May 02

Today's excursion would be a 300-step climb to the top of the Shibaozhai temple and back... all before breakfast.

Dawn over Shibaozhai

The hill upon which the temple is built is seen from the presidential suite aboard the President 4. In the distance (to the right of the picture) is the new town; its old counterpart has recently been razed, and only a few merchants' tents remain.

Running the Gauntlet

The only useful remains of the old town is this patchwork path along which various merchants -- some displaced farmers trying their luck selling wares -- vie for tourists' yuan.

At the Gate

We've created quite a stir for these booth keepers; we're one of the last ships through the area. No more tourist vessels will ply the waters until -- possibly -- September. By then, the water will have risen several dozen meters.

Below 175 Meters

This view from just inside the gates is several meters below the 175-meter mark, but it seems that it won't be under water. I'm told that a barrier wall will be built just outside, and visiting boats will dock, allowing tourists to descend steps to reach the front gate and the grounds.

At the Foot of the Pagoda

Pilgrims to this temple used to have to climb up the sheer face of this cliff with little more than a chain to help them. A local carpenter commissioned the wooden pagoda to be built to assist them in their ascent. It consists of nine levels to reach the top ("heaven",) plus two more levels to reach "super heaven."

Not a Nail to be Found

The original pagoda was built entirely by using wood joinery; no nails of any sort were used. It was designed to lean against the stone, which bears most of the weight and provides much of the structural integrity. Windows on the remaining three sides afford a view of the surrounding countryside.

Looking Up from Heaven

From the ninth floor one may go directly to the temple, or further ascend the remaining two floors to super heaven

View from "Super Heaven"

This view shows the entrance to the temple compound.

Heaven and Earth

From the north end of the temple, you can look out upon the countryside -- rice paddies and vacant buildings to be demolished. In the distant haze you can make out the new town that replaces them.

Systematic Destruction

All the old buildings have to be removed (for numerous reasons: navigational hazards, removal of family tombs, recycling resources, etc.) and steady progress is being made. In July, this will be under water.

Water buffalo

Once under way again, we see a farmer leading his buffalo to the river's edge; they seem to relish the opportunity and race toward the shore.

On the Bridge

Our river guide takes us onto the bridge of the President 4.

Talented Crew

Not only is the staff of the President 4 extremely courteous and efficient, they're also remarkably talented. Every night they offer us a talent show where, among other things, they demonstrate dances from the various cultural minorities as well as clever sketches and performances.

Long-sleeve dance

Five beauties perform the long-sleeve dance; it's hard to believe they just learned this on the ship, but that's what I've been told.

Chef's Dance

The men get in the act, too. Here they do a chef-themed performance; yesterday they did a comical sketch about a master and two servants as good as any vaudeville act.