Saturday, April 27, 2013

Cruising the Yangtze River

We boarded the Victoria Selina at 9:00p.m. and were soon sailing out of Chongqing.  We went out on the deck to see the lights of the city.
Our cruise ship.

The ship is run by an American company, so it has higher standards than some we saw on the river.  We traded our larger stateroom for Don's smaller one so he could be next door to his daughter and grandson, but the room was still just fine.
Nap time--softer bed than most Chinese ones!

The long hallway.
 Looks at us--the Presidential Suite!!  (Actually, ours is the door on the right.)

We had cabin service at least twice a day, and the staff was really friendly and helpful.

At 6:45a.m., we got up and went to the Lounge for our Tai Chi lesson with none other than Dr. Hu.  (Say that out loud.)  People laughed when he was introduced.  We made sure that he understood what a cool guy Dr. Who is to BBC TV watchers.

Our first port of call was Fengdu, one of the towns that is now submerged.  A new town has been built on the opposite side of the river for the displaced citizens (now numbering 100,000).  Fengdu is still the famous Ghost City, and we disembarked to explore the Ghost Temple and the "King of Hell".
No, that's not the "King of Hell".  It's a bad hotel idea.  This is the "heaven" side of the mountain, and someone had the brilliant idea to build a hotel that looked like an emperor.  However, after building this much, people convinced him that no one was going to want to stay in a hotel that close to the Ghost Temple.  There is still a lot of superstition in China.  So here stands another of the many empty buildings in China.
Now HERE'S the Temple of Hell--check out the demons who greet you on either side!
In the Eastern Han Dynasty, two officials from the imperial court, Yin Changsheng and Wang Fangping, decided to come to Ming Mountain to practice Taoist teachings. Through self-cultivation it is said they became immortals. Combining their surnames produces the term "Yinwang" meaning the "king of hell."  This began the reputation of the area sometime in AD 25-220.  Later, in the Tang Dynasty, a large temple was built here depicting life in hell.  The "Ghost City" was mentioned in a classic Chinese tale, "Journey to the West", and its reputation was set.  Boat captains didn't even want to dock nearby because of their fear.

Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian, the complex is actually a series of temples.  We first stopped at the Temple of Heng and Ha, the Buddhist door guardians.  Our tour guide led us in a "Heng--Ha" shout to invoke their protection as we visited the Ghost City.

Apparently, the little guys under their feet did something naughty!
Lovers hold hands on this central bridge and step exactly nine steps (an auspicious Chinese number) to cross it in order to insure eternal love and happiness.  Previous editions of travel guides say that this is the Modoribashi or "Nothing to Be Done" bridge, and if you are wicked and try to cross it, you will fall into the water.  Sounds like they changed the story so that people would be more likely to buy the photo they take of you as you are crossing over.  This is the first of three "tests" you are supposed to pass on your way to the netherworld to determine your fate.
I was interested in the three similar-looking Buddhas in this temple.

This character means "Only Kindness Brings Peace".  That's an interesting thought for the Ghost City.

The Boddhisattva Guanyin is the famous goddess of mercy and fertility. 
The second test for spirits is to pass through the Ghost Torturing Pass. One of the ghost statues lining the passage to hell has this naughty child with its rump sticking up.  We were told that if we "spanked" it, our grandchildren would never be naughty.  I spanked it--is it working?

There are several bizarre ghost statues and you must pass by them on your way.  Step carefully over the gate--women with the right foot, men with the left--or your gender will change in the next life. 

 This is the "Saying Goodbye to the Past" Tower with no staircase inside, because only the spirits go in it to look back on their life and say goodbye for the last time.
At the top of the mountain is the Black Temple, the only black one in China.  This was not destroyed during the Cultural Revolution because even the Red Guards were afraid of spirits.  The walls are painted black, and the third test is carried out in front before you pass inside.

Inside this cement box is a round stone that sticks up in the middle.  You have to balance on one foot while staring at the characters on the wall above you for 3 seconds (I read somewhere it used to be 3 minutes--maybe they shortened it to allow each of the million tourists a turn).  If you don't fall down, you are "good" and will not be sent to be tortured for 500 years.

Whew, I passed!

Inside the Black Temple, your fate is determined.  The "King of Hell" is more like the Greek god Hades; not a devil or evil spirit.  To Chinese, the social structure in the underworld is exactly like that in the real world, so you must go through a bureaucracy of officials to receive your judgment.  First you pass 8 "policemen". 

Chinese cops.

Check out the three "bad" babies in this guy's belt!

If you get past the policemen, you next see the 4 judges.

And finally you face him, King of the Underworld.
And by the way, did you know he's married?
Wife of the King of the Underworld

If you are innocent and virtuous, you will have a happy eternity.  However, if you are wicked, you will receive a punishment commensurate with your crime.  The Chinese imagination has gone wild in considering all the ways to torture a person for 500 years.  I'll only post a few to spare you the gruesomeness!

OK, that's enough of that!!  It's a good thing there was so much dust on everything.  I don't know if I'd want to see them all "fresh-looking"!!  It was quite a freak show.

The Wuyun Tower on top of Ming Mountain is visible from the Yangtze and was used as a lighthouse as well.
Our ship from the Ghost Temple--we're 400 steps up!
 We went back to the ship and set sail through the rainy drizzle.  I had a nap, then we listened to a lecture about the river and enjoyed some time with friends.  The Yangtze is actually called Chiang Jiang (Long River) by the Chinese.  It's the third longest in the world, behind the Nile and the Amazon, and the busiest shipping river in the world.  Over 400 million people live along its 3960 miles of banks.  We cruised along 410 miles of it.

Tombs in the hillside.

Kurt & Jackie Roberts teach me to play "golf".
We had a reception with Captain Dai and a nice dinner later.  The evening entertainment was the Chinese Dynasties Show, and I was pleasantly surprised at the talented crew members who cleaned and cooked during the day, and performed for us at night.

Thousand Hands Dance

Ancient Chinese Dance

Notice the wooden clogs the dancers are wearing in the video.

If you don't like the Chinese show, you can make up your own later, when no one is around.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Chongqing, China

Did you ever eat Chungking Chinese food that came in a can?  That name was an earlier translation of Chongqing (say "chong (with a long "O") - ching"), the largest city (33 million population) IN THE WORLD!  It's a beautiful metropolis at the confluence of the Yangtze River (Chiang Jiang, as the Chinese know it) and the Jialing River.

We took the high speed railroad from Chengdu and in 2-1/2 hours, we were in Chongqing.  The countryside along the way always interests me.

See the pagoda on the hill?
That's 121 miles per hour!  Wheee!

This could be somewhere in Europe with the green hills and cultivated fields.

We went downtown to the Great Hall of China, the first building constructed under the new government when The People's Republic of China was formed.  It looks similar to the Temple of Heaven we visited in Beijing. 

It's just a big convention-type center inside, so we didn't go in.  We did go into the Three Gorges Dam Museum across the plaza.  The museum is to educate the people on all the reasons the dam project was a good idea, and how willingly the 1.3 million people relocated when their homes and lifestyles were flooded underneath the water.  (Tongue in cheek.)

We drove through the city, admiring the buildings, bridges, trains, highways, and other views from this mountainous area.

What a network of traffic, trains and people!

We visited the General Joseph Stilwell Museum (his former residence and command center for the war against the Japanese - WWII).  We were quite interested in this, as Kirk's father worked on building the Burma airstrip and once flew to China on a fuel run.

Stilwell was Chief of Staff under Chiang Kai-shek in what the Chinese call the World War against Fascism. 
Jeanette would love this typewriter for her collection!

This motorcycle looks like something Harold would have ridden (Kirk's Dad).

The "Hump Flight Route" over the Himalayan Mountains went from the airstrip in Burma, that Harold helped build, to Chongqing.  It was a pretty dangerous mission, but crucial to the war effort.

One of the jeeps of Merrill's Marauder's, part of the anti-Japanese offensive.
Across the street from Stilwell's home is the Flying Tigers Museum, remembering the volunteer pilots who absolutely saved China from Japan.

The Flying Tigers, under General Claire Chennault, destroyed more than 2600 Japanese aircraft and sank 44 warships.
Part of the Burma Road

The James Doolittle team led the bombing of Tokyo in 1942.
That looks like a pretty good use of an elephant! 
American tourists are the ones who visit the Stilwell and Flying Tigers Museum, so the locals have set up an art center to help defray the costs and bring them an income.  We were given a demonstration by this local painter.  I had to get his picture because he works with his tongue sticking out a bit, just like my Brian.
How much does that gorgeous embroidery cost?

I succumbed to the beauty and bought one of these paintings on a banyan leaf.  Mine is a beautiful Chinese woman with a scroll.

We drove to the ancient town section of Chongqing called Ciqikou.  It's a major tourist area, and we weren't interested in shopping, so we went down to the river.  Along the way, we met a couple of students who offered to show us the way.  They stopped to buy some fish (a huge bag full) to release into the river.

 We were surprised to see many people with beach umbrellas along the riverside.  They weren't really swimming there, but seemed to be enjoying the day.

Our friend, a Buddhist, stopped to pray here at the site in the edge of the cliff overlooking the river.  Then we went down to the river's edge and he held a turtle and prayed, reciting the names of all the Buddhas.  When he finished, he released the turtle into the water.  Then he emptied the bag of fish he just bought.  He believes that because he recited the names of the Buddhas and released these formerly captive animals, they will be able to return as a human in their next life.

Maybe these are actually eels--I didn't look close.

We walked back through Ciqikou and saw some interesting sights and shops.
The old and the new on the river.

Village Gate of Wenchang Palace

This little hen and her egg box were on the side of the path.  Had to take this photo to show the Merrills.

I had to take a photo of the sculpture.  This is how they toilet train in China.  The mother sings a little song while the child "does its job" and they are trained to respond to this song.  The children wear split pants, as I've shown before, and it seems to work really well for them.  You will often see this "pose" by real people when traveling in China.

Duck for dinner!
Me, Linda, Debbi and Karolee playing Mahjong in 20 years.

Kirk won't play Mahjong when he's old, nor will he have enough hair to make the knot you see on the left.

The local Buddhist Temple gate

Fortune tellers - love the white beard!

They have the cutest way of doing cotton candy.  They use different colors of candy floss and create flowers and other delights.  See the pink, yellow and white?  Good idea!
Wenchang Palace from below.

We drove back downtown to the center of the business district where we had a really great dinner and enjoyed being with our BYU Teacher friends again.  So much to catch up on together!

 This sign was on a pillar beneath a bridge--no firecrackers!  Only in China!
This translation is funny--they meant to say foreigners can learn to cook Chinese food here.

Downtown Chongqing.  Our tour guide said he has never seen the top of that skyscraper because it's usually fogged over.  The nickname for Chongqing is "Fog City".  In the summer it can be 116 degrees with 94% humidity.  Glad it was nice when we were there!
We drove down to the Yangtze River to board our cruise.  Oh boy!  The buildings had wonderful light patterns on them and it was all so festive and fun.  Can't wait to set sail!
Our ship, the Victoria Selina, is on the left.  We had to hike down the bank to it, as the water level is low this time of year in preparation for the spring run-off.

Next blog:  Cruising the Yangtze River