondering what it must have been like to see this area prior to the dam – would I have been THAT much lower?  Would it have looked THAT much different that it does now? 

What was this river like before Dung Jao Ping (sp?) decided to open China to the rest of the world?  Surely joining the rest of us has made China a better place.  Or has it?   I remember very clearly a day in June of 1970 when, living and going to school in Germany, my “Mutti” awoke me with the words, “Brad, Brad, Nixon go to China!”  She was SO excited.  And I think we all were.  Far be it from me to think then that I would be fortunate enough to take four Augie groups to China, and return on other occasions alone.  Yet this remains a most fascinating and ever-changing place to me and it’s hard to imagine that we would not have been able to experience it not all that many years ago.

But I digress…..the end of our Goddess Stream day found the Augustana Band members in a dancing mood.   Good thing that some of that was in their future.  Tonight’s after-dinner entertainment was a Cabaret type talent show featuring members of the crew doing a variety of things:  singing, dancing, playing ancient music instruments (to the tune of “Red River Valley” no less) and more dancing.  They even had a magician who was quite good, dancing lions, and a masked man who switched masks a total of ten times without any of us knowing how he did it!  The Percussion Ensemble joined the fun and dazzled the crowd with a performance of “Continuum I&II” written by John Pennington.  And then, the dance floor opened.  Oh, there was a contest involving ten people (five men/five women) led by our Cruise Director.  It involved dancing/running in circles and more.  Suffice to say, Alum Peder Fedde ’84 and Maddy Todd (Sioux Falls) were the victors.  Congrats to them both!  (Way to show these KIDS, Peder!!!)

Day three opened in a shroud of mist and fog.  The fog stayed with us for pretty much the entire day, and we understand this is pretty typical for this part of the voyage.  Our point of disembarkation, ChongQin is actually known as “Fog City.”  Hmm, hope it’s not going to affect our flight to Xian….the last time we did this trip, we spend the better part of a day on the bus at the airport in Xian, waiting for the fog to lift!

The shore site included in our itinerary today was the Shibao Zhai, a striking island featuring gems of Chinese architecture.  Built in 1736, the fortress’ only access from the water below was by way of an iron chain attached to the cliff.  On the island is a beautiful 12-sotry Lanruo Dian, whose curly eaves are said to resemble an orchid.  Built in 1750, the building also had a rock with a hole through which ever day trickled just enough rice to feed all the monks who lived there.  One of them greedily enlarged the hole, thinking he would become rich by selling the surplus.  When he did, however, the hole dried up and no more rice arrived.

Due to the foggy conditions, the afternoon stop was cancelled so that the boat could continue toward its destination at a slower speed.  Not a bad way to relax and enjoy the day.  Napping, reading, catching up on journal entries were the norm, but we also took in Chinese language lessons, mah jong lessons and even a lecture on Fresh Water pearls.  In the evening, the Cruise Director hosted the Captain’s Farewell dinner and then introduced the assembly (at least those who were not afraid to join us) to “Augie Band Idol,” a show usually pitting sections against sections in a struggle to be THE IDOL of the Band.   Thank goodness this year, they really put some work into it, so we were not asked to leave the ship early. 

Losing bandwith - the Band is awake and jumping on line!!!  :-)  More pics to follow.