The majority of our time in Guizhou has been spent in the towns of Jiangkou and Tongren. Prior to arrival, I hoped to do a bit of research about each of these places in order to get a feel for what to expect. Internet research in the English language, however, revealed little about either of these places. From prior conversations with research group members and reserve staff, I had the impression that Jiangkou was little more than a small village and Tongren a provincial town.
The realities were much different than my expectations. Both are vibrant places: full with bustling residents, and booming construction. We started in Jiangkou, where Justin, Amber, and I took a walk down towards the river on the first morning. Instead of a small, sleepy village, we saw streets full of people, lined with tall buildings. Indeed, along the riverfront were some new skyscrapers under construction, higher than anything in California outside of only the largest cities. Meanwhile, there were still vestiges of the old: pagodas were dotted along the riverfront and fishermen cast from rocks down by the water’s edge. It seems that the transition to modernity is only beginning, as construction sites extended along a number of the main roads out of the city. All of them were surrounded in walls that had impressive architectural renderings of the developments. While in Jiangkou, we were able to visit the site of an impressive, extensive new elementary school comprised of several buildings that is due to be opened in the next year. The current site of the school, still in operation, is cramped and crowded, with twice as many students in each room as there are meant to be. The new site is complete with a large central plaza and beautiful views of the backing mountainsides.
Later in the first week we went to Tongren to meet with representatives of the local college and to interview student assistants. In my mind, Tongren was about the size that Jiangkou is in reality. While driving, I heard various estimates of population size, from about 300,000 to 600,000 people! What is considered a small regional town here would be a substantial city in most parts of the US. The extent and density of the city reflected its size. As we drove along the river, massive buildings appeared on the opposite shore, while crowded food stalls and street markets lined the sidewalks. While descending into the city at night, the buildings become lit up with colorful twinkling lights, cascading down the entire edges of the buildings. Like the elementary school in Jiangkou, Tongren College is due to have a custom built, sprawling campus on the edge of town in the near future. The modernity of the city is perhaps also reflected in a decent number of new western-style restaurants, where I was happy to be able to find a couple good cups of coffee. Despite the push towards modernity, it seems that foreigners are rare, as we attract a good amount of attention in both cities and are frequently asked to take pictures with locals.