Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Yichang (宜昌)

When I arrived by bus in the city of Yichang, I was very hungry, and went straight away to a small restaurant. The owner brought me to the kitchen, to show what was on offer, and I chose a big fish.

The fish was very tasty, but also quite spicy, so a lot of beer was needed to wash it down.

After lunch, I went for a stroll along the Yangtze. Along the river, people were fishing, or were enjoying their afternoon walk:

One could watch big ships travelling upstream:

Near to the bridge, I met a small boy, whose ears were as prominent as my own:

He was watching the ships with his father. From a woman who was passing by, we bought some bananas, and had a snack.

A bit later, two old friends came along:

On my way back, I took a couple of nice sunset pictures:

When it got dark, I went back to my hotel room, because a paper for a conference had to be finished.

The next morning, I got up early. The main reason I had come to this part of China was of course to see THE DAM. From Yichang, you have to take bus No. 8 from Yemingzhu (夜明珠) bus station, which brings you 40 km to the north-west to the town of Sandouping (三斗坪). During the trip, the bus went along a couple of steep gorges, through which many ships were making their way upriver. Probably, this is how most of the Three Gorges had looked like before the dam was constructed. Now the part above the dam looks more like a big lake, however.  

Yemingzhu bus station (夜明珠)

And then there it was. The dam. Compared with all the controversies that sourrounded its construction (see e.g. this very informative Discovery Channel documentary from 2006), the structure looked surprisingly peaceful and harmless in the steamy heat:

With 22 500 MW of installed generating capacity (see a schematic overview below), this dam is the largest in the world. During its construction, around 1.3 million people had to be resettled, and numerous archaeological and cultural sites were flooded.  

To access the site, one has to buy a ticket, which gives you the right to participate in a perfectly organized visiting-tour. Friendly guides explain (through powerful loudspeakers) the many advantages the dam has brought: apart from generating electricity, a significant improvement in flood control downstream and in shipping capacity upstream (now, ships of a size up to 50 000 tons can travel all the way to Chongqing, 300 km to the West).

Two gigantic, 5-stage shiplocks permit the smooth passage of river traffic:

...while an additional ship-lift is still under construction:

From one of the numerous souvenir sellers, I bought some post-cards, which show the site before and after construction of the dam:  

Back in Yichang the next morning, I wanted to have a look at the older Gezhouba dam (constructed in the 1980s as a kind of trial version for the Three Gorges project, 3 km to the north of the city). But I lost my way in a haze of small streets.

All of a sudden, I was in the middle of a bustling street market:

The chicken sellers were selling chicken:


 while the butchers were having fun:

 A guy with a motorcycle was delivering fresh fish:

For a couple of yuan, a wise man would predict the future.

All this was closely watched by the older generation:

Although it was too late by now to get to the Gezhouba dam, in a small bookshop I found some postcards from the time the dam was inaugurated (1988).



In his book about the Yangtze river, Simon Winchester argues that although the construction of the Gezhouba dam was largely a failure (it generated much less electricity than expected, and there were serious problems with silt), the Three Gorges project was pushed forward nevertheless, for political reasons. If he is right, this of course adds controversy to the already quite controversial decision-making process during the Three Gorges Dam construction. 

Happy with my postcards, I now had to hurry, as I had booked a place on a ship that was going upstream to Chongqing. When I was on the way to the river port with my backpack, I again met the two old friends. They were sitting on a park bench, watching the world go by.

Walking to my ship, I had to think of the song by Simon & Garfunkel.