Mar. 23, 2023

Searching for China's Water (27) The Indicative Product of Climate Change

Words and Pictures by Yongchen Wang

On July 15, 2009, a few members of the expedition sleeping in the tents were awakened by the sound of the sheepskin "blower" made by the herdsmen.

Lying in my sleeping bag, I watched the flames flicker up and down, dancing to the music in the background. My mind was still in a dream. I had been doing some special news programs in the Central People's Broadcasting Station. The broadcast used live unedited audio most of the times, so I'd never done anything with pre-recorded audio like for an art program. And in this night's dream, I was recording a symphony at the central station. So the moment I woke up, I still reveled in the excitement of symphonic recordings. 

It was a very strange dream so I told what I had dreamt to Yong Yang who walked into the tent. Maybe the reason for these dreams was the warm and comfortable pastoralists’ tent; or it was because we had experienced so many hardships and adventures these days; or because the beauty of the river source; or because the river source was facing a huge ecological crisis. All of these things added together seemed to me like a huge symphony.

Thinking about the recorded symphony in my dream, I suddenly asked myself: was the most ethnic symphony also the most worldwide one? Was the most primitive one also the most modern one? What were the differences between the tents of herders in the river source and the American tourists camping tents?  
If there were no humans in the river source, what would it be like? What if there were a lot of people then?
Yesterday when I first entered the tent, I felt it was dirty and chaotic. But after one night's sleep,  the place had become a place I did not want to leave.

We were in the tent before going to bed
We were in the herdsmen’s tent to avoid the rain and got a rare moment of warmth (taken by Zhou Yu)

The Yangtze River was our mother river; the glaciers were the iconic products of the climate change; the wilderness was a living museum which demonstrated the root of our lives. However, the only people who coexisted with nature were pastoralists. What caused this phenomenon?  I asked heaven and earth: who was going to answer?
The questions that I posed which Yong Yang had heard, were immersed in his thoughts also. He said that we had walked at an altitude of 5400 meters for 16 hours and hoped that the day we found serac clusters, we could see how the Geladandong River was gathered clearly. This could be seen as a big gain in our visit.
Sitting beside the jumping flame which was blown by the sheepskin pouch "blower", something caused Yong Yang to fill with emotion. There are so many people who depend on the Yangtze River, and there are so many people concerned about the Yangtze River, but only a few people, with a few broken cars came here looking for water to search for the source of Yangtze River. Our path through the river source was a virgin land which had never been stepped on by mankind. Is that a good thing?
Yong Yang said that the Tuotuohe River was not the only one chief source of the Yangtze River. It may have more than three sources: the Tuotuohe River, the Dangqu River, and the Qumarhe River. In addition, the Geladandong snow-capped mountain may even be one of the glaciers as the source of the Yangtze. We could not come close to every glacier that fed the Yangtze River even though each glacier needed our cognition and exploration. Of course, we could never achieve a full understanding of the river source. It is a warning for humans that in the face of nature, we can not be arrogant.

A simple breakfast left a pile of junk

When we were in the river source, daily breakfasts were prepared by Yong Yang. In the herdsmen's tents during breakfast, Yong Yang opened bags of instant porridge and wondered how such a simple meal could generate so much garbage. So many politicians, economists and environmental experts ignored the excessive packaging when talking about energy-saving and emission reduction. Was our planet large enough to accommodate so many human-made packages?

Directing the Way

When we were on the road on July 15, 2009, we did not know that we would have to drive in the mud the whole day. The Mitsubishi sport utility vehicle, whose circuits caught on fire, had to be pulled out of the river source area by two cars who had many problems of their own.  
In fact, if we abandoned it from the start and let the other two cars go out first to find replacement parts we would not need to struggle in the mud all day. We finally left it in a hillside in the darkness. However, Yong Yang's final decision was to have the broken Mitsubishi pulled out of the swamp.

The car was dragged out
Car was stuck in the mud and was pulled out backwards
Two cars pulled together

A river source IS a river source. Although the current global climate has changed, the glaciers have melted, the wetlands have dried, and the riverbed had dried out, it still had mud. If the river bed had some water, our car had the possibility of driving through it, but in the mud, there was no chance we could drive across.

Going forward in the Swamp
After the car was pulled out of water
  Looking for water
We counted the times that the car was stuck in the mud in the past. On July 14 when the car got stuck while sailing across the water, we had to use a car jack and put wood under the tires for traction 12 times. But on July 15, we lost count of how many times we got stuck. We set out at 10 am and by 4 pm we could still see the tent that we slept in the night before.
Xian Xinchen, a member of our team, was a CEO of a real estate company. Since he met Yong Yang, getting close to nature became one of his hobbies. Whatever he did was always well organized. To keep our three cars going, everyone needed each others’ pulling, but he would explore the way ahead by himself to search for a road. Waiting for him made everyone worried, although when he came back, he would tell us how far a road was ahead of us and he gave us hope. What’s more, Xian Xinchen tried to let us know the best path to take and this was a great help to me.

Pulling the broken car out of the Wetlands

The steel wire gathered around the river source and the fences that were waiting to be constructed, was was quite inconceivable to us. The greatest harm of fencing the area was the threat it posed to the wild animals’ living space. Was this indeed for the protection of the river source? Are there any differences between this and spending 1.5 million buying equipment for the construction of stations only to abandon it for 6 years because no one could use it?
Did such places need fences and who needed to be intercepted?

In the river source, the sun went down after 9:30. On this day, we set up at about 10:00 am, and at 8:40 pm, we finally pulled the broken car to the dirt road.
It had been said that if you wanted to be rich, you should first build roads. But when the Taiwanese writer Murong Xi returned to his hometown in Inner Mongolia, he said the road destroyed the culture of his hometown. In recent years, our country engaged in a program that made sure every village had roads, which involved a considerable effort. However, when we interviewed people in the Nu River these years, a Lisu guy told me that the excavators ruined their mountains in a second, and then disasters like landslides and debris flows occured. We said it was a natural disaster, but was it natural? It was entirely artificial.
When we were studying in the river source, a big challenge for us was getting our cars free from the muddy terrain. Therefore when our cars went back on the man-made road, the following feeling was that it is so nice that there are roads.
That's what people are like. They always establish their own sights and their own feelings as standards. Although the frog in a well was a story that we Chinese people learned from childhood, getting a comprehensive look at the relationship between nature and man, and nature and society was a situation that had to be learned from experience.
New situations came up and the roads were constantly dangerous. Plateau exploration was dangerous even for a national level exploration team, let alone Yong Yang's private expedition.

Signs were on the road. We did not know what had happened to another group of people.

A couple of days ago, three people who could not handle the high altitude of the plateau had driven a car in advance to leave. They left a message for us but we did not know what had happened. Although the road was easy to travel, everyone's heart had jumped to their throats.
It had snowed heavily and because our cameras were wet or bad, we could not capture the snow on the way which was very unfortunate. It was really beautiful. But this also made our journey more risky, which coupled with worry, made the road seem quite long.
When the sky was completely dark, we pulled our broken car to a stop before a high slope. Even if we had two more cars, we wouldn't have been able to pull the car up the slope. We decided to stop hesitating and we gave up. We decided to go out to find someone to repair it. If we had given up a little earlier today, we might not be so miserable. But it is better not to use the word “if”, especially in the highlands.
When our car stopped again, the bridge in front of us was broken by water, and the bridge had fallen halfway, which led to Yong Yang’ car getting stuck on the remaining half-bridge when a  tire went off the road.
It was already 2:00 am by now. Today we would not make it back to the village. A message which asked Yong Yang to return quickly had to be ignored until the morning.
The flash flood was still rising and the rain showed no sign of stopping. We had a total of four people in two cars. The car whose tire went off the road could not be driven. The other car tried to hold six people, but there were still two standing in the heavy rain, so we pitched tents in the rain.
Whether in the car or in the tent, we were really looking forward to the daybreak this night. I really hoped those fellow travelers who asked Yong Yang to get back soon did not have any accidents.

The picture of where we stayed this night taken by cell phone by the daybreak

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