|As we continued on our journey down the Yangtze River, we made plenty of new acquaintances. A few of these we communicated with easily but mostly it was via the short-phrase, hand-signals variety. We stopped at a few temples along the way for brief respites including one whose claim to fame was as a tribute to the local warlord beheaded many years back. Supposedly his head was displayed for public viewing before being thrown into the river for posterity. As there was not a single non-Chinese sign up, we gleaned these details from a view of the colourful images portrayed there coupled with "discussions" with one of the crew later on.
Although travel in China has apparently improved vastly over recent years, those from the West are not yet out of the woods. Two young British doctors we met on board were unfortunately neither able to read any characters nor to properly pronounce place names from their pin-yin (anglicized) writings; with the result that they mistakenly purchased tickets on an overnight train trip from Beijing, to Shenyang (near North Korean border) instead of to Xi'an (far southwest of Beijing, see map). Since we heard this story we have been extremely careful in comparing our train tickets to match up the characters of the destinations with those in our guidebooks (there is no pin-yin, only characters, on the train tickets). Had the young physicians not happened on an American couple on board and begun chatting, they would certainly have gotten into a taxi in Shenyang asking to be taken to their hotel in Xi'an and then received the rude awakening. As it was, they could not disembark early as the train was express to Shenyang but at least they knew to head for the airport upon arrival and caught the next flight to Xi'an!
On day 3 we awoke at 5:00 a.m. to be prepared above-decks for our arrival for our first of the Three Gorges. This spectacular scenery will cease to exist late in this decade upon the opening of the Three Gorges dam which will flood all three gorges, and the "three little gorges" (described below) by 70 to 80 metres. It is to be the largest dam in the world and one could not help but hate its planners upon passing through this region of spendour.
The 3 gorges themselves differ markedly in height and length, its portions being 40 km long and up to 900 metres in height. As it had not rained in 3 months in that region, the water level was at a near-record low which likely magnified the drama of the rising cliffs.