Gearing up for the Chinese Boat Cruise

28 Oct

Traveling on a Chinese Train. 6 Bunk Beds per Compartment.

Just got off the overnight train. Landed in a town of 13 million called Wuhan. Key word here is town. As far as I know, still in Southern China. Inhaling humidity. Dancing in pollution. Typing on a mini-bus made for mini-people. Travel poss is in route to a village of 2 million to board a boat to cruise the Yangtze River, the second or third largest in the world.

Just crossed a ginormous bridge over a man made lake. When asked, the town of Wuhan is reportedly known for their rice and fish ponds. Sounds quaint and fits perfectly in the book of tourist propaganda. From where I’m perched, Wuhan is a confused community for this town of 13 million reeks of capitalism not a silly fish pond. One of the country’s main shipping ports saddles Wuhan. Big city. Big money. Bid deals.

The highway drives orderly Three to four lanes. English and Chinese signs, warning us not to follow so close. On one side of the highway you have a shacks of warehouses piled with lumber, cement bags, blue roof tiles, plywood (for my mattress), broken pipes and big boulders. The sky scrapers look as if they’ve been blown out in a recent war. Not the case. They’re actually in the process of being built. The Chinese build sky scrappers in stages. First is they mount line up three or four building skeletons. Then, they tackle the inside – electrical, floors, ceilings. Then, they wrap up the outside. The skyline looks like a cluster mess then —- whaaalaaa – concrete beauty abounds.

Crossing the Yangtze river now. I spy tankers carrying more coal. More rocks. More sand. More lumber. More oil. What look like floating drift wood are fisherman competing for space among the tankers. To my left, I count twenty-five tankers. “Must feed the beast,” I hear them chant. Yangtze transports 70% of the entire country’s shipping imports/exports.

Peering from my mini-window in the mini-bus, I’m checking out the cars speeding by. Thinking of investing in China. Rumor has it a very small percentage of the 1.3 billion own cars. I spy Volkswagen, Nissan, Toyota, Chinese brand cars I can’t translate… I see very few American cars. As much as Japan and China are seen as political adversaries, by the looks of the highways this is not the case.

When asked about Japanese products, you get mixed answers. If the elderly respond, they lean towards anti-Japan. If the youth or students respond, they lean towards pro-Japan for they have more access to cheaper luxury products. Olive told us a funny story. She said when her grandfather bought her grandmother their first TV many years ago, he bought the best – a Sony. Her grandmother responded, “No Japanese in my house.” The TV was booted to the curb. Sounds strange today to a US person who is not abreast of Japan/China history.

Now that I’m here in China, I want to learn more. A few months back, there was an incident between a Chinese fishing boat and the Japanese Coast Guard. Both sides claimed the dispute had to do with fishing and waterway rights. Little fishy incident escalated to a point where Beijing and Tokyo were talking about breaking off all future relations. Visas were being revoked. Business trips canceled on both sides. Quite frankly, this had little to with fishing but more to do with who owns the tiny islands in East China Sea. Is it Japan, China or Taiwan? Some believe there is something special under those islands. Energy reserves? Oil? Ahhh… There lies the rub.. It seem to come back to oil ’round here.

Going back to cars… Olive said the Chinese government marks up imports on cars between 80% to 100%. Sometimes, up to 200%. So, a Nissan in China may cost you double. And, what better way for the Government to keep people employed and the Chinese economy humming? Penalize for buying imports and reward for buying domestic. Chinese people are saying – “noooooooo way Jose…we want imports….brand name shows status… Chinese car? No status…”

I was in a bathroom stall the other day – yes, squatting Chinese style – and to my left was an advert for BMW. Guess how much? Almost $550,000 in Yuan for a low end BMW – Series 3 or something. That’s around $90,000 US dollars. We’re in China were the mean income per-capita is around $3,500 per year – taking in rural and urban populations. (No one really knows the per capita income in China… this is a guess).

What baffles me is the government push of this communism ideal of “everyone must be equal.” As I squatted I contemplated the following – Do I actually believe those who can afford a BMW support the communist notion of “equality for all 1.3 billion?” These Chinese work and save for years to drive an import. They get their imported car. How do they justify “equality.” Just can’t see the Shanghai Chinese believing they are on equal footing as their fellow rice picking peasants, military soldiers or Tibetan monks. Still seeking. Still struggling. Still confused.

Then, I wondered – still squatting – why is BMW pushing hard at the advert game. They are everywhere in terms of billboards, magazines, newspapers and bathroom stalls at highway rest stops. Well, even if .0001% of Chinese can afford a BMW, we’re still talking about millions sold per year. And, as US and EU pressures China on to rethink its currency and tariff strategies, companies like BMW will be poised to capture a larger market share. Brand awareness today for market share tomorrow. Invest in BMW? Couldn’t think anymore. Legs went numb from squatting for more than 2 minutes.

Last night’s train ride was much better than anticipated. I expected mayhem and chaos. But, remember, this is China. Rules and order make this country tick. As we made our way through train security, the actual station was orderly. People were seated. Staring. And, quiet. The only noise was coming from a static loudspeaker. The gals decided to make one last run for the bathroom before hunkering down on the overnight train. I was envisioning sharing the toilet hole with rats. For me, this was my last restroom refuge for some hours.

Well, it turned out to be the second worst bathroom I encountered in China. Yes, this time I had a door. But, I had to squat over a trough. One long cement ditch where running water moved bodily junk to an undisclosed location. No, Kerri, I did NOT look down. Kept my eyes focused on the wooden door, while holding my breath.

The positive…seriously there was a positive here – the aroma was not THAT bad. The restroom ladies stoked up some MAJOR incense to reduce the potential for dry heaving, vomiting or fainting. Oh, in case you are wondering, the worst bathroom by far was a truck stop. One room. Multiple holes in the floor. No doors. Risked a bladder infection on that one.

Fast forward. The micro-mini bus made it to the town of 2 million. We had a few hours to kill before we boarded the boat to the Three Gorges Damn. So, the travel posse spent the afternoon exploring. It felt more like a “REAL” Chinese city/town than Shanghai or Yangshuo. Not many tourists. Chinese were walking up to us wanting to take our pictures, practice English or just smiled as we walked by. They would stop on the sidewalk and giggle when we approached. This town – will become a tourist haven in a few years. The Chinese government has kicked out or “replanted” many Chinese residents living along the river to make way for high rises, hotels and Prada retail stores. Soon this sleepy village of 2 million will grow to a town of 10 million.

When we drove in, we passed what looked like a real US style suburb. The homes and town homes were brick, large streets and trees. It was like Pleasantville – Chinese style. Very eery. I was surprised for it wasted a lot of space. High-rises are the way to go in China. Olive said that those homes are inexpensive compared to Shanghai or Beijing. Many Chinese are moving here.

We cruised over a big bridge, shot some balloons, watched some Chinese play cards and walked the town. It was a good way to spend an afternoon. Headed to the grocery store for one final “load’em” up. Took a lot of pictures.

There is little refrigeration – so milk, yogurt, cheese, tator tots or healthy choice is out of the question. You get a lot of zip lock packaged foods. See pictures below. Oh, there is no bread in the grocery stores. You have to find a bakery, and even then, bread is limited. This has caused confusion with our group. The fruits have been amazing. Street corners just full of fruit stands. Olive pulled through and we boarded first. She “knows” people. Next blog is about the actual cruise up and down the Yangtze River to see a very large concrete structure made by men and not otters. Three Gorges Damn.

Walking across the bridge

View from the bridge

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