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Monday, March 27, 2006

Lemmings on the loose

On my first trip to China in December I quickly learned the difference in personal space between Western and Asian cultures. So, I am accustomed to this. Also, I have experienced what being caught up in a REAL crowd is like, both in Wuhan and Shanghai. However, the introduction of a being on a Chinese citizens' tour of their wonderful country wasn't an initiation I had anticipated.

The next day was Saturday and we began our fully-packed adventure up all three of the Three Gorges. Michael came to fetch us and get us downstairs where he said we'd board a smaller boat and then would transfer to wooden boats. He acted like we were in a hurry so we just followed along. Descending to the first floor Marilyn and I quickly learned we hadn't even begun docking procedures and already we were caught in a crowd of eager tourists who wanted to be at their destination now.

Looking around, since I tower over nearly everyone, I could see we were at least a good 15 minutes away from any chance of disembarking. As we stood there feeling like two sardines slowly squeezed into the can, Marilyn mentioned how dangerous a situation this was. She's right. It was. It's then I started thinking about the ship's balance, of all 300 passengers concentrated in one place. I arrested my thoughts; can't do anything right now, I reasoned. Closer and closer everyone bunched together as the pent up anticipation built. Elbows, knees, hands, body odor, cigarette smoke...it was a bit much for me. However, I hadn't anticipated what would happen next.

As we docked the sardines turned into spawning salmon, desperate to fight their way up stream to spawn. The door opened and all I can say is I have an appreciation for what it must be to be a lemming...hurling forward with the force and velocity of the collective. Being caught up in this lemming lunge is what I would imagine a sinking ship or a building on fire would be like...swept along without much control of your personage. A totally alien experience, but a normal one within this culture, Marilyn and I discussed—after we survived the beach assault—how to change our strategy with Michael.

We continued our travels and switched to another boat. Michael came by to tell us that we would dock at several places and then go to the wooden boats. Then, unexpected by us, he got off the boat. Marilyn and I discussed his departure...something totally unexpected since it was our understanding he was our guide and would be with us at all times. Hum...

Fortunately, Marilyn has lived in China for 6 years and while she hasn't mastered the language, she has been 'around the block' enough times, and this made her 4th trip up the 3 Gorges, we felt relatively okay.

In about an hour we docked and we assaulted the docks which was lined with food and trinket sellers. Confused, we disembarked, not knowing when the boat would take off, since we don't speak Chinese. So, we did what a lemming does, follow the rest of the pack. It was interesting to see what the Chinese purchased as souvenirs. Neither of us saw anything of interest so we walked around until we heard the boat's horn blare and made haste to the ship. It pushed out quickly and we headed towards our next destination. About another hour down one of the gorges we headed. Again, we disembarked, but this time all the other tourists received a ticket for something. Hum...is this another thing that's "extra" for us? Well, of course!

We opted not to figure out how much the gatekeepers of the temple wanted to add to our trip and decided to just hang around, take photos of each other and discuss the vendors. Marilyn remarked how this, her 4th trip up the 3 Gorges, was yet again very different than all three previous visits. And she was able to maintain this record throughout the trip. In fact, I would ask her where do you think we'll go, or what time do you think we'll be a certain place...and every time she was able to point out she had been wrong. Another dimension of conversation for us, since we both have a lot in common—lived in Alaska, from Oregon, George Fox University, teaching—and it seemed to grow with each passing hour.

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