Journal: Lanzhou, China

8-15 May 2005

China cities are quite homogeneous, in terms of disparity between the rich and the poor. Where you find the shops, restaurants, karaokes, you can also see slum areas just a street away.

To go to Lanzhou, a convenient way is to take a domestic flight from Beijing. Outside the airport is a brand new highway that seems to lead us to a modern civilisation or it’s like a snake that devours the reality of the life of people inside the province.

School
We visited a Muslim school for the children of migrant workers. To greet us, the kids had rehearsed for weeks to give us an excellent dances.


Slogans can be found everywhere in China, of course in schools too. The six Chinese characters on the blackboard teaches children civilisation and courtesy.


The kids are definitely older than you think. They have relatively big heads because they are really skinny. Their hair is not black due to drinking water and malnutrition. The woman in back is the school headmaster.


The mural features different ethnic minoirty groups. Just wonder where kids got the white dresses.


They specially picked an English song to entertain our international delegation. Do you see their make up?! In the age of MP3, can you imagine cassette tapes are still existent somewhere in the world?

As soon as we were leaving, the kids went back to the classroom reciting their textbook proudly and cheerfully. How long can they still enjoy the school life? How many of these eager-to-learn school kids could be transferred to the government school and afford the school fees?

We saw lots of smiling faces in the school we visited. But not all children are fortunately enough to have education opportunity. There were a lot of kids strolling around during the daytime.

Habitat


The two doors behind the kids represent two households already. The place where they stand is the ‘kitchen’ – a simple stove upon it food is cooked by burning coal.


I couldn’t help taking a picture of this household. I don’t know where the occupant get the red poster. (And obviously the poster is used to cover up the holes on the wall.) But look at the colour coordination! The occupant has a very good aesthetic sense!

We came across a sad story. A lone mother carried a one-year-old baby girl to beg on this street. The baby girl’s father died in a landsliding accident. Her mother was still keeping the news clipping about that accident. When they were ‘home’, the baby girl sat in the paper box silently and she didn’t yet know how to stand.

Will she know one day that there is a place called Hong Kong where the parents will spend loads of money buying toys for their children in ToysRus?

Don’t think this is already sad enough. We visited another hellish place. I bet you won’t be able to guess why the place in the picture can accommodate people, let alone what the containers and cooking tools outside their homes are for. It’s for cooking porks! Pigs illegally slaughtered will be cooked here…

I nearly could not hold my tears. Tears swelled because of the deplorable situation people are in, but this time it’s more because of the unpleasant smell.

Where Do They Come From?
Do you expect the migrant workers, tortured by the hard life in city, would rather go back to the rural village? They would give you a big NO straightaway. They would tell you if they were still staying in the rural village, they would probably not be able to survive.

One cannot imagine that this mountainous area was once a forest 200 years ago. Within 200 years, the trees are all gone and all left is infertile soil, or sand. (I experienced a big storm of wind which we needed to hide in a shelter. I thought it was sandstorm, but I was told that sandstorm should be much stronger than that!)

As the condition in Lanzhou is so undesirable of growing crops, one of the projects was to teach villagers to rear a certain kind of sheep which could be sold in the market.


You can see that this household is a rich one by counting the number of animals they rear. It’s like back to the biblical times where a flock of animals symbolises wealth!

Where there is so little rain in Lanzhou, how do people survive the tough weather? With the help from some development organisations, wells are built in their home. So when it rains, they will clear the floor a bit and then open the lid to let the rain water come down. The rain water will be used by them throughout the year (unfiltered of course).


This is not satellite TV (in fact only the chief of the village has a TV). Solar energy perhaps is the richest natural resource in Lanzhou. With this gadget, water can be boiled within 10-20 minutes! Isn’t it a smart idea?

Feast
What made me feel bad was the hospitality of the villagers. They just greeted us as the guests of honour and even killed a precious sheep which could have support their living for quite some months to treat us. How unfortunate that some of us are vegetarians…

It was my first time to try ‘Shou Zhua Yang Rou’. It doesn’t look good because the mutton is just boiled and added with salt. But it tastes excellent! (and this is THE home with TV!)

When we left, we passed by a school on the mountain. Their condition was tougher than the kids in the city. Several kids together shared a nearly torn text book. (And I’m so ashamed of my piles of textbooks for one single subject.) When there is not enough resources, creativity will be triggered off. The kids were thus scribbling on the sand to practise the strokes of the new vocabulary they have just learned.


Compared to these kids running freely on the mountain, the school kids are already very priviledge to have a chance to scribble on the ground.

After the whole trip, we couldn’t help wonder whilst so much more efforts were needed to put to help people lead a decent life, would it be easier for them to desert the place that’s no longer suitable for human beings and animals to live in due to the money-minded logging business?

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