Chinese Airlines

  Flight one: Tokyo to Beijing 

Our first foray into the delightful land of Chinese air transport was our flight from Tokyo to Beijing.  It was scheduled to leave at 10:50 and was changed to 10:00.  That’s okay – Tripit told us all about it and we were able to adjust our timetable accordingly.  Had to get up before 5am, find a cab, get to the Shinkjuku JR line in time for out 05:55 shinkensne train to the airport.  Hour later, arrived at the airport, check in wasn’t even open so we were in a queue for empty service counters for a while. But they turned up around 07:30.  It was relatively painless, but for the fact that our seating allocation was lost in the rescheduling and we ended up at the arse end of the plane – Row 63F.  We were all loaded and squared away and ready to go and then our flight was then delayed due to ‘air traffic control issues’ in Shanghai (the flight went Tokyo -> Shanghai -> Beijing… no idea why, but potentially because they don’t fly over North Korea) and they missed their window and we ended up leaving at 10:50 anyway.  So being at the arse end of the plane was initially no big deal until they served up lunch, the people in front of us got the last beef/rice combo meals, and we were offered ‘fishy noodles or fishy noodles’.  Which turned out to be completely inedible, and if you’re an allergy sufferer – suck it up. 

So we land in Shanghai – late… and there is no gate for us.  So we are stuck out at the optimisitically named, Gate 204, which is to say, just parked somewhere on the tarmac waiting for buses to take us to the terminal.  Our layover having been swallowed up in ‘unavoidable’ delays, we now experienced the worst airport/customs clusterfuck I have ever seen in my life.  They raced us off the plane, onto the buses, about a 10 min ride away to the terminal, where we were greeted by people plonking blue stickers on our person, and a woman with a high vis vest waving a folder in the air yelling at everyone to follow her (we think – Chinese isn’t my thing), and then we marched through the entire airport.  Up flights of stairs, down back corridors, through building construction areas, eventually through a security screening (the guy behind us picked out of the queue for having a high temperature, further through the back alleys, up two more flights of stairs, into a customs queue, back through a security check, down more corridors, and then down some escalators (wtf?  escalators for the downstairs bit and just regular stair for the running upstairs bit?) and eventually corralled to a space that I will generously call a ‘waiting lounge’ to wait for… who fucking knows what?  Eventually the buses came back, ferried us all back out to the tarmac and straight back onto the same plane and we were led back to the exact same seat.  Whole thing took about 40 mins and according to my phone was about a 3km sprint with waiting in queues for security checks and immigration processing in between.  

Well, we think, at least we won’t have to go through Customs in Beijing when we arrive… feeling none too generous but looking for a bright side.  Yeah right.  We get off the plane in Beijing, someone with a sign for people from Tokyo directs us to a different baggage carousel where we collect our luggage and have to go through customs again anyway with our luggage.  COMPLETE CLUSTER.  None of the staff on the airline are apologetic about the delay, and none of the staff in the terminal apologised for the lack of organisation, allowed time to make sure the group was together or for even time to use the bathroom.  Seriously – what a mess.  I overheard a French couple near us complaning about completely ‘merde’ the entire thing was.  

Flight two: Xian to Guilin

Arrive at airport at 15:20… our group was going in three different directions – to Shanghai, to Chengdou and to Giulin, so I guess we were bing droppped off early enough for the first lot to fly out.  Our  flight was scheduled for 17:10pm and we figured we would potter aroudn the airport a bit and find a coffee shop. Our guide, who bundled us all into the airport, failed to mention, when she did all the talking at our check-in, that our 17:10 flight was now changed to a boarding time of 18:00 and not sure what the departure time was at at that point.  We couldn’t easily read the monitors, but without any notice or reason, once we got through security, we noticed the monitors were now saying we were delayed until 19:40 with boarding to commence at commence at 19:05.  Fuck off.  It was now only about 16:30.  Le sigh.  Might as well just enjoy being stuck at the airport with people staring at me for a while.  *insert much waiting music*

Around 19:20 close to our scheduled departure time – we notice that a gate change has been made from H13, where we had been waiting to H02… the first notification of this was someone writing it on a white board in front of the H13 gate entrance.  About an hour later, the monitors catch up and show the H02 gate change.  Everyone duly wanders around to find Gate H02. 

So we get downstairs, it must be 19:45 by now, to gate H02 to discover a  huge long line of people waiting to get on this flight.  We have given up the will to live at this point and don’t join the line and instead find a seat.  Then outside the doors, a bus turns up – presumably to take us to the tarmac somewhere – but after looking at it for about 15-20mins, around 20:00 it drives off empty much to everyone’s consternation.  After everyone expresses a collective ‘Oh shit or bloody hell or similar’ in Chinese, they the scramble away from the queue to find a seat.  No one knows what is going on, there is one tiny female hostie standing near the gate being yelled at quite a bit and security is eventually called as people seem to be getting rather cranky.  We’ve now beeen at the airport for going on five hours, so are well and truly over it.

Eventually another bus turns up outside the doors, and the natives get restless again, barging themsleves into more of a mob than a queue.  Boarding of the first bus began at 20:10… and they crammed themselves into that thing like sardines – we kinda thought there would have to be a second or even third bus and decided to wait for that to occur.  With just one hostie scanning boarding passes we could see that this was going to take a while.  We boarded our buses, got ferried to who knows where, then dumped off the buses and directed to a very steep stairwell that took us up two high flights of stairs so we could walk back down an air bridge past a single flight of stairs that led directly up to plane.  I saw one woman trying to ask if her mother on crutches could use the single flight of stairs up to the plane and permission was refused… though God knows why?!  We weren’t being shuffled through security or anything, just past another person ripping another section off the boarding pass.  All the boarding passes have two perforated sections on them.  ONe will be ripped off at the gate entrance, and another just before getting on the plane – so usually within about 50m of each other… where are you going to go for fucks sake?  Between boarding gate and air bridge.  So stupid.

People are well and truly annoyed at the delay… we were mostly just resigned to the inevitable.   As we were boarding the plane, we saw a woman smash her rolling cabin bag into some mans leg and look down, see there was a leg in the way and actually pull at the suitcase harder to try and make the leg yield to her desire to pass. The poor guy couldn’t move, but she was just rude as all shit. 

Then when we found our seats, there was a woman in the aisle alreaddy who didn’t want to stand up to let us take our seats. I stood there, and shook my head and motioned for her to get the hell out of the way.  She seriously expected us to clamber OVER her to get to the window and middle seat. Then we watched as she couldn’t figure out how to put her seat belt on and she fastidiously watched the air safety video… First time flying, I guess. I wanted to whisper to her, ‘Oh god! Oh god! We are all going to die!’ but Mr K wouldn’t let me.  A few minutes after we were all settled and waiting to go… she then takes off her belt, stands up to turn on her reading light and forgot to put her belt back on (She didn’t notice until landing when she removed her blankie, that she’d no seat belt on for the whole flight and she looked enitrely freaked out).  

Anyway, we are finally seated and ready to go when we get another announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen our flight has been delayed due to air traffic control issues. Thank you for your patience ” Firstly – What fucking patience?  We are now pushing four hours later and have been at the airport for nigh on six hours, the last thing any of us are feeling is patient!  And secondly, I call bullshit on your air traffic control issues. BULLSHIT, I say.  The plane arrived late, they missed the scheduled departure time hours ago, and now had to just wait for another slot… probably made vacant by another late fucking plane.  Also, where’s my free alcohol to apologize for the inconvenience?  Nope. This is obvious just BAU.   

After staring at green run way lights out the window for a full 25 mins, we finally take off at 21:15, a full four hours and five minutes later. Right we are up, we are off, we are all good. Until a cabin announcement at 21:40pm that I thought wasa going to cause a riot:

“Ladies and gentlemen there is some turbulence (seriously? you call that tubulence?), please keep your seat belts on and the food service will be suspended until further notice…” At this point I’m wondering if the pilot is trying to cause a fracas, no food after a four hour delay? Eventually there was more inedible slop thrown in our direction and we tried to get a bit of rest.

As we were landing in Guilin, we noticed that the staff on China Eastern Airlines are not smiling and not at all welcoming… I realised that as shit as our day had been, they too were having a pretty bad day AND being yelled at by cranky Chinese people. As we were leaving I endeavoured to say, ‘Thank you’, or ‘Have a nice evening’ to every staff member I passed (mind you I felt like yelling at them too), and they looked variously shocked and suprised. Poor bastards – their primary function does not seem to be to make your flight more pleasant. They’re totally there to control the passengers. 

  Flight three:  Guilin to Chongqing – China Southern Airlines

At the airport early again.  Our guides insists on dropping us off at least three hours before a domestic flight, and this time, our guide Sue watched to make sure we went through the security and didn’t skive off or go off missing on her watch.  Guilin airport must be the loudest most noisy airport in the world.  Not because it is so busy with passengers, but because of the constant announcements.  It was so bad, I took a recording on my iPhone and when I figure out how to do it, I am going to upload it here for your err.. entertainment.  

Thankfully our flight was on time – had to be at least one right?  But if I thought the noise in the waiting lounge was bad, you should have heard the people on the plane!  Some were watching movies on iPads, playing games on devices or listening to music… and hardly anyone seemed to think it was necessary to use headphones!  Seriously the whole flight was pewpewpew from the row behind, screeching that passes for music from the row in front and some angry sounding dialogue from across the aisle.  People in this region must just be loud for some reason (As a side note, they also queue weird in these parts.  When I went to the ladies at the airport, they didn’t line up in one line and wait to see which stall would be available first, they went and stood in front of the loo they wanted to use and waited for the occupant to come out.  So often people who came in after went in first… fucking weird.  Additionally, I saw three young women cram into one squat toilet and I don’t even want to know why).

Once on our flight Mr K got in trouble by the air hosties for using his phone to play a little game, called Jet Pack Joyride.  It doens’t require the internet and the device was in flight mode, but no go.  No mobile phones are allowed on while on the plane.  My iPad on the other hand with it’s 3G, wifi and bluetooth capability (all the same connectivity as the phone), was fine.   Go figure.  And no, we really don’t expect logic here at this point. 

Again the in flight service was suspended due to a few bumps being mistaken for actualy turbuence… but you can hardly call a small water bottle and a packet of peanuts an inflight service anyway.  

On the positive side, at least the staff seemed less agitated and aggressive than Eastern China Airlines, and our flight was almost on schedule.  Almost.
Flight Four:  Yi Chang to Shanghai – Shanghai Airlines

Our guide, Ginger dropped us off in a timely fashion… not three hours in advance and not rushing around which was good.  Our flight was actually boarded, loaded and took off two minutes ahead of schedule!  Will wonders never cease!

Our seats were pooched again though but it’s all out of our control as the head office is making the bookings.  We asked for a window and a centre seat, and got given a centre and an aisle.  I don’t konw if that was Ginger not communicating what we wanted or just typical China inability to process simple requests.  Seems to be a running theme.  Thankfully the flight was not full, so we just moved a row back and I got my preferred window and Mr K took the  aisle and some space for a change.   Most of these flights were only about 2.5 to 3 hours, so it’s not that big a deal, but when you’re going every other day, it gets a bit… meh.

Yet again on Shanghai Airlines, it was still ok to use iPads for games and movies and what not, but no phones in flight mode for the same thing.  China, this inconsistent shit makes you people look really bloody stupid.  Also, why do I have to turn my iPad off 30 mins before we land?  We haven’t starte to descend, and you lot are preparing the cabin for landing way out then sitting there strapped in yourselves twiddling your thumbs and stopping people using the loos.  Why?

We noticed that this flight was rather quiet – and then noticed that there was about 50 westerners from our Yangtze river cruise all sitting everwhere around us.  Everyone’s onward itinerary was taking them to Shanghai. 

All up, not a bad flight.   Out the window I noticed that China looks really pretty and clean from 33,000 feet…  

 Last flight : Shanghai to Hong Kong 

So here we go again.  Leave the hotel at 06:00 for a 09:20 flight in order to all us to arrive at the airport 2 hours before flight, given it’s a one hour cab ride and with some wiggle room.  Checking out of the hotel was relatively paintless and the drive to the airport was uneventful.  Yay…  Good start.

Walk through the door into the airport and are reeted by a queue of about 600 people waiting to check-in … with only 8 staff working the counters!  Holy fuck, it was like a goddamn queue at Disneyland snaking back and forth, back and forth, then across the concourse towards the door and along a wall obstructing the entire airports foot traffic – only instead of lining up for a thrilling ride, we were lining up to thow our luggage at a cranky airline employee.  Fuck.

And of course, this is China.  So people were attempting to queue jump all over the place and were bumping into each other constantly as if jostling for better position in the queue was going to help them get through it quicker. After about an hour Mr K had to ask for help – it was first thing in the morning and very little time on the heatpack, not enough sleep, standing still that long and my fucked up back just don’t mix – I was gritting my teether, but there were tears (Nothing like being stared at by loads of Chinese people who aren’t used to westerns, while I’m trying not to have a complete melt down and sort of, kinda, half failing). We got taken out of the queue and thrown through the special care line, only to be cut off without so much as an ‘excuse us’ or a ‘thank you’ by a pushy Chinese tour guide checking in an entire group.  

We finally get to check-in, this time my bag is back up to 22kgs (depending on which airport we were at it’s been 22kgs, 18.8kgs, 19kgs, and now 23kgs, even though the shopping has been at an absolute minimum because well, all this shit for sale is made in China.   Anyway, they somehow screwed up our seats again – I think every time the flight schedule changes, our seat allocations go out the window, and we end up just getting dumped up the back of the plane again.  Grrr.  Finally checked in, which meant we were now at our leisure to find the queue for security.  :/  

We manage to get through security, which can I just say, has been stupidly painful at most of the airports here.  You emplty your pockets, that is fine, put your carry on through the scanner that is fine, but the metal detector goes off for every single person going thorugh it and they stand you on a pedestal and wave the handscanner over you or do a rough pat down body search anyway.  Every single person – I watched them frisk down a six year old girl.  What’s with that?  I know for certain I have nothing on me that would set off the metal detector, I ensure this quite deliberately so I don’t have to stop – but they just set them damn things to beep at everyone… and tehy don’t fucking care if there is 200 people queuing to get through to their flights.  By the time we go through the security check, and frisky fun bit, we had gone from being two hours before our flight to barely five minutes before we were scheduled to board.  Scheduled to board…  :/ 

We found our gate at 08:30 for the scheduled 08:35 boarding. And waited and waited. 

At 09:05 approximtely 30 minutes after boarding should have commenced, an announcement came over that our flight was delayed due to “cabin cleaning”.  Bull-fucking-shit!  That there plane has been sitting at the gate longer than I have! The fricken delay is due to the fact that about 100 of the people who are supposed to be on this flight are still in damn queues waiting to check in and/or get through security. 

Eventually we get on the plane and find out that we are in Row 61 which are bulkhead seats – yay. Unfortunately, this is where they usually seat families with small babies so the whole area smells like piss because the Chinese from the souther regions don’t use nappies on their babies, they have weird little crotchless jumpsuits in order to toilet train their babies as young as possible.   Eww… I just tried not to think about it.  

At 09:47, we get another announcement letting us know of “air traffic control delays”.  I can see by the hostie’s face that this isn’t even remotely uncommon even given this is the first flight of the morning.  It’s just going to be one of those days.  We eventually take off about 10:15… just shy of an hour late.  Late just seems to be how these companies operate, there is no other way.  The rest of the flight was predictable, I tried to watch a movie, was interrupted by people walking past us to get from one aisle to the other – one kid must have walked in front of us about four times, he even stood on my food once, the ignorant little shit.  So glad this is our last flight in China and we won’t have to deal with them again.

So… to sum up our Chinese airlines experiences.

Shanghai Airlines 7/10 – if I absolutely had to somewhere within China, I’d use them.

China Southern Airlines 4/10 – nope, not happening.  so disorganised, absolute chaos.

China Eastern Airlines 0/10 – they are so fucking bad, I would never ever agree to fly with them again.  Ever.

Shanghai – The Bund and Old Town

This morning we had a nice late start which should have meant an opportunity to sleep in, but for some reason never works out that way. We had a private tour guide again in Shanghai… since leaving our group in Xian, we have had a private tour all the way through China really, which one one hand, has been excellent – we can be as flexible with the itinerary as we choose – but on the other hand, there are fewer people to hash over the things we saw and discovered during the day and when you have the guides entire attention there’s no zoning out looking at the scenery, you are being constantly engaged in conversation rather than listening to a lecture of sorts. We quite got used to our little group at the beginning of the tour and felt their absence quite a bit – especially on the Yangtze cruise.

  NB: It is actually raining in these photos, though you could be forgiven for thinking it’s smog given that most ogher places we went to were heavily polluted.  Shanghai is probably the cleanest city we have visited in China.

Anyway, this morning we were firstly off to The Bund, which literally means, ‘outer bank’ and is a waterfront area in central Shanghai. The area centres on a section of Zhongshan Road in the early Shanghai International Settlement. The Bund usually refers to the buildings and wharves on this section of the road, as well as some adjacent areas. It is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Shanghai for it’s architecture and for its exemplary display of Shanghai’s pride in preserving the old while embracing the new. On one side of the river is the older, traditional financial districts of Shanghai where building heights are regulated and the famous Peace Hotel resides, and on the other side of the river in this location, you can see the new Shanghai finance district with its impressive sky scrapers reaching up to 600+ meters into the skyline. It is really quite impressive, and apparently very much so when all lit up at night (we unfortunately won’t get a chance to see the area at night thanks to a stupidly early transit to the airport tomorrow, so I have pilfered a picture to add in of The Bund at night.

 Near the Bund was a quality Jade Centre, we know a lot of the jade available in the tourist markets is not actually nephrite jade of jadeite jade at all, so people are purchasing inferior stone or completely faux jade. So we had asked Jake to take us to a reputable store – he chose the govt run Jade centre (given what we believe of the Chinese govt, it seemed an interesting choice, but ok). We were originally looking for some fu dog bookends to take home – in jade or white marble for the house (we usually buy just one really nice souvenir from any trip), but saw and really liked a nephrite jade dragon that will look very nice in the house. I forgot to take a picture of it before it was all wrapped up, so I will have to come back and edit one in here later. Mr K got a good deal from haggling with the manager – the Chinese tend to offer very favourable prices to their first customers of the morning, they believe it sets them up for a good day of trading. So we are very happy with our wash.

  After the Bund we went to the Shanghai Silk Museum. Which I have to say was fascinating. Considering the long standing traditions of silk manufacture in China, and the importance of the Silk Road in trade with the West for the last thousand years or so, there has been very little mention of silk at all at our various stops so far. The Silk Museum is govt run, and starts with a display of some baby silk worms eating their mulberry leaves through to the process of the spinning the cocoons into thread. They showed us how the single cocoon provided a fine single thread of silk, and that double cocoons (with two pupae in them) have crisscrossed threads that are impossible to untangle. These double cocoons are used to make pillow and doona/duvet stuffing. Silk stuffed doonas are soft, lightweight and insulating, and have been very popular with wealthy Chinese for centuries. The cocoons are stretched by hand in layers to get the desired size and weight, it is really quite clever how they create these quilts.






 The Silk Museum had the most impressive gift shop – if I had the luggage allowance, I would have come home with a new silk stuffed doona, a woven silk cover for it, set of silk sheets and pillowcases to match and slept like an empress when I got home! 😉 There was also lots of silk fabric by the meter (though none of the available patterns or colours really grabbed me), and of course silk clothing, silk scarves and silk pashmina. Seventh heaven admiring all these beautiful fabrics… I escaped with a small scarf and a gift for CJ.  






 Next we were onto the Old Town. I wasn’t sure what to expect other than we were going to see the Yu Gardens (Yu = ‘make parents happy’) that was first built in 1559 during the Ming Dynasty by the Pan Family (Pan Yunduan) to be of comfort to his father in his retirement and old age. The garden was one of the most extensive and therefore most prestigious of its type in Shanghai. The garden is actually build around the Pan home which has meeting houses and living quarters in among the garden, which consists of large koi ponds, stone bridges and walkways and expensive decorative limestone pieces.  





 The most notable of the limestone is a stone named the “Yu Ling Long” (“The Exquisite Jade Rock” – its not jade?), which was apparently destined for the Imperial Palace in Beijing, but was lost in a shipwreck. The stone was at some point recovered, but it remained concealed so it did not have to be returned to the imperial family. At some point it came to the Pan family as part of a dowry of a woman marrying into the family and it has been much prized ever since. Apparently it has 72 holes in it which make a beautiful waterfall when it rains, and if incense is lit at it’s base, the holes bloom the smoke into a beautiful flower.

   There were many beautiful things about this garden which is considered one of the most beautiful in all China, I loved the 9 turn bridge, where you entered towards the building past a 400 year old tea house on a bridge over a canal that has 9 right angle turns on it. There is also a lovely romantic walkway where men walk down the left, and ladies walk down the right with various shaped window frames in between the walkway so that the ladies could be seen ‘framed’ like paintings for conversations on either side of the walkways. There were round arches (for heaven), square arches (for earth), pebble stone courtyards to massage the feet and lovely spaces to sit and enjoy the breeze. Oh to be wealthy and have loads of space! 🙂 
















 After stepping out of the lovely garden, we went to do a bit of shopping in the Old Town. Now this is Tourist Central with a capital ‘T’. There were so many people there, 99% of them domestic Chinese tourists, it was hard to get through the press to get to see any shops. The area has all traditional style buildings and they are selling everything – jade (?), chopsticks, fans, calligraphy equipment, knock off handbags, watches, and electronics, bangles, beads, trinkets, toys, a million types of tea, local delicacies, silk, more pashmina!, knick knacks, dragon everythings, fu dog everythings, all Chinese fun shit all the time. So much Mao stuff, little Red Cookbooks. You name it. 



  So many people…  

  There was even a couple of stores selling ivory products! I found it hard to hide my horror but there they were on the high tourist street. The place was busy and vibrant, with so much going on but the crush of people was overwhelming, and with so many of them being from the rural country towns, my pale complexion was attracting a lot of unwanted attention again – which tends to just get me flustered and go into ‘get out of here’ mode. We did a little bit of shopping and then bailed to go find lunch.

insert *a weird lunch experience, where several items we ordered we were later told were not available, we were given things we didn’t order, two warm beers, a few screaming children, a family of six staring at me for the duration and a surly waitress later* here

With a stupid o’clock flight to deal with tomorrow (Who booked this shit?  Oh right, that was me – before I knew Shanghai was over an hour from the airport in good traffic) and luggage to rationalize, we head back to our hotel for the afternoon to get our shit together… tomorow:  HONG KONG!  

Where I am sincerely hoping one can get a decent cup of tea.   🙂 

Yangtze River Cruise

We’ve just spent the last three nights doing a Yangtze river cruise on the President No. 7 river boat (not sure it’s a cruise ship when compared to what we are used to, but … meh).   Cruising on the Yangtze is very much one of ‘the things’ to do when travelling in China.  It’s a great way to see the countryside, and the Chinese by all accounts are very proud of this particular river and of course the Three Gorges Dam project which has recently been completed and is working full steam ahead.

IMG_9410.JPGIMG_9416.JPG We started off our trip in Chongqing, a city of some 32 million people… it is still hard for me to get my head around the enormity of the number of people.  But I think I have met most of them, and nearly every single one of them stared and pointed at the short blonde with the very fair complexion.  Bleh.

IMG_9420.JPGIMG_9424.JPGIMG_9431.JPGIMG_9441.JPG The scenery we went through was beautiful – steep banks, lovely green mountains, shrouded in mist, quaint villages and enormous cities gracing its banks.  The river itself is… well… it’s fucking filthy.  We saw more empty drink bottles, shoes, dead fish, discarded fishing nets, plastic bags and crap than you could count.  There was little wildlife around (other than birds) and the water had this awful scum on it.  Yet, there were women washing laundry at the river’s edge, people swimming, people fishing and recreating on this horribly dirty river.


IMG_9470.JPGThe first day our boat stopped for an opportunity to go see the Ghost City of Fengdu (I had to give this a miss -408 steps not counting the 80-100 to get from the boat to river bank).  In the afternoon, we moved on to Badai for a walk to the famous Pagoda there.

IMG_9515.JPGIMG_9517.JPG IMG_9520.JPG The second day we moved into the first of the spectacular Gorges – the Qutang Gorge and later the second, pretty Wu Gorge.  We had a very interesting shore excursion to Shengnong Stream in the Lesser Three Gorges area which saw us all transferred into smaller boats to make our way into ever increasing narrow gorges and finally onto traditional narrow fishing boats to go up the Shengnong Stream.  It was very interesting. And weird. We had a guide who was telling us all about herself and her family life (married, one son, 34 years old…?) but nothing about the gorge! Oh, and she sang for our entertainment and it sounded just like possums mating.  😀    IMG_9528.JPG

  After that we moved into the western section of Xiling Gorge which was full of more beautiful scenery and many buildings that have been rebuilt to replicate what the water’s edge looked like before the terrain was flooded and the water level raised.  Some sections of the gorges were very beautiful, especially if the clouds lifted/parted and you gained a glimpse of blue sky.

 Before moving onto to see the Three Gorges Dam project.  We arrived at a town called Sandouping where the workers and associated businesses to support them had popped up when the damn was being constructed.  Construction started in 1993, and Sandouping was a relocated village at that point, with only 2000 inhabitants.  During the height of construction, there were over 8,000 workers living in Sandouping, but with the project now 95% completed (there is only a ship elevator remaining to complete) many of the buildings are empty and many of the businesses that sprang up are closed.  Many of those workers have gone on to work on other dam projects (there are 18 more hydro dams planned for upstream of the Three Gorges Dam), which have been given priority after the the Fukushima nuclear plant incident.  Apparently China had planned to build 35 nulcear power plants until the earthquake in March 2011 ruptured the Fukushima power plant in Japan causing serious contamination issues.  China then decided they would focus on hydro and solar generated power instead… which I think is a good thing for a country with a tragic history of industrial accidents due to lack of regulations, lack of enforcement, easy bribery/corruption of officials and regulators etc.   As I write this, the fires of the enormous Tianjin chemical explosions are still burning and the chemical contaminaion from the accident is still very much unknown.

 Anyway – back to the dam.  The dam has two lots of ship locks, which allow the ships to move past the dam since it was completed in 2003, and work in five stages – separate locks going upstream and down stream.  We went through only four of the locks last night as the water level in the resevoir is kept low at this time of year during the flood season.   It takes about 3-4 hours to move a boat through the lock system, but there are very long waits to get through.  The locks shift approximately 200 boats per day and it is completely free – somehow the governement decided that the passage through the Yangtze was always free, and that it wasn’t fair to charge boats to go through the dam’s lock system when they used to be able to go through there for free.  Interesting logic for a government that has toll roads EVERYWHERE, but who is going to complain.  The ship elevator that is under construction for ships of 3000 tonnes or less is due for completion by the end of this year and the project will be entirely finished.

 Before the dam was built, the water in this section of the Yangtze was a mere 65m deep, and now the average depth of the reservoir is 175m deep.  So massive swathes of land upstream were flooded, relocating some 1.3 million people and flooding important cultural and historical sites – so it has been a contenious project for some time.  It’s generating metric shit tonnes of power (you can Google the details if you are interested – I can’t, here behind the Great Firewall of China).

Back on the boat and an hour left of our River trip to traverse the Third Gorge. This to me, was the most beautiful area for scenery. 
 After that we had a whirlwind tour of Yichang. Yichang according to our local transit guide is ‘a small city of only 4.1million peoples’.  The only other things I learned in the few hours we were there for a lunch break was that 1) ‘Yichang’ means prosperity but driving through most of it, Ginger the guide referred to the local housing as ‘shanty houses’ and we were driving through what most Westerners would call ‘slums’.  :/  And apparently the slum town of Yichang has enormously wealthy areas too, which are slowly compulsorily acquiring the shanty house areas from their occupants for new development at vastly out priced accommodations the original occupants can’t afford.

The other thing I learned – thrill seekers like to holiday in Yichang… you can go bungee jumping over a 165m gorge for 150 yuan (about AU$30) and it includes a free meal. O.o  Given China’s interesting attitudes towards occupational health and safety and liability issues… We thought we’d give it a miss!!

Yangtze River – President No 7

There doesn’t appear to be much information online about the President No 7 Yangtze River Cruise ship, so I thought I would take some notes.  Who knows?  They might be helpful to others planning on taking this trip.

The first thing we noticed when checking in is that the decor is quite lavish and ornate, the ship is designed to be a 5 star hotel, and it is quite well designed and appointed. But when you look a bit closer, you notice that things aren’t quite maintained the way you would expect in a 5 star ship or hotel in the West. For example, the ship is barely 3 years old, and yet the carpets in the room are covered in stains, and they look like you wouldn’t want to take your shoes off – we found this to be the case in common areas of 5 star hotels here too though.

IMG_9406.JPG  IMG_9403.JPG IMG_9425.JPG

There is a swimming pool on the very lower deck, which we thought might be quite inviting as we have been playing tourist in extremely hot conditions – only when we went to inspect it, the water was cloudy, the room had a strong smell of varnish, and there were some sections around the pool’s edge where the marble had sustained some damage and rather than being repaired, it was covered with a duct taped piece of rubber that had obviously been there for some time. It seems somewhat typical of fancy China hotels to be well designed and start out looking amazing, but then the details get missed – popped buttons on sofas don’t get replaced or fixed, broken tiles in showers get re-grouted, but in a very slapdash fashion that doesn’t match the quality of the original fit out etc. It just seems to be the Chinese way.


But back to the President No 7. Each room is a balcony room, and every room is made up of twin beds. Upon request you can ask that your bed be ‘put together’ to make a large queen size bed… but there doesn’t appear to be any queen size linen on the ship. We asked the room staff to put our bed together, he came in, moved the bedside tables, pushed the bed together and re-arranged the quilts such that we had two single quilts overlapping in the middle. 🙂 It was rather odd – as we could have shoved the beds together ourselves. We were expecting them to re-make the bed with proper queen size linen, but oh well.

The room also has a small desk and chair, and a small sofa (that folds out for a child’s size bed). The desk and chair are handy, but the sofa is really uncomfortable. The room also has a small double closet – though for barely three nights, it is hardly worth unpacking, which is problematic, as there are no suitcase stands and not a lot of floor space to put your suitcase for the duration. We did gain some more useful floor space to be able to live out of our suitcases for the few days after pushing the beds together, so it is workable for just a few days.

The room also has a kettle and a tea making facilities, though we are not provided any milk, so it is for green or herbal tea mostly. Additionally there is a small refrigerator in the room, large enough for a six pack of beer, a few bottles of water and perhaps a couple of soft drinks. You are allowed to bring beer onboard with you, but it is for consumption in the staterooms only and not in the public areas of the ship. When you arrive the fridge will likely be turned off or even unplugged to safe power, so they will tell you there is a ‘cool box’ for already cool things, but if you push the fridge aside you can plug it in easily enough.

All rooms on the ship appear to be exactly the same dimensions, except there are some suites on the top floor, Floor 6, which have a larger living space, bigger couches and mores space all round. Unfortunately these larger, upscale rooms are not accessible by the elevator. So every time you wish to go to your room, you need to go to level 5 and then walk up two flights of stairs – with steps that are of irregular height… I thought I was going to trip on the way back down as the steps are an odd height.

For the first night onboard, dinner is not included – so your guide will recommend that you take something for dinner onboard with you or you can opt to have a set menu dinner in the dining room or served in your room for RMB80 (approximately AU$17 at time of writing). I wasn’t particularly hungry so Mr K ordered dinner to the room – and when it turned up, it took three wait staff to bring it all in! The $17 set menu dinner was like a 7 course meal… sticky rice, a chicken and mushroom dish, some kung pao chicken, vegetable congee, an eggplant dish, a green beans dish, an enormous soup of some sort, some fries and ketchup, a plate of fruit, and some cake, It more than fed both of us and there were left overs that got sent back with the dirty plates. So glad he didn’t order dinner for two!

IMG_9408.JPG We discovered that you can get a unlimited bag of laundry done for RMB200 (about AU$40), which means for the 3 nights we are here, we can keep giving them back dirty clothes by 8pm at night and get them back by 8am the next day. When you’ve been travelling for 5 weeks, laundry becomes a big deal, especially when this tour has had no down time for spending on your own to find a laundromat, and the cost of doing laundry in the four and five star hotels they have us staying in is even worse than luxury cruise ship laundry prices! Will update this when the first bagful comes back to see if they have over starched or killed any delicate items. (You have to handwash your smalls when travelling, if they kill the lace or elastics on your bras… I can’t imagine trying trying to shop for bras for someone as busty as I am, in China!) Edit: laundry all came back in good order. Nothing over starched or pressed to within an inch of its life. Bonus!


Announcements over the public address system seem to be coming in Chinese, German and English, and on the first day the announcements were not quite as loud and obnoxious as Guilin airport, but not far off it. However, the first thing in the morning there were PA announcements that came on with soft music followed by a calm, gentle voice telling everyone about breakfast and the shore excursions for the morning. Which just goes to show – they know how to be unobtrusive, but usually chose not to be.

Something else I think is a handy tip…  Our breakfast and lunch meals which are included in the fare are served buffet style (dinner is a la carte), and we learned to get to the buffet as early as possible – and I mean EARLY, like as soon as it is announced over the public address system.  Not because you might miss out on something to eat – you won’t, there is too much food if anything – but because there are plenty of children who take a second pass at the buffet.  On their first pass, they seem to be with their parents who are helping them fill their plates, after that, they are helping themselves, and unfortunately are picking up all the food with their hands.  It’s a norovirus outbreak waiting to happen.

The Captain’s Welcoming Banquet was a bit of an eye opener.  There were several welcoming speeches in Chinese, English and German (large group of Austrian and Swiss on this trip), and the Europeans were politely listening to the speeches and toasts and applauding their appreciation for the ship’s company where appropriate.  The Chinese guests appeared to be not listening at all, paid no attention, didn’t applaud or toast with the rest of us and were already hoeing into the meals placed on the tables.  We noticed that the Chinese guests were served different dishes to the foreign guests as well.  Not only that, the Chinese guests were literally, ‘eat and run’ – up and out the door within about 20 minutes flat, whereas the foreign tourists were lingering over their meals, engaging in conversation and having additional beverages… beer and soft drink is cheap (not as cheap as on shore, but cheap), wine on the otherhand was ridiculous – an Australian Penfolds Rawsons Retreat Cabernet Sauvignon was 280RMB which is just shy of AU$60 for a AU$10 bottle of wine. Even the few domestic wines on board were that price and higher.

The following night was the Captains Farewell Banquet where we saw the same tableau enacted with different speeches.

What else? Getting on and off the ship is total chaos. The domestic passengers have no problem pushing you out of the way or cutting queues. They also let their children absolutely run amok (we have been told this is the ‘little emperor / little empress’ result of China’s one child policy, but that children are extremely disciplined when bring managed by their teachers at school.  Painful but true. Also the tour guides can’t seem to have their speakers on at a reasonable volume so it’s full bore audio assault all the time not a relaxing environment at all.

Overall, the ship was so-so. Not sure if I’d say it was five star ship… but it probably is for China.

Chongqing – Pandas, Old Town and Hongya Cave

Long transfer day today.  First a drive back from Yangshou to Guilin (about two hours), a flight from Guilin to Chongqing (about two hours), then meet up with a new guide – Royce, who took us to a lovely restaurant for lunch.  I kinda inadvertently killed lunch though.  Chongqing is in the middle of Szechwan Province and people here have a penchance for strong spicy foods – lots of chili for sale in the markets.  Anyway, it is the home of famous Kung Pao Chicken dish, so we thought we would have that for lunch… only Mr K thought he had better tell the staff that I don’t like my food too spicy, and asked for them to go mild on the chili.  But when the meal came out, it was all Kung and no Pao at all, they had omitted all the chili instead of just going easy on it.  It was still very tasty, but I can just imagine some cranky chef in the kitchen going, ‘Bloody foreigners, ruining my cooking with their no chili cooking!’, when all we wanted was not to have to reach for glasses of milk.  🙂  Oh well, the rest of lunch was delicious – rice, some strange duck dish and some dumplings.  We really are being very well fed on this trip.

After lunch we head off to the Chongqing Zoo to meet some giant pandas!  I have bee to zoos all over the world, and I don’t think I have ever seen pandas before, so it is kinda cool to get to see them here in China.  Unforutnatey due to deforestation, the great panda are endangered.  Everyone knows this already, and sadly numbers are down around the 1000 mark, which is very sad for China and the world.  Our guide tried to tell us that due to global warming the pandas don’t have the inclination for the ‘marriage and the babies, they have no sex’ so most panda conceptions are occuring through artificial reproductive technology now.  Also very sad.  This week the Chengdou Panda Research Centre saw two baby pandas born, and the country rejoices at news like this… but it feels like too little too late.  Great pandas live to about 25-35 years old and consume 30kgs of bamboo per day.  They really are a magnificent animal, and I hope efforts to preserve them bear better and faster fruit than they seem to be so far.  This is Youyou, she was born here in 2006: 



 After visiting the great pandas at the Chongqing Zoo, we went for a drive to the Old Town, which is the only part of Chongqing that survived the significant bombing that Japan reigned down on the region in World War II.    The Old Town is from the feudal Qing Dynasty which lasted from 1645 to 1911.  Chongqing is now an enormous metropolis, a city of some 32 million people, that is roughly the population of Canada crammed into one city.  It is by far, China’s biggest city by population, but not by land mass.  


 Our drive to the Old Town took us past a myriad of highrise apartment buildings as all the local live in very high density housing.  As you can imagine the traffic is more than crazy and it feels even worse than Beijing… horns getting a good work out all the time, and cars just going in everywhich direction.  Chaotic is the only way to describe it.  

The Old Town, however, retains much of its original charm and original buildings.  There are some vignettes set up to show what life used to be like in the Qing Dynasty.  The large statue of Emperor Yu dominates the main hall, any time a statue is depicted with a shovel in this shape it is alway Emperor Yu.  People come to pay homage here, make wishes and leave blessings.  It feels like a Buddhist temple, but it is a historical and political site, not a religious site.


 After we left the Old Town, we went for a fly by visit to a local cave called the Hongya Cave.  It is a small (10m deep) cave with a pretty waterfall spilling from it.  A large hotel was built beside the waterfall many years ago along with an obligatory shopping centre.  So we had a wander around the area before heading to our river cruise ship – the President No 7.  We have three nights on the President No 7 sailing down the Yangtze River.  I’m very much looking forward to all the beautiful scenery.