Saturday, June 23, 2007

Saving the Go-Go Juice

By Dave Dubyne I heard about a village two hours from Chongqing City with old city walls surrounding smoke-stained wooden beamed homes, cobblestone streets and stone carvings chiseled into cliff faces 400 years ago. Along the way to Lai Tan, I wanted to gaze out of bus windows and simply compare the differences between Chinese and western methods of fossil fuel use and human power, but first I had to get to the bus station. Streets in most major Chinese cities are wide and traffic-packed, especially in Chongqing. The only way to cross a street during rush hour is to use the pedestrian bridges and underpasses. Bustling underground walkways are now full of vendors selling everything from socks to flowers to baskets of puppies to take home as pets. Modern China is racing ahead with mini-capitalism, the land of set-up anywhere businesses. If you have anything extra to sell that you have grown, made, caught or traded, you can go to any place with heavy foot traffic - sidewalks, underpasses or pedestrian bridges — and set up shop. Set up a stand on a blanket, a piece of cardboard, or a newspaper, and those aren’t even essential; bare ground counts too. Anything goes in modern Chinese sales. Rounding a corner at the escalator leading back to the street level, I spotted a smiling one-toothed man with two turtles on strings, a guy playing guitar for tips. A lady selling Armadillo Counter Poison Pills followed me all the way to the bus station ticket-counter. At the bus station I was greeted by what is known as a "bang-bang"; these are porters that use bamboo poles to carry goods to or from the station. With balanced loads on each end of the poles, from a distance they look like large scales. These guys are all around the city; whenever something smaller than a large refrigerator needs to be moved, call the Bang Bang. It’s a throwback to the days when cargo ships landed here and freight needed to be moved on and off ships. Fast forward to 2007: Jiulong Port, the largest port on the upper reaches of the Yangtze, handles containers and freight in the millions of tons per year. Within the bus station grounds outside, vehicles are forbidden; porters walk bags and boxes from place to place with the aid of the bang-bang. I was trying to imagine the amount of gasoline and diesel – "go-go juice", it’s called here – saved citywide by the use of foot deliveries, multiplied by thousands of daily deliveries. Speeding down the brand new four-lane highway at 100 kilometres per hour, I saw plenty of farm workers harvesting heads of cabbage. In the western world a truck would follow the workers as they proceeded through the fields to collect the harvest, but here the truck stays parked and the produce is walked to the truck. Everything is brought to a central area. The truck stays in the same spot until full — engine off instead of idling and moving - and then heads to the wholesale market. Harvesting, planting and fertilizing are all done by hand, with dozens of workers in each field at a time. Pesticides and fertilizers are applied by hand walking with a pack sprayer on the back, a completely manual pumping system. Irrigation is similar: workers load water into buckets of various sizes and carry it to the plants or pour it into the irrigation troughs. Again, most of the fuel usage is taken out of the farming process. I only ever saw tractors called tuo-la-ji - a two-wheeled machine doing work in place of humans - and that was plowing the fields. As I was passing one of the millions of construction sites in China, I stopped to check out the Chinese style of demolition and re-cycling. One front-end loader is used to break the walls, foundations or unmovable pieces into smaller workable segments. The rest of the work is done by hand. Men and women with bamboo-handled sledgehammers break the cement, brick and tiles from the metal re-bar hidden side. The metals are removed on the premises, separated on premises and loaded onto various trucks waiting at the entrance of the construction site. Work is continually in progress, with pieces of various metals tossed into ever-growing piles of multi-colored scrap. Most striking was the pile of re-bar: It looked like a giant bird’s nest that could have comfortably accommodated two very large elephants. Each truck collected different metals and scrap. One small pick-up truck was full of wires; another was full of pressure gauges and valves; yet another was full of aluminum window frames. The steel collection truck was loaded with pipes, re-bar and beams. All the while a continuous line of workers carried baskets of cement debris and metal-less chunks of bricks, heaving their contents into a waiting flatbed for non-metal debris only. My immediate thoughts were to compare western-style demolition at a construction site and the amount of fuel each society uses to accomplish the same end result: to clear a lot for a new building. In the West, many more machines would be loading trucks with debris containing both metal and cement. That waste would be taken to a second location where it would be broken and separated. From there, after separation, the loads of cement debris and metal would be loaded onto separate trucks and delivered to their ultimate destination. Notice the difference? A Chinese construction site is the re-cycling factory. Garbage collection is also something to behold. In the West we use trucks to roll through the city and collect rubbish from our individual homes, businesses and dumpsters. Here, it is done manually, as men and women move handcarts around the city using a flat-headed shovel to scoop up the trash. These filled carts can hold 25 to 50 kilos per load. When the carts are full, they are pushed or pulled to a central location where the rubbish is dumped into a waiting truck. In my neighborhood, a line of full trash carts snaked its way down the street to the collection site, mingling with buses and cars in the bicycle lane while waiting to unload. These comparisons reminded me of a time in Hawaii when I went to pick up a Peruvian friend to go surfing. As we pulled out of the parking garage, a landscaper was using a gasoline-powered blower to clean up the grass clippings. He laughed and said to me, “That’s American style: take a broom and put a motor on it.”
David DuByne is from the United States and is presently living and teaching Business English in Chongqing, China. He and webmaster Marc Hastenteufel are translating, an English teaching web site devoted to bio-fuel and oil depletion, for those studying English around the planet into Mandarin Chinese. Robert Rapier, an expert on cellulose ethanol, gas-to-liquids (GTL), and butanol production, also provides technical assistance for content throughout daveseslbiofuel in the renewables and conservation section.

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