Wo ting bu dong = I don't understand

Trip Start Aug 22, 2005
Trip End Jul 17, 2006

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Flag of China  ,
Thursday, January 5, 2006

In 2009 the Chinese government will officially open the world's biggest dam, a project which will have cost an estimated US $75 billion on completion. It will flood an area the size of Singapore, displacing 1.5 million people and consigning the famous Three Gorges to history. Since I'm in China I thought I had better have a look what all the fuss is about and take a cruise downriver.

To call it a "cruise", however, would be stretching the truth. I treated myself to second class, which meant that there were only four of us crammed into a cabin the size of a shoebox. Taking a shower meant straddling the hole in the floor which doubled as both toilet and drain. On waking one morning, something had taken a bite out of my muffins and I'm pretty sure it wasn't one of my Chinese roomates who got the midnight munchies. My "roomies" were perhaps the worst examples of Chinese businessmen, insisting on chain-smoking continuously and snoring in a deafening chorus which made sleep nigh impossible. I'm not sure I will ever get used to the fact that the practice of "hawking a loogie" (that's loudly clearing the throat of phlegm and spitting it on the floor, mum and dad) is considered socially acceptable in China, indoors or out. When the Olympics come to Beijing the government is banning it there, indicating that they must realise that it is sick and wrong - so why not a blanket ban!?

The boat employed only one English-speaking guide, who woke me at 5am the first morning and informed me that I was to get off the boat to see some sights (I had apparently already paid for this privilege). Unfortunately, she was not coming on our little excursion and did not have time to explain exactly what it was we were going to see. I therefore found myself wandering around some weird "Ghost City" in the pre-dawn darkness following a Chinese-speaking tour guide with a megaphone, completely oblivious to the historical or cultural significance of what I was looking at. At one point I was ushered into what can only be described as a really shit ghost train which seemed to go on for ages and when I emerged it was light and my tour group had vanished. Fearing that the boat would leave without me I tried in vain to ask various Chinese souvenir sellers where they had gone. One pointed at a sign which read "Climbing Ming Shan" so I set off at a run up the mountain. With still no sign of them at the halfway point, I asked a Chinese lady if she had seen them and she shrugged and pointed me back down the mountain. At the bottom again, visibly flustered, I was assured that my group was in fact at the top of the mountain. When I eventually found them at the summit, hot and sweaty even in the early morning chill, I just wanted to get back on the boat. This incident and a couple of others have made me realise that whilst China is generally fine for travelling solo, as soon as you step outside the support and social network provided by the hostels, unless you speak Chinese, the "utterly lost and alone" feeling can creep up on you pretty damn quickly.

Back on the boat I met the only other English-speaking tourists, a nice couple from Cornwall (Paul), and Canada (Lindsay), now living in Orlando, who had wisely slept through the sightseeing trip. We determined to stick together and try to make the trip as fun as possible, spending our time drinking beers, playing poker and having a good whinge about the fact that the Chinese tourism industry is geared almost entirely to domestic tourists, disregarding foreigners and leaving us totally in the dark about what we've paid to see. This is a real shame because as a student I'm obviously keen to learn about the countries I'm travelling through, but in China the information is often just not available.

However, this should not and did not detract from the impressiveness of the Three Gorges, and especially the "Mini Three Gorges" side-trip. Nature, at least, transcends the language barrier.
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