Gansu Province

Day 17/18

Gansu Provence is undergoing an extensive implementation of renewable energy, wind and solar. Much of this is taking place within the Hexi corridor.

With the help of some local contacts provided by Ms. Wu Yuwen at Climate Bridge, I managed to photograph a solar farm under construction, near completion and got access to a wind turbine assembly plant. Once the customary introductions were made over a cup of green tea at the Goldwing facility I heard the word 'forbidden' in context to the taking of photographs of the assembly plant. For some unfathomable reason it turned out to be acceptable to take photographs from the distance of a mobile gantry. This provided uninterrupted views of the factory floor were orange uniformed technicians assembled up to 50 hubs, nacelles and drive mechanisms. Possibly this turn of events was due to some sweet talking from our local interpreter Ms. Qin Ying. We then moved on to the factory floor to capture unhindered closeups of the same. Moving on to the large hangers where the fibreglass rotor blades were manufactured it was established my 'big' camera was to remain in the car. We were then shown around the large external concreted holding yards where neat rows of rotor blades were parked up ready and waiting to be trucked away for assembly and a productive life ahead on various wind farms throughout the province. This I preceded to capture with my medium format camera.

Having reached our western most destination it was now time to head south to a warmer and more fertile part of the country, away from the bitter temperatures and flat brown landscape of the north. Much of what I have set out to do on this section of the trip has been realised, with a few additional perks along the way. I'd be lying if I said there hasn't been a certain amount of stress on this journey, an almost constant concern of being found out for our Beijing-only driver’s licenses, being reprimanded, turned back, fined or worse. Also the capturing of some very hard subject matter, industrial, filthy, and downright damning which has been no joy ride. A task made no easier by the fact I choose not to use an SLR digital camera but instead to capture much of my imagery on large format. This camera inherently takes time and effort to set up and break down and by its very nature is rather obvious in intention. Suffice to say I have not once been reprimanded. Without question if I had of been so bold as I have been this past ten days in say Australia, or the U.S. I would be writing this blog from a very much compromised position. I have aimed my cameras at some unbelievably raw subject matter. At times I've thought of China as one big coal caked industrial cesspit with the foulest of air. I've met people whose quality of life has been so diminished by the omnipresent coal dust and rank thick air clogged with pollutants it's made me question even more deeply just what we humans are doing to the environment with our seemingly unrestrained need to consume our planet until it no longer resembles a habitable environment, but some distant planet.

Some of the people who are living amongst this industrial filth are coming down with cancers and respiratory deceases and dying by the age of 50. Regardless of this their demeanour at least at face value appears positive, almost upbeat as if saying to themselves 'I know this is a compromised existence but I'm damned if it's going to get me down'. I find this perplexing, I don't know whether to draw strength from this or not...

Here is a little list of pollutants one might expect to inhale daily if living downwind from a coal fired power plant, of similar heavy industry fuelled by coal:

Carbon Dioxide; the primary cause of global warming. Sulphur Dioxide which causes acid rain which damages forests, lakes and buildings and small airborne particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs. Small airborne particles which can cause chronic bronchitis, asthma and premature death. Nitrogen Oxide which leads to formation of ozone (smog) burning through lung tissue making you and your family more susceptible to respiratory illness. Carbon Monoxide which causes headaches and places additional stress on people with heart decease. Hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds which form ozone. Mercury which can make fish unsafe to eat. Arsenic which causes cancer. Lead, Cadmium and other toxic heavy metals, and trace amounts of uranium.

It may be a good idea at this stage to check your share portfolio. If you have shares in coal then please get rid of them, this would be a very positive step toward a greener life and a lighter carbon footprint...

Day 19

I'm surprised just how good Chinese motorists are out this way considering in most cases they have been behind the wheel for less than a generation. This sweeping statement does not always apply however. Here are a few anomalies. Despite sensible and obvious road markings only sissy's appear to take any note of them, preferring instead to take up two lanes. Double yellow lines serve an aesthetic purpose only however they do act as a reasonably efficient way of navigating around the cities, more so for the visually impaired. Drivers are exceptionally good at pulling into the main flow of traffic from side streets, this manoeuvre is performed in most cases without thought or visual reference. Pedestrians are to be ignored at all times, they have no relevance. There is an uncontrolled urge to speed then to slow down for no good reason. Car horns are of much more use than indicators and why dim your head lights when you can high beam all the way. On a more positive note Chinese motorists are exceptionally good natured, to get behind the wheel in china is to remain passive calm.

Chinese cities are under lit to western standards. Or put another way, western cities are severely and unnecessarily over lit. It's not as though lights are absent it’s just that they appear to have no need to turn a lot of them on through the night. Many of the street lights are powered by small individual solar panels, some even sport their very own little wind turbine. How refreshing this is to see, so practical and easy to implement.

There comes a time with every photographic trip when the most important thing becomes the exposed film. The safely of this takes on a value well in excess of anything else - passports, camera equipment, vehicle - everything else other than this film is replaceable. I'm keen now to see this film securely back in Shanghai or Beijing but we still have some mileage ahead of us. Still I'm relieved the hard part is over. Today Greg and I are starting to feel a connection with this road trip. It often takes this long on the road to get a feel for things. Less hotel rooms and more nights sleeping out would have been more to my liking but the cold just didn't allow for this.

We have no music and are really missing this; the car stereo system doesn't have an iPod connection. Radio reception is generally good but every station is clogged with overly enthusiastic announcers and a Chinese version of the rehashed commercial mediocrity one might expect hear spewing from shopping malls and fast food outlets throughout the western world.

Today we took a B road through a dramatic mountain pass climbing to 3,762m. A vast open landscape with striking snow-capped mountains in excess of 5,000m. Massive glacial valleys, herds of yaks and the occasional odd little remote dusty town peopled by central asian Muslims, towns which the Han haven't yet bothered to populate, much. Other than in the markets of Zhangye, up until now has been a distinct absence of religious iconography or houses of worship.

These Muslims do good food. More interesting, tasty, spicy. Sheep meat is big in these parts. Market venders sell a variety of dried fruits and nuts, a welcomed break from bland noodle soups and steamed dumplings and the almost complete lack of fibre of late.

Booked in to a funky little mountain town, dusty streets, doorways draped with the obligatory heavy quilts or thick plastic blinds to keep the cold and the dust out and the heat in. Feasted on a variety of dishes, warming ourselves by a coal range amongst truck drivers watching the television news as it flittered between the U.S. elections and the Beijing Party congress. Relieved indeed Obama is in for a second term. There is some sanity in the world after all…