THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JAMES A. BONDOUX

HIGHLIGHTS OF CHINA

The Great Wall

We traveled to a fairly remote part of the Great Wall early in the day, and had it to ourselves.

More Great Wall

We had read about it, of course, but weren't prepared for the sheer scale of the thing. Boggles the mind.

East King

The East King tied to a floating dock on the Yangtze.

Dragons

Fantastic Dragons protect the imperial barges at the Summer Palace.

The Bund

The Bund is Shanghai's promenade along the Yangtze River.

Silk Factory

Production line at the silk factory in Suzhou: the ladies are unwrapping the silkworm cocoons.

TerraCotta

The extraordinary battalion of Terra Cotta warriors in Xian.

Stella

We considered ourselves very fortunate to have Stella Kwong as guide and group leader. She knew all the short cuts and was a true Mother Hen for all of us.

In October 2002, we went off on an exploration of the key sights of China, starting out in Shanghai, visiting Xian, cruising the Three Gorges of the Yangtze, and ending up in Beijing. We joined a small tour group put together by Abercrombie & Kent (“A&K”), well-known for their superior travel arrangements in Asia.

In Shanghai, we strolled the Bund, and lunched at the Metropole Hotel, which reminded me of my grandmother Adelaide Mitchel, always an intrepid traveler, who stayed there during her visit sometime in the 1930s. The centerpiece of Shanghai’s People’s Square is the huge, new Museum of Art and History, where Kathryn was particularly impressed by a display of 10,000-year old bronze coins.

The walled city of Xian was quite mysterious, with the red sun setting behind a smoky haze, typical of China’s provincial cities, while we rode bicycles around the top of the fortifications. Outside of the city, we spent hours strolling around the excavations of the Terra-Cotta warriors, an amazing achievement of ancient China.

The motor vessel East King was our home on the waters of the Yangtze. As this tourist vessel is actually owned by A&K, our little group received superior attention and service during the three-day cruise, which was punctuated by superb banquets in the special panoramic forward lounge reserved for us.

The Yangtze teems with vessels of all kinds, being a the main transportation link between the hinterland and coastal China. Most of the riverbank towns and farms have disappeared, abandoned and dynamited in advance of the flooding that will result from completion of the Three Gorges Dam. The silty, flowing river will be replaced by a 350-mile long lake, and the ultimate water level will rise more than 300 feet above the level at which we cruised. The scenery will be changed forever, and the spectacular, steep gorges (one of which is named “The Devil’s Gate”) transformed into lakeshore hills.

(P.S. In late 2007, it seems the Three Gorges dam is proving to be an unmitigated environmental disaster, with dozens of landslides and cave-ins caused by water pressure in the new reservoir, algae blooms in the majestic river's tributaries, millions of rodents chased from their burrows, and the need to relocate hundreds of thousands more people. The removal of the silt by the dam has caused the downriver flow to accelerate, resulting in the erosion of levees and dikes.)

We were dragged upstream in a "peapod boat" on the swift Shennong, a tributary of the Yangtze, by modern-day descendants of the Ba people, whose language is sung, not spoken. Obviously, the peapod boat excursion will disappear along with the Shennong's rapids.

The obligatory stops in Beijing included immense Tienamen Square, the Forbidden City (in which we were stunned to find a Starbucks outlet!), and a visit to the Great Wall. The scale of these architectural accomplishments far exceeded our expectations.