THE ORIENT EXPRESSED: Chongqing and Sailing the Victoria Selina

 Travel Dates: July 13-14, 2011

Well, it turns out you CAN get Wi-Fi on the boat for 150 yuan (about 30 bucks US), so here we are. Thursday was the first full day on our ship, the Victoria Selina, which we boarded in Chongqing.  Chongqing is a municipality of about 32 million people, all of whom seemingly live in apartment buildings that could pass as skyscrapers elsewhere (some 30 plus stories high), and if yours was built before Y2K, you’re really out of luck because those have no elevators! Chongqing was also the site of an infamous airborne massacre by the Japanese during WWII which not only killed thousands of Chinese, but destroyed much of the city’s 3000 year old architecture and other antiquities. During our mercifully brief city tour (it was pouring and we had no umbrellas), we were taken to a lovely guild hall, part of which survived the Chongqing Massacre, and part of which has been impressively restored, and then to city hall. We then headed for a spicy Sichuan dinner before embarking on the ship.

As I write, I’m sitting in the 5th floor lounge area, which is one of the two places here where Wi-Fi is available. There is some Chinese soft rock wafting through the system, which sounds a lot like Euro pop ( the pop music trends in China seem to lean to boy bands with crazy haircuts), and the ship is moving slowly along the river through the countryside. The Yangtze River is quite brown and muddy, and the ubiquitous haze and fog doesn’t add to the scenery, but this is still an excellent experience. We’ve chosen to forego the glorified shore excursions to nowhere, opting instead for some r and r from all the sightseeing /shopping stops.

We have assigned seats for shipboard meals and have gotten friendly with our table mates: Nick and Sheryl are from New Zealand and are traveling with their six year old son, Dylan, who’s a freckled and precocious hoot; Gordon and Dang, his Thai-born wife, are from London and appear to be in their sixties. Gordon and Dang are like Penn and Teller, he pretty much speaks for both of them (although he swears he can’t get a word in edgewise at home :)) They’re all very sweet, and we just spent a couple of hours chatting with them on Nick and Sheryl’s balcony in the ship’s “Shangri-La Suite”. This is pretty much a miniature version of a typical cruise, which to me means lots of eating when I’m not hungry. Needless to say, resistance is futile but I’m giving it the old college try.

Observation: Onboard mealtimes are fascinating, especially buffets. Today’s captain’s reception was an interesting example. There was free-flowing sparkling wine and juice for the children, in addition to a table full of appetizers. Right before the captain’s toast and invitation to enjoy the appetizers, this 7 or 8 year old Chinese boy made it his business to bend over and sniff each and every item on the table. This lapse in hygiene and etiquette only seemed to bother Westerners though because after the captain finished his toast, the alacrity with which our Chinese counterparts swarmed the table was almost alarming. Imagine feeding pigeons in Central Park and you start to get the picture. Mealtimes present a similar phenomenon; people don’t line up, it’s every man for himself. We’ve now made it a practice of being ten to fifteen minutes late to meals. That way we avoid the rush (the Chinese diners are very punctual) and there’s also a good chance that the food would have been replenished from the initial rush.

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