| After a visit to the amazing
Dazu Grottoes that seemed far too short, we hustled back into the van for
the short drive to lunch. We arrived at the Dazu Hotel for lunch at about
1 pm - a large, new edifice built on the outskirts of town. No doubt this
choice was due to meal arrangements with the tour company. Happily, today's
lunch included a full bottle (520 ml) of Shancheng beer rather than the small
glass that was poured last time around. A fine local pilsner! Must be a latent
german influence is my guess.
After lunch, we headed back to Chongqing. Retracing our route, we had ample
time to contemplate the countryside and observe China's slow transition towards
modernity and urbanization. Out in the country, this progress was most evident
where relatively new cinderblock farmhouses had replaced tumbledown shacks
of uncertain age; in the cities it was the fleets of shiny new bicycles parked
on the outskirts of markets and shopping malls.
The farmer's practice of spreading rice on the road to dry out seemed quite
hazardous from a road-safety point of view, since the rice generally covered
about half a lane on each side of the road. This wasn't such a big deal in
the places where the road had two lanes in each direction, but traffic got
unnecessarily constricted when the road dropped down to one lane each direction.
Playing 'chicken' with the bigger trucks in some places was pretty darn unnerving.
Better to sit in the back of the van and stare out the windows instead of
in front watching oncoming traffic!
We arrived back in Chongqing at about 4:30 pm. Returning to the center of
Chongqing we passed one neighborhood several blocks long of one machine shop
after another. Many shops had various types of machinery pulled out onto
the sidewalk so that the machinists could work in the open air instead of
confined inside. Interesting!
Back in the center of Chongqing again, Mr. Shen directed our driver to Au
Liang Flower Garden. Being esteemed foreign guests (hah!), the driver intrepidly
navigated the van through the narrow winding streets of this part of town
(? perhaps once the old city, or a former palace, since it was on a hill-top
above the river), through several areas that seemed to be marked as pedestrian-access
only, and eventually dropped us off at the very top of the park.
There we found the reason for our stop: The Three Gorges Exhibition Hall
- a somewhat dingy and run-down museum set up to tell the story of the Three
Gorges Dam and the changes it will wreak upon the communities upriver. The
giant dioramas were kind of interesting to check out (much like the San Francisco
Bay model in Sausalito), as was the incredibly long painted scroll depicting
sights and cities along the 1300 km journey from Chongqing down to Wuhan.
If I remember my facts correctly, the painter had begun his work on this
scroll in the early 60's, finishing it some several hundred feet and twenty-odd
years later. Quite an accomplishment, especially considering that his work
was done unofficially and fell somewhat outside the boundaries of permissible
expression during the Cultural Revolution when the work was started. Experienced
Chinese travelers will not be surprised to hear that the museum led directly
into a shop selling all sorts of tourist treasures, including freshly painted
works by the scroll artist himself, who was on hand to talk and even pose
for photos standing with visitors among his works for a small additional
bit of remuneration. On the way out, a fellow Yankee tourist made enthusiastic
remarks about Pop's New York Yankees baseball cap.
We hustled back out into the park as soon as we could, hoping to be able
to check out the flower displays before it got dark. As you can see from
the panorama pictures, it was a rotten day for enjoying the parks position
atop the hill, as the air was thick with a dark foggy mist. Focusing instead
on the attractions within the park, we found that a Chrysanthemum Festival
of some sort was taking place, and thousands upon thousands of freshly blooming
potted mums had been brought in and arranged into a hug variety of displays.
Most were arrayed into colorful geometric arrangements, but others were organized
into topiaries and ever more fantastic displays. Of course, for all the tasteful
and creative displays, there were a few real duds. For example, the Fake-Flower
Archway, ever-so-appealing from a few hundred feet away, turned out to lead
into something like a collection of tea houses, with the most awfully tacky
arrangements of plastic flowers you can imagine. Must have been sponsored
by the fake-flower factory is my guess!
Another of the odd displays consisted of a ten foot tall super-pigeon, cast
in grey concrete. Celebration of the squab! Another attraction at the top
of the park was Chiang Kai-shek's summer villa, now a tourist museum and
trinket shop (surprise, surprise, surprise!). It was surprisingly small for
the dwelling of a commander-in-chief! Most of the rooms were piled high with
typical tourist stuff, but a few held more interesting objects: paintings
for sale that supposedly came from Chiang Kai-Shek's collection (the prices
were high enough...) and a dozen-odd worn-looking rugs (also supposedly belonging
to the general ... suspicious that they were on sale some 50+ years after
Chiang Kai-Shek's departure). Mom was particularly taken with a yellow
jade bracelet containing bands of green and red. Again, pricey, but pretty.
The salesman explained that it had once belonged to Madame Chiang. The bracelet
was too small to fit Mom's hand. When the salesman produced a bottle of lotion
to help Mom get the bracelet on, we knew it was time to leave, so much to
the salesman's chagrin, we dragged the folks back outside to continue our
impromptu tour of the flower park.
After walking hither and yonder through the park for an hour or so, we found
ourselves at the bottom exit, were our van driver was thoughtfully waiting
for us. Under Mr. Shen's direction, he then whisked us back to a hotel in
the financial district, the East Garden Hotel, just a few blocks from where
we had spent the night for an early dinner. As the banquet room was being
set up for a wedding, we were ushered off to a small private dining room
in the corner where we suffered ourselves to consume yet another ten course
meal. Gotta work hard to hold up that good old American appetite!
We finished our meal by 7 pm, and following a quick stop to retrieve our
luggage from the baggage check, we soon found ourselves deposited on a quay
alongside the Yangtze River. We thanked the driver for delivering us safely
through the many miles of driving, then followed Mr. Shen out towards the
cruise ships moored offshore. A hardy band of porters waited expectantly,
hoping to be engaged for the few minutes of work necessary to transport luggage
from shore to ship, but with our wheeled bags, we were confident that we
didn't need any assistance.
As it turns out, the walk out to the boats was significantly harder than
it looked from shore. The first complication was the hundred-plus steps to
get down to water-level. From the bottom of the steps, the path leading to
the ships was irregular, varying every few steps from heavy metal decking,
to something like corrugated aluminum siding, then to wooden plank bridges,
and so on and so forth. So much for the superiority of wheeled luggage, it
was time for serious lugging! Coupled with the lack of lighting, there were
more than a couple times where I found myself listening to the whoosh of
water rushing under the walkway, and visions of a misstep followed by the
splash! of heavy luggage tumbling into the water tugged heavily at my attention.
"Don't go there" I thought to myself, and with continued effort, the journey
was completed without a mishap. Whew!
Coming around the barge stationhouse shown on the left of 20021026-1918-37,
we were surprised to be serenaded by a 20- or 30-piece brass band, playing
what sounded like a blend of polka favorites, sousa marches, and big-band
hits from sixty years ago. Fun! A couple entrepreneurial-minded vendors had
set up small stands to sell fruit and alcohol to passengers arriving for
the night, but being full-to-bursting from our recent dinner, we waddled
on by and onto our ship, the M.S. Isabella #5.
The ship's crew greeted us with hot tea, and then we sat and waited a half-hour
or so for the other tour guide from the touring company to show up with our
cruise tickets. Apparently, he was entrusted with our tickets because his
tour group and our tour group were both supposed to show up at the ship at
the same time. Harumph! So much for careful planning! The guide showed up
eventually, and we were then assigned to our cabins and allowed to check
in for the night. Mr. Shen took a few more minutes to make sure that we were
comfortable with everything, posed for a group picture with us, and then
Dog tired from the day full of sightseeing, we turned in soon afterwards,
rocked gently to sleep by the rhythm of old man river.