January 8, 2011
The second day of the Yangtze River Cruise we sailed through the Three Gorges and then the Lesser Gorges starting at the Wushan area on the Daning River, an offshoot from the Yangtze, and then the Mini Gorges on the Madu River, and offshoot from the Daning. The first of the Three Gorges is the shortest and most classic scenery of the three. The entrance to the first gorge is often depicted in ancient Chinese paintings- the famous high V shaped cliffs and misty fog on the cliff faces. We went through in the morning when the fog was so thick it was hard to see much, but it was still a beautiful experience. I kept imagining the thousands of years of history present at the passage I was sailing through, but seeing large bland apartment building all along the shore kind of ruined the moment. Since the Dam’s creation and subsequent flooding in 2003 all the old towns lie 300 feet under the river so nothing in the area is older than 7 years.
After the first gorge we got on a smaller ferry to go through the lesser and then a small local boat to see the mini gorges which are all located by the entrance to the second gorge. Sadly, we saw a lot of pollution in the water, but at least it was pretty clear. In the summer months when it rains a lot the water turns brown from all the silt created by the Dam. We saw hardly any birds- just little ones so high up we could just hear them or see glimpses as the trees rustled and we saw just one monkey, which I was actually the only person who see it because I was sitting with the local guide on the sandpan (the smaller boat we got on for the mini gorges) and I was helping him try to spot them. The sandpan was fun, but again I imagine it must have been better 10 or 20 years ago when it was less touristy. There were so many of them both in front of us and behind us and while they looked very interesting, the rows of people in day-glow orange life jackets kind of ruined the ‘authenticity’ of the picture…although I guess this is the new authentic. Some of the other people on the boat were joking about photoshopping out the life vests to get a more authentic image and I thought “wow you just set such a philosophical mouthful there without even realizing it,” but decided not to dive into a discussion on aesthetic philosophy and my studies at NYU with Chinese people who spoke next to no English.
Our last stop was at the Three Gorges Dam. When I visited Panama I didn’t get to go through the ship locks so it was fun to go through the locks, but otherwise I found touring the Dam pretty boring. The Dam itself is very interesting to talk about because it is so controversial, but seeing it is honestly a little lackluster. The Dam is the largest in the world and has caused a lot of controversy over environmental degradation, displacement of people, and many questions about the Chinese government’s use of the energy and money made from the Dam. To read more about the project click here.
I was a little disappointed, but honestly not more than I was for all of China. All of these beautiful ancient places that I visited just seemed a little off- a little fake. They seemed to be manufactured for tourists in order to scam money off westerners at every turn. I enjoyed China, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had different expectations going into it.