Visit to China 2002

China 2002

Saturday 30 March 2002
Rural China

From Wuhan we drive through the heart of rural China towards the start of our river trip. The fertile land is divided into small fields and we see very many agricultural workers tending their plots. Now and throughout the visit we see vast numbers of people at work, often in large groups, almost always working manually. Ponds for fishing and for growing lotus are common between the fields and water buffalo are seen across the landscape.

Rural houses are simple. From outward appearances most have electricity but few have television. The towns, as expected, are more mixed. Simple comparison-shopping dominates - if you want to buy electrical goods, you choose from a number of rival shops very close to each other. In the cities we see later, times are changing. There are some luxury shops (we see expensive exercise equipment like treadmills on sale) and even the odd department store.

Path to Shrine, Xiling Gorge

Path to Shrine, Xiling Gorge
One of our best drivers

For each section of the holiday we are accompanied by a local guide and driver. Each guide extols the virtues of the driver - he is 'one of our best drivers', 'has 20 years experience' and so on. In fact, on the one occasion that we are not told the driver's credentials, the omission is so conspicuous that we almost begin to doubt his capabilities!

At one point, we find ourselves on a new road on a high embankment. In fact the road is so new that no central line has been painted, although we are not convinced it would have made any difference anyway. Traffic doesn't actually drive on the right or the left, but moves into whatever part of the road is most convenient for making the fastest progress. Fortunately our highly experienced driver takes it all in his stride.

Later we travel along a new and virtually empty motorway. In this region, there just aren't that many vehicles. As expected, there are very few signs (anywhere in China) in anything other than Chinese characters although on this road we see the sensible warning in English 'Rear end collision - Keep space'.

Boat, Wu Gorge

Boat, Wu Gorge
This way to visit the corpse

We stop at Jingzhou Museum. There are many beautiful lacquered objects, including 'ear-cups' (Western Han Dynasty). These oval bowls are decorated inside with stylised fish that are said to appear to swim when the vessels are filled with water. The bowls have ear-like flaps that allow them to float. There are many zoomorphic objects, such as a lovely dish with lid, which together take the form of a duck. Its neck is curled perfectly to take the shape of the lid (Early Warring States period). There are many other treasures, including ancient silk fabrics, remarkably well preserved.

A sign at the entrance reads 'This way to visit the corpse'. As far as the museum is concerned, this Western Han Dynasty (167 BC) dead body is the highlight of the visit. As the guidebook so aptly puts it "Everthough unearthed, his outlook was perfectly preserved".

Later, after a visit to the City Walls, we continue to Yichang and board the Sissi Cruise. We are really pleased with our cabin, which is spacious and comfortable and has a large window giving good views of the river.