Aba  Part 2....
Thursday        October 14, 2004        1:20AM

Ok, I was reading my last journal entry and thought it kinda dragged on for a
while so I'm just gonna give you bits and pieces from each day and move on!
God lord, so much is happening I just feel like sitting here and writing to you all
about everything, but then that leaves very little story telling when I get back,

So, continuing on from last time, we didn't stay very long in the first county we
visited, but we certainly got a glimpse of Tibetan culture as our morning included
a walk around the city where we saw many people in colorful, intricately
embroidered traditional clothing, then breakfast (where I ate this soup composed
of what looked like animal scraps from the local butcher), and I bought myself a
new cap. I passed on the huge, furry ones the locals were wearing, just wasn't
my kind of couture. hehe When you see my picture of me wearing one, you'll
understand why I settled for a regular baseball cap!
Roughly about 300km from Tibet, the mountainous region of Aba is home
to several Tibetan tribes and is fast becoming one of the more increasingly
developed portion of Sichuan Province. Tourist from all over China visit this
region to experience Tibetan culture; so during our trip, we got to sample a
little bit of it. With Professor Zeng bringing his family along, we did some
site-seeing, picture taking, and just staying in the accommodations we were
in, you could begin to get an ideal of how several of these tribes lived. Yes,
we had hotels, but due to the huge number of tourist during the national
holiday, it was a nightmare finding a place to house 12 people. Of course
they did all the work while I was being the good little foreign student (who,
actually, blended in pretty well) and just followed orders. Anyway, the
hotels were basically dark (lit by only one light bulb), dirty and almost
unbearably cold, especially at night! With only beds, a small cabinet with a
little TV that looked like the ones from the 50's, and a container for boiled
water, Professor Zeng (who I roomed with throughout the trip) flashed his
humongously huge trademark grin and reminded me how different all this
was from America as if he was apologizing for not finding a better place to
stay. I told him about how these humble rooms actually reminded me of our
home in the Philippines. We were lucky to have even found a place to stay.
Not being able to shower for 5 days, work on a decent desktop, use a
clean restroom, or have adequate heating was really no big deal for me. No,
I did not live like a pig back home!
We left the city for another long and bumpy bus ride to the next county. The views
on the way were unbelievable! The most notable scene has got to be the streets
lined with pear trees! That's right, PEARS! Like street trees, they carved the path
of the main road, but they were also grown in the endless farms that also raised
apples, persimmons, and even citrus. The climate here is remarkable! These trees
were amazing, I have to say. Being the fall season, each tree was LOADED with
deliciously ripe and crisp fruit with so much juice that it just had to run down your
chin when you bite into one. We purchased a few each day, but I just plucked one
off the tree during one of our rest stops and no one seemed to care. Fruit that
wasn't picked just fell to the ground. Another crop that could be found in
abundance was the infamous Sichuan pepper called Hua Jiao (Xanthoxylum sp.).
It's not that spicy hot, it's just MOUTH NUMBINGLY HOT. A wide assortment
of vegetables also covered the base of the hillsides. Corn was the main crop, but
cabbage, eggplant, numerous peppers, and squashes could also be found. Once
again, the deforestation for agriculture was clearly evident in the "bald"
mountainsides of Aba Prefecture. It was sad, but sorta cool seeing all these
vegetables growing just about anywhere. The concrete wall with squash growing on
top with the fruit just dangling from the edge was kinda neat.
Oh yeah, I bet you're wondering about what sorta research I got myself
into! Well, it turns out that I didn't really take part as much as I was
expecting to, but it was fine. I got some work done; I helped ID some
species they collected and at night, I would try to go through their books
(all in Chinese, of course) and try and match the plant with the ink-line
drawings to get to species if I knew the genus. Not the best way to key, of
course, but it was all I could do. I left if up to their botanist to confirm. We
didn't get far with many species, but some were pretty easy just up to the
Genus level. BUT, THE REAL RESEARCH was Professor Zeng's
project along the Dadu River where Hydrology stations were to be built.
With the company's ignorance towards the native vegetation and potential
rare species that existed in this region, the research team gathered data
about the flora and fauna to eventually present the data to the government
so proper action could be taken to protect the natural habitat of these
species. Prof. Zeng says that we can't stop them from building, we just
have to make them aware of the situation so they can take necessary
precautions. Very typical research strategy, but also very crucial!
Within the four regions we visited, plant material wasn't as
abundant as I had hoped. It was pretty much the same all out,
which was kind of disappointing being the plant snob I am. We
were at around 2000m, but it was slim picking in terms of
ornamental material I was hoping to collect. I ran into a cute little
rock fern with neatly dissected fronds. I turned the leaf over and
gasped at the chalky, pure white undersides! It was cool! Cooler
yet was a sky blue colored Salvia I ran into. The flowers were just
a little passed it; however, I managed to collect some "green" seed
and admire the flowers close up. It had a most unusual spotting
pattern and the plant itself looked behaved growing in tight clumps.
Among the plants we encountered, my most exciting find has got to be this
absolutely stunning evergreen Viburnum. I scoffed at this genus during my previous
expedition to Tao Yuan just because about all the fruit I had collected was some
variant of Viburnum plicatum. This find was no plain snowball bush baby, this was
an evergreen shrub, with almost obicular, small, deep green foliage oppositely
arranged in twos and sometimes threes and at the tips of each branch was this
cluster of metallic blue gems! I noticed our botanist, Lan, (who I originally met in
Wolong) looking at this plant so I took a look and my jaw just dropped! Sure,
some of you plant people might say, "Oh, just another V. tinus, davidii, or
propinquum type", but based on the plants I've seen in the last few days of this trip,
this was like gold to me! After some web searching, I'm guessing that this might be
Viburnum atrocyaneum. I collected the fruit and also took herbarium specimens that
are being pressed as I type this entry.
The most culturally rich and fulfilling moment of my trip of Aba was a brief
stay at a Tibetan home. As we hiked and crossed a treacherous bridge, we
ran into a local farmer, who invited us into his home. There we met his family
and had a most pleasant gathering for lunch. As you passed the little
bamboo gate, you were greeted by numerous chickens that guarded the
stairs up to the front "door". You notice a little trough on your left planted
with a native Iris species and red zonal Pelargoniums (odd plant combo, but
hey, it works for them) and hear the oinks of pigs, the giggles of children and
smell.....I couldn't really describe the smell to you. Anyhow, you get used to
it and enter a charming leveled home with a central open area that allows the
most natural light in. The central feature was a very thin and somewhat
unstable stairway that you could climb to get to the rooftop. We all made
our way up as we trembled in fear and the little kids continued to giggle as
they followed after us and scaled the scary steps like it was absolutely
nothing. The weather cooperated with us during this time and the fresh
mountain air on a clear, sunny day was so invigorating. Ears of corn and
bunches of red peppers were strung and decorated the eves of the roof.
And then, when you look out, the view of the river and the mountains just
added to the excitement of being in the home of these warm and hospitable
We took numerous pictures and the family was kind enough to
dress for us for a really great photo op! We eventually came down
and we were escorted into a dark, but cozy room where they
served us freshly picked apples and walnuts we had to crack open
with rocks. Later, we realized that they had cooked corn (just
picked from his fields) while we were up on the rooftop. They also
came in with several boiled potatoes and we got a small sampling of
Tibetan ham which was quite tasty not being so salty like most
hams. And then, bags of bread and baozi from the morning
breakfast were packed and reheated in their kitchen to complete
our lunch. All this might sound kind of surprising as most people
associate Tibetans as people living in harshly cold conditions eating
only yak meat in ridiculously high elevations. This was such a
pleasant and memorable experience. I remember the little kids
especially; I made sure to pocket a few Wherther's Originals during
this trip to hand out to kids and to see them light up and say, "Xie
Xie (thank you)" was really cool!
It was early in the morning when we returned to Chengdu and I was praying my
Chinese anti-diarrhea medication purchased the night before would work for the 7
hour bus ride back to the city (yup, I got sick again, but this time it wasn't as bad and
the medicine did work, YAY!). It was a hassle to get bus tickets back so we got the
very back seats, but it didn't matter. The bus ride was, by far, the most comfortable
ride during this whole trip. The windows were clean enough to see the mist of clouds
surrounding the forests and snow dusted mountains AND this was a non-smoking
bus! BIG signs posted all over!! I was sooo relieved! We had to stop for a few
hours to wait for a toll gate to open so people got out to use the "W.C.", have a bit
to eat from the many many vendors that just congregated together at the sight of
backed up traffic. I took some photos of the scenery only to be distracted by the
awful sight of trash that seemed to percolate like water into the native vegetation that
grew on the hillside down to the river. It made me so angry that people are that
ignorant about the environment here. You see people during this national holiday
marvel that the great sites their country has to offer and then you see them toss a
empty water bottle or potato chip bag out of the window. It's really a sad picture!
The most disturbing moment was this woman and her child, who was obviously not
feeling well. The mother had her throw up in a bag and she just threw it out the
window along with some candy wrappers and another bag she had no use for. Then
she kept telling her to spit on the floor of the bus to get the icky taste out of her
mouth. Professor Zeng's daughter said, "It's just a terrible habit people have."
During our little hold up at the toll gate, we went for a walk and found
an elderly man selling what looked like Chinese Cymbidiums or Lan
Hua, as they're called here. He was carrying them in a small box,
bareroot, and also had a few potted in instant noodle cups. Of course I
expressed interest, finding a few with interesting variegated foliage, until
he told us that he collected them from the wild. I asked Professor Zeng's
daughter to tell him that he should not collect and disturb the plants in
the wild because they are already rare and hard to find. As expected, he
got upset and stormed off to seek other potential customers. "He said
that he was poor and needed the money." Apparently, Lan Hua is so
highly revered by the Chinese in that they pay big money ($5, once you
do the conversion) for it. I had such mixed feelings as I watched him try
to sell off the potentially thousands of dollars worth (when smuggled and
sold to collectors in the US and Europe) of rare Chinese Cymbidiums to
the other tourist. As bad as I felt for the guy trying to scrape up money
to make a small living, I also felt that people should be more aware,
much like the littering issue, about preserving the things that make their
land so precious.
So yeah, there it is! Another portion of Sichuan visited, several more to go!

See you all then!

(Who has improved his bike riding skills by 10-fold since coming back from
Aba! Oh, got a new bike too with the help of Alissa!)
Photographs and Site Contents Copyright © Rizaniño H. Reyes. All rights reserved