Sunday, May 21, 2017

Visiting the Yellow River in China

One of the few things most westerner know about China is the Yellow River. Most probably can't find it on the map but it is it one of the rivers, like the Nile or the Amazon, that people have heard of at least sometime in their life. In 2005 when visiting the steam railway in Pingdinshan with Ken Arnold and Don Richard we found ourselves in Zhengzhou which is a huge crossroads in China. Sort of China's Chicago. One of the geographic features is the Yellow River is just to the north of town. There is an location along the river called the Yellow River Scenic area. Zhengzhou is noted in history as the location where the advance of the Japanese Army was halted in 1938 due to a massive flood created by the Chinese Army. The Chinese have always been masters of canals, bridges, and walls. One of the things that was in place at that time was a well-developed system of dikes to control the Yellow River and enable it to be used for trade. The Japanese Army was to the north and Zhengzhou was on the south bank. As I mentioned it was sort of the crossroad of China. Their Chicago. The loss of Zhengzhou would have been devastating to the Chinese. 

As the Japanese Army advanced the Chinese destroyed critical dikes causing a monstrous flood that destroyed a giant swath of farmland and villages. Millions of people lost everything and upwards of a million people died. No time in history has a government killed so many of its own people to win a battle. 

Heading of to see this scenic and historic spot was found a cab and tried to explain to the driver what we wanted with charades and no functional Chinese. We were actually pretty good at doing this and have seen much of China this way. The driver made some calls and got an English-speaking man on the phone. It was some member of his extended family. He informed us that the driver had been up all night driving and was finishing his shift and if we wait he would come pick us up. We said sure and asked how much. He told us not to worry. About 30 minutes later "Tom" showed up in his black Honda sedan. He took us to the Yellow River and we enjoyed great conversation with him and gained a lot of insight into the area from him. 

After visiting the Yellow River he wanted to take us to see his city. He was obviously very proud of it. He took us to lunch at a nice restaurant and insisted on paying he bill. He asked us what we might like to do and we said we were interested in souvenirs and he took us to an antique market. It was a really neat place but I didn't really want anything because of my desire to travel light and not own a lot of stuff. Kenny found a neat old vase. Tom informed us it was a genuine Ming Dynasty antique. I was a little puzzled when Kenny bought it. As we finished out day with Tom we thanked him and parted ways. I noticed Kenny didn't have his vase. He left it in Tom's car as a gift thinking this would be the only way to do something for him to thank him for his kindness. 

We did keep in touch with Tom by email and a number of years later he let us now he would be in Philadelphia on business. Tom was in the business of back packs and hand bags. His company manufactured and sold them around the world. We met up with him in Philadelphia and took a tour of the some of the historic areas including the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Nearby was a Chinese man standing on the corner with a sign and a loudspeaker protesting in Chinese. Tom heard it and we asked what he was saying. We could tell he was uncomfortable and he just said it was not good things being said. As we were parting ways he went into his stuff and pulled out Kenny's vase and said that he had been holding on to it to give back to him. 

People might say the Chinese treat American business unfair, they might complain about the lack of fair elections, human rights, or whatever else China is up to but there are really good people in China. It is a place filled with culture differences that scare most but fascinate some. It is a place the is very safe and filled with people who are kind. I have been to China five times for periods of up to 3 weeks, at this point I might not ever go back because there is still large swaths of the world I need to see. But  even with that being said, there is always something calling me back. 

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