So today I'm gonna talk about rivers, very far from technology, very far from Beijing, something wet instead of something so dry. When I was very young, my parents put me in a boat on the side of a river. That's me under the umbrella, I'm six months old. For my childhood, I grew up along the side of free-flowing rivers.
They were family vacations, I'm in the center of the picture, I think I'm twelve, with my seven-year-old sister and we are playing cowboys and Indians along the banks of the tributary of Colorado River.
Being along the river, being out in nature, being able to play and be with my family in these calm, peaceful places had a profound impact on me. Something happened and controlled the direction of my life as you'll see Around the time I was ten, My father came to China at the invitation of Chinese Academy of Sciences to use rafting as a tool to do geologic research
By about 2008 we had explored most the rivers draining the Tibetan Plateau most the big rivers in Western China, Lancang River and Nu River, Yangtze River and Yellow River, also the Yarlung Tsangpo River, and many of the tributaries. Not all rivers had been run by us, they've been run by other people.
But, throughout that time, most the people running those trips had either been Western scientists or explorers very limited groups of Chinese explorers and scientists. And when I was nineteen, I started to realize that I was in a swimming pool in Western Sichuan in Chengdu and something happened.I was teaching my new friends how to how to paddle, just to use the boats.
And they said, wow this is great, very exciting. No one in China has the opportunity to do this, We can do all kinds of outdoor activities, But for this, enjoying rivers, It's out of the possibility, Can you stay and help us enjoy rivers? And for me, I thought, wow, How is it possible that such a big and important country in the world has no way to enjoy natural rivers? My life and work were changed from then on.
So normally, I like to ask people as a test: Where is this? And what river is it? And it is Tiger Leaping Gorge, Most people don't know that is the Jinsha River or if they do, they don't know that it's the mainstream of the Yangtze, which demonstrates, I think, how far away we are from these wild rivers.
Now, today I'm just talking about how to enjoy a river. Obviously the values of healthy rivers from an environmental perspective are many-fold. I'm not going to talk about that. What I'm gonna talk about is just enjoying them what is it like to be in touch with them. Because in my mind, unless you can connect with these wild places on a personal level, you can't begin to understand its benefits.
And this is where you start floating on the Jinsha River. In the background there's a mountain Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. And there's another mountain across the river, This area is home to the Nakhi people, There's a story where the mountains are related to the river, The Jinsha River and other two rivers in that area, Lancang and Nu are sisters in this story and the mountains are brothers.
Originally, the three rivers were all flowing south and then. But the brothers were keeping watch over the Jinsha River, who was So Jade Dragon Snow Mountain was asleep Haba Snow Mountain was supposed to be watching that night. But he got tired and fell asleep, and so the Jinsha River ran off between her brothers created Tiger Leaping Gorge and ran off to Shanghai.
So now we have as our one of the mother rivers of China, Yangtze. Interestingly, the geologic story connects with the truth from the scientific perspective oddly as we'll see there's a connection. So something that's unique about rivers in China is just that There are stories about the landscape and there are local stories. There are also a lot of very interesting scientific things.
So maybe one thing people think about going down the river is how exciting it is sort of sense of excitement. It's true; it's exciting, to float down the wild river, to be embraced by these big waves
maybe out of control, kind of being in control, kind of being out of control to be moving with this live force of the planet downstream through these deep canyons is a very very special feelings. It can be a very challenging experience if you are paddling yourself.
But for me the biggest attraction, value is to be able to be just on this quiet water in these very big, wild canyons and to realize how small you are and to realize people's proper place in nature that they are small and part of nature Nature is not there for us to conquer.
Even just looking at rocks along the side of the river and to see just the formation of the rocks for the rocks to look this way. For the water to have carved them out to have this beautiful and fluting pattern may have taken just as long as human beings have been alive on this planet. So just sort of to realize that there are greater, bigger forces at work than the things we see in our day-to-day life
and get away from technology to see a place where people live a much simpler life and this something where I think.
Rivers in China are very very unique is that when you get out to these places you realize that certainly you are in nature but also there are people. You can talk to these people and hear stories about the landscape.
This village is a Pumi ethnicity village on the banks of the Jinsha Along the Jinsha, I think there are six major ethnic groups and many smaller ethnic groups. And of course, as you go down the river, you sort of as you spend time with people together you sort of you get away computers and all of this technology interaction becomes much simpler. And of course, you see skies you start to connect with the heavens in the way that would be impossible in the cities cities in anywhere in the planet you can't see stars like these.
And sometimes you wake up to be surprised. You woke up in the morning and there was a herd of goats running through our camp, and I'm not sure if we were more surprised or if the goat herder was more surprised, but anyway we had a very very nice talk, And you also realize that you are not the only people on the river.
This gentleman is on his way to a market. And as people start to get sort of excited about being together and doing things that normally you would not do as large groups of people making meals, just doing these simple things. They start to get more intimate, and sometimes very special things happen. These two got married, I cannot personally think of a better cathedral than the cliffs along the Jinsha River as a backdrop for a wedding.
There are places you can stay or visit. This is the city of Baoshan, a seven-hundred-year-old city along the Nahki city, close to Li River. This is the place where Kublai Khan went here to endorse the support of Nahki people to help conquer Dali in Song Dynasty.
This is a fish. The Jinsha River and its tributaries are home to 25 endemic species of fish, so that means fish that only live in the Yangtze live nowhere else on the planet. It's a Shibazi
Geologically, the reasons these rivers are here is actually. Theory has it that these three rivers, Nu River, Lancang River and the Yangtze all used to flow south together to form one river and that as India pushed into Asia to create Himalaya Mountains and Tibetan Plateau that geologic surrounding terrain changed the east side of Himalayas squeezed out to form Southeast Asia. The rivers separated their paths and the Yangtze River started to flow east of course the story is very long and much more complicated than that.
But the geologic story corresponds with the Nakhi story and as you float on the river you can see
the history of the rocks changing and how they have changed. So these rocks used to be flat. But as the geologic uplift, changes occurred The shape they've changed. Imagine, like.a fabric sort of being pressed together.
It's like a museum as you flow through the river you can read the history of this part of the planet. Also, in the rocks, there are fossils. This is the stem of a crinoid, It's about 250 million years old, so the history of the planet is recorded in the rocks as you pass by life on the planet.
But something has been changing along these rivers. This picture was taken in 2008, the first thing that happen is there is a different boat in the river. These boats are coming along to check the geologic conditions and the next thing you notice is that. Originally where there were nice houses and villages they have been reduced to rubble, And people have all left and moved away And this is because The time has come to build dams The rivers are being dammed.
This is Liyuan Dam and Ahai Dam, and from being natural rivers to being like this, just happens in the course of one year or one and a half. Most of the investment that follows these projects comes down, before you even start to see any change near the side of the river, and soon they look like this.
The thing about these dams is that they happen in large groups. So there are many groups of dams stacked up on each other. And they start to fill up these very wild places started to change and they go underwater. So these bushes here are up here so the water level has risen very high and it will continue to rise and where there were once fields also go underwater and there is less land to farm.
And the thing is that this isn't just happening along the Jinsha River. It's happening along the Yangtze River, It's happening along all of the tributaries, and all across the river basin and it's not just happening here. It's happening along the Mekong River, Salween River and even the Yellow River and it is happening all across Western China.
And I just want to end with a story. This is a petroglyph painted on a rock near Zhugu Village. It's a God named Shu a Nakhi god, That is supposed to be the brother to humanity. So both humanity and Shu are born to Mother Earth. Mother Earth is our mother, Shu is our brother. Shu is often associated with water, Usually its head is a frog, the body is a fish, and the tail of a snake or something like that.
And the story goes that, when human has destroyed the planet, Shu will revenge, sort of create balance. So Shu will cause earthquakes will cause droughts and floods and all of these things that. Interestingly we've seen in these last ten years, So when you talk to Nakhi people Their explanation of cause of what is happening in the world environmentally is the activities of Shu.
Whether or not you believe in Shu, I would ask everyone one question, which is what kind of future do we want? Do we want a future where we don't have the chance to see our Mother Earth and all of her beauty to float along the rivers and know where our water comes from? Is that the future that we are willing to accept? And if it is not the future we are willing to accept I think there is a balance to be had.
We have enough resources at our hands, where energy can be met through other ways. We don't need to dam every river that we have and it indeed may not be a good idea. So I hope everyone can think about this and can at least know that for the time being there are still free-flowing rivers in Western China, and if people act perhaps there will be for our children.