Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Part three of JMTA and as the days back in Beijing are already filling up I realise how much of a break I feel I've got from this long holiday.


...and so the circus continued with cliche after thoroughly enjoyable cliche. Early risers on the boat (myself included) had a half hour of top-deck taichi at 7.30 am which on a gently swaying boat is far from easy. The taichi master insisted on constantly changing his position relative to us so not only were we standing on one leg with our arms akimbo but much of the time was spent craning our necks to see what was going on behind us. Unfortunately no photos of me taiching but imagine a somewhat dozy looking, goateed, tall English chap wobbling precariously on the back of a boat and you have a pretty good idea. Here at least is a photo of the place we were performing.
and an intriguing sign near the same point on the ship, I leave subtitles to your imagination.

and fear not, though there are no pictures of me in taichi mode there is this illustration that I don't fit into such boats with the greatest of ease
Leaving Chongqing is a lengthy affair as the municipality stretches 400km downstream. The first day's view consisted mostly of steep banks dotted with settlements, some old, some relocated above the final line to which the water will rise by 2009 and a proliferation of processing plants, power stations and factories belching out their fumes. Here's one of the bridges as you leave the city proper

and a factory on the otherwise idyllic banks
After some snaps on deck, a buffet lunch and some gentle meandering about the ship, we docked at Feng Du, the ghost city, the bulk of which has been moved from one side of the river to the higher banked opposite side. 100,000 relocated in this settlement alone. Our tour guide was relatively candid about her positive and negative views on the dam project though the overall impression may have been biased by the fact that she has been relocated to a substantially larger flat.

The temples of the ghost city remain and as you walk up the 500 or so steps you make your way through Buddhist and Taoist temples all related in some way or other to the afterlife.
Mum drew an impressive crowd whenever she stopped to paint and here I managed to get a photo of the melee.
Some of the statues in the ghost city are designed to encourage one to perhaps lead a better life, warning that certain crimes would not go unnoticed and each had it's own punishment, for instance
It's rather difficult to tell with the many sculptures and temples just how many are really there for reasons of religion and how many are there to please the tourists. Of course they're all said to be terribly old and highly important relics but I'm not convinced with some of them.

The number of steps leading up and down the ghost city were punishment enough for some and there were brief fears that a group had been left in the underworld.

I skipped the snuff-bottle painting demonstration for a much needed trip to the onboard gym to work off a few of the calories that had been adding up of late. Plus, I feel that my snuff bottle painting is already up to scratch.

After dinner a talent show staged by the crew managed to involve both of my parents showing their respective talents in musical chairs and maritime taichi. I was safely oblivious to these events until the next day as I had retired by this point to settle peacefully with a good book and a fine view of the sunset
An even sharper start (6.30) was called for as we entered the first of the three gorges. With towering cliffs and a far higher abundance of vegetation than upstream they are stunning and again the steamy haze only added to their Oriental mystery. At various points coffins hang in caves in the cliffs placed on the shear slopes 2000 years ago by unknown methods (it's proposed that 2000 years ago, the water level may have been several hundred feet higher so they may have been put there by boat, I'm surprised that such a proposition isn't easily tested).

Stunning and well worth the trip just to see them but they're not unlike the Fford's at Milford Sound in New Zealand. Unfortunately, though the haze makes them better for seeing in the flesh, the photos are somewhat diminished. It's also difficult to get a real sense of the scale of it, apart from the boat in the above picture which is a cruiser, presumably carrying a few hundred people onboard.

An hour or so later and we went through the second gorge with similarly impressive scenery. With the colossal scale of them, even though the water has already risen by 80m in the gorges I'm not sure that they would have looked very different previously.

Excursion number two left around 10 as we transferred to a small ferry for one of the narrow tributaries. More magnificent scenery was by no means growing tiresome as we docked at a small harbour to transfer to sampans, traditional boats used by farmers for centuries with some of the strongest men I've ever seen maneuvering one of the most inefficient forms of transport I've ever witnessed (the slim paddles may however have been to ease the force of each stroke so that they can manage much longer distances).

After much practice, one of the rowers managed to get the physics beard stroke to look pretty convincing

They sang traditional songs and seemed all very happy to be taking a bunch of ignorant tourists up river to marvel at the ethnicity of it all. Genuinely good fun and a real chance to see some of the somewhat 'unadulterated' traditional way of life. As we got to the rapids, the rowers jumped ship and pulled the boat from the river bank, calf muscles straining at the bit. An hour or so of this didn't appear to raise a sweat as we returned to the ferry and then the main boat to continue the voyage. Another pounding on the running machine as the Yangtze scrolled past the window justified the creme caramel for dinner.

Another afternoon of chatting to passengers, steering clear of the overpriced massages and some more reading was polished off nicely with the emperor's banquet. They play it pretty safe on the boat giving only the most Westernised Chinese food which is tasty nonetheless and washed down with a glass of wine, something I drink little of in Beijing.

The evening also included us reaching the dam and passing through the 5 locks that drop 112 m from one side to the other over the course of almost three hours. An incredible feat of engineering in itself but being trapped in a box with six other large fuming ships soon became a little overwhelming so we retired to the confines of the lower decks once the light grew dim.

With a few minutes to go before we disembark I have a little time to finish off the cruise exploits. Another 6.30 start this morning was needed to take a short bus ride to the dam project. From an observer platform towering over the site you get a sense of proportion but a certain lack of scale of the immensity of the project. The 20GW of power are generated by 26 40m turbines produce 10% of China's energy supply. It's such a huge project with so many pros and cons that without all the information I think it's impossible to come to a reasonable conclusion on the overall balance of the construction.

Unfortunately photos which really capture the scale of it are not easy to get from the observation tower but I got a couple of snaps, first of the immense lock system
and then of the dam itself. When completed I would guess that actually standing on it would give you a bit more of a sense of scale.

More to follow tomorrow...


Anonymous said...

Looks rubbish.

After a minute of googling, I found the above image which is a 1946 Horn Shock mount. Interesting, I'm sure you'll agree.

Can you use the power of the t'internet to post up some of your mum's paitings. Would be good to see them too.

Anonymous said...

And her paintings....

Unknown said...

No China paintings up online yet from my mum but this is her site of Oxford and Paris watercolours.

Anonymous said...

Actually it's not "produce 10% of China's energy supply" but "10% of China's electricity supply". Think about it while you're considering your atomy/string things. Also, glad to note that you didn't say "10% of electricity demand" - which is another thing again - I bet they lose a lot in tranmitting and distributing it all over China.