The dry, powdery, gray surface of the moon.
That was my first impression flying into the Lanzhou Airport in northern Gansu Province, where our Amity Winter Conference was being held last week.
Every year, we Amity teachers meet together for a week in different areas of the country where Amity rural development projects are taking place. We are introduced to the area in our hotel meeting rooms, then go off to countryside sites to see Amity in action among the very poor. We also do teacher workshops, sharing our lessons with one another, and fill in the extra time with worship, catching up, and being informed by staff about certain business items. Then it’s off for vacation, wherever we choose, before the New Year holidays end and send us back to our schools, starting at times from Feb. 16 to March 1, depending on our colleges’ schedules.
This being my first trip to Gansu, the barren mountainsides of sandstone and rock that stretched for miles truly amazed me. After my lush, green, Sichuan panda country, I was literally dumped onto the moon’s surface where not a single green could be seen anywhere. When it came to the busride into the capital city, another surprise awaited me. We drove and weaved through this bleak land for 70 minutes, not a single village or town in sight, before a sudden turn brought us to sprawling Lanzhou (lahn-joe), a population of 3.5 million.
According to statistics, there are 10 most polluted cities in the world. 5 of these are in China. I was told years ago, Lanzhou was one of them (in the 1990s) but has been cleaned up quite a bit since then. It’s still a bit more hazy than what I’ve experienced down south. The smog that hovered over and through it was impossible to miss. There was nothing at all pretty about the place, from my perspective, just a lot of buildings and heavily trafficked main streets. Given also that it was winter, with temperatures in the 20s, made it even more unpleasant.
From my 17th floor hotel window, the haze was dense and thick all during the week I was there. The mountains barely managed to pierce through this smog although you could make them out a tiny bit. Car horns and traffic was likewise atrocious, sending vehicle exhaust fumes puffing to overtake what little clean oxygen there might be for us people to breath in.
Having this kind of introduction within a matter of hours to Gansu Province, I knew in an instant that Amity’s rural development projects were much needed here. I just couldn’t imagine people surviving in such an environment, either in or outside of the city. With rainfall being so little, sometimes not a single drop for over 5 months, how could people in the countryside and mountainous areas live?
I was about to find out Wednesday, when our visits to Amity projects would take us to just those kind of barren places and bring us among the people in Gansu who lived there.