October 28

It was a hard night for Angela.   The coal fired boiler (open flames) at the end of the train car was having some difficulties getting started.  For the rest of the night coal smoke gasped through the car.  Angela was in the top berth on the down wind side of the room next which was next to the toilet/wash basin area which was in turn next to the belching boiler.   It was rough, but she didn't let anyone else know until morning.


Not being able to read or to understand announcements can create some challenges. 

We didn't know the train had arrived early in Chongqing (a "q" sounds like "ch" so this city's name sounds like "Chong-Ching").  The kind train steward was surprised to see us in our hard-sleeper room still in wake-up mode.   He motioned for us to get off the train.  Unbelieving, Terry pointed to the map, "Chongqing?".   "Yes," the steward nodded hectically and motioned with his hands for us to rush.   There was no time to change from our sleeping clothes, it was just a matter of gathering up our stuff which ever way we could, putting on our shoes and getting to the platform.  

There are people at train stations who rush into empting cars to search for and take anything of value left behind.  So if you don't have it with you when you leave the room, there is no need to turn back ... it won't be there.   So it was when Terry discovered he had left his slacks neatly hanging on one of the corner bed supports.  There is someone in China walking around right now in crease resistant, stain resistant, good looking khaki-coloured pants.

The sky was still black with night and our way lit only with the neon lights of the city.    We got a taxi and showed him our Yangtze cruise company name and port number.   He drove us to a building near the docks.   The glass fronted building had a few dim lights burning ... we knocked on the door.   On the back side of a double row of blue plastic joined seats a sleepy, tussled haired head popped up.   He got up and did up the button and belt on his pants, put on his jacket and ran spread apart fingers through his hair and headed towards the door and us.   Another younger man staggered out of sleep from another part of the room.   We were not a welcomed sight but they opened the door and invited us in.   Terry brought out the confirmation papers and the young man tried to explain something to us.  

It was fortunate that the driver of the taxi cab had not left and he was able to determine that we needed to go to the docks ... which is where we had wanted to go in the first place ... but now he understood.   We piled back into the cab, after profusely thanking the early risers, and were driven to the docks.   The most kind taxi driver motioned that we did not have to pay for this trip, but we insisted and he was grateful, pointed us in the direction of the pier we wanted and drove away.

Still a little disoriented from our own jolt awakening on the train, we strapped on our backpacks and walked down the narrow side road to the steps which led further down to the docks.   A few people, whether locals or ship workers, were out in the cool air walking, jogging and stretching with tai chi moves.  We passed some cruise boats and got excited about our own trip down the Yangtze.  Through the smoggy fog which rested on the ever flowing river we began to see the cruise boat which was tied up to a scruffy looking orange bottom barge at the pier we were seeking.  The first glance was disappointing.  It didn't look at all like the showy models we just passed.  Perhaps ours was not yet in.  Perhaps.  We searched for alternatives which would alleviate our disappointment and take away the images created by reading disastrous blog reports on the internet.  

Get practical.  Group hug.  We first needed to find a place to wash, brush our teeth, change, stow our bags and eat.   We walked along the river back passed the larger ships, trudged up the stairs, up the road, up more stairs and found what we sought at the port terminal.   We made an agreement with the clerk behind the counter; for payment we could leave our bags with her and she would watch out for them until 5:30 pm.  Before handing them over we needed some of the contents to freshen up and prepare for the day. 

We balanced our bags on some light green plastic seats in a quiet section of the terminal.  Stephen's half opened bag lost its balance, fell off and hit the floor with a crash ... a crash of breaking glass and wide splashes of beer.   In our early morning rushed departure he had tucked two remaining large bottles of pijiu (beer) into his backpack.  His bag now held shards of glass and most of his clothes were saturated with beer.   One good thing ... he had already removed the clean clothes into which he was going to change.    We put all the wet clothes into a white garbage bag we carry for emergencies, picked out the glass from his backpack, picked up and put into the garbage the larger pieces of glass and watch while a lady custodian mopped up the rest with a look of distain upon her face.

Cleaned up we headed out into the streets of Chongqing.  We tried find a place close by to eat but none were open yet.  We tried to get a taxi but each time we started to climb in the driver shook his head no.  We later found out that this is a common problem for tourists in Chongqing.  We walked up streets and down streets and up again until the coffee drinkers in our group said enough is enough.  With help of a local insisting a taxi driver take us, we headed to the Marriott Hotel ... they would have an open restaurant.  


For backpackers having just stepped off an overnight hard-sleeper train with filthy squat toilets, the public washrooms in the Marriott seemed the height of luxury.  


To our delight the Marriott was offering it's Sunday morning buffet.  Decadence!  We were going to enjoy this true vacation (albeit only two hours) from our travels.  Bacon and eggs and toast and yogurt and fresh fruit.   Yum.


Warm, full and awake we all took one more look at the luxurious bathrooms of the Marriott and went back out onto the streets of Chongqing.   As we overlooked the river, we wondered what we might do for the rest of the day.  A massage ... of course.   There was an advertisement for massages out front of the beautiful building we were looking down upon.  The decision was made ... and the thought of a relaxing, yet inexpensive (by Western standards) massages pleased us all.  


Inside the building we took a moment to look at the view and then took the elevator upstairs and searched for the right door in the long hallway.

At the door we peered into the open room.  The two girls sitting on a sofa in the waiting room were a little surprised to see us.  The taller of the two dropped the blanket from around her shoulders and approached us.  The seconded opened a curtain slightly on a door frame opposite the door where the four of us stood.  A pink bulb shone dimly in the room beyond. She then proceeded to remove her sweater showing her well endowed figure in a low-cut-skin-tight black stretch-top.  Wanting to make the boys feel even more welcome she proceeded to unzip her top down below her bra line.  Angela and Sherrie had seen enough and made an about-turn with the fellows in tow.  We had all heard about Chinese "happy ending massages" and a pink bulb was the trade mark for such services.  


Terry & Stephen teased the girls on how disappointing it was that we would turn our backs and walk away from an opportunity to experience some local culture.


Tour buses within a city have their purpose and when available we often use them to get acquainted with a city; but there is nothing better then to get down at street level and walk eye to eye with the locals, seeing their home as they see it. 


It wasn't long before we joined a swell of people moving towards a monument.   


The 27.5 metre tower stands in the centre of a square where three roads cross one of China's major pedestrian streets.  It was built in 1945, replacing a wooden structure, and named "Monument to the Victory of Anti-Japanse War" (World War II).   In 1950 it was renamed again to "Chongqing People's Liberation Monument".   The streets which spoke off the square offer a myriad of eating options  and claim to be the city's "largest snack streets".   Still full from our Sunday brunch, lactose intolerant Stephen tried a McDonald's taro pie while the rest of us gave into a soft ice cream and then sat on one of the many benches and did some people watching.


It started raining as we entered the Luohan Si Buddhist Temple/Monastery.  The sharp contrast of old and new softened like the curls of incense smoke within.


Heading back to the port terminal to fetch our backpacks we left the modern high rise buildings and shopping centres, passed middle class Chongqing dwellings and then down steps and walkways of the much less affluent of Chongqing's population.

Though they may not have the financial means to make life more comfortable we couldn't help but notice how orderly their humble dwellings were.  A woman used the light of the doorway to wash her dishes in a small plastic tub.  A man with a straw broom swept the stairway.  Near the bottom of the walk, we looked down over a car bridge and greeted two ladies who were sitting in, and sorting, a pile of plastic bags while a gentleman, armed with a large stone, was flattening pop cans from a pile which seemed to show no end.  We counted our blessings.

We made a right when we should have made a left.  As we walked and walked we greeted people along the way ... like the lady with her baby in a basket upon her back.  We walked and walked getting wetter and colder with each block.  We were finally successful in getting a taxi.  Showing a business card we had taken from the port terminal the driver made a U-turn and headed back in the direction we had come. 


Once we had our backpacks we walked down to the pier where we were to board our cruise boat.  We did so with a little apprehension.


She looked far better in the after sunset dark with her lights flickering across the Yangtze's water.


Once aboard it was smooth sailing.  Jackie, our "River Guide" with a winning smile introduced herself.   A gentleman named Terry quickly showed us to our rooms and asked if he might show us a possible upgrade.   The request was not totally unexpected thanks to an internet blog.    The upgrade was nice but not worth the price being asked.  The rooms we had were adequate.  Not the class we had expected but adequate.  On the plus side our rooms were right across from each other and both abutting the library/lounge.


Other than an ice cream cone, we hadn't eaten since brunch, so up in the bar (the only thing open) we ordered some food.   It was expensive, the quality mediocre, but it was the 20% service charge which stopped us in our tracks.  The bill had been presented along with the food and we told them to either remove the service charge or take the food back.  Terry spoke with Jackie and the 20% was removed.   Recommendation for those boarding the night before sailing ... eat elsewhere.


We made a toast with pijiu.  Stephen planned to have some laundry done to get the pijiu out of the clothes in his backpack.  We relaxed and settled in.  The next four days we will spend on the Yangtze  ...  it was going to be great.



click here to continue to October 29 and Yangtze Cruise ...



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