Across the Middle Kingdom

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9 August

2 August 1998 - Yangtze River / Fengdu

We awaoke to an unexpected and unwelcome sight: steady rain and occasional lightning. In view of my continued sore throat and raw sinuses, I reluctantly confined myself to the ship. Kat, who persists in being healthy, went ashore to see what our assistant cruise director described as "probably the oldest tourist trap in the world" (2,000 years and still counting). Basically, Kat Nirvana. So my morning was spent reading, while Kat's was spent shopping.

I did not shop-- there was nothing to buy, except for a skull for a young friend and a handful of pocket knives for various others.

The afternoon was given to napping, and for dinner we dressed up to sit at the Captain's Table. Well, the Chief Engineer's Table, actually, since the Captain couldn't get away from the bridge. The Chief Engineer gave a very loud toast in Chinese, leading Kat and I to observe that 30 years in the engine room will have an effect no matter what sort of hearing protection you use. We were also given very nice picture books of the Three Gorges.

We also found out how Fengdu got its reputation as the "Ghost City." Apparently, a couple of millenia ago, two government officials were fleeing some purge or other, and they settled in Fengdu. While there, they became monks. As it turns out, saying their two names together quickly sounds a lot like the Chinese word for "hell." So, Fengdu became known as Hell on Earth, which is the destination for souls after death. The locals, apparently knowing a good hook when they heard one, started creating religious and spiritual attractions so that people would come visit. Over the centuries, they've built massive gardens, statues of demons eating babies, little physical tests (like balancing on a roucnded stone) of one's spiritual worth and purity, and so on. Add to that merchandising of religious tokens and various other "I went to Fengdu and survived" trinkets, and you've got yourself a tourist industry.

I have no idea if this story is true, but it sure sounds plausible, doesn't it?

Just as dinner ended, one of the Jersey Wives stopped by the table to say that she hadn't realized that Kat was the girl on honeymoon with a sick husband. Apparently, the story had gained rather wide circulation. The fact that I'd brought the illness aboard wasn't so widely known. (Speaking of which, I'm mostly convinced that I had-- still have, actually-- the flu.)

The evening was "Fun and Games Night," including the game 'Dragons Seizing Pearls,' the object of which is to pick up marbles with plastic chopsticks and transfer them from one bowl to another. I did fairly well at it, actually, but our team still lost. We also went a couple of rounds of Uno with Eddie, Brandon, and Curtis, and then we played Mahjong with Crandall and Brandon. I'd never played before, and wow, was it confusing. But fun!

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