Will we lament how green were our valleys

Updated: 2012-08-04 14:35

By Huang Xiangyang (China Daily)

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My mood turned sour as I trudged along the rugged mountain path in Yunnan province last week. I even started to regret my decision to travel there for a holiday.

The journey was hard - an 18-kilometer trek through dense forest to a secluded Tibetan village, Yubeng, at the foot of the snow-capped Meili Mountain. My heart was pounding wildly, my feet were leaden and I was gasping for air on the high altitude.

But what upset me was not physical strain - I had actually asked for it to test my strength and will to the limit - nor the muddy and swampy road after days of heavy rain, not even the putrid smell from years of accumulated excrement of horses and donkeys that carry provisions for villagers living in the depths of forests on the mountain.

It was garbage at each step that turned me off.

As I lumbered on I saw a hiking trail littered with plastic and glass bottles, beer and soft drink cans, polystyrene and paper instant noodle containers. The shrubs that lined the road were strewn with plastic bags and tattered ponchos, in addition to snack packets made of materials ranging from plastic and tinplate to polyolefin. Dustbins of bamboo baskets at a regular distance were either full or broken as a result of neglect, adding to the mess of wastes.

My local friend accompanying me told me that the garbage had been left behind by the increasing number of tourists who, drawn by the village's primitive beauty, started swarming it since the early 1990s. Local villagers, locked in mountains and short of garbage disposal means, could do nothing but see the wastes pile up year after year.

The filth reminded me of what I see daily in Beijing, where people litter and spit at random. On my way home from work after night shift, I would walk past several street barbecue stalls where groups of people, some stripped to the waist in summer, boozed and booed. Grill sticks and leftovers were strewn all around. The smell of swill permeated the air as drunkards vomited and urinated in the greeneries nearby. I would hold my breath and quicken my pace as I passed by.

To flee from such nauseating environment, even for a few days, was the very reason I had taken a four-hour flight from Beijing plus a seven-hour bumpy bus ride from Kunming to visit the remote mountainous area called Shangri-la, "a fairyland, a paradise on earth".

But the endless piles of garbage and litter gave me a sense of hopelessness - there is really no escape in China nowadays as urban pollution makes inroads even into places as secluded and remote as Yubeng. I wonder if there are still places left unscathed.

This is a sad reality.

As our country's economy takes off, our space for survival decreases at an alarming rate and the environment turns toxic.

Actually, muck has already reached our doorsteps. According to a Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development survey, conducted several years ago, one-third of Chinese cities are besieged with domestic and industrial wastes.

Nearly half of the 18,000-ton garbage that Beijing generates daily is left untreated because of technological restraint. That apart, it has been considered one of the worst cities to live in because of its chronic air pollution.

In the economic powerhouse of Guangdong province, waterways are little more than open sewers as three-fourths of the industrial wastewater and domestic sewage - that is, 12.5 billion tons of untreated gunk - was dumped directly into the rivers last year.

The ever-deteriorating environment in China explains why the number of cancer patients is increasing by more than 20 percent a year, and the disease has become the No 1 killer in the country.

Chinese people have always longed for and loved clean and beautiful environment. Odes to mountains and rivers are an eternal theme in Chinese classical literature.

When I was young I used to sing: "My motherland is a garden of flowers". I was wrong. The country is not a garden. Instead of flowers we see wastes.

Now we don't even have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink, though we have started enjoying some sort of material prosperity. It is heartbreaking to see a 5,000-year-old civilization degenerate into a huge refuse dump.

My trip to Yunnan was not all that bad in the end. The local people are friendly and the food fantastic. I was mesmerized by the pristine snow mountains, azure sky, white clouds and dazzling green forests.

Will such natural, rustic beauty survive for our offspring to see?

The answer, my friends, is not blowing in the wind; it depends on what we do.

The author is a writer with China Daily. Email:huangxiangyang@chinadaily.com.cn