I felt a spiritual sigh of relief leaving Guangzhou after teaching in English in China for the last 10 months. The jungles of concrete, glass and steel have been forsaken for plant life, open spaces and a sky whose (unpolluted) clouds open to reveal the blue skies I used to take for granted. We’re at the edge of China’s Wild Western Frontier (or the WWF as I like to think of it in honor of the Chinese government blocking the World Wildlife Fund’s website).
The amount of air displaced by the mountains of Northwestern Yunnan inspires that same sense of awe when thinking of the impermanent forces of the underworld, but here we can see these forces embodied. In terms of vertical scale, this land would even cause my beloved Rocky Mountains to quiver, and we’re only at the foothills of the Himalayas.
As in any “blank spaces” on the map slated for development, even a casual observer such as myself can see an obvious shift occurring here. Although it’s outside the demarcated Tibetan territory, this is still Tibetan country, faced with an influx of official Chinese language, values and authority. The dirt roads under construction for full-scale highway development serve as a reminder of the changes the market’s bringing here very soon.
Of course the market generates money, but I can only hope the locals have a chance to direct the development happening around them and to keep the new money from straying too far from home. Knowing the way these processes usually work, I fear that won’t the case here. On these bumpy mountain passes the thought of a painful end from the truck’s or mountain’s mechanical failure is never far from mind, but somehow that seems less pertinent right now.