Sailing to Chongqing -- Peter Leyland

                                                  Sailing to Chongqing*


Wednesday 29th August

We are now looking out over the city from the big picture windows in the living room. We have just had the best Chinese meal ever at Xiheyaju - seven dishes in the centre and all dipping in with chopsticks, inexpertly in my case.

Thursday 30th August


This is ever so slightly unreal – a life of sheer luxury, lazing in the gym and pool with the adjacent sauna and the hot and cold tubs. Today we wandered out for breakfast with Becky. She has quite an astonishing command of the language – this is a profound skill which she uses all the time in taxis, restaurants, shops.


Saturday 1st September


Yesterday we were briefly lost outside the Summer Palace. Thankfully we had contact with Becky, and the driver Jerry Bing who dropped down as though from heaven to where the rickshaw man had mistakenly left us.


Later I went with Becky to the Wall Street language school where I sat with four Chinese girls and one man in the Friday Corner and helped them to discuss their responses to Betty who was giving a presentation to the class. She is studying English for a Master's Degree. Girls choose names in place of their Chinese ones. The other three are Yolanda (Landi), Cinderella (Cindy) and Planet.


Monday 3rd September


Now recovering from a bout of food poisoning which struck yesterday morning. This also involved the loss of my glasses after our visit to the flea market. Amazingly though, Becky was able to organize a temporary pair for now, and a varifocal pair for Tuesday. I have to gloss over the profound despair I felt today and move on, knowing that all problems can be solved. Dan has a metaphorical toolbox of solutions to problems and will dip in until he finds what works in a particular situation. Apparently if you’re going to lose your glasses Beijing is just about the best place to get a replacement pair.


Wednesday 5th September


Today was a good day. I’ve received my new glasses and we spent the afternoon at Tiananmen and then The Forbidden City. Later we watched the acrobats perform - an excellent display from talented young people. My favourite was the girls spinning plates, four on each hand, and doing acrobatic tricks while they spin.


Thursday 6th September


Astonishingly Sue and I have arrived in this minor example of paradise – Yichang at the start of the Yangtse River. We have been settling in. I listened to three musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments. One, a pipa - a four stringed instrument played like a mandolin - was extremely beautiful.


Friday 7th September


Today we are visiting the Three Gorges Dam, a monumental construction supplying hydroelectric power to a large part of the country.

Saturday 8th September


Yesterday a very bad day for my stomach – felt quite exhausted by it. I took Imodium last night and that had some effect. But good points… we had a three-hour massage which was very relaxing. Also, the little English-speaking group on the boat are getting on very well.


Sunday 9th September


Stomach continues to play up but Christine, the Chinese girl, helped by taking me to the doctor for advice. I ended up with three kinds of pills.


We went up a Yangtse tributary. It was wet and raining all day. I decided to stay on the boat while Sue and the others did the cave trip. I will read my book by Nien Cheng – Life and Death in Shanghai. It is about a woman’s struggle during the cultural revolution of the 1960s.




I got off the boat and walked up a number of steps to get some air. I stopped for a rest and looked about. Coming down the steps were the three musicians from the other night. There were also some beggars, one man with one leg and a woman carrying a cockerel by the legs – it may still have been alive. I had to be escorted back on the boat later just as I had been escorted off and I returned my orange necklace.


This morning the still point reached as I looked back at the ship from half-way up the steps.


Moving on the river, the eternal artery, passing shipbuilding in the dry docks, industrial sites, pylons, cranes, trees on the skyline, throbbing motors of dredgers passing behind, dirty yellow-brown water, each boat its red flag at the stern. No photograph can match this timeless moment on the Yangtse River. Waving at the coal barge, sampan moored on the river edge, flowing ever onward as time does. The banks are green with some terraces stepping upwards, a dusty green with brown earth banks and other banks of shale falling into the river.


A bridge approaching – two piers holding a beam which is in turn suspended from each pier with a fan of cables – no but not a bridge – an electrical gantry maybe – we pass under.


This is a country under construction, the skyline on the left is a mass of buildings and cranes – one sweep of a giant’s hand could knock them over like dominoes and I might really know how big this world is. And here is another two-pier bridge, exactly as described before, crossing The Yangtse. My earlier ‘sampan’ is in fact a ‘crooked stern junk’ (wai pigu) specially designed to negotiate sudden twists and turns in the river. Sacks (yellow) rolling down the bank on a conveyor and being loaded aboard a ship. More sacks (white). I think it must be cement. Another chute taking yellow powder from a tarpaulin covered barge up to a site of belching white factory chimneys. And here is another bridge of exactly the same construction but not quite finished, spanning the river again. 


Now moving into a broader, greener delta, leaving the industry behind, apart from the occasional coal barge. This is later succeeded by small mountain ranges piling up behind one another into the distance.


Tuesday 11th September


Our last day of the trip was exciting. With Nan our guide who spoke perfect English we went to a park in Chongqing. She told us that it is a city of 30 million people, half the population of the UK. We went to see the pandas. One of them was perched up a tree casually chomping on some leaves. There were also seven little red pandas chasing each other and play fighting.


As Nan had to fill the day for us, we had a tea ceremony with three types – ginseng, black, jasmine. We also had another foot massage where the nails were also treated, and the hard skin removed. By 9 o’clock we were back at Becky’s having had a very successful trip.


Wednesday 12th September


Last day. We went to a section of the Great Wall (Mutianyu) with Dan. We went up to our section by cable car, walked along for about a mile and then came down again. We returned to the flat and had a swim. My stomach seems to be improving and I’m almost back to normal meals now.


I’ve also finished the book by Nien Chang, an unforgettable reading experience. Mao Zedong has a lot to answer for.

             Peter Leyland 28th Aug. - 13th Sept. 2007


*Thanks are due to Elizabeth Kay who inspired me to revisit my journal entries about this trip, which I've edited slightly. Since 2007, the year of our visit, China has become more difficult for Westerners to travel in and Xi Jinping appears to have taken on the mantle of Mao. Becky, my daughter, found a cat on the streets of Beijing and called it Chairman Meow. She still has it.





Elizabeth Kay said…
Interesting post, as you visited before I did in 2016. Did you go with a particular company? We went with Exodus, who we rate very highly. I think my views of China are rather more jaundiced... The nine years that have elapsed may have made quite a difference. Further to your comments after my post, I am going to do an environmental one for March, which will touch on Cambodia.
Peter Leyland said…
The company was a Chinese one called New Century Cruises, a really complicated booking process from the UK. Last night we rewatched the video they had made of our cruise in which we appear amongst all the Chinese people having a wonderful time. I am shown shaking hands with the Captain, a propaganda coup!
Reb MacRath said…
All in all, your trip went better than my visit. I seemed on the verge of being shot for sneezing too close to Mao's sarcophagus.
Griselda Heppel said…
How exciting that you've been to China! And your daughter can speak Chinese. Wow. Did she live/study there?

I would love to see the Great Wall of China. But now is not a good time to visit, as you say. I do like the idea of Chairman Meow though.

Lovely, evocative post.
Peter Leyland said…
Yes, she learned Mandarin. She and Dan lived there for five years and then went on to Kuala Lumpur for another four, where Alistair (of the birthday book) was born. Sue and I stayed with them at both places twice but are now glad to have them back in England. Chairman, as they call her, is fourteen.

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