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CHINA: Himalaya spring

Paul Simon is stationed in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan. In my American atlas, the Himalaya start in Kashmir (close to the westernmost tip of Tibet and stretch east to Bhutan, far west of Sichuan. I wonder if the Chinese maps give a different extent to the range. Paul says: "Just a few hundred yards ahead of my camera, the Himalayas begin. Tea trees, bamboo, and fields of yellow rapeseed.

Down the road a piece, elderly men take their birds outside (still in the cages, which they hang in trees). This is called Fang Niao. In front of me, a youngish farmer pushes a homemade barrow piled with fresh vegetables. He stops to rest and is embarrassed when I ask him, "Too heavy?" He gets up and totters down the road. In many ways the rural Sichuan countryside has not changes in hundreds of years. Since the famed engineer Li Bin and his son built the nearby Dujiangyen waterworks during the Qin dynasty (BC!!), the area has been immune to drought. I walk past mandarin orange trees, fields of rapeseed, thick-skin vegetables, green onions, and leafy vegetables I have eaten but have no idea of their names.

A balmy breeze enfolds me, redolent of manure and rape flowers. The willows put out fresh leaves, but I can still see mistletoe growing up in the poplar tops. The waterworks gurgle. Three little peasant girls come laughing by, dressed in red, their hair in pigtails. The littlest jumps the ditch on her own, rejecting her sister's offer of help. She beams when I say, "congratulations".

Ronald Hilton - 3/11/02