Imagine: The “Yangtze Sightseeing No. 3 Ferry,” your mode of transportation/home for the next 1.5 days, arrives at the pier a full hour later than its 9:30PM scheduled departure. Baby is exhausted, wife is annoyed. Upon embarking, it becomes clear that the sights on this so-called sightseeing boat will actually be the drunks, tramps, and old workers calling out from the steerage section that you are a spy. Glancing toward your second-class (of three) berthing section, you see shafts of bright incandescent light piercing through thick clouds of cigarette smoke. Then, as you complete yet another registration form that lets China keep track of you, the frumpy clerk says, “Hey, Old Foreigner, move up to first class for $50USD. You’ll have your own room…” three 100RMB bills are out on the counter before she can even finish“…and a private toilet.”
Well, as it turns out, a private toilet on a half-assed-everything (service, cleaning, safety maintenance?) Chinese boat is actually a bad thing. What you really get is not so much a toilet, but a direct air vent from all the over-used and under-cleaned common facilities below. And I’m surprised this is the first time I’ve mentioned this, since the following factoid is actually a pretty significant plot driver for some of our previous stories: in a country of a billion dehydrated chain smokers who eat garlic all day and use
motor oilbaijiu as a sleep aid, all the millions of liters of urine that is produced smells really, really bad. Including all the urine on this boat.
But we’re now moving, and there’s a slight breeze coming through the tiny window. The north bank of the Yangtze, right now an unending cliff face scrolling past like a Chinese painting, looms above. More to come.