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First Day on the Yangtze River

During an interview about his trip to China on 16 August 2005, Yi-Fu Tuan, in order to retell his river experience, turned to his computer screen and read a portion of his manuscript "Coming Home to China." The audio was originally recorded to document an interview at Dr. Tuan's office in Science Hall, University of Wisconsin-Madison by Melanie McCalmont. Audio was re-recorded on 22 May 2009.

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Yi-Fu Tuan on the Yangtze
Photo by A-Xing Zhu of Yi-Fu Tuan on the riverboat East King on the Yangtze River, 9 June 2005.


The text below the audio window is a transcript of Tuan's audiorecording. This audio reading from the manuscript differs slightly from the finished text which is found on pp. 123-126 of his book "Coming Home to China." (2007, Univ of Minnesota Press) This transcript should not be used as a substitute for the published book.

Yi-Fu Tuan reads:

"Early in the evening of June the 9th, the Zhu family and I walked up the plank into a chandeliered circular foyer. A disciplined staff of young male and female attendants, all good-looking and smartly uniformed, showed us to our cabins. Even though A-Xing and Samuel, having been there before already knew where they were, we had to go through our choreographed paces and I must say I enjoyed the social dance. Indeed, I enjoy almost all social dances in which I play a minor but dignified part. Each cabin, though small, was clean and comfortable, equipped with bed lights and table lights, telephone, toilet, washbasin and shower. The East King, that's the name of the boat, was scheduled to remain moored until the middle of the night when, with all passengers asleep, it set to sail.”

“I woke up a little after six and looked out of the porthole and saw the Yangtze River flowing by and the yellow and green hills. For a moment I was flooded with the wonder and pure happiness of a child. What happened? My guess is that a set of circumstances came together that is unlikely ever to be repeated. Having slept well, a rare occurrence at my age, played a role. And that itself requires an explanation.”

“The first night on the riverboat I tucked myself between the clean sheets of my small but comfortable bed and twitched the knob by my bedside so that the lamp gave rise to a warm, orange glow. I smiled at the thought that I had passed the midpoint of my journey and that the rest would be easy since no speaking engagements lay ahead. I realized, finally, that I could be irresponsible, that I didn’t have to worry about buying plane tickets, checking in and out of hotels, even paying a cab. That because A-Xing had clearly taken charge and was going to mind all the harassing details of travel, I could be as free and easy as Samuel and Alex. Samuel and Alex didn’t carry any money. I, an adult, went back to China loaded with Traveler’s Checks, Chinese yuan, American dollars, and coins that distended my coat pocket. But waking up on July the 10th I finally realized I didn’t need any money, that in the paradise of my second childhood I had no use for it. I’m sure the children, without a care in the world, slept well and I did, too, for the same reason.

“Sleeping in a riverboat, at rest and yet moving forward to a pre-set destination, was a new experience for me. I savored it, wallowed in it, as a child might. But there was something else that morning, something that required a degree of maturity. An awareness that I wasn’t floating on any river. I was floating on one of the great mythic rivers of the world. And only waking up on the Nile or Euphrates could induce in me a comparable degree of wonder.”




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