On Claiming Space

There’s a word in Chinese, chiang. It means to rush or to race. It also means to speedwalk in front of hundreds of tourists, to throw down your things haphazardly to save seats at the front of the bus, to disembark the bus first. We went on a tour with my aunt, cousin, and grandma in China and we spent the week racing thousands of other tourists to get there first.

I spent my first three days in China just relaxing in my aunt’s home in Hefei. I did a day-long photoshoot, gained back all the weight I lost in Israel, visited iFlytek, and got my foot stabbed by many tiny needles many times. I’ve had a bit of a limp since my last few weeks at MIT due to a workout injury, and my aunt took me to see a local Chinese doctor for acupuncture during my three days back. On the fourth morning, we packed up, picked up some Starbucks, and headed for the train station for Hubei.

Wednesday, August 21

After a four hour long train ride, we finally made it to Hubei. After another hour and a half long wait, we boarded the bus to the cruise ship. The ship held around 400 people. After boarding, dropping our things off in our room, and a quick dinner at the downstairs gallery, we headed back to our rooms to do face masks and to go to bed.

Thursday, August 22

We spent the morning and afternoon in the city of Hubei. After breakfast at the upstairs gallery (my aunt upgraded our dining plan), we headed back to the dock to take a trip to the Tribe of the Three Gorges. This consisted of a kilometer long hike to a tiny waterfall along a river. The actual scenery was gorgeous but there were thousands of tourists packed along the walkway, a river of people.

It almost felt like Disney world, because local tribes people were paid to stand along random points of the river, dressed in traditional clothing, to entertain the thousands of tourists taking photos. The waterfall turned out to be a bit disappointing as well. After the visit, we headed back to the ship for an hour-long buffet lunch.

Full, we headed out again to visit the Three Gorges Dam, one of the largest in China. We then boarded another, smaller, cruise ship that was able to fit in the biggest ship lift in the world. Basically, this is like a massive elevator for ships. It was a pretty cool experience. Then, we disembarked for our original cruise ship, which finally left port at around 10 pm.

Friday, August 23

We woke up early to watch the sunrise over Wushan. We then had breakfast and boarded a second ship through the Three Gorges. After a few hours on this ship, we docked and boarded a smaller wooden rowboat to take a tour of a narrower stream. Many photos later, we boarded our original cruise and had a quick lunch.

Every day, it was around over 95 degrees. By the time we made it back, I had often sweat through my clothes two or three times.

After lunch, we took a bus to the Baidicheng Scenic Area. The temple area was around 380 steps up. The temple included statues of famous warriors and was decorated with poem tablets. On our way down, we saw the view of the gorges that was features on the 10 yuan note. After a few more photos, we headed back to the boat to have dinner and to sleep.

Saturday, August 24

We started off the morning a little later than usual. After breakfast, we lounged around for an hour and then had a tour of the pilot’s cabin. When we docked, we headed out for our tour of Fengdu Ghost City, a complex of temples and monasteries dedicated to the afterlife.

We began the tour with a cable car ride to the top of the complex. Our tour guide then gave us an explanation of the city. There were many statues and traditions to maintain good luck. Our first trial was to cross a very slippery bridge. Legend said that if you could take exactly seven steps to cross the bridge, it would bring you very good luck.

After a pineapple popsicle and a tour of the complex, we headed back down the mountain for lunch. The lunch buffet was a bit subpar but we were told that the dinner was going to be quite nice. Since the ship was sailing for the entirety of the next day to make it to Chongqing, we didn’t have an afternoon excursion. Instead, I took a nap and then watched “The New King of Comedy” in the theatre. After a fancy ordered dinner, we headed back to our rooms to pack and rest.

Sunday, August 25

We disembarked from the cruise ship at around 8 am in the morning. After an arduous set of stairs, we took a taxi van to our hotel, Glenview. It was quite nice and they left us free yogurt. Leaving our things in the lobby, we headed out for the day to tour local sites.

Our first site was Zhazhidong, a coalmine turned prison by the KMT. We visited each of the cells and learned about the massacre that occurred there in 1949. Many early Communists were held here as political prisoners. Especially sobering was the room filled with different torture devices and the stories about particular prisoners, some of them only children.

After visiting another close-by prison, we headed to Ciqikou, an old street, to eat lunch and do some shopping. There were so many free food samples and it was so hot that we forewent lunch to eat a bunch of cold things instead. I picked up some paintings for friends and a ring for myself.

We then took the metro back to our hotel to have dinner with my grandma. Since it was so hot that day, we decided to not have her go outside. We had dinner in a local shopping mall because it was still super hot in the early evening and my mom insisted. She was also the one who insisted on coming to the region in the first place against my aunt’s advice because she had heard from a friend that it was beautiful.

After a spicy dinner, we decided to visit the famous lights of the city. Unfortunately, the line had a 20 minute wait and there were thousands of other tourists so we decided to head back, take a swim, and go to bed instead.

Saturday, August 26

We woke up early to eat breakfast and board our flight to Shanghai. Our stop in Shanghai was only for less than a day. We got settled and then headed to the oceanfront to grab dinner with my mom’s friend. Then we headed back to shower and sleep before our 5 am flight to Hong Kong and then another finally back to Chicago the next day.

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