Lost in Translation: Cruise

At the top of Jen and my list of things to see in China were the Three Gorges. The dam is complete, and the water is starting to back up – I wanted to see them before they were gone. There are dozens of different kinds of cruises down the Three Gorges, but we needed one that left on the days that fit into our tight itinerary and fit into my budget – while Jen’s trip, supplemented by frequent flyer miles, Hilton Honors points, and the strength of the US dollar, I’m earning a Chinese wage, which was reduced this month because of my unpaid week off for this trip.

We decided to go local – affordable, authentic, with boats running everyday.

“Cruise” however, in our sense of the word – a huge luxury boat, a hotel on the water, with spas, dinner buffets, shows – does not translate over directly into Chinese. Our boat, with tiny rooms, some with 4 to 8 people stuffed in bunk beds, spouting soot that streaked our arms, and a PA system waking passengers up at 5:30 in the morning, had more of a submarine feel. First, the staff messed up our reservation, putting us on a four day cruise instead of the three day cruise. Stops were early in the morning, so that luxury liners could have the better times to visit the excursions. Two of the three gorges we cruised through at night, unable to see them, though we spent valuable daylight hours at newly refurbished (ie built) “ancient” towns. But the scenery we did see was beautiful.

I felt kind of guilty, though I tried to warn Jen that it would be a no-frills operation, and had a hard time clearing my head enough to enjoy the scenery. This was something big, major, and I wanted to be in the moment to enjoy it.

From Sichuan-Chongqing-Three Gorges
From Sichuan-Chongqing-Three Gorges
From Sichuan-Chongqing-Three Gorges

Early in the morning, we docked at different towns for excursions – our boat docked early, 7 am or earlier, so that the luxury boats with Western tourists could have the better times, like 10 AM, when we finished leaving. The first stop was a “Ghost City” – Jen and I thought that meant it had been abandoned, but there were people selling souvenirs and we walked through a construction area (without hard hats) of a new temple – not exactly abanoned.

In the Ghost City, we went through a haunted house. The first part was like a middle school student’s project, with store mannequins dressed as scary torture victims. Remember the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Riverside, which became Six Flags? With the animatronic pirates? The last room had the same thing, but with different methods of torture, like a man being sawed in half. At the newly constructed temple, there were stone statues of monsters and vampires. We found out later that the place was about some old folk religion around Hell, death, a ghosts. Very bizzare.

My favorite part was getting off the big boat to take a smaller boat, and then a raft, down the Mini Three Gorges. There were goats and monkeys on the hills, and the sides of the cliffs were so steep, with thick jungle greenery in some places.

From Sichuan-Chongqing-Three Gorges
From Sichuan-Chongqing-Three Gorges

We docked in Yichang and took the “dam bus” to the Three Gorges Dam. I eavesdropped on an English tour – 75% of China’s energy comes from coal (ick), 20% hydro-electric, and while the dam was supposed to provide 10% of their energy needs, because energy consumption has grown so fast, it now only provides 1% of their energy needs. It seems like energy efficiency is the way to go here, since they’re going to keep becoming more prosperous and needing more energy.

From Sichuan-Chongqing-Three Gorges

Part of the dam tour included a memorial park that used materials used to build the dam as art structures. To build the dam, in the beginning, people, naked, pulled materials in with ropes across their back – the pictures looked like an illustration you would expect to see about Egyptian slaves building pyramids. (I wanted to post the famous photographs, but they’re censored in China and I can’t get an electronic copy.)

They have this one sculpture, sort of abstract, of these men pulling in materials, made out of the used materials for the dam.

From Sichuan-Chongqing-Three Gorges
From Sichuan-Chongqing-Three Gorges

The park also had sculptures of men and women at work building the dam – it felt very much like the Korean War Memorial in DC.

From Sichuan-Chongqing-Three Gorges
From Sichuan-Chongqing-Three Gorges
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