Saturday, July 19, 2008

First Day in Lijiang-- Observations Begin!

For those of you who don’t know—I plan to do this “project” in 5 series—first, a week of “settling in” (my goodness the first week is almost over!), second, a week of observation, third, two weeks of technical review, and forth, two weeks of “cultural learning” (AKA ethnographic interviews. I’ve been instructed to avoid the terms “anthropological” or “ethnographical” to avoid any suspicion from the “Authorities”). Finally, a last week in Beijing will hopefully piece together these different parts, and set what I learn into a larger context of China’s development, tourism, and environmental changes. (What better time to learn of China’s development & tourism than the end of the Olympics?!)

This upcoming week marks Observation Week—where I’ll try to become familiar with the city and its dynamics, feel out who I should talk to for my technological and cultural inquiries, have meetings with my already-established contacts, find a homestay, and do some simple observations about the use of the system and its hydrological balance. Maybe even some visiting of the lakes and rivers in the area will be helpful (AKA fun)! I hear Tiger Leaping Gorge is fantastic. And Jade Dragon Mountain (at 18,000 feet) is breathtaking. And the First Bend of the Yangtze, where Kublai Khan crossed the river way-back-when using sheep-skin bags filled with air, sounds just plain sweet.

I spent the evening of my first night strolling about the Gu Cheng, people-watching, treat-tasting, handmade gifts-looking. In one store, I peaked into the back room to see a girl pumping water from a creaky metal hand pump. Looks like these hand pumps are as much a staple as the canals—and I wonder how long they’ve been in place. As it grew dark, I had to make sure not to fall into the canals; they’re all over the place, though I have yet to really “trace” them through the city. I noticed metals pipes zigzagging around as well, some within the canals themselves, others above the ground, trying to trip you as you walk along the uneven cobblestone paths. What was it that my professor was saying about above-ground pipes? Lack of efficiency? I’ll have to ask. There are pipes, too, coming straight out of restaurant kitchens and bathrooms right into the canal. Is there any sort of treatment? I’ll have to find out.

I discovered a trick that I’ll soon use in this week of observation. By sitting at the various bridges and dips along the canals—sneakily busying myself on my phone—I can unobtrusively discover how people use their water system, what inlets and outlets the canal provides, what are its flows, contaminants (OK the big ones), and other general points of use. At one point, I watched a woman wash rice by pouring it in a sack, dipping the sack in water, and kneading it to clean its contents. In addition to the phone-disguise observation trick, a touristy treat here can actually help me in my observations. At night, tourists float paper lotus flowers lit with candles down the canals—3 granted wishes makes the 5 kuai worth it I guess. By watching these floating lotus flowers, I can make crude measurements about the capacity—the flow—of these canals. Simple eye measurements of the canal depth and width, paired with its wetted perimeter (essentially how much water fills the canal) can also provide important information.

Hopefully, by knowing how the system works today, and by learning of the changes the Lijiang Water Authorities have made over the years (unfortunately, something that won’t be as easy to get access to), I can then make assumptions about how the canal system USED to function, even 700 years ago. For example, the canals act as settling tanks… perhaps the easiest and most economical way to get rid of particles (thank goodness gravity is free!). Over time, the particles settle to the bottom, producing sediment build up, decreasing the depth of the open channel, and changing the flow of the system. Thus, you can see how things change over the years. Sure sure, this is all still very crude—I’m still learning after all—and so I’m very thankful for my fall Independent Study with my professor to make sense of all of this. (And anyways, if I get my hands on official hydrological records—perhaps all of this won’t even matter!) We shall see.

No comments: