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China Cruise

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Water has meant transportation and communication - and in its control through irrigation, life itself - to the Chinese for millenniums. China's rivers and coast give the cruise passenger entree to the country through ancient gateways and, between cities, surround him with the vibrant life of water traffic: sampans, junks, long convoys of small, narrow boats towed like boxcars. It is a highway heavily redolent of the past.

Water is an important symbol of power for the Chinese, the water more commanding over time than stone. It is a concept of time that assumes continuity beyond the lifetime of the individual. The highly prized eroded rocks of classical gardens were often harvested by grandsons long after the death of the man who carefully selected and placed them in lake currents. It is not incidental to an experience of China to be in daily contact with a principle, an element, so integral to Chinese culture.

But the traveler on the Yao Hua (the Brilliant), a newly introduced cruise ship under the direction of Lindblad Travel, will be aware first of the beauty of China's waterways, beginning at the old southern capital of Nanjing (the former Nanking), on the Yangtze. The great legendary river, highway immemorial into the inaccessible interior, its presence laden with the images of centuries of trackers hauling junks upriver along towpaths against the deadly magnificent turbulence of its upper reaches.

At dawn it is a lovely pastel, light blue-gray, with a slight cast of yellow. Seen directly from above, the water seems to have an ocher boiling up in it, a delicate smoke, beautiful, impenetrable. Small accents intensify the monotone. A barge with blue sides and orange bits of structure passes loaded with even conical piles of fine black - coal. A line of junks floats by, their sails bright white in the first sun.

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