We launched a 1500-km rail trail from Mukden (Shenyang, Laioning) to Manzhouli (Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia) but the ecological interest that undergird our tour trek extended to places north of Hailar with names like Moer Duga, Man Dui and Mo He. This is real Mongolian territory from where Genghis Khan’s ancestry purportedly originated. Rail service also does not cover the route we have taken, thus, the experience on inter-town buses in dirt roads is a new experience.
We have been commenting on the awesome grassland and the wetlands, and the alarming rate of industrialization in the region that is already showing strain on the ecological equilibrium. The 3M of our title brought us to rivers and forests in a great mountain range.
It is difficult for CNMI residents to visually re-experience rivers unless one has been off island to actually dip one’s toes to meandering fresh waterways, (e.g., the mighty Chiang Jiang, Yangtse, and the Huang He, Yellow River). The closest we have of one is the Talofofo stream on island.
Micronesia is home to island folks, and saved for land-locked Chamorros, the Refalawasch relish the adventure and challenge of the open sea. Manchuria, which normally covers the provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning, was occupied during the Russian incursion and the Japanese annexation, in Manzhouli for the Russians, and Hailar for the Japanese (they had a huge military stronghold in Hulunbeier). The aboriginal ancestors of the Manchus florished in wild rivers and huge tracts of forests of the Great and Lower Khingan (aka, Xin’an) Range, while their Mongolian cousins wandered through the open expanse of the grasslands.
I dabbled for half a decade in the work of community development within the context of natural resource management in the watershed while serving local villages in the Visayas in the Philippines.
Then, there was dismay in the vicious cycle of the effluents from agricultural fields, particularly from induced flowering of mango trees (also pesticides and insecticides), singly flowing downhill into streams and rivers joining in the nearshore and killing coral reefs that support marine life, which sustains the small and medium size fishes.
Fishing diminished when the bigger deep sea fish no longer came close to shore to feed on the smaller fish. This induced the fishers to cut down the mangroves for commercial use particularly in making charcoal, which aggravated the destruction of the habitat of the near shore fish. The over-fished grounds and additional population resulted in poverty. Near shore fishers then moved to the upland to cut timber and open forests for new agriculture. The first crop is usually good because of the rich topsoil but on the third crop, the soil nutrients depleted, erosion occurs which silts the rivers and the near shore, and the whole watershed suffered.
The Philippines since WWII decimated 20 million hectares of virgin forests, and after the rapacious policy of the Marcos regime in cutting down timber for export to meet trade deficits, added another negative to the vicious watershed cycle. The knowledgeable among the natural resource managers in training sessions I led could not help but down their sorrows on the brew for the crisis was just too overwhelming to meet.
Thus, it came as a relief to travel through miles and miles of pristine forest stand in the northern part of Inner Mongolia. Of particular delight was a stop in the lumber town of Man Dui (the name either proclaims that the Menggu came to settle, or where they came from) where a hyper active mother and her university son tandem, a political science teacher in a summer bicycle trek from Hunan, and this English speaking dude, were picked up by the director of the local natural resource museum to a three-floor exhibit of the flora and fauna in the region.
The displays exhibit stuffed animals of field rodents, colorful birds, wild cats with their precious furs, all kinds and sizes of deer, including the ones that seemed like a cross between a deer and a donkey, as well as one with a horse, river fishes, and a roomful display of butterflies. This latter, the hu die (pronounced "who dee yeh") is the symbol of dreaming in Chinese mythology. The forest dream is alive and well in the range.
Amazing by itself, more so in terms of its wide geographical coverage, the forest stands are impressive in that the Japanese cleared the area for agriculture before WWII, and was razed by a wild fire in ’87, has since become totally reforested!
We learned earlier that the Japanese occupied islands of Northern Marianas were cleared for sugar plantations before WWII, and after liberation, Hawaii business determined that the Marianas should not return to its previous productivity so they got the U.S. Navy to broadcast the fast growing tangan-tangan seeds, the current unsightly foliage, at least, on Saipan.
The museum exhibit was very helpful when we later drove through a section of the forest the whole afternoon. In site after site are built walkways suited to the forest (with trees allowed to grow in the middle of timbered walkway) where the local tourist can admire the natural wealth it has in its national patrimony. This is one area where the Zhongguo government is doing something right, though the building frenzy in tourist destinations of log cabins to accommodate visitors is alarming.
For now, we were blessed to view Mother Nature in its glory, and one hopes that the privilege will last awhile. And for a thought, might the del Rosario and Olopai households on the leeward side of Mt. Tapochau revive Saipan’s forest?