China Diary:
Into the Heartland

[Returning to Shanghai] [Spring Festival] [Chinese New Year] [Fulbright Mid-Year Conference] [Back to School] [Back Online] [Into the Heartland] [Ancient Capitals] [Judeo-Christian Holidays] [From Albany to Zurich] [Yellow Mountain] [Loose Ends] [Hello, Debbie ... Goodbye, Debbie] [Southern Capital] [Tropical Tour] [Unwinding] [Farewell Banquets] [Winding Down] [Good Bye, Shanghai]

Mar. 15: Happy Birthday to Me – In the morning, residence staff bring up a cake and card for my birthday. Later that evening, Debbie takes me to the SAS Radisson for a Western buffet dinner. We lock our bikes separately, and just to be on the safe side I also chain our two bikes together. We drink a toast, then stuff ourselves on assorted salads and hot veggies, steaks, shrimp kabobs, seafood, lamb chops, pork, chicken teriyaki, more dessert than we can eat, and I have some cappuccino. As I go to unlock my bike chain, the key breaks off. We get the assistant manager, who gets his maintenance guy to bring a hacksaw. This chain is pretty good, though, and it takes a while before our bikes are free. Home, I find some presents and cards. We then go to Maurice’s supposedly to head together to the Hit House. As I enter, though, the usual suspects are there. It is a surprise party, complete with cards and gifts, drinks and toasts, picture opportunities, and this morning’s birthday cake replete with candles.

Mar. 17: Chongqing – 2,400 km up the Yangtze from Shanghai, this chief industrial city of Southwestern China has always been the gateway between eastern river traffic and overland trade routes west and south. Chongqing (Chungking) means "double celebration," "double jubilation," or "repeated good luck," named by a one-time local prince who made it big when he became emperor. Or, it might refer to the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers which form a wedge around the peninsula of central Chongqing. Is also called "mountain city" (as is the name of the local brew, Shan Shi) with its steep hills that discourage bicyclists ("You don’t ride a bicycle; a bicycle rides you" the saying here goes). It was surrounded by opium poppies last century, and opened as a treaty port in 1890 following the Opium Wars. Protected by mountains, it became a World War II capital of the Kuomintang and home to Mao and Zhou Enlai, and soon saw refugees flooding in from all over China. After the war, Mao boldly proclaimed that his "double tenth treaty" of October 10 with Chiang Kai-Shek was just meaningless words on paper. Still, Chongqing became one of the last Kuomintang bastions during the subsequent civil war, where the SACO (Sino-American Co-operation Organization) tortured Communist prisoners with American funding. But I see none of these. On Wednesday, Marcia, the Waiban from Southwest Normal University, picks me up for the two-hour drive to the campus. This "city" is the size of a province and we are in the outlying district of Bei Bei (north). A friend of one of my students and a teacher here comes by with a bottle of local wine and takes me to dinner. In the city which invented the Sichuan hotpot we naturally head to a "fire pot" restaurant – purportedly the best one around. Dozens of dishes for two comprise an assortment of foods. Afterward, my translator comes by my room on campus to introduce himself.

Mar. 18: Public Relations – Next morning, I lecture on "Vision, Mission, Objectives" to  to 15 graduates students majoring in public relations and 5 faculty members. When I am done, they take turns mugging one-on-one with me and then we all pose for a group shot. Around ten of us go to lunch (hotpot, of course!). In the afternoon I am supposed to lecture on "Management Education in China" to the same group, but the dean says it’s such an important topic I should cover it tomorrow morning with a larger group. We huddle with Marcia, who will translate this afternoon, and decide on "Business Ethics." There are also several foreign undergraduates in the audience, as well as my friend from last night. I go the full three hours without a single note, and I don’t miss a beat. After dinner I explore the neighborhood, and when I arrive there is a message from the translator that the dean for tomorrow’s group would like me to lecture on "Industry Analysis and Competitive Dynamics." So much for management education in china; I’m up half the night getting ready.

Mar. 19: Tourism – It has been raining all night and continues through the morning as we head to a large lecture hall filled with 104 undergraduates majoring in tourism, as well as yesterday’s group of 12 graduates public relations students and 7 faculty members. This time, both the translator and Marcia help out. It lasts more than three hours with Q&A, after which a couple of faculty members meet me for lunch. They order a hotpot with turtle, which somehow manages to survive the initial heat. The chef comes to our table to calmly cut it between the head and shell, then throws it back into the steaming broth, blood and all. After a while, he returns to retrieve the body. When he brings it back, it is in chunks which he thrown into the hotpot again. Yummy! In the afternoon, I hold an informal discussion with the graduate students. Afterward, Marcia takes me downtown for a short tour, but it is still raining. We have many small Sichuan dishes for dinner. By now it is dark and damp, and she takes me to the docks where I check into one of the boats to spend the weekend floating down the Yangtze. I go second class (there is no first class in proletarian China except for the extremely expensive and exclusive tour boats catering to foreign groups), so I get a berth with only two beds instead of a room with a dozen beds or the floor on the deck. Checking in the night before also gets me a room with a view. I examine the communal facilities, then climb up the wet and steep stone steps to town to purchase some necessities for the weekend. After stopping for a beer, I walk back down the steps and across a long muddy beach to the boat. I am back on board by midnight and no one else has checked into my double room. The situation is different out on the decks, however, where there are bodies everywhere lying huddled under shared blankets and sacks crowding the hallways. I don’t think they are here for the view, and I dare not imagine what their communal facilities look like.

Mar. 20: Heading Down River – We shove off at 9:00 a.m. and I luckily still have the berth to myself. Also luckily I have the CCR CD in my laptop so I play "Proud Mary (Rolling on the River)". Chongqing is where the Yangtze first becomes navigable year-round, so what was once the only route into Sichuan is now the terminus for one of China’s great scenic attractions. I eat some fresh fruit I bought last night and, through the cold morning drizzle, watch the mountains pass by with their terraced fields, and other boats plying the river from small fishing vessels and hydrofoils and tugs and barges. By noon I’m ready for a PBJ and some tea. I work on my laptop and read some, and by 2:30 we pull into the port city of Fulong to take on some more passengers. I pay the $5 for dinner, and just after 5:00 p.m. I am shown the dining room. I pick up a couple of beers and, eating alone, a couple of guys at the next table invite me to a toast with their local alcohol. I oblige and we try to chat, but sign language just leads to finger pointing. As I head back, I ask one of the staff if the shower has hot water. It does not, but one of the shower rooms also contains the hot water heater for tea. She gives me a couple of plastic wash basins. I’ve seen this done before in the streets, so I proceed to bathe myself. Since there is some silt at the bottom of the basins, I figure I sort of bathed in the Yangtze. Shortly past midnight we land at Wanxian where I have less than one hour to scout the place. It is no longer raining, so I walk off the gangplank into a teeming mass of bodies waiting to get onto the boat. I climb the steep stone stairs then wander down a couple of narrow streets. As I head back to the now-deserted dock, the captain motions me back on board; I obey my captain. We shove off just after 1:00 a.m.

Mar. 21: Three Gorges – I am up before 7:00 a.m. and grab some fruit and tea. We head for the most treacherous stretch of the river, the 125 mile Three (San) Gorges (Xia), formed seventy million years ago when a huge inland lake forced a drainage channel between two limestone mountains. China is attempting to artificially recreate that lake to tame the Yangtze. We passed the first gorge, Qutang Xia, while it was still dark so I miss seeing the 5 miles stretch of rough water but feel the boat rolling. In daylight I read the elevation markers on some of the hillsides showing where they will disappear. We make the bend where the Daning River joins the Yangtze, but the boat continues straight down river so I do not get to see the Little (Xiao) Three Gorges (Sanxia) which many say are even more dramatic. I should have taken the hydrofoil straight to here and risk getting on a local boat. The second gorge, Wuxia, is 30 miles long and I sit in the glass-enclosed cabin in the bow of the boat with some others, taking pictures and reading along the way. There are two guys from Hong Kong who speak English with their girl friends and relative from Canton. They have been travelling the river for a few days, stopping overnight at various spots along the way. The third gorge, Xiling, is a long 50 miles so I make my PBJ sandwich for lunch. Just after 2:00 p.m. we go through the construction site of the 600 foot high hydroelectric dam. (This flood control project was first proposed by Sun Yatsen earlier this century.) When it is completed in less than ten years, the water level will rise 375 feet and China will have the world’s largest reservoir; Chongqing, 340 miles upstream, will be the world’s first metropolis sitting on the banks of an artificial lake. While it might control transportation, energy, and irrigation, ecologists and economists condemn it. Some two million people (and counting) will be relocated, again flooding Chongqing’s population but this time rivaling the numbers in Beijing and Shanghai according to unofficial estimates. A collapsing dam would be disastrous. (A couple of years ago, a corrupt project controller was summarily executed for cutting corners.) At 4:00 p.m. we enter the locks at Gezhouba Dam, a complex of power plants and floodgates at Yichang. My quintuplet friends invite me for dinner at 5:30, but the staff insists I sit at 5:00. I bring my bottle of wine and half of it is intercepted by the staff before I get to the dining room. I nap a bit after dinner, but re-join them later in the same room which is now converted for karaoke and they of course have a table in front of the television. I listen to them belt out a couple of songs in Chinese, then the only English song comes on. It is from the movie "Titanic" so I feel sunk, but take the mike anyway and miss the beat and sing off key. By now I am looking forward to landing tomorrow evening at 6:00 p.m. just to take a real shower and use a real toilet. I should have taken the bus straight from Yichang to Wuhan.

Mar. 22: Wuhan – Historically China’s agricultural and geographic center as well as a key commercial route, the Yangtze River basin has always been a center of development. Marco Polo purportedly referred to the "innumerable cities and towns along its banks, and the amount of shipping it carries, and the bulk of merchandise that merchants transport by it." Its rice output can feed the rest of the nation. So, for the entire day I see these fields on both banks of the river. For lunch I again meet my quintuplet friends, who inform me that because of the low water level we are now scheduled to arrive in Wuhan at 9:00 p.m. On the way out, a group of guys at a nearby table invite me over for some more lunch and drinks. I oblige the drinks but skip more food. Just after 4:00 one of the staff comes by my room to notify me there is hot water in the shower. Hooray! I grab dinner an hour later, and after the same guys from lunch invite me to their berth of a dozen. We meet at the karaoke later, and I bring the last of my wine. By the time I leave, I’m chatting it up with the passengers and staff, drinking and dancing. Hey, I could do this for another couple of days. But we arrive at 10:00 p.m. and my quintuplet friends and I walk to a hotel to find it has no rooms available. Across the street does not permit foreigners, and the two guys are from Hong Kong. We walk a bit before settling into an old Russian hotel. Further east of Wuhan, the flood-prone Yangtze River sponges up its tributaries, becoming so wide you can’t even see its banks. The provincial capital of Wuhan sits midway between Chongqing and Shanghai and actually comprises of Wuchang, Hankou, and Hanyang. The Treaty of Nanjing opened Hankou to foreign trade in 1861, and it is now a commercial center. But this region is also the cradle of modern China because of the historical events which occurred here this century. For instance, in 1937 the Kuomintang, fleeing the Japanese invasion of Nanjing, briefly established a national government here before being forced further west to Chongqing. Now, the only city straddling both sides of the Yangtze boasts as being the first major industrial area in the Chinese interior and its most cosmopolitan, and might even rival the prosperous east coast. Turns out I’m in the old Russian concession with many old Russian buildings. I walk around at night, and eventually wander into an old Russian house converted into a pub. I chat with the bartenders. Tomorrow morning I expect to take the morning flight back to Shanghai and if all goes well should make it in time for my class.

[Returning to Shanghai] [Spring Festival] [Chinese New Year] [Fulbright Mid-Year Conference] [Back to School] [Back Online] [Into the Heartland] [Ancient Capitals] [Judeo-Christian Holidays] [From Albany to Zurich] [Yellow Mountain] [Loose Ends] [Hello, Debbie ... Goodbye, Debbie] [Southern Capital] [Tropical Tour] [Unwinding] [Farewell Banquets] [Winding Down] [Good Bye, Shanghai]


Copyright 1999 Paul Miesing. All rights reserved. Please do not use without permission unless in the People’s Republic of China which does not enforce intellectual property rights. Revised on January 17, 2001.