Saturday, May 05, 2007

From a crumbling tower I see everything

China continues: After we had finished our adventures in Deqin, we had to make our way back through Zhongdian and Lijiang. This was ok as we could relax until the next portion of our trip and we got to do a few things we hadn't managed to do on our way up like...

...see the world famous Black Dragon Pool Park which was only slightly ruined by me having a hissy fit about the entry price and...

...and further practising our beer commercial looks. As you may have seen, Ruth's is considerably more developed and cooler than mine.

We then made our way to Chongqing to start our Yangtze river cruise before the massive three gorges dam they are building on the river swamps the region. Chongqing was oddly like Sydney in some ways with a thriving metropolis and impressive looking buildings. Problematically, it was probably the most polluted place we went to in China. The sun was shining but not enough to cut through the smog. However, the city at night was dazzling with lots neon and cool looking buildings (note the second building from the left had lights that went up and down like an equaliser on a stereo... kewl).

On the day I went to book our river cruise tickets, I got lost and stumbled across this weird Chongqing museum which seems to be have been created for town planners. It was entirely devoted to city development and its centrepiece was a football pitch sized miniature recreation of the city. I took this snap of it but was immediately berated in Chinese by a guard for taking photos. Apparently, the layout of Chongqing is a secret and photos of scale models will not be tolerated.

With a few days to kill, we finally got our hands on a dvd player and decided to watch the six seasons of the Gilmore Girls I picked up in Vietnam. I kid you not, the GG's is one of the best shows of the last twenty years. FACT!

Anyhow, we finally got on the cruise. One of the most annoying things in China is the domestic tour groups. They follow a guide with a flag, wear matching identity cards or even worse, matching hats and are generally a pain the arse. Being in one of those groups is my idea of hell. And yet, even though we didn't sign up for a tour we ended up in one which resulted in 6am wake-up calls and a beautiful love heart tour pass just to rub it in. Here I show my appreciation of the new arrangement. (By the way, a six o'clock wake up call consists of a tour guide knocking on your door. If you ignore them, they don't go away, they start yelling and pounding on the door until you get up. Strangely effective and extremely annoying).

Our first stop was the Abode of Ghosts which is meant to be a place of demons and nasty evil spirits. They have a number of attractions that sound like Iron Maiden songs such as "The Bridge of Helplessness" and the "Palace of the King of Hell." They have a number of demon statues such as Darren: Head Drunk in Hell...

Neil: The Yak-faced Party Demon...

...and Kevin: the Angry Pedestrian Crossing Guy.

Across the river was an amazing site of a Buddha carved into the bank of the river...

Unfortunately, it seemed to lose that special reverence when I discovered the Buddha's head was a car park. No doubt its an enlightened car park, but a car park nonetheless.

We then entered the first gorge of our trip, the three of which are spread out over 200km. Unfortunately, as the three gorges dam nears completion in 2009, the gorges become shallower as this picture attests until it reaches its projected 175m and displaces two million odd people... details, details. Ten years ago, my camera wouldn't have been able to get the gorges in.

All along the river there is construction as well as cities that have been built for the displaced people. One thing is for sure, the Chinese Government knows how to build impressive bridges, this one's not even finished but already frickin' HUGE!

There are also huge white 175m signs to show exactly where the water will rise to on completion of the dam. This guy is so happy that he's allowed the sign to be painted on the side of his house which will be under water in a year and a half as will his way of life. Progress is good!

"The Looooooooove Boat soon will be making another run!
The Looooooooove Boat promises something for everyone!"

I show my love for the Love Boat...

The highlight of the cruise was taking a little cruise down the Little Three Gorges on the little Love Boat above. It was kind of what I imagine the old gorges would have been like before they were dammed but y'know, urm little.

The three gorges is on the top 1000 list of things to do on the planet I was given and we can tick it off now, its done and dusted. You have officially 19 months to get there before the entire thing is under water...

Next stop Beijing for four days. First stop: Tiananmen Square which is the largest public square in the world and can easily fit a million people. For theorists of public space I imagine its an amazing place but its also the site of the massacre of hundreds of students and workers who were peacefully protesting for political reforms in 1989. Treading this ground felt weird and strangely bitter. I've attended so many protests over the years and to think so many people not that dissimilar to myself were killed here protesting for things most of us take for granted was hard to comprehend.

At one end of the square, in front of Mao's Mausoleum where he is embalmed and on public display,* are these revolutionary statues. What's freaky about them is that they have remarkably realistic faces right down to the furrowed brow and concentration of a soldier firing a machine gun. Considering what happened here, I'm surprised no one finds it creepy. Sadly, I didn't have time for pickled Mao. (*Apparently, its a body double because the real Mao started to, you know, smell and fall apart.)

Second stop: the forbidden city. This is what we expected to see....

...and this is what we got. So forbidden you can't even see it. In the build-up to the Olympics, everything is being fixed, scrubbed or seemingly conjured out of thin air. I wish they'd told us that we were going to see a scaffolding exhibit BEFORE we paid our money.

Next trip was to the Lama temple, which had an 18 metre high statue of Maitreya carved out of a single piece of sandalwood which was so huge it was beyond comprehension. However, they didn't allow photos so I took a picture of the drum tower instead. I wonder what's in the drum tower?

OH... That's what is in a drum tower. Thank you Captain Obvious.

One of the joys of staying Beijing was catching up with my old friend Elise. She kindly let us stay and took us out for Peking Duck which has been renamed with the "slightly less roll off the tongue" moniker of Beijing Duck. Progress baby, progress.

The final stop of the Beijing tour was a visit to the Great Wall which we visited with another old Sydney acquaintance Tom. Considering how touristy it was (it had a toboggan ride!) the wall was an quite moving and amazing to see in person.

As such, we all had to get the obligatory tourist photo. Hey, did I mention the toboggan ride?

Just like the Lord of the Rings, the Chinese army would send signals by lighting fires along the wall to indicate incoming invading forces or ordering pizza. However, despite the fact the wall is 6700km, it was easy to infiltrate by the mongols who easily bribed the Chinese guards with hat pins, fine silk socks and Michael Bolton cds.

So that was the Great Wall, China and the end of the Asian leg of the teenage rockin' roadtrip. It was an amazing, traumatic, brilliant adventure which was exhilirating as it was exhausting but greener pastures awaited us as we headed to England. Seriously the pastures are really green in England.

The 5:04am jetlag shot. Sunrise over Stoke, the place where I grew up and haven't been to in 26 years. Its good to be home.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Welcome Home Jon,
Great pictures of China, do you think I could bribe the guards with a Val Doonican CD if I go there? Great for me and Jim to meet you after all these years too.
Even if I did misplace the last seven years you were here last, but then again I've left the hot tap running for several hours on more than one occasion recently. Now, where was I?