INSIDE THE GREENHOUSE | Re-telling climate change stories

Zhangye, China - Center of the Hexi Corridor


Rebecca Safran

We said goodbye to our friends in Sitancun and headed west to Zhangye by high speed train. This was a very smooth and comfortable trip, from start to finish. The train station itself is a model of efficiency on many levels: information on departures and arrivals is clearly indicated, the escalators don’t start moving until they need to, there is hot water available for tea everywhere you go – free of charge and one can dine on a huge bag of vegetable steamed buns for less than $1.

The ride afforded us a great view of the wilder side of Gansu. Once outside of the city, the landscape gives way to quite rugged, snowy peaks. There are herds of goats and sheep being shepherded around and small buildings that dot the hills just below the snowline.  Every now and again this changes into small agricultural villages – like the one we were just in - surrounded by tidy yet expansive fields of crops.

The city of Zhangye – like Lanzhou – has a lot of historic significance. Kubla Khan was born here and this was a central destination along the Silk Road. Like Lanzhou, it is an oasis in the desert. This is a dry and dusty place bordered by the Gobi desert to the north. Winds from the north bring in desert sands that cover the streets on a daily basis. Many people can be seen outside sweeping the sidewalks night and day to keep up with all of the dust and sand.

Zhangye itself it about half the size of Lanzhou (about a million people) but somehow feels a bit more modern. Perhaps this is just in contrast the village we just worked in outside of Lanzhou. It is home to Hexi University (10,000 students) and several tourist destinations. We walked past the Bell and Drum tower in downtown Zhangye last night; it was originally constructed during the Ming Dynasty in 1507 and has been destroyed and rebuilt several times since then.

We are staying in the ‘Kelly Business Hotel’ which has comfortable rooms that come with breakfast for about $30 per night.  Our days are becoming a bit more routine by now: wake up and have a quick breakfast and start looking for nests and asking permission to come back to catch the birds. We typically eat lunch on the late side and then start working on catching birds or locating new nests in the late afternoon. After dinner, the catching begins and can go on until late, late!