Three Gorges Dam!

We spent our last excursion day of the trip at the Three Gorges Dam, by far the largest power producing facility in the world. It is the largest concrete structure in the world, has the greatest flood control capacity, and has increased cargo shipping upstream by over five times. It also displaced more people than any other dam and is blocking sediment from flowing downstream, which will lead to Shanghai’s demise later. Environmentally, it is one of the most controversial projects in the world. So it’s both good and evil I guess.

While the Three Gorges Dam was one of the places I really wanted to visit in China, I thought the chances of visiting during this semester’s trip were less than 0%. It wasn’t on the Davidson website as one of the places we were going (although in hindsight, that list meant nothing). It is sort of in the middle of nowhere. You don’t just accidently end up at the Three Gorges Dam. You have to intend on visiting it, and with our two classes being about Chinese Culture and Chinese Literature, I was pretty sure a trip to the Three Gorges wasn’t going to fit into either of those classes.

Then Tibet was too high and dangerous, Inner Mongolia was too cold and barren, Chengdu written on the white board as a joke got some hypothetical talk going, then consideration, then it became part of the plans, and Chongqing is part of Sichuan too so might as well, and they have river boat cruises from Chongqing down the Yangtze, and those go to many historical/cultural sites and just so happen to end at the Three Gorges Dam, and boom, we were at the Three Gorges Dam three months later.

We were with two other boats going through the locks.

We were with two other boats going through the locks.

For me, the highlight of the dam was going through the ship locks at night. There were five locks, each one lasting about 40 minutes. Each lock would bring us down about 70ish feet in about ten minutes and the rest of the time was spent opening/closing the gates, moving into the next lock, securing the boat, and sitting there waiting for other boats. The locks lasted from 11:30pm to 3:30am. Alex and I were two of the four people that stayed on the observation deck for the whole thing. Everyone else on the boat went to bed by the second lock. I found the whole tedious process exhilarating. These were the Three Gorges Dam ship locks! I knew about these when I was 12, and

After 70ish feet of water was drained out.

Here is the same lock ten minutes later. Each lock drained 70ish feet of water. After five locks, we were 350 feet lower than when we started. 

here I am! The massive scale and engineering of it all made me feel that China pride again, and I’ve only been here three months. Maybe it was more of a human species pride. I’m not really sure. For a few hours, I forgot about all the river dolphins and many other species this project pushed to extinction. Go humans! Whether for better or worse, China has definitely accomplished something here.

The next morning was spent touring the area around the dam. The dam was impressive, but the tour itself was… underwhelming. In fact, it might have been the worst put together tour I have ever been on, and coming from me, that is saying something. I’ve been on hundreds of tours on seven continents, and this was got the gold medal for the worst.

  • Was the point of the three-hour long Three Gorges Dam tour to keep us from seeing the dam? Okay, maybe it was foggy so you couldn’t see the dam if you were more than half a mile away, but why were we never within half a mile until the last five minutes? Do they think we all have rocket launchers in our bags or something?
  • No, I don’t want to spend half of the tour at a treeless park that has nothing to do with anything. Cool, there is grass. Great engineering feat landscapers.
  • 30 minutes at a gift shop. Are you serious?!
  • Oh, thirty minutes left on the tour? Are we going to go to the dam yet? Oh no, we are going to stare from an awful vantage point at other boats going through the ship locks you just spent all of last night going through yourself.
  • What dam tour doesn’t let you onto or inside the dam? Hoover and Grand Coulee dam in the U.S. allow you to see the turbines and inner workings of the power plant inside the dam, and the U.S. is the most paranoid country in the world. You would think China would want the world to see the largest power generating plant in the world up close. I guess I expected too much. Bring out the dynamite.
They should rename the tour the park and fountain tour.

The park and fountain tour.

Despite my rant, I was still happy to be there. Spending ages 8 to 16 watching Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and National Geographic, I had seen many shows on the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. It was almost like I was getting yearly updates about the dam’s construction through these programs. Those days seemed like a different lifetime, and then here I was, at the Three Gorges Dam itself. It’s a weird feeling learning about something half a world away and then finally visiting it.

In the last ten minutes of the tour, we got to see the backside of Three Gorges Dam. Still pretty cool.

In the last ten minutes of the tour, we got to see the backside of Three Gorges Dam. Still pretty cool.