So where were we? Oh yes, on our way up the Daning river in the Lesser Three Gorges by boat. We made our second stop at a small town that had some interesting signs in addition to the normal souvenier hawkers. The geologists I was touring with had a field day browsing the vendor's collection of rare rocks and minerals. As an engineer I found it interesting to watch them try to figure out which ones were real and which were fake or mislabeled, but eventually our boat showed up at the other side and we went back on our journey. Here are a couple pictures from our stop over:

As we wound our way up the Lesser Three Gorges, we came upon a rather strange sight... we found a bunch of kids waiting for us as we came around a bend. As soon as they saw us coming, they ran down to the shore carrying long bamboo poles with small baskets on the end. These kids were awfully scraggly looking, to put it nicely, and according to our tour guide, never walked through the door of a school. Apparently they live in a remote village up in the hills and come down to panhandle from tourists whenever possible.

So that's where the poles and baskets come in, these kids waded out into the freezing cold water and tried to reach our boat with the baskets so as to collect money from us as we pass by. All this was accompanied by the incessent chant of "xiansheng gei wo qian!" -- meaning "Mister please give me money!" in Chinese. It echoed off the canyon walls til we were out of pole range and they could get no more money from us. Here's some vidcaps and a clip of the scene:

- Accosted by riverborne panhandlers(722k)

Eventually we made it up to a fork in the river, where the daning river meets another small tributary. This tributary flows through the 'small small three gorges'. This is where our boat stopped for lunch (this is actually only partially up the third 'small three gorges' before turning back. [The fact that there are three nested sets of gorges, all of which appear in threes makes me wonder if its a coincidence or if people are just getting creative in deciding when one gorge starts and the next one stops so that it will end up being three]. The place we stopped was pretty much a sandbar (well, 'gravel-bar') on the side of the river, like all the other places we stopped, there were plenty of locals waiting for us, but this time they had tents and tables set up for sit down eating in addition to the normal food stands.

On the way back downstream we got a good glimse of some wild monkeys that live in the area. Pretty amazing, they were swinging up and down the side of the cliffs:

- The monkeys caught in action.(1406k)

A few more random shots from the rest of the Small Three Gorges:

- A view from the mouth of the Daning river after we got off the boat, the water level will be above the bridge after the dam is complete.(352k)

After this, we got back on the ship for the rest of the 'big' three gorges. We had a good 3 or 4 hours of sunlight left to see the second gorge, we wouldn't reach the final gorge where the big dam is being built until after dark. But that's OK, as it is still an active construction site, they're working on it 24 hours a day, so it was lit up by the time we finally got there. Our main tour guide gave us a running description of the gorge as we passed through it. Its really odd, but Chinese people apparently are WAY into natural formations that look like other things. The whole time I was struggling to understand what he was saying but basically it was always "see that rock over there? doesn't it look like a young woman's head? ...doesn't that look like an old man lying down? doesn't that look like a dragon?" Can't say I found this aspect of Chinese culture particularly interesting.

- The view from the back of our boat as we plied through the Three Gorges at sunset.(749k)

- I stuck my head in the engine room to get a look at the diesel engines.(718k)

The sun set as we entered the third gorge. Later that night we passed through the dam site, from the look of it, they had it about 2/3 of the way across the river, and all along the top the phase two construction was still underway (phase 1 is the first 135m, phase 2 is the next 40 meters). Immediately after the dam site, there is a nice suspension bridge and then another small dam, which is already used for flood control. It took our ship a good 30 minutes to get through the lock, then we stopped in the nearby town of Yichang, where I disembarked.

Actually everyone had to disembark even though they were planning on going further down to Wuhan. Turns out one of those engines I had video taped a few hours earlier had broken down, so rather then limp the rest of the way down the river, the ship was stopping for the night and they were going to bus all the passengers the rest of the way to Wuhan. But I went to another cheap hotel for the night and booked a train ticket to Beijing for the next afternoon. Yichang was a nice small city, everyone was really nice, not a lot of pollution, I hardly spent more then 6 waking hours there before my train left. One memorable thing was how I almost got caught in the middle of a fist fight when my taxi driver apparently bumped into this guy as we were pulling into the train station. After about 10 minutes of yelling I just passed him my cab fare and took off, so I don't know how it actually turned out. I didn't want to miss my train to find out.

The rest of my trip (about 6 days) was mostly centered around seeing old friends. I spent three days in Beijing, my good friend and former Beijing Team member Li Jing was back visiting her family over the holidays so we hooked up and hung out with some other Beijing team people. As my time was growing short I next went to Xiamen down in Fujian to visit my old roommate Jimmy. Then it was an overnight bus back to Shen Zhen, spent the day there with my friend Tong Jun (recent graduate of the Wuhan sports university), mostly shopping for cell phone accessories, the highlight being the light up Kenny (from South Park) that lights up and talks when you get an incoming call on your phone. As this is a family website, I can't repeat what he says when its activated... Then in the late afternoon, I packed up and then crossed the border back into Hong Kong.

Here are a few random shots from Beijing and Xiamen (taking pictures wasn't a priority for this part of the trip):

- Li Jing and I visited former Beijing Team member Li Ying at her wushu class.(488k)

I had one night in Hong Kong before leaving the next morning to return to the US, so I wanted to get some last minute HK shopping in. I went with a friend to hotpot in Mongkok followed by some shopping at the night markets. The cool thing was I was actually an eyewitness to a real life police raid on video pirates. We were walking through the market, heard someone yelling, there were about 5 police officers coming around the corner, as soon as the pirates heard their lookouts yelling, they grabbed all their stash and started bookin' and of course the cops took off after them. Something straight out of a HK movie! :)

Ok, hope you all enjoyed this. It was a great trip. I have a ton of stories that I didn't get to include... but hopefully this is enough to get the jist of the trip across. If I get a chance, I might go back and capture a few more video clips...