China Part 5
Published in the Trinidad Guardian on 21st October 2007
Last week I was sharing with you the incredible experience of seeing the Terracotta Soldiers. This week I want to begin our Yangtze River Cruise. But first let me share with you a few more notes I made.
You must buy one of the Guides to China and read it cover to cover before you go. We bought Fodorís Exploring China fifth edition for US$22.00 and took it with us to read in detail about the things we were seeing. Iím sure the Lonely Planet guide and others are just as good.
Take time to walk the streets in the evening. You donít need a guide and you are perfectly safe. This way you will come across groups of older ladies performing elaborate fan dances on the pavement just for the exercise; or groups of men playing classical Chinese music just for the joy of the music. The people will basically ignore you unless you want to talk to them. Make sure you buy some CDs of classical Chinese music as the moment you put it on when you reach home you are transported right back to your holiday in China.
You are going to see very few police and even fewer army people. The only police we saw were either directing traffic or standing guard outside important buildings. And you never see a guard slouching or leaning against a wall etc. They are always standing to attention unless they are dealing with you. Incidentally young people in China have to join the army for two years with no pay! Just food and clothing. And given that each year over 18 million young people come of age they must have an enormous standing army. Now I donít know if this applies to all teenagers because we saw lots of young men and women liming so clearly not everyone has to join. Contrary to our belief that communism equals forced labour they have unemployment which is around 4%. Ironically even though they have a per capita income of half of ours, according to the www.cia.gov web site, they live to nearly 73 years on average where as we only live to 66!
But back to the Yangtze River Cruise. Now China is a big place so there was yet another plane ride from Xian where the Terracotta Soldier were, to Chongqing to board the cruise ship. A Boeing jet packed with Chinese travelers as before and coffee is TT$27 a cup at the airport! Anyway, here is your general knowledge quiz: What is the population of Chongqing? Donít tell me you have never heard of the place. Now what is your guess? This is China so itís bound to be a big number. We guessed 5 million and the tour guide said ďGuess againĒ. Well the answer is 34 million. People thatís not a typo. Thirty four million people in one city. And if memory serves me, they have five cities that size in China!
After a quick mini tour of the city we boarded the cruise ship. Now throw away all your ideas of cruise ships when you are on the Yangtze river. There are no storms or big waves here so the cruise ship looked more like a floating hotel than a ship. But once you get used to the steel deck plates buckling when you walk on them, everything else is definitely 4 star. We choose to upgrade to one of the cabins on the front with a fabulous private balcony. The cruise left Chongqing around 6 in the evening and we quickly made friends with the others on our assigned table who were from Denmark, South Africa, Austria and the US. Brilliant food, straight out of Soongs Great Wall. The next day, when they announced a side tour of some more ancient monuments, we elected to just enjoy our spacious cabin and balcony because to be honest, we were ďcultured outĒ and just wanted to relax and imbibe some vitamin R.
And so it went for three incredible days. We slowly made your way through the famous Three Georges with breath taking cliffs on either side. We saw tombs carved into the sheer rock face where workers hanging on ropes a hundred feet long, would lower a coffin and slide it in to protect it from predators. We saw the Shibaozhai temple, thousands of years old surround by a giant concrete retaining wall to stop the river from flooding it. There are giant suspension bridges everywhere. We must have passed a dozen under construction in our short trip. A guide describes the wonder you are seeing over the PA system in flawless English. Remember China has 5,000 years of history compared with our 500 years. We saw where naked men toiled over more than 60 km of paths, some wide enough for just one man, 40 or 50 feet above the water to pull the sampans of old through the various Georges before the Three Georges dam was built. Imagine pulling a sampan from Port of Spain to Cedros against the current! Blink and you will miss one of the hydro foil passenger ships fly past at over 50 mph. As they build up speed they rise out of the water on water skies. Boat after boat carries new cars, trucks, coal, minerals up and down the river.
You want for nothing on these cruises. There is even internet service available courtesy of a satellite link from the ship. But beware the cost of drinks and remember, donít even think of letting them do your laundry.
I mentioned Internet. Now I had no way of checking this but three different guides gave us three different views of how widespread the Internet is in China and the cost. For the benefit of those who believe I have been brain washed; if the guides were indoctrinated at least two of them would have failed. Anyway taking the averages we gather that every apartment block in every major city in China has DSL hard wired into the building. The cost of the monthly service for phone and internet is TT$120. A PC costs about TT$3,000 and all the guides we spoke to had one and gave us their e-mail address. My favourite information source the CIA, (www.cia.gov) states that there are over 137 million internet users in China which is about 10% of the population. While there I surfed the internet and found endless Chinese Government web sites about China written in English. (There are even three English language newspapers published each day in China!) They have truly gone International, while we who want to be a Financial Capital donít have even one web site in Spanish, Government or otherwise.
And before I forget, all the runways and taxiways at the various airports we landed in were built of concrete. Never wears out, nothing to repair. Can you hear me Colm?
Next weekÖThe Three Georges Dam