Day By Day

Saturday, June 20, 2009

China Diary -- Part 19 On the Yangtze

After our visit to the zoo and art institute we traveled down to the waterfront where we boarded a river boat to begin a five-day cruise on the Yangtze.

Before arriving at the shore we were warned about the "Bangbang Army". This is a reference to desperately poor peasants who flock to the riverside looking for work. They carry "bangbangs" [short bamboo staves] that they use to carry heavy loads. Our guide told us when approached to keep walking, avoid eye contact, don't speak to them, and above all to never touch our baggage. By this point we were accustomed to being approached everywhere by aggressive street people trying to sell us "rolex" watches, "gucci" bags ["two dollar"] and sundry items and were constantly being warned by government guides not to buy from them. For some reason, though, the warnings about the Bangbang Army sounded particularly dire.

Warnings, however, were not needed. For some reason there were very few men with sticks at the wharf when we arrived and those we did see avoided us. Perhaps they had been shooed away by employees of the tour company who lined the route we took from the buses to the pontoon bridge that led to the boat. My brother, who had been an Army engineer, said the pontoons brought back memories.

At the end of the pontoon bridge lion dancers were welcoming people onto the boat.

We were shown to our cabin. "She Who Must Not Be Named" was, to say the least, shocked by the cramped space, especially in the head. I later learned that this was a fairly common response among the women in the group. The men seemed not to be affected. I remember having to put up with far worse, especially in the Army ["Take your entrenching tool, troop, and don't forget to cover it up when you're finished."]. Eventually, though, we were settled in and emerged to see what was to be seen, and soon we were on our way.

The weather was terrible. It rained almost constantly and low clouds obscured both banks of the river. Odd, the temperatures had been oppressively hot in northern China, but now that we were in the south, it had turned cool and clammy. Still, the constant mist lent the passing landscape a mysterious, romantic cast as we moved past fog-shrouded buildings perched on dimly-seen terrain.

The wetness outside didn't bother the group overmuch. We found plenty of things to do onboard. Here's a Tai Chi class being held in one of the ballrooms.

Of course we didn't just huddle inside. There were shore excursions and fascinating things to see. I'll deal with some of those in the next post.