Mar. 23, 2023

Searching for China's Water (28) - Leaving the Water Source

On July 15, 2009, all eight of us were trapped in two cars and a tent till daybreak beside a rolling river.

2009-12-18 10:31:53


The river water at the foot of a snow mountain

The place where we spent the night 

My camera did not work so I had to use my cellphone to record the night we spent listening to the rain drops plunging into the river. 

Our car, which was blocked on the road by a collapsed bridge, was in the way of the local's morning traffic. The Tibetans simply turned around and drove under the bridge and crossed the river. We followed them, rushing across the rolling water.
 The night before, when we had to leave our broken car with the burnt out circuit, we were told that there was no more room left for us or our luggage in the two other cars. Since there was only half an hour of walking left to our destination, Chen Xianxin and I left our suitcases and my interview notebook at the car to be picked up the next day.
 However, the said half an hour walk turned out to be more than 2 hours. If we went back for our bags, it would have taken us more than 4 hours of walking along the flooded road to reach them. This trip to Jiangyuan turned out to be an interesting and exciting journey.
 When we arrived at the very edge of the Gangni township in our exhausted and damaged cars, we saw a person standing with a crutch at the entrance of the town. This man was Xu Xiaoguang, who had left a message for Yang Yong. 
Our car turned over in a frozen river (by Xu Xiaoguang)

Pulling the car out of the river (by Xu Xiaoguang) 


Pulling(by Xu Xiaoguang)

Xiaoguang told us what had happened. When their car left us on July 12, they managed to struggle out of the swamp. But when they reached the river where the bridge clasped from a flood, the car turned over into the river. The three of them smashed the car's windows and crawled out. They all sustained injuries but fortunately, none of them were serious. They asked the guide, Wuzhuo, to find an acquainted truck driver to drag their car out.

All three of them had been waiting for us till the morning of July 16. They wondered whether something had happened to us so the other two people rented a car and went ahead. In these three days, Xu Xiaoguang went to the only road in the township, and stood there waiting for us to arrive.

The turned-over car didn’t work. Li Guoping, who was the strongest and always had a way to solve their problems, said that he was all right but all of his electrical appliances including his cellphone, two advanced cameras and computers were all broken down. Even the addresses in the cellphone were missing.
When we arrived at Gangni, what worried me the most was how I would get my interview notebook and luggage back. There were only two available cars left, and one of them had to hurry to the nearest county, the Anduo county, to find components to repair the broken car. If our luggage had been put on this car the day before, we could have left Gangni with the car. The other car was driven by Yang Yong. At the moment, he looked very serious and I didn't dare talk to him. Such an independent investigation brought great pressure to the organizer. He was a good scientist, but when a scientist is also the organizer of such a large-scale activity, it would have been a big challenge for anyone.
A teacher from a local Gangni School told me that the husband of her colleague had a car and he could help us bring our luggage and us to the Anduo county, but it would cost about 800 yuan. Although it seemed like a very bad deal, given our situation, I would've paid 8000 yuan for the car. I could finally do something to help, unlike the situation when our car was trapped in the mud and we could do nothing but stand there and look at it. The only strength that I had left would not have fixed our car so instead I happily spent 800 yuan for the ride.
It was said that there would be no cellphone signal for a week in Jiangyuan, but we had already stayed for two weeks. I asked the other three who went out before me to give a call to my family and tell them that I would leave Jiangyuan the next day. But we stayed there for 4 more days. So once we arrived at Gangni, all of us were eager to call our families. In such a modern time, a message from family is still the most precious thing.
I asked a teacher named Dawa Ciren if this place was close to the Qinghai-Tibet railway and why there was no signal at all. He said that maybe I could get some signals in the women’s restroom of the school. I wouldn’t have cared if it were the men's restroom. But in the end, i couldn't get a call through to Beijing even in the women's restroom.
Dawa Ciren comforted me and told me that my cellphone would work if I put my cellphone against the door of a teacher’s home. In Gangni, where the altitude was almost 5,000 meters, I could run without running out of breath. Following the teacher’s instruction, I put my cellphone against the door, and my heartbeats sped up. I hadn’t contacted my family in Beijing for almost 2 weeks.
While leaning closely against the door to use my cellphone, I suddenly had a deeper understanding about the adaptive nature of humans. I wondered how this method has been invented and if it has been applied for the Guinness World Records?
When I heard the voice of my husband come from my cellphone, I got so excited that I moved the phone to my ear which suddenly disconnected the call. My host told me that the cellphone must cling to the door as close as possible. I tried again, keeping his words in mind.
I really admired the person who invented such a method of calling.
After the call, Dawa Ciren told me that he has asked for a leave to travel with us and another teacher named Zhaxi was also willing to go with us. The car we were going to use to retrieve our luggage had two-wheel drive. If we got trapped, the driver alone would not be able to free us by himself.
At that time, I was very anxious. But at the same time I thought that since we were on the road and not in a swamp like in Jiangyuan, we might not even get trapped. I have never driven a car before, so I had no idea what the differences were between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive.
When we began our journey, I realized that two of the three Tibetan guys that were in our car had been educated in urban cities outside of Tibet and had even served in the army. They listened to me carefully with dilated eyes, not missing a single word. I could imagine how eager they were to learn about how much the outside world has changed since they had returned to Jiangyuan.
To me, there were many opportunities to meet Tibetans who could speak Chinese in the source of the Huanghe River, but at the source of the Yangtze River, there were few Tibetans who could speak Chinese. The two guys who received education outside of Tibet became the medium through which I learned more about Jiangyuan. Having three guys accompany me to fetch my luggage seemed very excessive, but after talking for only a while, I realized how excited and interested I was by their stories.
Dawa Ciren worked in the local township government, and he told me that the most difficult work, however, was working with the locals. There was a herdsmen family who had 150 yaks and 6000 sheep. The local price for yaks was 2500 yuan per head, but the herdsman's family didn't even have a jar to preserve salted vegetables. Dawa said that family was penniless in the Hans’ words. We tried convincing them to sell their yaks and sheep but it was a very difficult endeavor. Why? They thought that the money would be used up very quickly and it would not bring them more money. If they kept their yaks and sheep, they would be doubled: this year have 200 heads but next year they'll have 400.
Dawa told me that a lot of yaks and sheep died because of the snow this winter. If they were sold, their losses would have been reduced significantly. But they didn’t care about what they had lost. Instead, they would've cared more about the money that they would spend if they had sold their livestock.
Dawa said it was the herdsmen’s logic, and now, most of his work consists of convincing them to sell their yaks and sheep. Dawa, who had stayed in Jiangyuan for a long time, has encountered a brown bear before. Just as he got to the apex of his story, the driver, Renqing Ciren told us that the road beside the bridge had broken down and that we had to follow a detour.
In Jiangyuan, the detour was a road which had been formed from constant traffic through the area.
I glanced at the detour and it looked much better than the marshes of Jiangyuan, but that's when I realized the difference between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive. When our car drove onto the detour, it got stuck, and no matter how hard Renqing pressed the throttle, the car did not move.
When the car was trapped in Jiangyuan, we had some tools like pulling poles, jacks and planks to help. But what did we bring? Only our hands, our strength and a very small jack. I asked them why they didn’t have any useful tools and they replied that they usually only drive around the township and they rarely go so far. They were so focused on the fact that they got to drive with a woman reporter, that they forgot to bring a shovel with them.
With no other solutions, we could only find some stones   to put under the wheels and push the car with our hands. Seeing their facial expression, I believed that the three of them could move the earth if they pushed at the same time.
We paved the stones which we held in our hands under the wheels for 2 hours, and after that, it was time for us to go back. Fortunately, the car was pulled out. If my camera had been working, I would have recorded the entire process.
However, my cellphone, which ran out of power, recovered a little after being warmed up, and I took some photos of the three Tibetan guys who could move the earth in front of my eyes.
Back on our way, we started joking with each other again. Dawa达娃) and Zhaxi(扎西), who have both studied outside of Jiang Yuan(江源), told me that both of them were single and that one was 24 years old and the other was 28. They asked me if there were any pretty girls in Beijing and stressed that they must be truly beautiful. While I wondered what true beauty really was, they laughed and asked me again. Sure, I said without hesitation, their beauty is beyond description. “Is it possible for them to come here?” Dawa curiously questioned. "They may travel here as a visitor, but I'm not sure they will stay.” I answered.
“Why not come to Beijing? Girls must be interested in Tibetan boys.” I suggested. “Well, that's a great idea, but I can’t leave. My parents live here. I once gave up the chance to stay in Lhasa because I missed my parents. When I served in the army in Nyingchi, I preferred to wait in line to call my mom rather than have a meal, and sometimes I even cry on the phone.” Dawa said with a little bit of sadness.
“If your parents are still alive, never stray far for them”. This is a unique principle rooted in the Tibetans' hearts. Therefore, it isn't all that strange for a handsome boy, like the one we met at Zhaling Lake(扎陵湖) in the source of the Huang River, to refuse working outside of his hometown in order to stay close to his mom.
I asked Dawa to continue his story about his encounter with a brown bear. Instead, he proceeded with a story about his birthday on April 28th. He mentioned that he bought a piece of cake and two bottles of beer. While he was drinking alone on a little dirt hill, he beganmissing his beloved mother.
“Seeing a brown bear in Jiang Yuan is actually not that rare. If we are lucky enough, we may come across one as well.” He continued, ”I was riding on my motorbike to get down a slope and I saw two bears in front of me. One escaped immediately while the other hid beside the road. Neither of us attacked because both of us were very scared.”
We were enjoying a very nice conversation, which reminded Dawa of a more interesting and hazardous experience of his. During the winter of 2006, Dawa had been living in a herdsman’s tent. Late at night, he heard the sound of chewing and snapping of jaws. He woke up and found a wolf eating inside the tent. The herdsman and I were too tired to care about the wolf so we went on sleeping. The next morning, I was suprised to see that the wolf had also fallen asleep inside the tent beside us. The herdsman shouted at it calmly and it slowly got on its feet and wobbled away.

What is the harmony between human and nature? The answer lies everywhere in Jiang Yuan.

[The place where our car got trapped that night]

[The place where we abandoned our car(the photo we took when we arrived) photo by Yang Yong]

During our interesting conversation, we passed the place where we got stuck yesterday and we finally arrived at the car we abandoned. I found my luggage and my laptop inside the car. However, I regretted not being able to take a photo of our abandoned car because my cell phone was out of power and it lay in my pocket “recharging”. Instead, I only have a picture of the great time we had there. Who knew that the river we crossed would flood and prevent us from returning.

However, I felt very lucky that I had left my luggage in the abandoned car. Otherwise I would not have had the chance to meet these three funny, Tibetan guys.

Zhaxi is a teacher. He attended high school in Tianjing and and finished his education at the Yue Yang University. After graduation, he returned to his hometown to become a teacher. I asked him if there was a difference between teaching in Jiang Yuan and teaching in other cities outside of Tibet.
Thinking for a couple of seconds, Zhaxi told me that he taught the Zang language and mathematics at the Gangni Primary School. (岗尼乡小学) It was pretty easy to explain what a square looks like to urban city children, since many of the objects around their lives, such as desks and benches, have square shapes. But when it came to the children of the Gangni Primary School, it was much more difficult to find common objects that were square shaped in their lives. For example, the Heaven, the ground, the prairie, the river, the bull, and the sheep were not square shaped.
I bet no one living in the cities would have ever imagined that there would be such a problem in the Jiang Yuan's education if it weren't for Zhaxi's explanation. In Zhaxi’ class, approximately 90% of his students want to be a teacher someday. For them, teachers are the only people they share a close relationship to besides their parents. Scientists are only people that they read about in their books and are beyond their reach in real life. Fortunately, nowadays, some families are able to afford TVs. 
Zhaxi kept a close eye on the environment. He noted that the Jiang Yuan's water was slowly declining and that there were more and more snow storms. He also noticed that the winters were not as cold as they were before. Also, he mentioned a discarded coal-mine that they had found recently. Zhaxi told us that the drinking water near the mine caused gastrectasia and that they aren't sure if the mine caused this.
[There was clean water here several years ago]

[In the past, we have only heard about the changing ecosystem through experts, but today we experienced it ourselves.]  [Exploited mountains]






[The mine is over there; the water here is polluted]
Thanks to my cell phone I have captured these valuable pictures. Pointing at the dark black water, Zhaxi sighed: "In the past, we have only heard about the changing ecosystem through experts, but today we experienced it ourselves. When we were children, fish swam around joyfully in the water here. However, since the mining had commenced, the water has turned into a disgusting black color. Look, the unexploited mountains on the other side are still green.”
I was shocked by the scene in front of me: the grassland presented such a striking contrast. Even a single blade of grass could hardly survive along a polluted river, whereas the unexploited areas on the opposite side were full of vivid live scenery.
[The green mountains, opposite of the exploited mountain ]
[Stone Mountains in Jiang Yuan]
[A picture of all of us together]
Ren Qing’s mandarin was not as fluent as the others, so he seldom spoke on the road and simply shared the happiness we enjoyed. He has a sweet family of three children and two lovely female twins. Da Wa told me that Ren Qing was very skilled at both singing and dancing. Besides, he looked really attractive when dressed in his traditional ethnic costume. I smiled, “he looks attractiveeven in normal clothing”.
Suddenly, Reng Qing stopped the car, opened the door, and shouted excitedly: ”Brown bear, brown bear!”.
We rushed out of the car, and ran in the direction that Ren Qing(仁青)pointed. “We are pretty lucky!” Dawa yelled as he ran.
Running on the plateau was still a little arduous for me. When I finally managed to climb up a big slope, the bear had already begun to move away from us and all I could see was it's big, brown backside fading into the distance.
A photo of the bear would've been hard to see even if I had a proper camera, instead of my mobile phone. The visibility on the plateau is so high that even a bear in the distance can be easily recognized by eye. Although I couldn't take a picture, that fat and cute bear made a deep impression.
[Where the bear had crossed]
On the way, I wondered how the Jiang Yuan people felt about mining in the area. DaWa(达娃) asked two motorcycles that were driving by on the road to stop for a while. Dawa told me that the man on one of the motorcycles was the local Hercules, the strongest man of their hometown. Because they were in a hurry to get back home, he simply told us that the water was much cleaner when he was a child, but now, the mining has made the water black.
The destruction that the mining has caused in the Qinghai Tibet plateau is a serious environmental problem that the nomads often complained about during our interviews. They didn’t understand what Global warming was, but when it came to the negative effects of mining on their hometown, they had many complaints and stories.
Still living a life in harmony with nature, it is hard for them to accept the reality that the river in their hometown had turned black. They asked us to help test their water, but we did not have the proper equipment to do so.
The idyllic life of the Tibetans is only regarded as a song for the city people. But in JiangYuan, it is reality.
The only road in the village was flooded
When we got back to Gang Ni, pieces of bad news rushed into our ears. The road leading into the village was flooded. I also heard that the bridge leading to An Duo had also broken.
In response, Ren Qing and Da Wa decided to take turns driving us overnight to Lhasa.
I felt a little excited when I found out that my cell phone had come back to life again. However, a heavy weight lay on my heart as I said goodbye to Za Xi. At the same time, I felt a slight pain where my skin had been burnt by the strong sunlight. The picture I took of us on that day was blurry due to the bad quality of my cellphone. But it was the last picture that I took on the trip. Jiang Yuan is such a beautiful place, almost like heaven on earth. But nevertheless, the climate change has had a negative effect on the daily lives of the locals, and over-exploitation of the local resources has posed a serious threat to the environment. This final picture will remind me of what I will need to do in the future. I know that the aim of this investigation goes beyond recording data. Its aim is to draw the people’s attention towards recognizing the importance of protecting our environment, not just in China, but all over the world. Searching for water is indeed a demanding task, not only for us, but also for generations to come.(end)


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