The East is Red was Mao Zedong’s signature phrase, and a musical was created to announce it. In Dong Bei the northeast, all the dust is red! It must be this dust that Pearl Buck called The Good Earth, in her trilogy. Though Buck’s novel is set further south than Shenyang, the fictitious farm must be of the same red soil that dominates the northeast and Nei Menggu of our recent travels.
Almost all the buildings in the northeast are made out of red bricks. The material lends itself to designs from England and Russia; thus, English Tudor-Elizabethan and Russian Slav-Byzantine architecture predominate.
It is the architecture of minor cities and towns that caught our attention, in that, the single collectivist units of the recent past are being replaced by Gothic and Castle designs, the Lord’s manor and the parson’s manse, the moat tower and the Stuart-Georgian-Victorian signatures in the new towns.
In the '70s, we decried the promotion of the California ranch house as the model in the U.S. and around the world. It was adopted for the two-garage door dwelling, three-bedrooms, with 2.5 children, a couple of cats, and a boiling chicken in every pot! It is also a real estate guzzler, thus, the endless spread of suburban development around our metropolitan centers. Automobile-dependent, its aim of freedom of mobility justified the interstate highway system, but the question remains of its sustainability. The answer, we now know, is NO.
China’s nouveau riche is now vying for a piece of the manor in the countryside, more as an investment, though the MTV set liberated from the confines of Spartan country life, are opting for more lively options. China under construction, at least, in the northeast, is a picture of high-rise buildings, which retains the socialist face of Chinese communalism, as opposed to the rugged individualism (ignore your neighbor) that has proven to be a nightmare in public housing in the west.
Manzhouli in Inner Mongolia sparkles like a gem of an oasis in an expanse of grasslands; easily prone to desertification should there be paucity of rain that sustains it. Building constructions are propping up along a line from the border with Russia and Mongolia into the old Russian city of cupolas and domes. The red brick predominates, and the ubiquitous green mesh to control the dust is a facile attempt to protect the breathing public.
In fact, the red dust is all over the place, more so in Hailar where construction defies zoning rationale. Ditto for the places where we lingered overnight: E'erguna and its wetlands, Gen He and its forested plain with protected reindeers, Shi Wei and its new prominence along the Amur with its communities of Chinese-speaking Russians, Moer Duga-Man Gui-Mo He with their forest reserves in the Great Xing’an Range. New buildings are being constructed in the confluence of parks and abandoned housing, rail lines and elevated highways, all resplendent under the ever-present crane. In our two-week travels around the northeast, the construction scene became an expected given. The red dust now resides in the recesses of our snout!
The production of red bricks is a dirty business, not just in the firing of the clay in the ovens but more in the generation of power from coal-fired plants that dot the landscape. The west is alarmed as China refuses to allow the world’s standards to regulate its carbon-emissions, but after what we did in Appalachia, and the offshore mines we invested into in other countries (gold in the Philippines; copper in Chile-Peru, oil all over), we can hardly be sanctimonious in our dealing with newly industrialized and industrializing nations.
Still, the pollution of one is the pollution of all. The carbon emissions in the grasslands may not be too noticeable (though the dark clouds accompanying morning mist and low hanging fog is very telling) but the effect is felt worldwide.
Already, the U.S. is under alert over the tsunami debris from Fukushima, as well as the radiation fallout. Bill McKibben, a warm-hearted Methodist who does not give in to despair easily, raises three numbers in a recent Rolling Stone article. All have to do with carbon emission, and we have exceeded all minimum standards.
The oil industry, in order to return to sanity, will have to forego 70 percent of its current activities, and that would render its existence as an investment asset nil. Thus, McKibben declares war on the industry, and in the U.S., enemy #1 is Shell. (This will not warm the heart of Shell’s Jeff Boyer of our acquaintance!)
We are not at war with anyone, nor are we resigned to just saying, "Can’t we all get along?" The harsh reality is that some folks are "more equal than others", though it is self-evident that the destruction of the planet benefits no one, thus, the need of the McKibbens of the world to remind us what we are up-against.
The dust being red in Dong Bei is not that harmful; the red light around the world on carbon emission is. China’s inhaling of carbon emissions, and the red dust, will be here awhile!
Aren’t you glad you live in Saipan?