PHOTO ESSAYS

THE TWIN ENGINEERING WONDERS OF DUJIANGYAN: Irrigation and Detention

 

Dujiangyan Irrigation Park shishi, or Imperial Guardian Lion (石獅), photo (c) 2013 Brian Awehali

Dujiangyan Irrigation Park shishi, or Imperial Guardian Lion (石獅), photo (c) 2013 Brian Awehali

Dujiangyan is a system of irrigation channels largely responsible for the renowned fertility of the Chengdu basin, in southwestern China. This elaborate engineering wonder, built about 2300 years ago, and still in use today, is what makes Sichuan province the most productive agricultural area in China. Most contemporary dams use a big wall to block water, adversely impacting the natural flow of fish and other marine life, but the ancient Dujiangyan irrigation works lets water and fish continue to flow.

I have no idea how old the statue above is (2300 years?), but the colossal millipede nestled in this gargoyle’s ear looks old and big enough to be from an entirely different geologic era.

Dujiangyan is also home to another old and elaborate example of Chinese engineering: the Dujiangyan Detention Facility, one of many outposts in the sprawling Chinese police state. Literally countless dissidents, political activists and otherwise problematically outspoken people have been detained, tortured and interrogated at these facilities.

Dujiangyan Irrigation Park signage, photo (c) 2013 Brian Awehali

Dujiangyan Irrigation Park signage, photo (c) 2013 Brian Awehali

A lot of even modestly well-informed Westerners don’t know about the full scope of China’s police state, it’s laogai prisons or its contemporary forced labor practices. One reason for this ignorance is simply that the Chinese government works very hard to control news and information about its internal security apparatus, but another reason surely has to do with just the sheer size of the apparatus.

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CONSIDER THE COMPLETE CHICKEN

San Juan Chickens Before Harvest - photos (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

San Juan Chickens Before Harvest – photos (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

“I am largely worried about wingless chickens. I feel this is the time for me to fulfill myself by stepping in and saving the chicken but I don’t know how exactly since I am not bold. I only know I believe in the complete chicken. You think about the complete chicken for a while.”

Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor

I’d asked if I could come and see the chicken harvest. It was a sunny day in the San Juan Islands, and my acquaintance with two farmers had presented an opportunity to see a free-range, all organic culling, or harvest.

Chickens Clamoring for Feeding - (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

“Do you think they have any idea that today’s different from other days?” I asked one of the farmers as he beckoned the chickens.

He paused handsomely in his well-worn green t-shirt with a large peace sign on the chest and scratched an unruly sun-bleached beard.

“Nah. They have a simple life, and they’ve never known anything but this, so why would they?”

Chicken feet in a cone. - (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

This type of chicken has been bred for early harvest, as well as for an easygoing temperament and generally pleasant appearance. They did not get too excited in the truck, nor did they put up much resistance before being placed headfirst into tapered metal bleeding cones, where their vivid yellow feet and bright red combs twitched as they bled out.

Warning: graphic material follows the jump.

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NEW MEXICO NOTES #1: Santa Fe Differs

Abstract expressionist art shadow on SFAI campus - (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

After traveling hundreds of thousands of miles to Santa Fe, some rays ran smack dab into a piece of abstract expressionist art. – (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

Mural on Santa Fe hostelNew Mexico is a land of adobe, sun-bleached extremes, willful eccentricity, and Indians.Great beauty, ostentatious Anglo and Latino wealth and lush high-altitude forests commingle with ill-managed radiation testing and disposal sites, extreme poverty and bone-dry deserts that were once ocean floor. Above it all, the bluest of skies erupt daily into fiery sunset symphonies.

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OF BICYCLES, BIRDS & SPICES: A Photo Walk Around Chengdu, Sichuan

Pedal-powered creative re-use artist in Chengdu, Sichuan

Pedal-powered creative re-use artist in Chengdu, Sichuan – (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

The Scale of things in China - (c) 2012 Brian AwehaliCar ownership is on the rise, but bicycle culture in Chengdu, and China generally, remains amazing. Many, perhaps most, main roads have dedicated bike lanes, and it’s really common to see things like a hard-working (and exhausted) trash recycler carting Seussian-levels of stuff around on pedal-powered vehicles (above), or a lone cyclist pedaling calmly through a terrifyingly busy intersection (left).

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PHOTOS FROM NEAR THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, KHAM (ཁམས), TIBET

Horse at Golden Hour in Lhagong, Kham (ཁམས), Tibet

Horse and prayer flags at golden hour in Lhagong, Kham (ཁམས), Tibet – (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

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CHINESE PIGEON RACING & CONFINEMENT IN CHENGDU

Kitebird at People Park, Chengdu, (c) 2012, Brian Awehali

Kitebird flown at People Park, Chengdu in 2010. – (c) 2012, Brian Awehali

Seemingly querulous racing pigeons in a Chengdu rooftop coop - (c) 2012, Brian Awehali“I’m very worried,” said Mr. C., our interpreter and guide, as our driver pulled into the courtyard. His eyes were wet. “Only two of my pigeons have returned from the race two days ago.”

Mr. C., a thin man with a sweet face, had arranged through a friend for us to make a weekend visit to a Chengdu suburb for a tour of a pigeon racing club and one racer’s private coop.

“How many pigeons did you release?” I asked.

“Ten,” he said mournfully. As we piled out of the sedan into a courtyard, he ran ahead.

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RUINS OF LOS ANGELES:
The Old Griffith Park Zoo

Ruins of Los Angeles: The Old Griffith Park ZooNot far from West Hollywood, in one back corner of Griffith Park, are the bizarre ruins of the old Los Angeles Zoo (1912-1965), where animal-scale catacombs covered in graffiti and rusted cage bars with vines creeping between any narrow gap give way to picnic tables and family memories.

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RUINS OF LOS ANGELES:
Sunken City of Graffiti, Wildflowers & Concrete

If you head north along the Los Angeles coastline, you can find a once posh neighborhood that slid into the sea back in the 1930s… After the cranes, and at the end of Fermin Park, is a tall fenced gate and barricade. Past the fence, the road continues to an abrupt end, and well below that is the so-called sunken city of Los Angeles.

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GOLDEN HOUR THOUGHTS IN LHAGONG, TIBET

Golden Hour Thoughts in Lhagong, TibetI couldn’t decide which idea held more magic for me: that this was a giant fortification full of monks and nuns who, not fearing death, were more than a match for any earthly army or floodtide of settlers or an immense palace full of exquisitely beautiful people of belief, happily lashing their souls to some great transcendent hum.

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FOOLISHNESS & GENEROSITY IN GORKHI TERELJ, MONGOLIA

The massive scale of grass floodplains and thin riverine forests here in northeastern Mongolia make them more suited to horseback riding than to walking, but I was a happy speck moving slowly through dung-maculated valleys full of the bleached skulls, spines and other stray bone bits of departed animals… I walked for hours, sometimes joined by wary-then-playful dogs, passing alongside grazing horses, cattle, and several vomits of dandelion-munching yak.

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All photos copyright 2012 (c) Brian Awehali

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