Today we travel from Chengdu to Chongqing: experiencing the many activities in Chengdu People’s Park, the Bullet Train and board our cruise boat.
28 May 2016
Another early breakfast with some interesting selections: no green tea or black tea but there is some raw milk tea (sweet), banana milk tea (like a hot banana smoothie) and some hot orange juice. I feel like I am having dinner for breakfast with the choices of fried rice, noodles, various veggies and eggs. Jing tells us that traditionally Chinese will ‘breakfast like an emperor, lunch like a general, and dine like a beggar’ – we have been emperors all day recently.
Jing is taking us for a walking tour so that we can get an idea about how local people spend their Sundays here in Chengdu. We do have the choice of taking a local bus but this doesn’t sound very appealing at the moment. We walk past one of the only remaining large statues of Chairman Mao left standing in China, looking very imposing amongst the potted marigolds.
People’s Park is a large green haven in the city that is extremely well used. Jing tells us that this region is known for its much more relaxed lifestyle. Older people seem to have a great life – no-one bothers to go to a gym, they can just come to the park and take part in all manner of activities for free. We watch a group dancing – with a beginners area to the side where they were having lessons; there is Tai Chi; fan-dancing; some sort of dance with a bat and a ball being balanced on it while they danced; a group of men doing sword dances (and a crazy man making lots of noise and leaping around all over the place with his sword but shouting at us not to look at him); a man was juggling meat cleavers; young boys learning Kung Fu; women doing a dance with ‘feather dusters’; a singing area; people playing cards – something for everyone.
Then we head to the Tea House in the park. On the way we pass a lady making toffee creations; for 5 yuan you can spin a wheel and she will make for you, in toffee, whatever the needle points at – mine was a dragonfly. Others get butterflies and dragons. At the tea house we order from the expected selection of teas and coffee but discover that there is much more service offered here: you can have your ears cleaned or have a (rather vigorous) massage at the table. Behind us is the lake complete with paddle boats; families are enjoying the park and people in wheelchairs are being brought out to enjoy the day as well. It has a lovely relaxed feel and we could all picture ourselves getting used to this lifestyle. Jing is considering buying an apartment here with a girlfriend and renting it out.
The park is also a memorial to those who have lost their lives in various wars. Sichuan soldiers or warriors are known for their fighting prowess and there is a legend that you will never defeat China unless you kill every soldier from Sichuan. There are memorials particularly of wars with Japan, dates of bombs and a statue that says ‘we will never forget’; along with some statue showing mothers and wives farewelling the soldiers.
We walk back to the hotel in time to pick up a few snacks for our evening meal from the bakery next door, and pack our bags ready to check out at 12.00. Our bus and baggage van are waiting to transport us to the railway station. On the way Jing tells us about some of the amazing scenery and trekking that is available in Sichuan. You need to travel far west almost to the border with Tibet but then there are beautiful national parks with lakes, glaciers and snowy mountains – Jing’s photos are spectacular.
Chengdu East Railway Station is enormous and modern and looks more like an international air terminal than a railway station. We have to go through security screening on the way in. We get there in plenty of time, pile up our bags for some to look after while others go in search of lunch. After a few circuits of the available options, everyone ends up at Kung Fu Chicken (KFC).
We are going by high speed Bullet Train to Chongqing where we will board our Yangzi river cruise. It takes about 5 hours to drive but our train goes through lots of tunnels through the mountains so we take about 1.5 hours. It has very comfortable seats with more space than an aeroplane. It reaches 298km/hr – not quite as fast as the MagLev in Shanghai where we got to 301km/hr. Now there is a bullet train from Shanghai to Chongqing that takes approx 12 hours. There are huge distances of rail being laid down; by 2020 there will be more length of rail in China than in the rest of the world combined.
When we get to Chongqing we have a private bus to meet us and take us to the boat, but unfortunately there is a traffic jam and we have to wait 45 minutes for it to make the final 500m to where we are. We huddle in a patch of shade while we wait and amuse ourselves by watching the vast numbers of long distance buses come into the terminal. Traffic is bad on our route to the boat as well but our driver knows lots of short cuts so we get there in about 45 minutes. Chongqing is the biggest city in China with about 33M people, and known as the city of mists (Jing lived here for a year and said there were only 20 days of blue sky (so we are very lucky to have clear skies today). Chongqing is built into the hills and is so steep that there are no bicycles here at all. During the Second World War when Japan attacked Nanjing (inland from Shanghai) the Chinese capital was moved to Chongqing.
We are greeted at the wharf area by a mob of porters with stout sticks and ropes, and to our surprise we are told that they will be transferring our bags to the boat. As it turns out we are very pleased that they do as we need to walk about a kilometre along the dockside, running the gauntlet of all the little stalls, service carts, scooters and funny 3 wheeled cars and vans. Then there are very steep steps down to the dock where our boat is. We have to go through security screening before we embark.
Over the past few years there have been several terrorist attacks, mostly from Islamic Uighur groups from the northwest. In one attack a group of people came to a busy railway station and killed hundreds of people with machetes and another time was a bomb explosion in a crowded area. This is why there is so much security screening and high police presence around the streets near crowded areas. China also has problems with people leaving to join ISIS. In ancient times all along the Silk Road was Buddhist and now it is predominantly Islamic.
On board we have to wait for our check-in, which includes being photographed with your passport. The China Goddess 2 is a brand new cruise ship accommodating 350 people – we are at 75% occupancy. I was a bit disappointed because the trip notes had said we would be on a much smaller craft of only around 100 people. But it is very luxurious and our cabins are much roomier than I had expected and with private balconies, so I think I will be able to cope!
No dinner is provided tonight but you can order something if you want too. I have the snacks I had bought earlier and then explore the boat: it has TV rooms, mahjong rooms, reading rooms, a cinema, a cigar bar, a large bar/communal area with a stage, dining room, VIP dining, Internet area, a small gym, multiple shops, sun deck, cruise bar for snacks and drinks …
We have a briefing with Henry (our onboard river guide) at 8.00 – this is a separate briefing in English for us as we are the only ‘aliens’ on board. There are so many different choices of things available, some optional, and so many different times to remember that it is very difficult to take it all in. We have to book the next day’s optional excursion by 11.00 that evening – we are keen to experience as much as possible but also need to just to relax and enjoy it. They have a massage team on board who give us a little sample during the briefing – and many of us are keen to try it but how do you know when to book your session when you don’t know what other things you might be doing?
All meals are provided buffet style from now on but you buy your own drinks. That seemed simple enough but there are so many different drinks packages available with different combinations of different things (all far more than I would ever drink and there are snacks included too). At meals you can have tea and water but if you pay another package you can get coffee and all you want to drink of beer and soft drinks. I finally ask if I can just buy a drink when I want one! – it would be a whole lot simpler.
Feeling somewhat bewildered by all the options we retire to the sun deck, order a beer and admire the city lights (it is sometimes called Little Hong Kong). We set sail about 9.15pm and we stand up front as the city lights gradually disappear and we are able to see some stars.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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