A couple of years ago we did a grand tour of China. Twenty-eight fabulous days exploring central and southern China by bus, rail and boat. I highly recommend such a trip to anyone who has ever thought about going.
The two most memorable experiences for me were the cruises we did on the Li and Yangtze rivers. The Yangtze cruise was three days and started from the controversial Three Gorges Dam, an amazing feat of engineering that displaced enough water to cover 632 square kilometers of land. The cruise down the river passed through some of the most amazing landscapes I have ever seen, with thousands of conical mountains and hills unlike anywhere else on earth. It’s also where I developed a gall bladder infection and ended up spending three days in a people’s hospital, which is a large part of what made that cruise memorable.
You do not want to spend time in a Chinese people’s hospital. I had informed our guide that I had travel insurance and apparently he should have known enough to take me to the tourist hospital, but in retrospect it was a true cultural experience ending up where the common people go for medical treatment. In short, I endured painfully thin mattresses with blood stains and who knows what else on them, children urinating on the hallway floors and toilets that would have shocked even the most hardened skid row bum.
So that was the Yangtze cruise and it’s aftermath. The other cruise we did was on the Li river and was a one day cruise. It too had beautiful scenery and we were served an interesting lunch that was much more authentically Chinese than the fare we endured through most of the trip that led to my infection.
The most memorable aspect of that cruise was the chance to photograph my wife drinking a shot of snake wine. The photo above is of the bottle of said beverage. Snake wine originated in Vietnam and spread from there all over southeast Asia. In Asian medicine snakes are considered to have restorative properties, and many health claims are made for concoctions that contain snake parts. Snake wine is said to promote Yang energy, a pick me up tonic, if you will. They use poisonous snakes in the wine, However, the snake venom is denatured by the ethanol used to make the wine and its proteins are unfolded and therefore inactivated.
My wife was one of the few people in our tour group who got up the nerve to try it, and she pronounced it not bad. I should note that she suffered no ill effects from it. She’s a trooper.