Monday, January 09, 2012

Wuhu Environs

About five hundred kilometers upstream from the Pacific, the River runs east and then abruptly north. Sprawling eastward from the northern arm of this right angle is the City of Wuhu. The main body of the City is pressed up against the River, which is still the region's main artery for trade, though in turns railroads and now highways have added new arteries, enabling the City to sprawl away from the River in new directions, and to mix its influence with its neighbors.

To the south, the City begins to wrap around the River bend before it fades into farming villages and the occasional satellite towns that sit between and around the tips of the northernmost foothills of the Yellow Mountains. My wife was born in one of these towns, and her parents in another smaller one nearby, the two towns separated by a long fragment of those foothills, a little mountain with a northward spine. Her ancestors are buried on the slopes of that mountain.

Eastwards, there are marshes which have been engineered over centuries, or millennia, into networks of polders, surrounded by channels filled with water from distant rivers, on each of which sits a tiny village or a cluster of tended fields, or both. Some of these networks are regular, laid out in vast grids tens of kilometers across, showing from any vantage point the mark of some overarching plan, carried out long ago by the people of those marshes. Others follow no obvious pattern, except that there seems to be some average island size, similar to that constant size of the regular networks, and some acceptable deviation from this average, and an agreement amongst the people that they were going to reform the marshes into channels and islands.

Surrounded and out of options, the Hegemon Xiang Yu is said to have killed himself nearby, two-thousand two-hundred and fourteen years ago, and someone is supposed to have taken his horse's saddle up onto a mountain and buried it. That mountain gives its name to the City of Ma'anshan, which also presses up against the east bank of the River, fifty kilometers or so north of Wuhu. This City is known for making steel, and a ride through town will show you infinite smokestacks and gray air that covers everything, it is beautiful and terrible all at once.

Further north along the course of the River is the Southern Capital, and from there the River makes its final drive east where it breaks apart and becomes Shanghai. Across the River bend from Wuhu, north and west, is Chaohu, which has recently been dismembered by its neighboring Cities, most notably the provincial capital of Hefei, which sits even further along the same northwest vector.

Westwards, up the River, there is more, Hubei and Jiangxi and beyond, but there is more in every direction, and the mind follows the flow of the river back towards the Ocean in the east, and does not easily run against it, and these are enough reasons now to conclude and say that the City rules the neighborhood of that bend in the River.

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