Summer in Portland

is almost perfect. its not too hot and when it does get hot the rains come politely like butlers in the morning to dress up the day in dew making sure i dont know it even happened till i stretch yawn put my slippers on and walk out. a faint whiff of brimstone and stains on the concrete.

I took a trip north from Chengdu to a place called Wudu, in Gansu, with my friend and mentor Ivan. He’s an engineer specializing in roads and highways and bridges and tunnels. He keeps quite busy in China. Below is a map of the area. We drove north from Chengdu to a place called Guangyuan (the birthplace of Wu Zi Tian the only Chinese Empress and also the site of Jian Men Guan — the Sword Gate — for years the fortress that protected Shu/Sichuan from northern invaders).

From there we headed deep into the wild mountains that blur the borders between Sichuan, Shanxi and Gansu Provinces. This region of brown dirt waterfalls and soaring cliffs is also the rocky heartbeat of the west. When properly connected, development in the western half of China can proceed as envisioned. We stayed one night between Guangyuan and Wudu in a small town called Luo Shui, I believe. I find it hard to believe that this town is real. Rock rises up on all sides and constricts the town into one or two lanes. They seemed nonchalant about our presence and one woman said they had a foreigner here for three months. Engineer. or maybe an oil guy.

In the morning kids straggled into school in ones, twos and threes. The girls held hands.

So remote yet so full of the smell of man.

It is also the area hit hardest by the earthquake … a strip of mountain ranges that ebb out of Tibet like rings, straddling the boundaries between Han China and Tibetan China …

there is not one inch of this road that is not under construction. we passed through tight gorges with tent cities nestled in the folds above the river. men and machines hauled stone and silt and sand from the river bed up to the road to pave another section, raise another column, wall in another home.

We headed back on a different route, along the outskirts of Aba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and the valley of Jiu Zhai Gou. We passed through the county seat and saw the plunder that pours out of the tourists pockets. The seat is as glorious as Beijing’s Tiananmen .. government buildings rise up proudly. Hotels serene next to a snowy peak. Lights flashing in calm acceptance of their own irresistible power. Down the road, where the valley actually dives into the range, where azure lakes blush and fade like young girls in different seasons of love, Tibetans smile and wave and cook yak meat over yak shit coals in adobe houses. Some don’t smile anymore.

In the brothels of Chengdu, pimps boast Aba girls …

In the wilds of China, doozers cause muddy traffic jams deep into the night.

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Sascha Matuszak
Sascha Matuszak

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