12 March 2007

The Love (Hate) Boat – Day Two, Yangtze Cruise

6:47AM – Our tour guide knocks on the door to make sure we’re up. We’re not, though we manage to get out the door by 7. We’re now 45 hours into not showering. Luckily, Anne brought some Giorgio Armani with her, so now it smells like Girogio Armani’s dirty socks.

10:22AM – Just back from the White Cloud Temple. Ten minutes into our wander the German girl ran up to me crying, asking for my help. She had set her bag down to take a picture, forgot about it, walked away for five minutes and by the time she came back, it was gone! I became their translator as we spent the next two hours asking everyone on the island if they had seen the bag. This included the island “Police,” every single tour guide, all the hawkers and the entire population of our cruise boat. Within 30 minutes our search party had turned into roughly 50 very concerned and very helpful people. It’s odd how this works. A girl is about to be thrown off of a bridge and no one does a thing. A girl loses her bag and it’s as if they lost their own bag. Is it because she is a foreigner? Is it because it’s not a major crisis? The better part of a year in China and I still have no idea. Unfortunately, no one found the bag, which means Nina (the German girl) has to make a pit-stop in Shanghai to have her passport replaced at the German consulate. She also lost about $250. Not good!

11:19AM – We just passed through the first of the three gorges, Wu Gorge. It was magnificent. Enormous peaks jutting out from the water. The sea level has already risen 250 feet! I can’t even imagine what this place must have looked like before the water rose, and I still can’t believe they’ve effectively destroyed this natural wonder. Nature doesn’t appear to be all that sacred in China. Our fellow Chinese passengers continue to throw their trash overboard while peeing directly into the river.

11:54AM – I just learned that Mao himself actually rode on this boat back in 1963. That’s both interesting and a bit depressing. It means this boat is at least 44 years old…

6:53PM – Just back from our afternoon cruise through the Small Three Gorges. We boarded a smaller (250-person) boat for this portion of the journey. The “tour guide” spoke continuously for the entire five hours. True to form the Chinese were dumping cigarette butts, noodle bowls, napkins and anything else non-biodegradable into the water and we zoomed through some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. We stopped at a village that will be underwater within 10 months, speaking to people whose families had lived there for seven and eight generations. Imagine being told by the government that you have to relocate your entire life because they want to build a dam that will (as we learned) become the largest water polluter in the world, the construction of which has forced millions of people to higher ground. Completely devastating.

At the end of the Small Three Gorges we boarded even smaller boats (20 people per vessel) and cruised through the Small Small Three Gorges (that’s actually what they’re called). Our guide was adorable, and he sang while we puttered along. Life vests were a must for this tiny boat. As he said, “if we sink you will die. Unless you wear this vest.” As easy sell, I’d say. Back on the boat now, still reeling from the jagged peeks, hidden caves, and playing monkeys. This was definitely the highlight of the cruise thus far.

7:55PM – There was just an enormous ruckus outside. Anne and I darted to the “balcony” only to find a man on his knees pulling a small child from the water between the boat and the dock. Apparently he was trying to jump back and forth, slipped, and disappeared into the depths below. Everyone on the boat zoomed to that side and watched as the noodle salesman brought the eight-year-old to his feet. His parents were weeping and prostrating before the man, offering him what looked to be about 1000 yuan ($125) for saving their son’s life. That’s two near-death experiences for Anne and I in five days. Is it us?

8:02PM – Apparently we’re docking here overnight, as the kid incident has sparked a major investigation. The drunken police officer just stopped in to remind us to lock our doors and windows. Apparently there is a major problem with break-ins while people are actually sleeping in their 7-foot by 14-foot box (with a balcony, of course, up here in first class!).

8:05PM – I just realized it has now been 60 hours since my last shower. This realization came after washing my feet in the sink. Roughin’ it (with a balcony).

8:55PM – I just got back from the boat’s “7-Eleven” equivalent. The shopkeeper and I have a little arrangement. I come in and put a few drinks in the fridge then return the next day and buy them – cold. We’ve been doing this dance the past three days. He informed me that he actually had to fend off customers who wanted to buy the cold drinks, saving them for me. While I find this incredibly kind, I wonder why he didn’t just add some additional bottles to the fridge so there would be more cold drinks for other customers. Either way, I’m sipping on ice-cold orange juice, which makes me a happy camper. Off to play some poker with the Swedes.

11:42PM – Just back from peanut-betting poker night. It was a great time, though Anne and I are struggling with some major seasickness. It seems that floating in port is a lot worse on the stomach that actually cruising. I took some Dramamine and so did Anne. You may not hear from us again until Thursday.

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