We are currently in Hong Kong and this is the first internet access we have found since the 27th of April. The places we have been were not small towns, they were large, developed cities; I am not sure why we have had so much trouble with internet. I just posted the last blog I wrote from Chengdu on the 27th, the page at the time was in Mandarin and I choose the wrong button choice on the bottom of the page. Additionally, since we are now in Hong Kong I can finally view my blog. It seems that China has censored the viewing of blogs. Add it too the list. I am not sure how they expect to keep up in this world without the advantages of blogging. As Max said, "It is hard to believe that we got by without blogging only a few months ago."
So Hong Kong. This place is a whole world apart from everywhere in China that we have been. Overnight we moved a few hundred kilometers from a growing and developing third world area to a place as modern as New York or London. Prices of everyday things tripled or quadrupled and there are signs on the streets advertising Tiffany, Dior, Louis Vitton, Rolex, ext (the real stuff). It is certainly different but a nice change; it is fun to soak up the comforts of good coffee, an English newspaper, and no gawking. Traveling to Hong Kong makes me look at the big cultural differences between China and the rest of the world. The big ticket item that has been stuck in my head the last few days are the comparisons of a life in a socialist society and a life in a capitalistic society (maybe this is because I have been reading Ayn Rand but it seems relevant here). For the first time I feel as though I am witnessing and clearly seeing the downfalls and negativities of socialism. Observing everyday life in China, that is the middle and lower classes, I feel that the thinkers are missing. In this society people are no longer required to think. They don't think about choices, other people, improving their lives. They are blinded and censored by the government. They do not have a free press. No real thought provoking articles come out of the China Daily, the paper that they do have (in the few English prints we are found). Sometimes it is as though there is an attitude that says, I am here, I am taken care of, I don't need to apply myself. I do not know how much of this is true but I do not feel it can be over looked when you contrast the economics, personal attitude, and way of life of the Hong Kong residents to the mainland residents. In the last week of traveling eastward from Chengdu (ending in Hong Kong today) Justin and I have become frustrated with the way that the Chinese treat us and each other. I realize that the customs of China are very different, the people who come from a harder way of life generally treat privaledged, westerners differently, and I don't expect China to emulate the western society, but the Chinese seem to gawk, stare, and be rude more of the time than the people I have encountered in South America and even Kenya. The Chinese tourists seem to be the worst. Queues are especially bad, it is perfectly ok to cut off, push, or go directly to the front. Getting on or off a bus can be sheer chaos. The gawking can certainly be tolerated but Justin was actually petted the other day. Its like we are from the zoo. I guess the way I feel is that I am interested in learning how the Chinese live, what their cultures are, and who they are but when this is reciprocated by trying to rip us off and being petted I become frustrated. We have, however, met a few really nice Chinese people who have been very helpful. They all seem to be thinkers and have a little more self respect. Yesterday for instance, we took a bus from where we got off the Yangtzee cruise to another town four hours away to catch a train. In Yichang we were supposed to be dropped at the train station but instead the driver dropped us at some crazy place. A guy on the bus spoke English and basically got us to the train station, got us tickets, and everything. He probably saved us 3 plus hours. So nice.
So where we have gone....Last post was from Chengdu, a stopping point for activities around the Sichuan Province. The Sichuan Province is famous for its food, the spicy Chinese food typically comes from here. Kung Pow Chicken may be the most famous, we ate lots. We climbed this mountain called Emei Shan which entailed something like 60,000 steps. We had a real hard time walking after that two days. We also went to a panda bear research base to see maybe the most adorable animal in the world. They seem like the most content creatures who just play, sleep, and eat bamboo (which they are mighty picky about). Unfortunately there are only about 2000 Giant Pandas left in the wild, this research base works to breed them and seems to be doing some good things.
From Chengdu we took a bus to Chongqing where we started the Yangtzee cruise down through the Three Gorges (this is where we became frustrated with the Chinese, there were at least 200 people on the boat and only four westerners, they just smoked, spit, and stared the whole time). The first day of the river was mellow. On the second day we motored through the first gorge saw the three lesser gorges. The gorges basically have huge steep walls which are lush and beautiful. The lesser gorges are just smaller, we transferred to a smaller boat and were able to see the walls from a closer distance. The Three Gorges Dam is at the end of the third gorge and is massive. It is the largest dam in the world; we all should have been in the concrete business here a few years ago. I have never seen so much concrete in my life. I think they may have actually planned to concrete the whole town but late in the project they decided against it so they planted some trees in a little section and built a barrier wall to protect what the government calls valuable and prosperous farm land. To me it seemed as though this land was where this city was. Must have been lost in translation, I only saw concrete buildings surrounded by concrete. Of all the records the dam set I think displacing the most people was on the list, but so is the hydroelectric capability, which is something equivalent to 8 nuclear power plants, an impressive engineering feat. The whole dam is a very impressive engineering accomplishment its just that it is damn ugly. The top of the dam provided a very nasty vista. The dam is now finished for the most part, they are currently just working on hydroelectric stuff that will be finished by 2009. The water level when we went through the gorges was at about 135meters; I think before the dam was in operation the level was at 45m and eventually will be up to 175m. We rode our cruise ship through the locks which, of course, were massive but we didn't start the process until 930pm and had to be up at 4am so I just watched us motor in to the first lock.
After the cruise we traveled to Hong Kong where we will be for a few days. It is quite the city, I am looking forward to getting out and checking it out. There is a vast array of international food choices here. Anything you can think up. In China we have eaten some great foods and it has been relatively easy finding food and ordering. Most places in tourist areas have an English menu otherwise we just point to something we want. There are times where it doesn't come out like we thought it might but so far we have not eaten anything too crazy. The Sichuan style of food has been my favorite but those old classics are good to have once in awhile as well such as sweat and sour or dumplings. At restaurants or anytime you sit down for a meal the food is family style. If it is just Justin and I we will order two dishes and then rice. The dishes come out on big plates and we pick our food off of those one piece at a time. My chopstick skills are coming around, I make a mess but so does everyone else. One day we ate dinner in a hostel and they brought us a fork and a knife and I was quite confused so I think I have made the adjustment. We eat off the street when it is convenient. When we are in cities we do lots of walking so it is nice to sit down and rest for a meal. In the mainland of China all the food is so cheap that it really doesn't matter. For us, a $3 dinner person is on the higher end, that's with a beer.
I am going to try and upload some pictures while we are in Hong Kong but I don't have my camera here now so I'll try in a couple days. The digital camera is great, much easier to move around with than dealing with all that film.