Tuesday, November 19, 2013

November 5, Yangtze River / Wuhan

This morning when I woke up the ship was past the locks in the Three Gorges Dam and moored at the side of the river for an excursion back to see the dam. Nothing so massive can be imagined – it is 1.4 miles wide from side to side. Here's a model, looking upriver.

The sluiceway is in the middle, the turbines on both sides of that. There is a small “ship elevator” for small boats and a series of four locks for larger boats. Four huge freighters fit easily into one of the locks with room to spare, as in the picture below.

The river level changes so much – 113 meters, from 175 on the top to 62 on the bottom – a 203-foot drop from a high of 574 to 223 feet – that four locks are required. I wonder who got the concrete contract.

As always in China, beautiful plantings, especially at places where tourists go. As Americans our group is very much in the minority: most groups are Chinese, and most of them are large.

At many “official” places in China I've seen soldiers standing stiffly at attention without a motion, hardly breathing. I'm told their shifts are two hours. I cannot imagine doing this for two hours. It took courage to snap this picture – I risked jail for it!

Back on the cruise ship we continued downriver two or three hours, through the third gorge and docking at Yichan. A kilometer or two past the dam, as opposed to 360 miles upriver, people's homes and lives continued just as before. Here are homes that did not wind up under 200 feet of water.


At Yichan we boarded a bus for a six-hour drive to Wuhan. Long but interesting. We passed many prosperous-looking village houses, lined up in neat rows and separate even if only by a few inches, near large fish ponds and/or fields growing vegetables. Because it's so far south here farmers can grow three crops a year, including winter wheat. In all the fields I noticed a tractor only once and it was not moving; the rest of the time there were one or two people bent over in farm plots that looked like they were an acre or two at most. Rows of vegetables were perfectly straight, cared for, and lushly green.

Many houses had smallish solar collectors, maybe 4' X 6', attached to their roofs; Mike told us they cost about 500 yuan, about $83, quite a bargain. But if it freezes in the winter some of the glass pipes burst and must be replaced.

Wuhan is an industrial city that is so large it has absorbed two other nearby cities. It is the Chinese center of car manufacturing and other factories, and there are zillions of cars here. There are no exclusively Chinese cars but instead they are manufactured as joint ventures with just about every car manufacturer you can think of from the US and Europe. The Citroen holdings alone went on for miles.

Even though I haven't seen real sun since Lhasa (as you can tell from the pictures from the Three Gorges), as soon as we entered the industrial area I started to cough and my throat felt scratchy: on went my mask. The air pollution is not to be believed. I took this picture of the sun through the bus window.  It looked like a dull egg yolk. Yet I saw no one on the street with a face mask.

One of the people in the group early in the trip had asked Mike, given all the elaborate neon ads, luxury goods, and generally capitalist trappings, if this was a communist country or a capitalist country. Today he decided to answer by telling us about Deng Xiao Ping, who started the Open Door policy in China in 1979. Deng told people two stories to explain why China had to change its ways and allow foreigners, foreign capital, and foreign ways into the country. Among the eight languages Deng spoke was French from when he studied in France. In France, he told the Chinese, the first thing you do in the morning is throw open the window to let in the fresh air and see what kind of a day it is outside. China has been in a closed room for far too long; it is time to let in the fresh air.

The other story Deng told is about a Chinese woman whose house was plagued with mice, so she decided to borrow one of her neighbor's cats. Her neighbor asked whether she wanted to borrow the black cat or the white one. She couldn't decide. The neighbor explained that both cats were excellent at catching mice, so either one would serve her purpose fine.

Finally, Mike told a story to answer the question about what kind of society this is now, a bit outdated but you'll get the idea. An American businessman, a Russian businessman, and a Chinese businessman were having a high-level meeting. At the end of the meeting, each got into his limousine while the three drivers asked for directions. The American's driver was told that at the intersection the capitalist area was to the left, so the driver signaled left and turned left as instructed. The Russian's driver was told that the Communist area was to the right; he signaled right and turned right at the intersection. And the Chinese driver? He signaled right and turned left.

This is a particularly appropriate story for Wuhan, with its omnipresent big four (Starbucks, MacDonalds's, Pizza Hut, and Kung Fu Chicken) as well as luxury shops such as Gucci, Cartier, and Louis Vuitton, and with the Chinese national bird, the crane. The construction crane, of course.

As I was writing the last paragraph the doorbell rang (doorbells in Chinese hotels at every room!). It was Mike delivering a present he and his wife had made for everyone on the trip.

His wife had cut the paper, an ancient Chinese art, of a ram to correspond to my birthday, and Mike had made the frame. On the back it says,

To Jo, from Mike Ma, China (and his email address).
02/17/43 (my birthday), ram, pronounced yang, with the Chinese character for ram.
Character: unpredictable, charming, trusting, often expose themselves to great risks

Mike has been nothing but kind, helpful, patient, knowledgeable, and efficient. I could not have done his job, twenty-four hours a day for over three weeks, and I must remember to take a good picture of him. I am so glad I had an extra handmade purse from Mexico to give him for his wife; too bad I have nothing for his three-year-old son, whom he calls my dumpling. We ask often how Dumpling is. I'm sure that's a direct translation!

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