This is an edited journal entry that I wrote on April 18, 2018 on a bus ride to a village called Song Pan. It has a lot of lists.
Up until this trip, I can only recall a few instances where I’ve fallen asleep on transportation. Now, even a fifteen minute bus ride becomes a fifteen minute power nap.
This bus ride is no different, just longer. After sleeping fitfully with some occasional, half-conscious adjustments for half an hour, I wake up to the inside of a tunnel. Curiousity pulls me out of sleep; I want to see where we will be spit out.
Out of the mountain and into the valley, the sunlight makes me wince. As my eyes adjust, my brain does not. The landscape is a strange mix of the obvious, the mysterious, and the nostalgic.
The obvious are the tunnels that cut through mountains, bridges that span over damned up rivers, and highways that run on and on and on, lined with interspersed propaganda signs. They are also the villages, farms, and people who live(d) and work(ed) on them: The hunched old lady selling fruits on the side of the road, the farmers tilling their plots of land in a steady rhythm, the white tombs that peak out from the mountain side, watching over the valley. I wonder if they’ve gotten used to to the rushing sounds of the highway.
The mysterious are things that aren’t as clear cut as infrastructure or agriculture. There’s a large golden statue of a man standing proud only a little ways from the highway, a towering, dark traditional Chinese entryway leading to an unknown place, a newly built Qiang village of stone for tourism purposes. They leave me with questions about both China (Who is this dude and what did he do?) and human society (Why do we use statues to memorialize people or events?).
The nostalgia lies in the steep, rocky hils, snow covered mountain tops, and mellow river rapids. It was only last fall that I was living and learning in these remote environments on a NOLS course and they pull at my gut, both forwards and backwards.
Despite my love for the outdoors and the apparent changes China has made (and will continue to make) to their land, this bus ride has been calm and serene. Even though China is currently a rapidly developing civilization that has been around for at least 4,000 years, the towering mountains are numerous and sturdy, and the river is always changing its course.
(They’ve also been here longer.)