Monthly Archives: October 2010

Chengdu / 成都

The Dujiangyan Irrigation System, which I wrote about in my last post,
is quite close to the capital of Sichuan, Chengdu. We stayed in Chengdu
for three days while we visited Dujiangyan as well as some local sites
of interest. Naturally we went to the Giant Panda Research Station to
see the Pandas and Red Pandas, and we also visited the Jinsha Site
Museum, which details the history of the Shu kingdom, which existed in
the Sichuan plains.



Dujiangyan Irrigation System / 都江堰水利工程

The next stop on our trip was another major river-taming project at
Dujiangyan in Sichuan. Yes, Sichuan is the land of killer red peppers.
In fact, some of the nearby provinces, including Hubei, where the Three
Gorges Dam is located, also host the killer red pepers. My father met
those his first night in China.

Dujiangyan was a system of weirs built on the Min river 2300 years ago.
Like many rivers in China, the Min was subject to alternating floods and
droughts. With this system of weirs, the flow of the river was divided,
and after blasting through a small mountain (before the invention of gun
powder) the overflow of the river was used to irrigate the Sichuan
plains. They even buried iron ‘logs’ in the irrigation channel so that
people cleaning it out would know how deep to dig in order to maintain
the correct proportion of flow in each part of the diversion. There
haven’t been any floods on the Min river since, and the system is still
in use today.

I was here last year and was really impressed by this ancient feat of
engineering. I’m impressed again.


Extremes / 末端的地方

In northwestern Xinjiang, a few hundred kilometers from the capital
Urumqi, is the Pole of Inaccessibility. That is the point on land that
is furthest away from any ocean. Every continent has a pole of
inaccessibility, and the Eurasian Pole is the global extreme. We’re not
going out to the Kazakh border, but in Urumqi we’re already further away
from any ocean than is even possible on any other continent. How about that?

Also, about 50km from Turpan, where we are now, is Lake Aydingkul, which
at 154m below sea level is the third-lowest point on earth. Turpan is
30m above sea level, and since the tour guides refuse to take us to the
lake, we won’t get anywhere near that extreme.



Spit Shine / 擦亮一双鞋子

We were wandering down the street in Turpan yesterday and my dad saw
some guys polishing shoes. He decided he wanted to have his work books,
which have only been cleaned once in their lifetimes, to be polished.
They did a pretty good job.



Three Gorges Dam / 三峡大坝

I’m very lucky on this trip because my father was able to travel with me
for a few weeks. I was also supposed to meet my sister, Madeline, in
Turkey back in September, but unfortunately that didn’t work out. One of
the main things my father wanted to see is the massive Three Gorges Dam,
so we started our trip together in Yichang. I saw the dam last year at
the end of my Yangze River cruise, but it’s no less impressive the
second time around.



Harbin / 哈尔滨

After my visit to Daqing, I moved on to the nearby metropolis of Harbin.
Harbin has a history of Russian presence, like many places in the north.
It really is distinct from other Chinese cities I’ve visited. I suppose
it’s the Russian flavour, but I can’t say for sure, never having been to

In Harbin I stayed with a friend, Cao, who is a student at Heilongjiang
University. It was the national holiday, so she was off class and showed
me around town. We did a lot of wandering, which I really enjoy, just to
get a feel of the city. We went to see the Songhua River flood memorial
and Stalin Park. I think China has a real love/hate relationship with
its rivers, as they’re essential for irrigation and transportation, yet
when the floods come, a lot of people die. I think this has been the
story throughout China’s history.

Harbin traffic is worse than anything I’ve ever seen, even worse than
Beijing which has at least four times the population. A friend told me
Beijing substantially improved its roads and transit for the Olympics,
so it’s one of the best in China. I’ll grant that Beijing traffic is
better than Harbin, but I had to laugh because I find it difficult to
call it ‘improved’.

On my last day in Harbin I went to visit the Japanese Germ Warfare base.
This is where, during the Second World War, the Japanese performed cruel
experiments on POWs and anyone else they decided to detain. It was unit
731 and was called the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification
Department. They froze people alive and implanted bubonic plague in
their bodies, just to see what would happen, and put other people inside
vacuum chambers just to observe the effects. It was definitely worth the
visit. Near the end there was a memorial for all the people who died
there, so I lit a candle and said a prayer.

People have been so good to me as I’ve travelled through the north.
They’ve invited me into their homes, introduced me to their families,
and treated me to great meals. They’ve introduced me to their lives and
their culture. It’s really been amazing.