Sunday, July 5, 2015

Down A Not So Lazy River, or, The Slow Boat in China

We woke to our fourth day in China as the Viking Emerald cruised up the Yangtze River.  The third longest river in the world (after #1 the Nile  and #2 the Amazon ), this river sources in Tibet and then extends 3915 miles across the whole country of China, heading east to finish near Shanghai.

We left the glitz and sophistication of the big cities behind us.  Now we were getting a look at life on the river.  Captains and crew live aboard most of the boats we saw, eking out a tough life.

I wondered about the ecological impact of the intense dredging.  We passed countless dredgers and off loaders for days.  The construction of high-rise apartment buildings in every city makes the demand for sand into concrete unending.

This unfortunately dark and dismal photo shows the best example of the preservation attempts to protect what could be saved after the dam caused huge areas of flooding.  This embankment represents the height of the water during monsoon season. 

We never saw a single recreational or personal water craft; no live aboard cruising tourists, like Steadfast is in the Bahamas or on the Inter-Coastal-Waterway in the USA.  This river is a working thoroughfare, channeling goods back and forth across the country.  No lolly gagging here!

 The one exception:  the River Tour Cruises, like the Viking Emerald.
The crew of the Emerald went all out to make our stay a memorable one.
This came compliments of our room stuart.

Each stateroom had its own personal balcony, albeit a tiny one.

 My sister and brother-in-law had the cabin next door to ours.  We were able to keep tabs on each other and share photo ops along the way.  hee hee.

It took a couple of days before we moved completely away from the cities and began to see rural scenery.  The weather was rather dismal--we wondered if we'd ever see the "good stuff" thru the fog.  In the meantime, we had fun and some silliness to keep us occupied aboard.  Did I mention the fresh flowers in every public space onboard?  This regal display of Birds Of Paradise and Stargazer Lilies was magnificent.  It just kept getting better and better as time passed and more buds opened.

We learned how to play Majong, move thru some Tia Chi, write Chinese script, listened to some history of the river, and more.  Of course there were the tea ceremonies...

After dinner offerings were the floor shows put on by crew members.  The wait staff in the restaurant doubled as dancers extordinaire.  The costumes were so colourful and intricate, representing ancient Chinese dress, mostly of the noble classes.

Check out these shoes:  a precursor to high heels???

This is Li Ting Ting (Alice) who was our favourite waitress.  Captain B and I wanted to adopt her and bring her home.

Views of rural China were more what I had expected to see when we had planned our trip.

It rained part of every day that we were on the river, and the fog was so dense at times, I wondered if we would be able to see anything.  In fact, our excursion for day seven was cancelled as "Dungeon Thick'o fog" socked us in, bringing all river traffic to a complete halt for six hours.  Today's excursion was also cancelled due to heavy rain, but Viking brought the fun to us.  Viking sponsors three different schools along the rural areas of the river.  They brought the children to us for a floor show and a chance to talk with them afterwards.

This link will let you hear the children singing and see some of what their schools are like.

Heather was impressed with the food presentation.  She had surprises ahead, when we were offered fried chicken feet, pigs tails, and such!!!

Ambling back to our room at the end of a busy day, our heads full of new lessons in cultural exchange, we were greeted by another gift from Stephen, our attentive room stuart.

Stay tuned for accounts of Xian and the Terra Cotta Warriors, The Great Wall and the Forbidden City.  What a trip!  I am reliving the fun by sharing these posts with you a little at a time.  Questions?  Comments?  Feel free to let me know if you are interested.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Wet and Weary in Wuhan

Goodbye Shanghai, hello Wuhan.

Our third day in China found us at the peak of exhaustion from travel weariness and jet lag.  Captain B was also still fighting the good fight against a vicious chest infection.  He had insisted he wouldn't miss this trip for anything, even though his doctor strongly advised doing so!  Needless to say, another three bus trips and an air plane ride were not high on our list of things to do in China, or anywhere else that day.

If either one of us had been given a vote, we would have nixed the whole idea of a museum tour at 5 pm. after the day of travel.  Our tour guide insisted there was no option.  Well...we had travelled to the opposite side of the earth to see the cultural highlights of China, and whether we wanted to or not at that exact moment, it was going to happen.  As it turned out, it was very well worth the time and energy spent.  I wouldn't have missed it for anything, now that I know what I would have missed.

We were so late arriving, the museum had closed to the public.  They allowed our group in under special permission.  I am impressed with Viking Tours powers of persuasion!

The Hubei Provincial Museum is a large place, with imposing entrance and beautiful gardens.  It houses an impressive collection of artifacts from the Warring States period (500-400 BC).

The primary attraction of this museum is an astonishing set of 65 gold-inlaid bronze bells.
Engravings have determined these bells were a gift to Marquis Yi of Zeng by his king Chu, in 433 BC.  Such an extravagant gift shows the length to which various kings went, to ensure the loyalty of even minor Vassels.  Every tiny fiefdom was at war with its neighbours, during that time, trying to hold power over as much territory as possible.  Kings needed all the support they could get.

The bells and many artifacts were discovered when the tomb of Marquis Yi was unearthed.  This collection is highly valued and considered a major prize of antiquity. 

The set of bells cover 5 octaves and range in size from 8 inches (weighing 5 pounds) to 5 feet (weighing 448 pounds).

To listen to a short sample of what these bells sound like, check out this link:

Notice the ancient stringed instrument at the front of the stage.  It has 24 individual bridges.  Can you imagine tuning that???

This photo shows the "tiles" also used in the musical performance.

Among the many artifacts in the museum, we marvelled at the lacquer coffin of Marquis Yi.  Lacquer coffins were highly valued for their preservative and decorative qualities.  Again, one wonders at the ability of a lowly Vassel to afford such an outrageously expensive coffin:  King Chu was still coddling the Yi family and heirs.

As the Egyptians, so the Chinese, and probably many other ancient cultures...they buried their dead with everything thought needed for the after-life.  Marquis Yi's burial chambers contained food and wine vessels, furniture, weapons, the bells of course, and the bodies of his favourite concubines!  

A small sample of photos....

By the time our visit to the museum was complete, the sun was setting, rain was falling, and we were ready to find a place to veg out, preferably in a horizontal position.  Our loyal bus driver and local guide kept us awake and informed as we made our hour more drive to the boat--our home for the next five days.

The Yangtze river at last.  I never found out what this was, illuminated next to our ship, but it appeared to be a ROUND boat!

A dancing DRAGON and deafening drums heralded us as we boarded our ship, The Emerald Viking:  colour, noise and confusion as we staggered aboard, carrying what hadn't been portered for us.  We left all our cares behind us as we were royally greeted and ushered to our cabins.  There, a bottle of champagne and a bouquet of fresh flowers awaited us.  

Oh boy!  This was going to be fun.  
And it was!