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Friday, April 18, 2014

A river runs through

Jaime R. Vergara

It was in the late ’60s in Litchfield outside of Augusta in Maine. We were around a lake at a youth camp where the unforgettable experience was the mosquitoes. Earlier, DDT was used to eradicate the buzzers but a new hybrid emerged, returning with a vengeance, hovering around the earlobe like a swarm of bees, biting just as liberally and ferociously as well.

In our more than a week travelling along the Xin’an Range (Great Khingan Range in western Atlases) in its grasslands and wetlands, forests and rivers, plus a lake, the flying pests and gnats made known their disfavor for our intrusion into their territory. We were either unwanted, and were bitten to skin inflammations, and loved so dearly in a vampiric way that our blood was frequently sucked into what we can only deduce to be moments of leeching ecstasy!

We exaggerate but the wide expanse of the forest stand we recently traversed, after the dwindled cover of the Sierra Madre and the Cordilleras in the mountains of our childhood, allows for such expansive imagination.

As part of the conversation I lead in my Oral English class, I ask my students to introduce themselves by narrating the objective memory of their beginnings and what they can recall from the last two decades, invite them to freely dream of their days ahead, including naming places they would like to visit.

One of the students wanted to go to Bei Ji Cun, which translates to "North Pole Village" (according to one of my students since I do not speak Putunghua—the common language, nor read Zhongwen, the Chinese character-based language). I thought then that the lady was crazy, or had a hermitic bent. I had been to Dillingham, Alaska @ 59 degrees latitude and there was hardly anything to recommend a return other than to view the yearly migration of salmon upriver.

It turns out that there is such a place as Bei Ji Cun. It is an hour’s bus drive from Mo He, the settlement with the coolest recorded temperature in the books (-54 C) at 52 degrees latitude, within a forest preserve, and evidently targeted as one of the tourist destination of choice by planners and consumers.

It lies in the headwaters of the Amur, the Heilongjiang from which the province is named. Mo He geographically belongs to Inner Mongolia but is administered by the Province of Heilongjiang, the north-easternmost province of the country that shares a contiguous border with Russia along the Amur River.

History buffs will recall that the border war between China and Russia is a century-old began between the Tsar and the Qing that extends from the Uyghurs of Xinjiang to the Manchus in Manchuria. (The Mongols recognized borders. They just didn’t mind crossing them.) It was only in 2008 when the border disagreement was finally settled though it must be noted that whatever belligerent attitude China ever developed toward foreign powers was over Russia, England (in India), and France (in Indochina).

We had earlier visited Hei He by the Amur when it was frozen in winter, with intentions of crossing over into Russia. Our naivete was nurtured by the ease of crossing over into Canada from the U.S. (though a lunch in Metamoros, Mexico from Brownsville, Texas, cost us six hours at the border crossing), so when we learned that the Chinese needed only to show I.D. cards, I was sure it was not going to be difficult for the blue book to be allowed entry. NOT.

The mosquitoes did us a favor for keeping us grounded to the reality of the natural order and those within it. Humans are definitely intruders, and though the Zhongguoren has the Taoist tradition of proper reverence to the processes of nature, the awakened children of the frolicking Panda have strung electrical lines on the green, and liberally through their waste, particularly, the non-degradable plastics and styrofoams, into its waterways and forest trails.

It is a cultural contradiction. The government politicies are rather stringent in their rules, and the structures and systems in place are very adequate to meet them, if only the folks would pay them heed. The countryside folks tend to be more reverent to keeping the environment green. The urban folks, like their cousins around the world, tend to think that someone is paid enough to clean after their leavings.

The war between Russia and China, including territories by the Argun and Amur Rivers where the Russians made the demarcation, not on the middle of the maritime lane but on the shores of the China side, hankers back to the taking advantage of a weakened Qing rule by salivating colonizers abetted by the massive proliferation of heroin by mighty England on the comfort-prone population.

In our own topography of our inner spirit, we use the metaphors of a meandering river of consciousness, an overwhelmingly response-ability in the mountain of care, and an ever expansive enigmatic land of mystery. In the Marianas, we had the image of the sea of tranquility, deep and broad as the Pacific, but deceptively unpacific in its reality.

While traversing the external geography, we were simultaneously plumbing the depth of the topography of our own spirit, and we are ever grateful that our consciousness will ever meander like the river, sometimes swift as the rapids, and calm in the plain.

Evidently, as the Argun and the Amur rivers ran through, the currents of our consciousness meandered as well.

* * *

Jaime R. Vergara (jrvergarajr2031@aol.com) previously taught at San Vicente Elementary School on Saipan and is currently a guest lecturer at Shenyang Aerospace University in China.

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