Monday, November 18, 2013

November 4, Yangtze River

Earlier today we went through the first two of the three gorges. It is one thing to say that the water level is now 175 meters above sea level -- 575 feet -- and created a lake behind it 360 miles long – not just the Yangtze but all its backed-up tributaries.

Floating along it is possible to imagine a much narrower Yangtze before the valley was flooded, but what really is a shock is to see many houses like these:

Then I truly realize that the boat is sailing right over many more of them, houses that were people's homes for generations and where their ancestors are buried. According to information given to us today, the Three Gorges Dam, the largest in the world, almost four times larger than the Hoover Dam, submerged 13 cities, 140 towns, 1,352 villages, and about 75,000 acres of farmland. It relocated 1.3 million people. It is staggering.

Because the water level is so high right now, almost at the maximum the dam was designed to hold back, the gorges seem relatively wide, with steep rock or wooded sides.

After the second gorge we came to Badong, a “new city,” a euphemism for a large relocation site.

In Badong everyone on the cruise boat boarded a smaller ferry that went a few kilometers under and past a cable-stayed bridge. The ferry is a smaller boat so is able to go farther into the tributary than the cruise ship could have. Here the water gets narrower, down to perhaps a couple of hundred yards. We were in mountains thousands of feet high.

Not enough. The ferry docked at a floating building where we transferred to sampans.  All these sampans were waiting for the various cruise ships to bring their passengers for this excursion.

Now the sides of the mountains were sometimes only a hundred feet wide and as before, thousands of feet high. 

 The mountains were made of limestone, so there were caves. Being of limestone, there were rocks formed over the millenia in strange shapes due to water and wind, and sure enough, the guide insisted on telling us that this one looks like an elephant, that one like a goddess or a dragon. What is it with people across the world who can't appreciate a rock cliff just for what it is?

Before the age of motors, boats going upriver used sails, rowers, and most harrowing, trackers – thousands of men who dragged the boats, even big ships, upriver with ropes. Because of the heat and humidity they were naked to protect their skin from chafing. These men demonstrated a bit with the sampan. The sampan rowers traveled two and a half hours to get to their job of rowing the tourists through the narrow gorges.

Still today in the rural areas work is done with human muscle power. Imagine the leg muscles that people have who live in houses high up in the mountains, like this one.

Why so high up? They live there because their ancestors did. Children walk an hour and a half to get to school, including across this swaying bridge.

How privileged I am, that my eyes have seen such things, and how humbled I feel seeing people work so terribly hard to earn a living.

And now perhaps you would like a lesson in Mandarin, which is a tonal language. It has four tone patterns.

Ma said flat means mother.
Ma with a rising inflection means numb.
Ma with an inflection that falls and then rises means horse.
Ma with a falling inflection means to scold.
Ni hao means you (ni) good (hao) = hello. Ni is flat, hao starts high, drops, and comes back up.
Ni hao ma? With “ma” going up, means how are you?

Now we can all speak Mandarin.

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