NOTE: internet connection is still slow, though a little better, here in Chengdu. I have little patience with trying to upload photos but I’ve added a few from the cruise.
We are still experiencing things at a faster rate than I am able to write them down! I’m writing the beginning of this post on a train from Chongqing to Chengdu. We’re in the heart of ma la, aka ‘numb and spicy’ country, and enjoying every minute of it so far. I thought perhaps I first ought to mention what we did on the remainder of our cruise. Much lounging occurred, as usual, and last Thursday and Friday we had excursions to Shen Nong Stream, a tributary of the Yangtze, where we took a ferry through some lovely scenery and then took a ride in some local “peapod boats” which in older days were once pulled through shallow waters by naked guys. To great disappointment, this did not happen while we were there, but we did get some postcards depicting it.
During this tour, our boat was filmed by a crew from CCTV, China’s biggest TV network, the tiny boat overloaded with the camera crew who actually made us paddle back out after the tour and made the tour guide repeat several things she’d already said. I kept my head down and tried not to look like a foreigner. Luckily, we had a couple of older Spanish men in our group who gladly accepted the roles of Happy Go Lucky Foreigners Who Love China for the camera. (Not that we don’t love China — we do, actually. We just don’t necessarily want to be on TV.)
On Friday, we visited “Ghost City,” which used to be in a city called Fengdu, but actually the whole town of Fendgu was relocated to the opposite side of the river when the dam was built, leaving only the tourist attraction in its original site. It was definitely kind of a tourist trap, but actually pretty fun and interesting. The tour guide explained that the city was traditionally seen as the gateway to the underworld, the city everyone had to go to in order to be judged before the afterlife . This was apparently based on the name of the city…I don’t quite remember what he said, but the guide said the city was named after two people whose names were Feng and Du, but together Fengdu meant something related to death or judgement or the afterlife, so it became a hot spot for this sort of thing. We enjoyed the various “traditional” and or “incredibly cheesy and touristy” attractions, such as the bridge you’re supposed to walk over, in nine steps exactly, while holding hands, so you’ll stay together forever, the huge stone you’re supposed to lift onto a small platform in order to show you’re a great husband, the rock that you have to balance on in order to prove you’re a good person and don’t deserve to have your intestines torn out in Buddhist hell, and so on.
There were several shows performed by the crew of the boat during the evenings. Although the one we went to was pretty fun (I thought it would be incredibly lame, but it was surprisingly well done) I’m not sure how I felt about this, for a couple of reasons. First, probably because I had just watched Up the Yangtze, I got the feeling that the daily life of a worker on the boat wasn’t all that enjoyable, and also got the feeling that performance in the show was more or less required. (“Unfortunately, I will be performing tonight,” one of the tour guides said to us.) Second, being a good liberal academic, I am required to be uneasy about the way that Han Chinese dress in ethnic minority costumes and perform traditional dances. That said, for a group of people being required to wear flashy costumes and do dances, they were really good.
Overall I’m really glad we did the cruise – the food was really nice, the service was impeccable (too good, really – if you’re used to the unobtrusive service in China it can get annoying to be asked “Excuse me, sir, may I change your plate” 5 times a day), and most importantly, the awesome room and abundance of leisure time gave us the chance to get used to just spending time together again. After three months of living apart, that was the best bit of the whole trip, if you ask me.
Coming next: Hotpot and other spicy food, explosions, knife salesmanship, trivia night, and more in Chongqing!