Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The three gorges on the Yangtze

So far, the cruise has been sun drenched, breezy days. Today, I wake up to an overcast sky. The whole day is gray. A melancholy chill settles over the mood of the last two days.

The built-in speaker over my bed seems more noisy than usual. The chinese pop and an announcers voice mix awkwardly. Once I have stirred, I realize the bad bed speaker is not what I am hearing. Our new roommate has the television blasting a Chinese talk show. Maureen tells me she feels that the younger Chinese generation does not have respect for others because usually they have no siblings. His talk show woke her up much earlier. She is not happy.

Today is the day to see the three gorges. We are all excited. Although, the sky is gray, we are excited.

The day goes slowly. I go up onto the back deck but the gray sky makes this leisure time less pleasurable. I try to read more of Moby Dick but I am getting impatient with all of the whale descriptions and still no Dick.

I settle into the lounge. A few tables of adults are playing cards. Aztec boy comes in with a group of other youngsters. He is the tallest which means he is probably the oldest. He towers over his cohorts. Two girls tag along. The whole group – six of them altogether – sits down and starts playing cards. I cannot help but spy on them. In the west, I would eavesdrop. Here, I cannot.

The day slowly rolls forward. I write. I daydream. I hope the Pequod on the rolling misty sea finds that whale.

I make my way back to the cabin. In our cabin, our new roommate is watching the television. He watches sports. He then turns to a game show. He then turns to the news. He then turns back to the sports. He then turns to a Chinese soap opera. Two females are having a heated conversation which escalates to an argument which escalates to a pillow fight. Did they see this on ‘Guiding Light.’ “I woke up and it was yesterday.”

Someone knocks on the door. Our new roommate’s friend from yesterday is standing there. The two young men depart together from the cabin. I tell Jennifer the cabin across from us is like a clown car. She asks me if that is on a circus train. I tell her like the clown car at the circus where all of the clowns get out of a small car. We imagine a clown car attached to the Trans Siberian Express rolling through Mongolia, on into Siberia.

Lo Lo Lo, our tour guide, knocks on our door. She tells us the ship will dock at 4 pm for the three gorges cruise. I go back to the lounge. At 3:30, I head back to the cabin.

Jennifer has some noodles. Jennifer takes a shower. Jennifer gets out of the shower at 4 pm. Maureen says she will wait for Jennifer to get ready. I have learned that Jennifer is a bit of a slow moving barge. I leave the ship and go to find Lo Lo Lo to get my ticket for the three gorges cruise. I follow the crowd.

I spot Lo Lo Lo at the next dock where everyone from our ship is walking. She tries to tell me that only one of us paid for this three gorges tour. I tell her that this is most definitely something that all of us paid for and I do not want to argue with her. At this point, I have started to have it with Lo Lo Lo. I know that she has to make money but she has done nothing for us other than give us the tickets – which are usually about double their actual cost - for the attractions at the places where we dock which we could certainly do ourselves. We were told we would have an English speaking guide which I do not really care about that aspect but I do get a bit miffed when I am told I have not paid for something that I have.

Lo Lo Lo’s cohort walks up. Jennifer and Maureen finally get there. I tell them the situation. At this point, Lo Lo Lo looks at her book and realizes she has made a mistake and gives all of us our tickets.

Two identical boats are docked next to each other. We had hoped they would be smaller than they actually are. They are about the size of double-wide, double-decker busses. This time, I decide to immediately assess the situation. Upstairs, most of the window seats have been nabbed. Jennifer and Maureen are right behind me. I tell them I am getting a window seat on the first floor. Maureen says that the view is not as good. I tell her I am going to sit on the first floor by a window. She may sit where she would like.

I nab a window seat before everyone else on the boat realizes that the seats are quickly being snatched. Jennifer and Maureen sit beside me. In the row in front of us - as we pull away – a man starts smoking a cigarette. Maureen moves to another part of the boat. I tell Jennifer that I feel bad that Maureen is so bothered by cigarettes that even if one is within a few meters she has to move.

The three gorges is not the exciting adventure I had thought it might be. From what we learn on the cruise from some English speakers here and there, since the river has risen the water is much less rough than it was before the water level was raised. We glide through the gorges seamlessly. At one point, I look up and I do believe I see a monkey jumping from one tree to another. I am sure my eyes are playing tricks on me. This must be a huge owl or something else.

A crowd is on the front deck which affords an amazing view of the gorges. Jennifer and I walk out onto the front deck. People eventually get bored and go back into the boat. Jennifer and I are able to lean on the railing and gaze at the scenery. Jennifer ponders what this will be like when the water level is raised 175 meters. The huge imposing cliffs will no longer be imposing. This makes us a bit sad but grateful to be seeing it now. Bruce walks up. I introduce Jennifer to Bruce. They instantly hit it off. They begin a conversation.

I wander back to my seat by the window inside the boat. This would be nice and relaxing if the public address system was not loud and distorted. The noise and the Chinese-ness of this make me feel as if I am at a Skinny Puppy after party on acid.

Midway into the cruise the rain comes down. Everyone heads into the boat but Jennifer and Bruce. Watching them, I feel as if I am watching a movie. Bruce then wanders back inside. Jennifer stand on the deck in the rain alone.

This is to be a six hour cruise. We are less than two hours into the cruise and the boat seems to be turning around. I wonder if we are going back and taking a fork that I saw thirty minutes previous. Once we pass the fork, I am not sure but I think we are going back the way we came. Yes, we hit the Yangtze. The three gorge cruise director is handing out something to people that looks like tickets. She seems to be talking emphatically about whatever she is giving them.

I am just as glad that the cruise, for whatever reason, has been cut short. Three hours is definitely enough to look at cliffs and trees after three days of already looking at cliffs and trees along the Yangtze. Jennifer and Maureen are sitting in seats at the front of the boat. I make my way up to where they are.

“Do you know why we turned around? Wasn’t the cruise supposed to be longer?” I ask in rapid fire.
“Yeah, Bruce said they said it was dangerous if we go any farther with the rain like it is,” Jennifer says.
“Oh, that’s just as well,” I say, “I was really ready to head back anyway. What were those coupons they were handing out?”
“They were tickets for a show in town,” Jennifer says “With dancing and singing. According to Bruce, the guide said that if people want to go into town and see the show they can since the cruise was cut short early.”
“Oh,” I say unimpressed and then add, “Bruce is nice, huh?”
“Yeah,” Jennifer says.
"I think I saw a monkey in a tree," I say.
"At one point, we passed monkey cove, so you might have," Maureen says.
“Going into town sounds fun,” I say
“I think having dinner on the ship sounds nice,” says Maureen. “I think I will just hang out on the ship. I don’t want to go out in the rain.”
Jennifer and I both stare at Maureen mystified. For the most part, we have been on a very unaccommodating, non-luxurious boat for the last few days. Staying on the ship for dinner tonight absolutely sounds dreadful to me as I am sure it does to Jennifer. Jennifer is however more diplomatic than I am. But, I am fairly autonomous. I like to do my own thing; I don’t really pander to others ever.
“I may have dinner on the boat and then go to town.” Jennifer says.
“That sounds good.” I say.
As we are walking back to the ship, we run into Bruce again. We tell him we are going to go to town later if he wants to join us. He likes that idea. He buys a cheap rain poncho for Jennifer and makes her put it on. I buy a cheap rain poncho for myself and I do not put it on. I enjoy the spring rain. I run back to the ship. In our cabin, I do not have a towel so I dry myself off with my dirty French Connection cut and paste collage t-shirt. I look forward to going into town. Tomorrow will be our last day on the boat.


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