Friday, January 11, 2013

No Caribou in China

I had heard or read, sometime in the distant past about the caribou predicament when the Alaskan pipeline was first run. It seems that geologists and engineers ran the line in accordance with the most economical, efficient calculations. We all know that the shortest distance between 2 points is a straight line. Too bad the line the engineers and geologists mapped out for the Alaskan pipeline crossed the caribou’s migration path.

When the caribou met with that obstacle they stood there, uncertain of what to do. They had never encountered anything in their way before, and certainly nothing so foreign and possibly pungent as an oil pipeline. Instead of leaping over it or seeking a way around it – if, indeed there had been a way, they stood there, freezing and starving until they died.

Is this a real remembrance or something I’ve distorted over the years? I don’t know enough about caribou migration to make a true assertion. I only use it to illustrate my point.

There are no caribou in China. More specifically, there may well be caribou, or an animal in the same family or same predicament as the caribou, but I don’t know of any.

I make this assessment based on the fact that, no matter what the obstruction, the Chinese people will circumvent it, climb over it or outright destroy whatever is in their path if that path is the one they wish to travel.

In itself, this is not a remarkable observation. I have seen it time and again, first around campus and then around town. Normally I would not write an entire entry about such a paltry happening. It was on the day it went from paltry to downright frightening that made this trend so noteworthy.

As our campus expands and new effort is made to beautify it, more and more landscaping is done: sod methodically laid and hedges are planted to cleverly conceal fences over a meter tall. Unfortunately for the grass, the hedges and the fences, if that is the path people are used to taking the grass will get trampled, the hedges will get uprooted and the fences… I’m not sure what industrious soul undertakes to destroy the fences but, within a day of being in place, all of these barriers are put asunder and the habitual path again becomes a common way from point A to point B. 

At first, self-righteously, I avoided walking on the freshly planted grass and trampling shrubs. Clearly we were not meant to walk that route anymore and obviously, someone had ideas about how things will eventually turn out. A day or so later I gave up on self righteousness because there was no more grass to trample, the hedge assault turned into a full opening for a legitimate pathway and there was nothing to be seen of the fence. See the first picture for proof. Like all my Chinese brethren I followed the shortest distance to my destination, probably much to the consternation of those planners who put all these things in place to begin with.

On campus there is temerity. Around town, people tend to be a bit more cautious.

Near the completion of the main freeway, landscapers planted monkey grass and Asian jasmine in the raised median. It is really very attractive. And then, to serve as a further deterrent to people used to crossing the highway at any point besides the crosswalks, a high fence was erected. People trampled the jasmine and the monkey grass, jumped the fence and crossed wherever they felt like it. Again, some more industrious souls laid the fence asunder and for a day or two, people followed their usual path… until they got busted by the police. Now they cross the highway at the designated crosswalks.

An unusual phenomenon? One could say that. Remarkable? Worth a whole blog entry? Probably not so much.

Until the Over the Wall Community pitched in.

For about a year they, and I have enjoyed the convenience of the unfinished construction project that, when complete will segregate their neighborhood from the school’s property. While I am sure that they benefit, I especially enjoy leaving my apartment, turning left, walking through the unfinished building and following the dirt path their feet had already trampled into submission on the fringes of the school’s property in into their community. A few minutes’ walk down a few narrow alleys and there I am, close enough to the bus stop to spit at it if I wanted to. Or, better said: I could catch a bus if I wanted to, and I usually do. That is in fact my purpose when I head to the bus stop.

Three days ago, masonry workers started bricking up all those open arches. With dread I watched as they unloaded (by hand) a truck full of concrete block, while other workers mixed big batches of concrete to use as grout. “There goes my handy shortcut off campus” I thought. With the bus stops having been moved further away and now apparently being forced to walk across campus to get to the main road, I was going to have to tack an extra 30 minutes to any travel time I might need to calculate.

Getting off campus is never a simple act for me. I cannot go from my home to the main gate or walk down The Street without being repeatedly stopped and chatted up. Not that I resent being so popular or that I mind having so many friends happy to see me every time I show my face, but sometimes a girl’s just gotta get somewhere and doesn’t have time to stop and talk! That is especially true of THIS girl, whose sense of time is a bit out of tune with the rest of the world’s. Unless I’m headed to class – the only REAL obligation on my time, I am usually running late for everything from a dinner invitation to a shopping date.  

To my luck and benefit, all of the open archways were bricked up in the vacant building, save one. I breathed a sigh of relief, even while knowing the reprieve was going to be short lived. I know the OTW community people also enjoy their walks on campus and bricking that wall entirely is not something that they are looking forward to, or even something they want. I’m sure they’ll make themselves heard. After all: if people trample grass, hedges and fences, doesn’t it clearly demonstrate that planners should not mess with known walking paths? Why don’t these planners just take the people’s wants into consideration instead of putting things in the people’s way, only to see their efforts get flattened?

That dreaded moment arrived this morning. People’s desires notwithstanding, that last archway was bricked up. When it was finished the workers scooped the rest of the concrete mix into the back of their truck, threw in the remaining blocks and bricks and drove away. I brewed my tea and mourned my easy path off campus being permanently sealed off.

But only for a few hours. When I left the house this afternoon I glanced over my left shoulder, partly out of habit but mostly out of longing for the good ole days, when I could sneak off-campus unseen. I stopped dead in my tracks. Someone, or maybe a few someones had knocked the most recently closed archway’s brickwork down, reopening the path. And they didn’t do it nicely, either. Just look closely at the picture to see the jagged edges and the non-methodical way the blocks are broken and bashed out.  

Talk about determination! I could see trampling a few bits of greenery and a hedge or two, maybe even taking down a fence, as sturdy as they are here. But a brick wall? People must REALLY want to walk this path to justify taking down a wall.

And that is why I write an entire entry dedicated to what I call ‘the caribou effect’. Or, more specifically the reverse of the caribou effect. Let it be known far and wide that if the Chinese wish to follow a certain path, no amount of grass, bush, fence or, apparently brick walls will stop them.

Perhaps the Chinese government is right now planning a group of delegates to go teach the caribou how to not let something as puny as a pipeline stand in their way.            


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