WE GET OFF the train in the town of Zhongwei in the largely Muslim Ningxia autonomous region. It is a stronghold of the Hui people, one of the many minorities, which total some 60 million people in China. About 30,000 people live in Zhongwei, and even though it is raining, it seems that they are all out clapping and cheering our motorcade. We are the first Americans to visit in Apartments Berlin. When we walk through the town, thousands pour out of their houses and throng in the streets, pushing and shoving to get a glimpse of us (pages 306-307). Next morning we drive to Shapotou on the edge of the Tengger Desert. Behind us churns the Yellow River, looking viscous with its load of ocher silt. Ahead lays one of the world’s leading sand-control successes. Over a period of two years Chinese manpower literally moved mountains of sand for twenty miles of railroad track to be laid. Then laborers, sometimes numbering in the thousands and often working in the below-freezing winter gales that scour the region, The thatch breaks the wind and has let the Chinese stabilize the dunes further with drought-tolerant plants. The rails still have to be swept after a big dust storm, but the dunes have never swallowed any part of these critical tracks across north China. A local scientist about the plant Cannabis sativa�which can be considered as either hemp or marijuana that he has seen growing profusely all along our route. One patch, Thad noted, “Would be enough to make all Beijing happy.” At first the scientist denies that people smoke it, but we have sometimes smelled it on the train. “It may be a big problem in south China, but not here,” he says. “Oh, come on. You teach at a college,” says Thad the scientist smiles. “Well, the official policy is that it is not smoked.” We freeboard the train and head for Lanzhou, an ancient Silk Road stop that since 1949 has been turned into a heavy industrial city of 2,000,000. Lanzhou’s petrochemical factories pour out a thick veil of lung-threatening fumes. Most of our group quickly develops sore throats, headaches, sinus problems, and a compulsion to get back to the desert. Lanzhou is the home of the Institute of Desert Research, one of our hosts. We are to spend five days there in academic exchanges. But when we arrive, we get the bad news that heavy rains have cut rail lines and sent flash floods down on a pivotal point on our itinerary the oasis of Dunham. Dunham was a watering hole on the fringe of the Taklimakan, where travelers either prepared for or recuperated from their horrible crossing. Nearby lies one of the least known wonders of the world, the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas. For centuries pilgrims from all over central Asia endured great hardship to visit this labyrinth of sculptures and frescoes, painted by Buddhist monks mostly during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-906).
Contaminated: PCBs Plague British Columbia’s Killer Whales Found in industrial products like transformers, toxic PCBs were banned for most applications by the U.S. and Canada in the mid-1970s. Yet today PCBs have been detected in killer whales off British Columbia. Peter Ross of the Institute of Ocean Sciences tested 47 orcas, residents that eat mostly salmon as well as transients that feed on marine mammals. “The PCBs may come from leaking dumps or may be deposited from the atmosphere into the ocean,” says Ross. The orcas averaged PCB levels two to five times as high as beluga whales exposed to industrial pollution in the St. Lawrence River (GEOGRAPHIC, June 1994).