White Pearl Logo The NuJiang River Project
The 1996 NuJiang River Expedition Field Reports

Field Report No. 3

By White Pearl
November 10, 1996

From Fugong Town, Yunnan Province, China

I have changed the name of our expedition to USA - China NuJiang River Expedition of 1996 for several reasons. The sports officials have been chasing me down the river claiming I owe them money because this is a "sports" event. "What does River Sport have to do with Environment anyway? And stop giving out those T-shirts with the E-word on them!" Well, "it's China." So I deleted the E-word for now, and the T-shirts are all gone anyway. Another reason for the name change is the participation of the three Chinese from Beijing, and a couple of basketball players from Fugong. I put a lot of energy into trying to recruit the "renegade" riverrunners of the Yangtze and Yellow River descents. I feel it is wrong for foreigners to run rivers or climb mountains without participation of the nation's citizens. All of these people are mostly poor and couldn't get off work, but I was lucky that Wang Qi, a friend since 1987, could come and bring his friends.

© White Pearl

Recollections of China's River Runners
An interview with Wang Qi and Ding Kai

Wang Qi is China's most famous surviving river runner and leader because he was on the government sponsored Yangtze River Scientific Exploration Team of 1986 (known as the China Team), as a member of the river running team. AND he was the River Team Leader of the Beijing Yellow River Team of 1987. His friend and translator Ding Kai was also on the Beijing Yellow River Team. Both Wang Qi and Ding Kai have been part of the NuJiang paddle team.

The following are excerpts from my talks dating back to 1987 with the two river runners of their experiences during their year on the Yellow River.

Ding Kai: I was 17 when I met Wang Qi in 1987 on the Yellow River. For one year I had worked for the Army Dog Training and Breeding Program for the People's Army. At that time ten teams around China were hoping to be the first to launch their team in Tibet and win the race to the ocean. But in the end only three did: government sponsored Beijing Team, Luoyang Henan Province Team, (famous as the first Yangtze team to run Tiger's Leap Rapid and reach the ocean first), and the Anwai Manchan Team consisting of tough guys from that town's steel mills.

I remember from my research that the Beijing Yellow River Team had five leaders mostly from the city government agencies. Wang Qi was the only one experienced in river running but was only in charge of the river team. He was always frustrated at being outvoted by the government leaders, but because of his leadership, Beijing Team claim to have only lost one man due to his own foolishness. In contrast, the Luoyang Team and Anwai Team lost both their leaders and other members to the river. The total death count is still controversial.

Ding Kai: I worked at first as Operations Leader on the science team gathering data on rocks and animals. At the source of the Yellow River, data collection was almost impossible. Even the locals did not know names of the animals. Since I was attracted by the chance to see new places and people I continued the work. I had no idea that I would be gone for over one year. In the end, I was allowed to join the river team and rowed or paddled from inland through Shandong Province to the sea, maybe 1,000 miles. The work was very hard. 8-10 men rowed 20 ft boats. We had four 20 ft boats, two small paddle boats like here on the NuJiang, and 1 capsule raft, of course, provided by the designer of the original Yangtze inflatable capsule, ChungKeng Rubber Factory.

The most exciting event was the running of HeKou Waterfalls, China's Niagara. The most tragic events were the deaths, especially the deaths of Luoyang Team's leaders, Lei Jin Sheng and Lang Bao Luo. Now only Wang Qi is left alone, of all the famous leaders of the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers. He has been to me like an older brother since the Yellow River time.

Wang Qi: The night before my friends Lei Jin Sheng and Lang Bao Luo died, both teams were camped at a beautiful place which reminds me of a camp on the Nu Jiang. I sat up all night with Lang Bao Luo, Luoyang's second commander, talking of China's future. We talked long of the yearning to live beyond the river's toll to experience it and also of the heavy responsibilities of being Team Leader. Now we faced a canyon called La Jia Gorge, over 250 kilometers of roadless impenetrable canyon. The next day he died, with Lei Jin Sheng and two others.

Only Cricket, a quiet and modest man, survived to tell the story like Ishmael in the whale story. I will never forget being there on the Yellow River in 1987 with the Luoyang Team listening to that sad tale. After I shared that memory with Wang Qi, he smiled, a smile lovely to see breaking through the melancholy of his loss. He is a GreenPeace member and loves the Moby Dick saga. So many deaths in two years - of strong bright young men - happened. None of the women died, although they also went into the capsule - to run the tidal oceanic waters of the Yellow River, Mother of China, and to risk death.

Wang Qi: After two weeks of considering the HeKou Waterfall running, we leaders chose one woman to go as a statement of the equality we had experienced in our running the river. Of course I demanded the right and honor as leader to be the Chosen One in the Capsule Raft but the government would have none of it. They knew I was the only one who could inspire the team to achieve the First Descent to the ocean, and we still had 2,000 miles to go. All of us had just come from Lei Jin Sheng's cremation on the Yellow River where 100,000 paid their tributes. His death spread over the scene of the 50,000 people surrounding He Kou Falls to witness this historic moment.

When the capsule raft in the three tests failed to surface for ten minutes each time from the whirlpool, the woman rafter withdrew in understandable fear. Then a young, strong and handsome man Zhang Xiao Jun was chosen by the government leaders. He was a man who was unmarried and without children and he sailed through without problem. At that time I was still brooding over Lang and Lei's deaths, on whether or not the competitiveness of our teams had led to these deaths through the eagerness to be first. So far only one had died of my team; I wanted no more. No, I was not so happy in the running of the Yellow River. I prefer to think back to the Yangtze when every day life was a simple confrontation with my own mortality, and not full of worry for others.

© Wang Qi

My pictures of Wang Qi, Lei Jin Sheng, and Lang Bao Luo on the Yellow River swim to the top of my mind. Like long haired bearded warriors of ancient times sworn not to cut their hair, they ride with oars like swords, battling the river daily, seeing death as a casual occasion, justified by their own sense of identity blended with the river. White water beyond comprehension stretched for 3,000 miles - 160,000, 250,000, 300,000 cubic feet per second. And in the upper waters were the grim rapids of death where Tibetan water buried corpses burst from leather coffins and floated the eddies...

I am interrupted in my thoughts by a man being introduced to me in the noisy Fugong cafe. He knew Lei Jin Sheng of the Luoyang Team in middle school. Wang Qi quietly whispers the news nine years old that Lei died on the Yellow River. The man accepts it in the Chinese way, no comment with just a touch of sadness on his face.

Wang Qi turns to me and mimics my clumsy chinese when I approached the bridges...Wo shi ...(I am White Pearl and this is my NuJiang rafting team). We laugh, and he comments,

We float Fugong to Liuku tomorrow. You know there are seven too large rapids. But after rafting with you I feel very happy. And I know that the deaths of the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers were not completely as I thought, the fault of our haste to reach the river first. As you said, most were due to the lack of the life saving clothes (wetsuits, life jackets) which were unavailable in China at that time. Thank you for introducing these clothes to us.

Ding Kai: We are all proud and happy to be a part of your NuJiang Team. Your purpose here is worthwhile, to teach environmental protection as well as to have a good time running the rapids. The picking up of garbage and cleaning the beach camp, the careful scouting and selection based on safety of the raftable rapids, are lessons good for China to know. NuJiang Expedition will help China river floating to improve.

Wang Qi: I hope that this cooperation is only the beginning between Americans and Chinese who love the river sport and its rivers. We would love to run another famous river with you, White Pearl.

© Shen Che
Hiking Report

A Day on Stone Moon Mountain

After concentrating for the last few days on river running, most of the team took a layover break and walked down from base camp above Fugong to the trail to Stone Moon "Ya ha ba" Peak. There they met Mr. Xiong Tai He of the NuJiang Travel Company who was with a young student of that village engaged to guide the group to the base of the saddle. The last few hundred feet is partially a technical rock climb and requires an additional day hiking, so the climbers stopped at the saddle. The top looks like a hole but is actually an arch. And the view is spectacular, of the Nu River and of snowy Gaoligong Mountain on the Myranmar (Burmese) border. You can read of the mountain's legend in this home page.

Chuck and Brad being serious hikers made the saddle in less than five hours while other team members lagged behind, becoming separately involved in the very personal and touching encounters with LiZu and NuZu people now happening daily. The trail like all trails here is very rugged and rocky, created by a people who can put the best of american

© P. Kantor
hikers to shame. Stopping to rest led everyone into conversations with locals who never seem to be phased by the language barrier. Nu language is in fact divided into two dialects sharing only 40% of the same words and even our Chinese speakers are stumped most of the time.

Betts and Zia met two grandmothers in the fields who proudly showed off sacks and sacks of harvested rice. They gave gifts of beans of a rainbow hue - red, blue, white, and purple. Norbert and Eileen were invited into the guide's home high up on the slope and sampled the family's popcorn. Mike found out that the nuts being harvested were tung oil, the mountain's one cash crop, which would be pressed by a government- operated shop in Fugong. Corn is the staple food here since it can grow on the extreme slopes and in only a few inches of soil. This shallow cultivation is a possible explanation of why the steep NuJiang valley farms are amazingly free of erosion.

Sandy and Bill were invited to visit a family whose stone house was being enlarged for the five children and new baby. Large families are common here because China does not impose any one child policy on most of the smaller nationalities who make up less than 10% of China's population. At this house also lived an uncle who helped out this subsistence family with a town job salary of surprising size - 400 rmb/mo, roughly $50. Of interest was that although Fugong County government owns the land, the family will own the house after it is finished. We are now used to the crowds of children who congregate and follow us around, delighted in this novel entertainment of strangers. Sandy said they left Stone Moon Mountain munching on sugar cane the children harvested for them.

A Friend for Life

By Zia Parker

© P. Kantor

From base camp today I walked off to find the closest pig to recycle our garbage of the day. Walking into the tiny village was like walking into another world. Tiny houses of aged wood seem to fit together like a three-dimensional puzzle. Animals live below raised rooms on stone walls with little bridges, decks and staircases connecting them. The third level below the eaves contains drying grain, other produce, and animal skins. Some of the roofs are thin slate slabs cut from the river walls.

A woman emerged from her house whom I recognized from the town nearby. She beamed a big smile at me, and motioned me inside. The fire was burning as they always are without reference to the outside temperature. She offered me a cup of the Nu buttered tea. There were small soft things floating in it and, on examining one, I saw it was an insect larvae stirred in to enrich the brew. I decided I preferred to play my flute. My new friend was delighted and, as is their custom, applauded and made me feel I had never had a better audience. I had dinner with her and her family, warmed by their simple hospitality in that fire lit smoky kitchen.

Fugong Town

As two of the Walking Wounded, Dennis and I are spending several nights staying in Fugong to nurse our bruises. That nasty flip you read about in the last report got Dennis a very painful rib injury although he will have to have a better x-ray back home to determine if it is broken. Our local doctor after leaving Tylenol (!) for us, wants to take Philip Kantor down to the Liuku hospital because he has caught "Lacquer tree poisoning". He has the worst case of poison oak style sores I have ever seen. This is certainly an unexpected tragedy for Philip who must also stop boating. I am not worried about Philip, though, because he has an attentive nurse - Yu Juanjuan and he have fallen in love!

On Friday Dennis and I presented a stack of hardback books for the 200-student kindergarten of Fugong. The school director and teacher is a

© White Pearl
pretty young Lisu woman who is a Yunnan Women's Association member and was a delegation to the International Beijing Women's Conference. I just found out she was also the girl who modeled the Drung dress in my web page under People of the Region. Fugong is home town for Yang Hai, NuJiang Tour Co manager with the road team.

Saturday was market day and the main street, also the only road up the river, was so full of tarps covered with everything imaginable that the infrequent trucks could barely pass through. Actually, most markets are held on Sundays but Fugong has a large Protestant population that likes to go to church on Sunday. Many of the Lisu and Nu are Christians dating from the 1920's. Because their traditional beliefs included a Sky God, they adapted readily to Protestantism.

Dennis attracts a lot of attention because of his size. The children think he is a giant and follow him like the pied piper. He says he got a better shave at the barber's than he gives himself although he had to slide down in the chair so the barber could reach his face.

Tom is also in Fugong with me and putting up my field report on the Internet. Every night he jerry rigs the computer and modem into a frightening wall socket and taps into the phone line around midnight in the modest guesthouse's concierge cubicle. Now every guesthouse in the valley is familiar with Tom's odd habits and leave him alone to work all night sending our reports to the world.

Next Field Report: Running of the Nu River from Fugong to Liuku.
NuJiang Expedition Team Sails into Liuku "on the East Wind".

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