Monday, January 21, 2008

Gansu (甘肅) Landscape

The landscape is stark.

Gansu is a very dry place. Throughout the one and a half hour drive from Lanzhou to ChanKou, we hardly saw any trees. There were not even much grass. But there were lots of evidence of mudslides. Soil erosion is a major problem. Eventually the yellow soil was blown away or somehow got carried into the river. Apparently this is the major reason the Yellow River got yellow.

There were some natural caves. But most of them were evidently man made, easy enough to make because of the softness and looseness of the soil. We were told that many people used to live in those caves. Now it is mostly used for storage and to house domestic animals.

Rows and rows of trees, mostly cedar, were planted to protect the soil. Cedars are well known for being weather-resistant. However, the extreme dryness continues to kill many of them, so they have to be planted and re-planted.

Many of the hills and mountains were covered with ladder fields. The major crop here is potatoes, and banners proclaiming The Home of Potatoes (馬鈴薯之鄉) are everywhere.

On the rare flat lands people try to prolong the growing season with greenhouses. During the day, the sun keeps the plants warm. Towards the evening, straw mats are rolled out over the translucent plastic covers, helping to keep the greenhouses warm during the dark.

It is hard to make a living here.

Sometimes I wonder why people insist on living here. Historically, this was part of the land of the Xi Xia 西夏 in the times of the Tang 唐 and the Sung 宋 Dynasty. A lot of people were sent here over the years to secure the land. Now this is their home, as tough as it is.

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