Saturday, February 15, 2014

Organic Farming Pilot Project Group Five: A Return to Soil

Two days after my winter vacation in Getu, I walked from my apartment to the train station in 35F cold at 3:00am to catch a night train to Chengdu. 

This winter PC China initiated a pilot project at an organic farm. Eight separate groups of volunteers were to work for three days in total. This project was not only intended to bring volunteers closer to agriculture, which still comprises roughly 70% of China's economy, but to teach volunteers new ways of perpetuating and encouraging environmental sustainability and to foster a greater sense of volunteer unity.

The organic farm is located a few hours outside of Chengdu. Throughout the weeks, groups of volunteers were to complete a variety of tasks assigned by Farmer Gao, the manager of the farm. When I arrived in Chengdu it was snowing.

Arrival Day:
 This flaming paint can is the only source of heat on the farm. As you can see the baby cat, 'Six Pack,' sat too close and was a flaming kitty for a moment.

 Our first task was to pick rapeseed, peasant backpacks and all.

This land is not owned by Farmer Gao. He rents the land from what my skeptical imagination marks to be some sort of land baron, who predictably owns most of the land in the area. Farmer Gao in turn, rents small sections of the land to affluent urbanites who have been swept up in the typhoon of health consciousness. A 25'x10' plot is 1000kuai (164USD) per month. He either grows fully organic vegetables for them or the patrons can tend to their gardens as they please.

Picking rapeseed is complicated. Adding the language barrier, I still don't know if we were picking it the right way.

It must have been 40F outside. The leaves were wet. Hands red and burning. Raines is still jolly and adroit. 

Hat + Scarf + 3 Coats + Pants + Upper and Lower Base Layers + Thick Socks + Water Proof Boots + 1 Glove = Still Freezing

We picked, frozen digits, until dark

Day Two:
It was so cold I went to bed wearing everything that I arrived in. Even though the heat doesn't work in my apartment in Chongqing and I am accustomed to seeing my breath in the morning this was a whole new level of deep cold. We spent our morning sitting around the fire waiting for breakfast and a task. 

Farmer Gao waited to see if the temp would rise before he put us to work so we went on a walk. To the volunteers who planned on swimming in the river during summer Eco Camp, I apologize. 

The momma above is called Tudou'r (Potato). The small potatoes don't have names yet.  There are many animals on the farm. One dog was named Xiao Hei (Little Black). Another, Xiao Huang (Little Yell'r), but we called him Butt-Head for physiological reasons. And a pet chicken with a broken leg, his name is Ji (Chicken).

We ran out of firewood. 

Farmer Gao showed us how it is done

The PC Chongqing Province manager (my overseer), Sandy, and the Gansu PM came for lunch. 

Siting around the fire waiting for lunch. The Gao family is vegetarian. Their food is some of the best I've had in China, definantly the best in Chengdu. I can't wait to get back and eat. 

To reduce water consumption dishes are washed with sawdust. The sawdust absorbs all of the moisture in the bowl and is course enough to grind out any left food matter. 

For me this was the most exciting part of the farm. . . This is the farm's gas system (Or as my mom mentioned to me, biogas digester). The concrete circle in the back is a fermentation chamber. If you look to the nice picture below, there is organic waste stored in a chamber below the four concrete slabs. As the waste decomposes there is water run off that is funneled into the fermentation chamber. As the water ferments it lets off a type of methane gas that is stored in the raised concrete chamber in the picture above. The little red knob turn the gas on and off. The methane gas is used to heat the shower and sink water. Fascinating, right?!

Despite the pleasantness of Sandy and Shawn there is organic waste stored below the concrete slabs

Farmer Gao shows us cauliflower

Broccoli above. If you are wondering why broccoli and cauliflower grow similar leaves it is because broccoli is the child of cauliflower and the green pea (I think . . .).

This structure was built and painted by some brilliant volunteers during the winter pilot project. There is even an electrical outlet tucked away in the ceiling. 

Chillin, literally . . .

Six Pack sitting on IPad
Day Three:
In the morning there was rain, sleet, and snow. With high humidity and the temperature dropping below 40F it was too cold and wet to work. The following day's forecast was dismal. Since working conditions were not safe, we opted to leave the farm a day early. Even though we were frozen for two days straight, we honestly made the best of our time on the farm. All laughs, smiles, sarcasm, interpretations, and singing in temperatures some may have broken down in tears. I am so fortunate to have shared this experience with Raines and Shawn. I know we are now much closer because of it. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Winter Vacation: Climbing in Getu

After Peace Corps China's annual In-Service Training in Chengdu many volunteers migrate south for the remainder of winter break (mid-Jan through late Feb). I didn't reach as far as South Asia, but I did deal with some serious sun burn and am currently wearing a gnarly glasses tan. Due to time restrictions and forces out of my grasp my trip was only a week long. Our travel troop consisted of Libby (just one of the badass Peace Corps Chongqingers), Marisa (my cultured girlfriend), and myself. This post will swiftly take you day by day.

Day One: Missed Flight and Survivor 
Marisa arrived in Chengdu! She was immediately introduced to the fiery power of Sichuan cuisine, respiratory tract weathering and vision impairing amounts of smog, and the copious amounts of banal yet deeply curious stares most blond/blue eyed/white people get in the more back country cities in China. Marisa will study abroad at Peking University, in Beijing, this semester. I must admit that I admire Marisa's resilience and tolerance for things-out-of-the-ordinary. For first impressions, traveling from the cold havoc of Chengdu to the back-back country in rural Guizhou, with two volunteers who don't care much for functional amenities and things of that nature, is breakdown inducing. But no teary twitch even feigned to occur.

To save 18 hours of time spent on the train instead of climbing we booked flights from Chengdu to Guiyang. We missed our flight on the morning of Jan 28th, so all of our brilliant travel planning ended in vein. But we did find out that if you miss your plane in China you are still able to change flights for a price of 50 kuai (8USD)! Our newly scheduled flight didn't leave until the following morning so we had an entire day to blow.  We decided that our time would be best spent at Survivor Climbing Gym in Chengdu. Libby and I went there a couple times during IST. We met the owner, who had placed eighth in the world in 2005 five and a dude from Washington who has spent the last four years developing climbing in Western China. I had actually read two of his climbing guides prior to meeting him. When there are other climbers at the gym it is a little intimidating because all them are experts at their art. I think all of the best climbers are drawn to this gym because it is the only gym in SW China.

Some gear (new shoes) and goods Marisa brought from the states and the old sections of bouldering wall at Survivor Rock Gym. 

Survivor is on the top floor of a nearly abandoned mall in Chengdu. Although the interior is well marked with signs indicating its location, none of the escalators or lights are turned on, you are visually inundated by old advertisements and store signs loaded with Chinese characters and meaningless numbers, all the walls are leaking and rusty, and all the surfaces are coated in a layer of dust. This place is quintessential China dystopia. It feels like this is a place you could survive the zombie apocalypse.  

Day Two: Traveling to Getu
The following day we flew to Guiyang, the provincial capital of Guizhou Province, located in in South Central China.  Although Guizhou Province remains one of China's least developed and poorest provinces it is of remarkable beauty and still values firm conservation of culture. Day to day life is still really tough for many people in Guizhou, but you can tell by the overwhelming amounts of smilies and laughter that there is something they hold deep that makes it all worth it. 

Rising above the smog trapped in the Sichuan Basin

Abnormal Chinese airplane food

Getting to Getu is quick but not easy. Getu or Getu River (格凸河), as the Chinese people in the area know it, was not on any map until recently. In 2011, French climbing company Petzl sponsored a RocTrip to develop climbing in Getu. Teams of developers bolted routes for weeks totaling to over two hundred pitches. Hopping on the bandwagon, the provincial government started pouring money into developing Getu for mass tourism. I am not sure when it was officiated, but Getu is registered as a Chinese National Park. Right now Getu is in the midst of development, and if you have experienced a rural place in the process of development for tourism you will know that it is ugly, awkward, and the people  living there have no clue which way is up.  From what I was told, every year since the RocTrip, Getu has gotten more hectic, resulting in the loss of the quaint style of living found in rural mountain areas of China. On the positive side, right now, Getu is transitioning into a tourist economy, meaning the mind sets of the people there are too adapting and transmogrifying. 

How to get to Getu: 
1. From Guiyang Long Distance Bus Station or Airport Bus Station go to Anshun (30 kuai/1.5hrs). These buses arrive and depart every hour or so.
2. From the Anshun (安顺) Bus Station to Ziyun (紫云) (30 kuai/2hrs). These buses arrive and depart every 20 mins. Note: In Ziyun you will start to find people who know about or have heard of Getu. Before Ziyun don't expect much.
3. From Ziyun Bus Station take a small bus to Getu (格凸) (10 kuai/1hrs). Or you can take a taxi, which is only a little faster and it will cost 40-100 kuai. Note: the buses come every 20 mins 

When you arrive in Getu you will know you are there. The mountains will let you know. There are many hotels that range from 60-150 kuai per night. They have nice hot showers and softish beds, which is rare for Chinese hotels. You can camp in the mountains if you feel like it, no problem, just bring a tent. There is an admission fee to the National Park (Zone C). I think it was waived for us since we are foreigners. Most of the climbing in Getu (Zone A and Zone B, probably 80% of the climbing) lies outside of the park borders, so you will never have to pay to climb there. There are three really good restaurants at near the main gate of the park. They stay open until around 9pm.  Finding a lunch to pack is a very difficult. We resorted to eating snacks for breakfast and lunch for most of the trip. Maybe all the fruit was out of season when we were there, but there was no fruit anywhere. You can buy supplies in Ziyun. 

The Great Arch is as GREAT as they say. Seeing the arch is worth a trip in itself. They say it has greatest open air mouth in the world. You can climb inside the arch. We arrived later in the day. 

 At night all of the mountains disappear in the night and the stars and planets peer quietly down. 

Day Three: Pussa Yan Crag
Morning. Strapped for climbing. 

A river that drains into the abyss of Lazy Dragon's Cave behind our hotel

Road to Zone B Crags 

Zone B and a stinky buffalo friend (From left: White Crag, CDMI Wall, Pussa Yan) 

 There are rice paddies and strawberry groves below all of the crags

 Libby at the base of Pussa Yan Crag

 Zone A in the distance (Fish Crag, Left of Red, Rastaman, etc.)

We made it to Getu in time for Chinese New Year. The locals were making these glutenous rice paddies with super spicy bean filling. We ate these for lunch for the first couple of days at Getu. 

 Me leading a 5.10 route at Pussa Yan Crag

We met a climbing couple who we ended up having dinner with every night of our trip. They are climbing around the world for one year. He is from Catalonia and she is from Brazil. Some Chinese guys stopped by to talk and take pictures. 

 Zone B Crags at sunset

 Rastaman and Oliver's Crag at sunset

Day Four: White Crag
Out early. The Zones A and B are a 30 min walk from the town center. The fog was so thick that morning you could barely see 20ft. in front of you.  

Marisa approaching White Crag 

The sound of goat bells never fails to toll at the crags 

I got too scared. Marisa finished leading this 5.10 route at White Crag 

Day Five: Left of Red Crag and Hiking

We were in above our heads. Marisa took a slight fall while leading this difficult 5.10 route. We were exhausted by this point. We had climbed for the past three days, from dawn till dusk in the blaring sun, no shade at the crags. 

So we stopped and went for a short hike!

We stopped at a spot called Secret Garden

Day Six: Miao Village and Bouldering at Color Changing Lake
Just before noon we left for the Miao Village


One thing that many westerners don't know about China is that not all indigenous Chinese look 'Chinese.' There are 55 ethnic minorities in China. They comprise about 8% of China's overall population. The other 92% are Han Chinese. I am half Han Chinese by blood. The Miao are heavily staked in Guizhou Province. They have their own language/dialect but nothing is written. Their mythology and folk tales are told through their elaborate clothing. Even though the Miao are one of the biggest minorities in China, like all minorities all over the world the Miao struggle to be heard. I seems that most of the people living in Getu are Miao. The older Miao still wear traditional grab out of normalcy, yet the young Miao ride fast motorcycles, wear silver earrings and lots of black pleather. With the development of Getu I suspect that the Miao here will soon face history's timeless dilemma of tradition or progress. 

The Village is in the process of developing for tourism, but there still are serene places. 

Baby Pig

Path to Color Changing Lake

You can barley see him through the trees, but there was a man chipping white limestone out of the ground in his backyard. You see exposed limestone all over Getu. It is clear that the white limestone is worth something to the people. 

Color Changing Lake is said to be one of the two deepest lakes in Guizhou. A sign said in Chinese and English that the lake was 900-somthing meters deep. . . I don't really believe that. But, the sign also said that the lake changes color with the seasons. 

Unexpectedly we found two awesome boulders at the lake. I call the first 'Chameleon Rock' in ode to the name of the lake Biansehu. Bianselong (color changing dragon) or chameleon. And for its multitude of tiny holds that seem to change position at every grasp.

This is the second boulder at the lake. It is perched no more than 30ft. above Chemelon Rock. I call it 'Miao's Razor' in relation to the mountain called 'Sword of Miao' in the area. Also, every single hold on this rock is like a razor. 

Yeah, we drew a crowd
Chinese people love to photo bomb
Yeah. . .

Day Seven: CDMI Wall
First cloudy day at Getu was our last day at getu

When I am not climbing I am pounding sun flower seeds
I am pretty sure Marisa is top roping a really scary 5.10 I led

Like Getu smiled as we left the crags

We had these stale egg cakes for break fast and lunch everyday. . .

Day Eight: A Day in Chongqing City
Even though I live in Chongqing Province I have not seen much of the city. Libby left for Chengdu so Marisa and I spent some time exploring by ourselves. This picture was taken just before a thief plowed through the crowd in his getaway.

Kites at the port


A Brief Note On Hiking:
I have never seen any writing about hiking at Getu so I will do it. Getu has amazing hiking potential. There is one main road that runs through the center of the town all the way to a Miao Village, and on this road there are dozens of entrances to goat trails. Many people complain, myself included, that there is no hiking in China. That the ornamental steps the tourism developers install in the mountains ruins the authenticity of a hike. I agree, so I started hiking the goat and peasant trails. China has no shortage of these trails, they are everywhere. They are safe and decently maintained. If you want to find good hiking just follow that old man carrying the 100lbs. roll of sticks on his back or the heard of goats. See where they go. So if you are not a climber and want to see Getu I recommend that you pack a cheap tent and get lost on some goat trails.