This blog entry about the events of Thursday, September 02, 2004 was originally posted on September 08, 2004.

DAY 320:  Taking a river cruise on the Yangzi River, the world’s third longest, was one of my must do’s in this first visit to China for me — it’s impossible to see everything in one trip — since a lot of people have told me to do it before it’s too late.  At the time of writing, construction of a huge dam was already two thirds complete and when it is finished, the waters upstream from the dam will rise and submerge the natural and man-made treasures along its banks in the same manner the Aswan High Dam of the Nile submerged a lot of Nubian sites in southern Egypt.

The first of these sites came sooner than we thought, at the ungodly hour of six in the morning.  The reason for the landing so early was because the boat didn’t stop at specific locations for the convenience of its tourists on board; when it just so happened to reach a point-of-interest on its way downstream, it docked.  In this case it docked at 5:30 in the morning while we were asleep. 

None of us could really understand was going on since almost no one on the boat spoke English, and they all came to me to translate to the Aussies and Swiss — all I could do was say “Umm… ” and smile.  Fortunately Wayne had done his homework and knew basic phrasebook Mandarin, and one staff girl who was trying to learn English knew a little.  We managed to figure out that the Chinese tour group had left an hour before, leaving us to see the first site, the Ghost City of Fengdu, on our own with our own transportation.

Wayne, Sean, Mandy, Nicole, Sabine and I disembarked and were immediately approached by a taxi driver by the docks who came to me with a proposition in Chinese that I didn’t understand.  With limited words, we managed to hear the driver say he’d take us up the hill to the Ghost City for one yuan per person, a total of five yuan.

MING SHAN, THE GHOST CITY, LIES ABOVE the little town of Fengdu.  It was once the residence of Tianzi, the legendary King of The Dead, who never really went away; his face and body was sculpted and placed on the mountain, conveniently out of harm’s way from the coming rise of water. 

“It’s like a ghost town around here,” Wayne joked as we drove through the deserted streets of Fengdu of demolished hi-rise buildings, presumably so that when the river came higher, boats could cruise by without colliding into a submerged building underneath.  We arrived near the front gate of Ming Shan as the sun started to peek from behind China’s perpetual overcast haze (picture above), and had the driver wait for us for when we were finished.

I’m not exactly sure if it would be a total disaster if Ming Shan was totally submerged, although it was high enough to be out of harm’s way too.  The “treasures” inside were nothing old or historical; in fact, they were downright cheesy.  To tell the story of the Ghost King, people had created a funhouse sort of exhibition of latex figures that would spin around or move their limbs back and forth if you triggered something.  We walked through different rooms depicting torture chambers and Hell, and tried to scare each other by jumping out from behind the next corner.  There were also some cheesy-looking Buddhas that may or may not have been sacred.

“I don’t think you have to worry about offending anyone if you take of photo of that Buddha,” Sean said.

After the cheesy haunted house we had the driver take us to get to get a closer look of Tianzi and then back to the docks before it left — in our confusion, we weren’t exactly sure when it would depart and we played it safe by going early.  The driver, who suddenly knew another English word (“fifty”) asked for fifty yuan, which we all argued over.

“You said one person, one yuan!” Sean argued.

“One yuan per person!” Sabine added.

The driver kept on trying to tell me in Chinese to translate to the others that it was fifty yuan for some reason I didn’t understand.  To be fair, we did alter the original deal — to go one-way to the palace — so I figured we at least owed him three each, one for the palace, one for the statue and one back to the docks.  The rest paid accordingly, a total of fifteen, plus Sean, Wayne and I put in a little more to bring the total to twenty — but the guy was still angry.  A small crowd of locals gathered around the commotion.

“Fifty yuan!”

“No, you said one yuan a person,” I said.  “This is more.”  He almost refused it, waiting for the fifty, but we put it in his hand and walked away.  He drove off and no one seemed to make a fuss afterwards.

AUSTRALIANS KELLY AND NATASHA HAD MISSED the adventure on land, but had their own excitement later on.  None of the cabin doors locked from the outside and it resulted in Kelly’s camera getting stolen.  By some instinct, Kelly suggested that the culprit was one of the four drunk Chinese guys from the next room because she noticed one eyeing their stuff when they left the door open once.  By that same instinct, Kelly somehow figured out that her camera was nearby, in a drawer at the reception desk.  She asked to see what was in the drawer, and lo and behold it was there, in the back, inside a plastic bag.  Apparently one of the drunk guys had it put there for safe keeping under the pretense that it was his, because he started yelling at reception when the woman there gave it back to Kelly.

With that incident, and the fact that the desperate peasants of “stowaway” class was now spilling into the second floor lobby where we were, we took the option that was suddenly available to us:  rent our own room keys.

FOR HOURS THE BOAT CRUISED down the Yangzi, passing the white depth markers showing where the river would rise to — it was two thirds full already.  As the boat followed the current, there wasn’t much to do but watch the scenery go by from the front deck:  different bridges and many generic industrial cities that all looked the same.  With our mixed communication from various people, us Westerners weren’t sure if we were going to stop at any of the few sites as shown on the map I bought.  We kept on wondering where we might stop; perhaps at a big pagoda near the city of Zhongxian we thought, but it only stopped briefly to drop and pick up passengers, mostly more “stowaways.” 

Around six in the evening, twelve hours after our first tourist stop on our first full day on the river, came our second:  the Zhang Fei Temple, built in honor of warrior Zhang Fei who aided Liu Bei to come to power after the end of the Han dynasty.  The temple was far less cheesy than the one we saw that morning, and it too was out of harm’s way of the rising river water level.  Only Wayne and I opted to see it, along side the Chinese tour group of about thirty people on our boat.  We didn’t understand anything and just wandered the temple grounds by ourselves, through its circle doorways, passed its numerous hallways of calligraphy scrolls, and to statues of Zhang Fei alone and with his two partners-in-crime, Liu Bei and Guan Yu, whose stories have been immortalized in the Chinese classic novel, Romance of The Three Kingdoms.

There wasn’t much to the Zhang Fei temple, but it was nice to stretch our legs after being stuck on the boat all day — plus, it was an opportunity to buy ice cream to bring back to the ship.

No more sights were scheduled for the rest of the evening, and so Nicole, Sabine, Wayne and I decided to have another movie night, this time in Wayne’s room, which was still all for him and had plenty of room.  After eating take-out dinner from the cafeteria upstairs (tofu, pork, chicken and rice), we gathered around Wayne’s TV connected to my iBook to watch bootleg DVDs, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village and Anchorman.  Kelly and Natasha thought they were in for more trouble that night when they heard loud screaming, but it was only the shouting coming from Wayne’s room during a hilarious scene where Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, Tim Robbins, Ben Stiller and Luke Wilson all get into a street fight. 

After a day of mediocre sites and not much scenery, we hoped the next day would bring more interesting things — as long as the price for seeing them didn’t jump from five yuan to fifty in a matter of minutes.

Next entry: Gorgeous Gorges

Previous entry: Chicken Styrofoam

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Comments for “Submerged”

  • FELLOW WILL FERRELL FANS:  How come no one told me about “Anchorman?”  I only found out about it when I saw it on the street in Beijing. 

    Keep it classy, San Diego…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/07  at  05:20 PM

  • MARKYT:  turn on your MSN

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/07  at  05:43 PM

  • first??

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/07  at  05:48 PM

  • SARA:  THANKS for the donation!  You’re on the new list!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/07  at  06:04 PM

  • those latex figures are horrible…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/07  at  06:19 PM

  • hey, I got a postcard from lake Baikal, thanks!

    I do like the double faces on those latex figures.  Scary from every angle!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/07  at  06:46 PM

  • Sorry about Anchorman Erik… I’m a HUGE Old School fan, but I haven’t seen Anchorman yet! I don’t know what’s wrong with me!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/07  at  11:55 PM

  • Need a Laugh??


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/08  at  01:05 AM

  • Markyt - that is FANTASTIC!! Thanks. Sending it on…

    And Erik - I got the postcard from Lake Baikal - awesome. Thanks. Still no PC from Egypt. I will try to give another donation soon - gotta be on a damn budget… Blech!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/10  at  11:18 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today,, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.

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Chicken Styrofoam


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