Tuesday, June 3, 2014

PLA Soldiers, Chengguan, and a Raft Ride During a Flooded Dragon Boat Festival in Hengyang

Last night the rain was especially heavy in Hengyang, Hunan province. When I set out this afternoon, most seemed relatively normal in the central urban area where I have spent most of my time, like last week when the Xiang River flooded a pedestrian area.

However, while walking down a street not far from Yueping Park, I looked down an alley I had not passed before named Yudetang (余德堂) and saw something rather unexpected.

flooded Yudetang (余德堂) alley in Hengyang, China

During a confused split second I wondered whether I was looking at a canal, but I quickly realized that an area in a hilly section of Hengyang had flooded. The water came up to the waist of one man of average height who jumped into the water further down the alley. While I was there, another man said to me that surely the U.S. would not have problems like this. I told him that sometimes the U.S. experiences flooding that wouldn't look very different.

I soon saw the arrival of a boat with residents guided by two People's Liberation Army soldiers wearing their urban camouflage uniforms.

People's Liberation Army soldiers wearing urban camouflage uniforms navigating a boat with residents from a flooded neighborhood

I then headed back to the main road and soon found nearby an intriguing route up a hill.

steep outdoor stairs in Hengyang

After reaching the top and going down a different set of stairs, I soon found myself facing another flooded area.

flood waters almost completely covering a white truck

A group of people gathered near the edge of the flood appeared bewildered to see me, and we were soon having a friendly conversation. They said the area has flooded previously but never before had the water risen so high.

Soon, a raft passed nearby, and after a bubble of activity several people hailed it. To my surprise it was not for themselves. Instead, they excitedly told me I could board it. I had no need for a boat ride and was looking forward to exploring another set of stairs, but a woman encouraged me to get on the boat and told me I could take more photos. I then noticed that although there were no soldiers aboard, one of the rowers was a chengguan, a law enforcement officer for urban administrative regulations and the "least-loved public official" in China. I really didn't want to be getting in the way, but the chengguan insisted, in a friendly manner, that I come aboard.

So I departed my new friends. Several of them looked rather amused.

smiling people in Hengyang

During the middle of the trip, I saw a group of men trying to move a car.

men pushing a car partially submerged in flood waters

And after a 5 minute journey, I disembarked at an area with its own set of onlookers.

tube pumping out flood waters

My thanking the chengguan caused a bit of laughter. As the chenguan rowed away, I pondered the fact that the end of my raft ride had been filmed by a news crew from Hunan TV.

chengguan rowing a raft in a flooded street in Hunan

I then climbed some stairs to a long balcony and backtracked a bit. Progress of some sort had been made with the car in deeper waters although debate erupted over what to do next.

men in shoulder deep water around a submerged car

There were activities elsewhere, although I didn't stick around long enough to figure out what they had planned.

men untangling some rope or wire

For others, there was nothing to do but watch.

people sitting next to a flooded alley in Hunan

Eventually, I decided to depart, and I took one last look back.

men holding a raft

As I approached a main street, I saw a street sign indicating I was now at the opposite end of the same alley where I first noticed the flooding.

A local news report (in Chinese) confirms what the residents told me--this is not the area's first flooding.

Although the boats are somewhat fitting in an ironic manner, this certainly was not how I expected to spend the Dragon Boat Festival today in China. I am sure others felt the same. It was a somewhat surreal experience for me at times, but mostly I felt bad for the residents who have to deal with the flooding. Hopefully next year's holiday is more festive for them and all boats are far from their street.

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