"" Writer's Wanderings: Three Gorges Dam and on to Wuhan

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Three Gorges Dam and on to Wuhan

[My God moment comes early today: A glorious sunrise albeit a bit misty.]

The M.S. Yangtze 1 has pulled up next to the Viking Cruises riverboat. During breakfast we can look into their dining room and see quite a contrast. It looks like a real cruise ship! No lazy susans on the tables and waiters look like they are serving breakfast. When it is time to leave, we walk through the lower level of the Viking boat to get to the dock and our waiting buses.

Our local guide introduces himself and tells us that he grew up in this area—Zigui county. Zigui means “sisters go home.” I’m not sure but perhaps it has something to do with a story he tells of company visiting. The hostess serves three glasses of tea. The first two you drink but when the third is served, it is a signal that it is time to leave.

He says the farms outside of the city are still steeped in old traditions. There are still some arranged marriages including his own—even though he fell in love with someone at the university he attended. He figures his son will probably meet his wife on the internet. He has a warm smile as he speaks.

One of the wedding traditions he tells us about is the “crying marriage.” A young girl must cry during the ceremony to prove that she’s a good girl. If she doesn’t, relatives put water on her face so it will look like she is crying.
Sometime during the year there are famous dragon boat races here too.

As we near the dam, he begins to tell us some statistics. There are 18 turbines now but when finished there will be 26. The dam will produce 84.7 billion kilowatt hours a year. That would supply 5 New York Cities and the dam is 5 times bigger than the Hoover Dam. It is 1.4 miles long, 550’ above sea level, 60’ thick at the top and 360’ thick at the base. Two powerhouses will contain 14 and 12 turbines respectively which will come from manufacturers all over the world. Many countries have participated in sharing technology. The project was begun in 1993 and will be finished in 2009 or sooner.

The construction area will become a forested park and will be used mainly for tourism. Many trees in the flooded area have been transplanted to save certain species.
The cost of the project is $23 billion US dollars and 1.3 million people have thus far been displaced.

We pass over what our guide says is the “Chinese Golden Gate Bridge.”

These are the largest inland river locks in the world. There are five steps in each lock. Two of the channels are for going upstream and one is for going downstream. It will be free to pass through and take about 3 hours. Passenger ships will go through an “elevator” called the Black Beauty where the ship will actually be raised or lowered to the next level of the river. The ship will float in a box and counter weights will lower or raise a ship weighing up to 11,800 tons. The boat lift will only take a half hour.

We learn that the dam is actually most important for flood control. The Yangtze has a nasty reputation for bad floods (the water level changes 90’ between dry and rainy seasons) and many have lost their lives. In 1988, 1,000 died. The second benefit is power and lastly, navigation. In answer to a question, our guide tells us that there are four nuclear power stations in China with plans to build 20 more.

After touring the dam area, we drive to Yichang. It takes about an hour and we pass through a 4 mile long tunnel. Lunch is at a hotel (more of the same food on a lazy susan) and a stop in the “happy room” which thankfully is clean and Western-styled. Back on the bus, we head for Wuhan.

We pass through lots of farmland and can see water buffalo working in the fields. There are huge fields of cotton, some rice fields and lots of orange trees. Many yards have fish ponds for raising fish or eel. Most yards and streets look neat and tidy.
Some of the road signs have been fun to read in English: “Drive Prudently”; “Do Not Drive Tiredly.” We also notice that most of the road construction is done by hand labor. There are few large earthmovers or heavy equipment.

The bus stops on a narrow road near a cluster of farmhouses. This is what we have seen as we travel through the farm area—lots and lots of fields (mostly of cotton) with a cluster here and there of farmhouses. An older couple (I’m judging in their 60s) has invited us to tour their farmhouse. I’m hoping the tour company has paid well for this. I can't imagine opening your home to a group of 78 tourists.
Other China posts:
The Forbidden City
Tiananmen Square
The Great Wall
The Summer Palace
Wuhan to Beijing
Chinese Farmhouse
Three Gorges and Lesser Gorges
Fengdu—The Ghost City
Cruising the Yangtze
Chonging—The Yangtze River
The Big Goose Pagoda
Evening in Xian
Beijing to Xian
Timid Tourist in China-Travel Day
China-The Trip of a Lifetime

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