27 January 2007

The Bus to Dandong, Part I

070117 10:16 Bus

Driving through farmland.

Rolling hills striped with snow and cut stalks.

Ice covered paths winding through small groups of low buildings.

Low hills surround the fields.

The heater is blasting away, cooking my feet in their shoes.

Frozen river cuts across the countryside.

A cell tower rises above the road.

Power lines crisscross the fields.

Most buildings are low and brick, some red, others gray.

Low walls outline small farming communities or factory grounds.

Mounded stalks like gumdrops on the snowy field.

The sun climbs through the haze, sending a yellow glare.

The road is not very busy, a few cars and cargo trucks.

There is a calm simplicity to the landscape, the pastoral scene common to farms in temperate climates, winter on the farm.

The peace is broken by sprawling industrial compounds crammed against the road, overlooked on the opposite side by apartments.

The hills move in closer to the villages.

Blue-gray smoke rises lazily from a few chimneys, a vaporous presence hanging above the house.

We pass a factory with four large rockets clustered together: a decoration, a sign or a smokestack?

The hills press closer in on the road now.

Poured concrete and block holds back the hills from spilling over onto the highway.

Snow clings in the shade to the cold ground, white icing on the rural scene, contrasting fields of white with the cracking brick structures.

More rivers, stilled with ice.

More hay, mounded in the fields.

The repetition of the countryside.

Each community similar but different.

Blue door frames against rusty brick, a red shirt hangs on the line, a bright focal point in the monotony.

The heater burns hotter still, I will be cooked before we get there.

Ice skating on the river as we near Benxi City.

Row after row of apartments rise up, new construction casting a shadow on the old.

Lower buildings crowd the hill.

Tree covered terraces push even higher up.

An old man pushes a wheelbarrow along a narrow path on the side of a hill.

We head for the Dayu tunnel.

Through the other side, more apartments reach up from the valley floor to look over the highway.

Mountains crowd closer together, we head toward Wujialing tunnel, passing a petrol truck first.

The road winds along the edge of the hills, the villages fill the spaces below.

Stacks of corn stalks like cones in the white fields, creating their own pattern against the rows of stumps and dark walls of terraces.

The road winds up and down, the terraces slide back and forth, cut only by the twisting path heading for the top of the mountain.

We pass through tunnel after tunnel, over bridge after bridge.

What this trip must have been like before them is almost unimaginable.

A train runs on the tracks below us, hauling cars of coal.

It is 11:16.

The snow is thinning out as we head south.

Rows of low brick houses with concrete roofs line up around the factories, squatting under the smokestacks.

A several-story pagoda atop the hill overlooks the scene with a sense of aloofness.

The courtyards of the farmhouses have binds of dried corn.

A few chickens wander around under lines of drying laundry.


A brief rest stop.

Cool off.

Stretch legs.

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