One of the benefits we gain from traveling is perspective. We am so very grateful for the country in which we live. In 2007 the group that we lead went to China. China is full of dichotomies – it is serene yet chaotic, beautiful yet repulsive, modern yet steeped in tradition, forward-looking yet backwards in so many ways.
We were told that in the recent past, it was possible to wade across the Yangtze River. In 2007 the Three Rivers Gorge Dam had raised the River to 195 feet of the total 574 feet height (the approximate height of a 48 story building). To see this incredible feat of engineering and ingenuity was impressive.
Along the River there are markers that show where the River’s height will be at completion. It is poignant what will be gained and lost by this project. We are oddly awed by the achievement, yet remorseful to be a spectator to the villages, even whole cities, farms, homes – to the life – that will someday be part of the River’s rising waters.
At one point we get on smaller boats to visit a village in the Lesser Gorges. The mighty Yangtze flows with force and power and has little time to deal with the people and their meager existence. In the Lesser Gorges the ebb and flow take on the outcast and refuse of society.
In the distance there is a foggy mist that clings to the waters and to what looks like a bog or beach. As we get closer we see a line of boats and realize that the boggy beach is a floating sea of trash. On each boat there are a couple of men who are in a rhythmical pattern using bamboo rakes to scoop trash out of the River and deposit it on the deck of their boat.
We watch the men work as we float by this offensive floating island of refuse, with plastic, Styrofoam and paper products; with decomposing pigs and human waste. Our tour guide, David is not far from us as we watch this surrealistic scene of everyday life. He has heard this all before: “Why would anyone do this job?” “Why don’t they use the nets or machinery and haul more trash quicker?” “Can’t something be done to stop the trash from accumulating?” etc.
David waits for us to finish, then says “We have a country of 1.3 million people; everyone needs a job every day.” Silently we watch as we float away.
Perspective: there is work to be done, sometimes it is not pleasant, but we all have a job to do. Travel also makes me appreciate the work that I have done and am doing.
We arrive at the village in the Lesser Gorges and they have prepared a local buffet for us. David tells us not to stop and buy the food from the ladies on the steps, “it looks good, but your system is too, shall I say, delicate.”
David also shared with us that his mother used to tell him to eat his dinner because there “are starving capitalists children in America.” My mom used to use a similar commanding logic with me. We can grow up half a world apart from someone yet still find common ground.
Perspective: Mom’s are pretty much the same all over the world. Eat what she puts on your plate.