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.


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