Sunday, March 15, 2009

They say, but she saw

While taking a break this afternoon from a big pile o’ homework for a course I’m taking, I watched about an hour of the Travel Channel’s “Wild China” series. It’s the first of its kind that I’ve seen, that is, the first about not just wilderness and wildlife, but man’s effect on it, around the entire country; it stands to serve the Chinese tourist industry very well, given the panoply of opportunities it suggests for nature lovers. It’s also lusciously filmed and Britishly narrated.

What I thought was interesting in the segment on the area of Guangzi Province around Guilin and the famous Li River was the narrator’s statement that the Li is one of the cleanest rivers in China. Here’s what I said about it on a lazy 1980 boat ride down the Li:

The water of the Li River is famous for being clean and clear. It was certainly clear, as to its cleanliness, considering the amount of spit, candy wrappers, peanut shells, and cardboard boxes (from somewhere behind the kitchen) that our small boat alone contributed, not to mention the questionable disposal from the toilets, I’m not so sure.

And here’s what the Chinese said about it at the time in a little folder we were given:
"Like a dark green ribbon, the Li River meanders zigzag southward. Along the river, there are numerous weirdly shaped hills on the banks. An 83-km journey by boat from Kwelin down the Li River to Yangshuo is just like a scene embroidered with mountains and water on silk brocade. All along the river, there are countless breathtaking scenic spots which one can hardly find time to take in."

I went on to describe it in my own words:
This is surely an understatement. The karsts, hills, mountains, sheer cliffs, and pinnacles seem to go on endlessly in all directions. They reminded us of Zion National Park in sheerness, of Puerto Rico and St. Lucia in lushness. Near the end of the trip the banks are lined with tall, waving strands of bamboo, and the upright forms, ending in curving tips echoed perfectly the shape of karsts in the background. The sky was cloudless, burning hot blue. We sat and stared at the natural beauty but also there was a lot of human life, both along the river banks and in the water itself. We saw innumerable powered junks traveling upstream to Gwelin, loaded with produce...

The boats passed extremely close to our own in places, as the channels which are deep enough to navigate are often very narrow, and even so we frequently heard our boat scraping rocks under our feet. On board we could observe the crews, which were probably a whole family, with young and old, men and women punting, doctoring the sputtering motors, tending boiling contents of a pot or wok on a smoky coal stove. On some boats, toddlers stared amazed as we passed. In many boats we saw dogs. Xiao Wang [one of our escorts] agreed with my suggestion, that perhaps the dog’s duty is to guard the boat, which is perhaps these peoples’ home. The alternative is that the family is planning to eat the dog. But it would be extravagant to feed a carnivore just to eat it when it could be more useful otherwise employed.

We passed some villages on the river banks where we could see women washing their laundry in the river. There was evidence of small fishing industry in these villages, as we could see the nets hanging out to dry and large weirs made of bamboo or reed on the shores. In one spot we saw the small bamboo punts with fishermen and their trained cormorants diving into the water and flying back to their masters to disgorge their catch. We saw only very few of these, and we saw no wild birds of any sort fishing. In fact, I only saw sardine-sized fish in the water, so I’m not sure how important this industry actually is beyond subsistence. All along the river we saw herds of water buffalo, often with several calves.

Can you imagine how much pollution those smoky motorized vessels with their people and dogs (and slop buckets), the water buffalo along the shores, and people washing (?) their clothes, added to the clean River Li?
Note that in the photo (taken in Guilin, same 1980 visit), people are rinsing soil fertilized with dung off the roots and bulbs of their produce in the Li.

1 comment:

  1. The cleanest river. Yikes. Beautifully written as always Veronica. Still, in spite of all, China is one of the places outside of Europe who culture, history, and geography continue to fascinate me. Maybe someday.... I will get my chance. Thanks for sharing. Vicarious is almost as good.