Posts Tagged With: coal barges


I’ve taken a cruise ship once and decided it was an expensive floating hotel with sumptuous food and contrived activities to keep you entertained between brief stops. I swore I’d never take another, but I signed on for this cruise because I remembered Barry Goldwater admitting he should never have voted to flood Glen Canyon for the dam after a group of environmentalists took him for a tour before the dam was completed. I’ve seen the pictures of Glen Canyon, now forever lost. I wanted to see the beautiful Yangtze River Canyon before the Chinese flooded it with their huge dam. It  displaced  millions of families, that’s millions of families. It was a very controversial dam, protested by people around the world. Anyway, our ship is nice.

After dinner, our first night, we are lavishly entertained with a program of Chinese dances and costume representing eleven dynasties of male and female clothing.

Dress clothing of the aristocracy, of course, not the everyday clothing of the working people.

It was a fabulous and enjoyable show, rich and colorful.

The extent of such finery, and pageantry surprised me. I’ve read very little Chinese history and woefully felt the lack as I listened, learned and enjoyed.  Since, I’m an early riser, at 5:30 a.m. the next morning,  I went to the gym on board to exercise and saw the crew busily waking up the ship, getting breakfast ready for us, and attending to all anticipated needs of passengers.  At breakfast I learned a little more of the new history of China. The lavish performance  of the previous night was done by the ships servers, who work hard all day then double as entertainers, staying up past 11:00 p.m. to entertain us. I’ve never been very good about setting politics aside no matter what I’m doing.

The river is and will remain a major transportation corridor for ships and barges like this coal barge, besides producing electric power.

We got a look at Bye Bye Bridge.  So called because it will soon be under water. By 2004,  the canyon is already half flooded. The canyon looks misty but mostly the mist is bad air quality. Chinese homes are predominantly  heated with coal.

We pass half flooded caves that at one time held Japanese soldiers who lived in the canyon, unable to return to their homeland. They were in such a steep, rocky section of the canyon, they were unreachable by anyone in power. They lived on fish and birds and what few vegetables they could cadge from local farmers. In one cave, with binoculars, we could see a mummified body hanging. Another controversy in the scientific community around the world  because archeologists wanted to study them and find out who they were. They were refused by the Chinese government.

The remnants of terraced gardens can be seen everywhere. The Chinese working people eat every bird, insect and plant they can devour. We saw a few waters birds, some monkeys, who will now probably become extinct because their habitat is being flooded, and fish.


This farmer, could at one time walk from his ancestral land to visit and trade with his neighbor.

The land bridge between them is flooded. For awhile, they visited each other by boat. Now that option is also gone. This farmer clings to his land until he has to take his boat and leave. It is very heart wrenching for them.  Older people, hate it. Some younger workers love it.  One worker on the boat told us she has her first apartment that she can own in Wuhan (oohan)  City. She lives in 120 meters with a family of three. On the farm, she lived in 400 square meters with an extended family of eight. She  showed us the government pictures of the canyon before it flooded. The much vaunted beauty does not compare to Glen Canyon in my opinion.

I was much more interested in the people and activity we could see along the river.

Another farm will be soon flooded.  The steepness of the canyon farms were pretty amazing.Some farmers fought the flooding by building dikes, all for naught.

It had to be grueling labor to eke out a living on such land. This is old China. Here people live without knowing what goes on in their country. No electricity, or amenities.  Just hard labor from hand to mouth.

At dinner, we learned to sing Happy Birthday in Chinese.

Our second day, we visit a side canyon.  More tomorrow.

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Aboard our ship, we eat sumptuous meals and last night, we danced the macarena. Our guide is obviously a political person. She tells us that the employees aboard the ship work horribly long hours. They get up before dawn and begin breakfast, cleaning and all those things that make our trip a smooth, seamless adventure. It is the army of workers that, after their toil, stay up late to entertain us. The costumes, the music, the dance.  It is a sobering experience and for our group, not unwelcome information. Today, we offload from the ship and are delivered to a landing where we take a motorized sampan ride up one of the canyons.

Many fishing families live on their sampans, most are motorized like this one. At one time they were hand paddled or poled along the river. The boatman demonstrated the woven rush garment the old-timers once wore when it rains. Now they have plastic tarps and jackets. Several members of our group were invited to try out the rain coat and pole the sampan.

We happen upon just such a family as we continue up the gorge.  Like the subsistence farmers, these people live hand to mouth. They have no medical care. We see a few monkeys and birds in this gorge and our guide tells us the locals kill and eat them.  In fact, it is eerie to realize that you hardly ever see a bird except domesticated ducks. You see no insects or animal life of any kind in the “wild”.  The monkeys are the rare survivors in this steep canyon where they cannot be hunted to extinction-yet!

This entrepreneurial fellow has positioned himself in this cliff house to take pictures of the tourists in sampans. Then he scurries ahead to the ship and has the pictures posted for sale before we leave the following morning.  Our guide says he also catches sturgeon and delivers it to the back-end of smaller tourist boats that serve meals. Fishermen below the dam love it. Sturgeon get three feet long. There are no fish ladders and they cannot get past the dam. Their environmental problems are still ahead of them.

From the sampan we see a wall of inaccessible caves.

Those that are within reach are not lived in as much as simply used for night-time shelter.

The next morning, we stop at a newly built city with modern apartment buildings where many farm families have been relocated. Farmers have few city skills but many of their wives work as maids. This is part of  Hubei (hoo-bay) Province. We stopped at a brand new beautiful tourist center only to find the worst awful pit toilets on the trip so far. It kind of boggles the mind, this newly built center, in a newly built town has pit toilets? At the tourist center we saw a fight between two bus drivers from two different tours. We wondered if the Mau Zedong government had somehow erased every human emotion, but this proved it had not.

At the dam, this lock was in working condition and the engineers were testing operations by putting these empty boats through the lock.

This is the kind of traffic they will be getting through the locks. Notice the workers “hotel” at the back end of the barge.

They built a wonderful overlook to see the dam being built.You get the idea of the immensity of the project even through the morning haze.

This is a view of the unfinished “front” of the dam. Our guide told us the power generated here  will only supply 5% of China’s electrical needs. Seems kind of a shame to have displaced 1.24 million people, over one thousand villages, and I’ve forgotten how many cities for 5% of their power.

The visitor’s center did a good job of explaining the dam, its building process and design. They had a mock-up of the dam in a reflecting pool of water and it was all very interesting.  And this sculpture on the side of the overlook?  I was disappointed that it didn’t have one dragon sculpted in the stone.  In fact, the dam has been a very controversial project. You can read more about it here:

There were many sites on the internet covering the controversial issues of this dam if you wish more detail.

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Our first night aboard our Victoria Cruise Ship, we were given a champagne reception and attended a wonderful fashion show after dinner.

We think of  them as costumes, but we are reminded that each garment was the normal attire for Chinese citizens of the aristocracy during the eleven Dynasties represented.

The various models danced and sang period pieces from the particular dynasty they represented.

Our own puritan ancestors were pretty stodgy dudes by comparison. Learning about the various periods as the colorful fashion show proceeded, via a narrator with impeccable English…wow!  What a gig!

The ship carries us upstream from Chongqing (pronounced shawn-keen) to Yichan, (e-shan.) There is a certain amount of dead time aboard a cruise and we have tai chi lessons after breakfast and view an acupuncture demonstration as we float along. Then, we get our first view of a sampan. Not the old type of sampan but a modern one with a motor.

The Yangtze is a highway moving raw materials to various cities over hundreds of miles.

The Chinese call this Bye-Bye Bridge, because it will soon be underwater.  I wanted to see the famous river and the three gorges before they were inundated by water from the dam.

Families here have farmed the steep sides of the Yangtze for hundred’s of years. They don’t understand why the government is flooding them out and forcing them to evacuate from all they’ve ever known. They have never had electricity and they must sacrifice for the people who will benefit from the electricity this dam will produce.

This farmer could at one time walk to his neighbor’s farm. Then he could boat to his neighbor’s farm. Now his neighbor is underwater and his own buildings are partially flooded. Many older people hate it and hang on to all they’ve ever known for as long as they can.  One Chinese worker aboard ship loves it.  She has a new apartment in Wuhan  (oohan) City where she has more space. She now lives with three people in 120 square meters. In her old house she lived with an extended  family of eight in 400 square meters. She has electricity and, she can own her apartment.

These caves, once unreachable from the river , were the refuge of Japanese soldiers during WWII. They escaped to these caves and lived for years before they were discovered. Now, our guide marvels that you can actually see into them.  There are ancient bodies buried in some of the caves from an unknown past as well.

The steep canyon still has some beauty left and I’m grateful to have had a chance to see it before it disappears. To their credit, the Chinese government has taken extensive pictures of the canyon before the flooding began so people can see what it was once like.

As you look up into the clouds, its hard to imagine that most of this beautiful canyon will be underwater very soon.

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