China 2007 – Part 4
The Viking River Cruise began in Maoping and proceeded for
612 km (380 miles) along the Yangtze River. The Yangtze is the longest river in Asia and the third longest in the world after the Nile in Africa and the Amazon in South America. Some of the cities — there are 185 located throughout the Yangtze River area — visited along the way included Badong, Wushan, Fengdu, Wanxian, Shibaozhai, Fengjie, Fuling, and Chongqing (the largest city in the world) where the cruise ended. The scenery along the way was mostly beautiful and included massive construction projects at nearly every bend. New roads, new bridges, and new skyscrapers interspersed with ancient pagodas, vegetable crops, and coal storage bins. If there is one thing noticeable around China it is coal. In the early morning before the crew gets to wipe them off you can brush your hand across the ships railings and you will find them covered in black dust.
The next to the last day of the Yangtze River cruise started out with a tour of Fengdu. The original Fengdu was built over 1800 years ago but now it has become an island as a result of the Three Gorges Dam project. I would call our visit a cultural tour. A Chinese city of a million people is considered to be a small city — Fengdu county was "just" 780,000 people and the city a mere 90,000 (four times bigger than where I live). The reason for the stop in Fengdu is that it is a model of the relocation of people whose homes and farms were lost to the rising Yangtze. The city is just six years old and it is very nice.
We started out at Fengdu Zhaohua Gongyuan (Fengdu Cultural Garden) where we were entertained by a group of retirees who played music, sang and danced. They all had constant smiles on their faces were very friendly. Some of the tourists joined in the singing and dancing (see photo gallery). We then visited a center city area where there were shops of all kinds including many mobile telephone shops. The last stop of the morning tour was at a farmer’s market. There were many things there that I have not seen before let alone consider eating. The tour guide said that the Chinese eat anything with wings except airplanes and anything with four legs except chairs. The local people were all very friendly and enjoyed having their picture taken. The children liked to say "hello" and wave to tourists. I had a very good feeling about the people of China. Unfortunately there were a number of beggars also — with indescribable physical disfigurement. The tour guide said that needy people are provided for by the government but that they beg to seek "extra" income. The government forbids begging but apparently there is no enforcement. On a more positive note, the retirees receive $200 per month and seemed quite content with their lives.
Note: Mobile is quite plentiful and inexpensive in China. I bought a SIM card for the Palm Treo for $23 that included 200 minutes and worked everywhere in Hong Kong. The Chinese have adopted GSM mobile technology like almost the whole world (except for Verizon). SIM cards were available at tourist sites and virtually everywhere in China. They are sold mostly for local use even though they are technically able to be used globally. I went into a China Mobile store in Fengdu to buy a SIM card that would support data services but there was no English spoken and I could not communicate what I wanted. The signal strength on the Palm Treo was solid throughout the entire trip, and far better than what I have at home. The appearance of cell phone towers throughout the country is not an issue like it is in the U.S. where nobody wants one within site of where they live.
China Mobile, which as the world’s largest wireless company claims that it has a mind-boggling 480 million customers and says that it expects to continue adding four million to five million new subscribers every month. Their revenueper user will decline as they attract more subscribers from rural areas. Competition from Internet-based phone service is also forcing them to reduce rates. Nice when you can make things up on volume. China Mobile’s market capitalization is about $185 billion, bigger than any other wireless company, and second only to AT&T in the broader telecommunications business. It may be a communist government but free enterprise is thriving.