Saturday, November 24, 2007

In Coal Blood

Recently eaten: sour cream blueberry muffin
Recent annoyance: I think my eyelashes are falling out

I'm going to skip around my China trip since I can only remember certain things now. they must have given me that "memory-killing" serum before I left the country.

On the day before we left we visited the China Coal Museum in Taiyuan. I was skeptical. From what i had seen, the government and our tour guide was more interested in glossing over the rather bothersome consequences of coal mining in the country including environmental destruction, mining accidents, and pollution. As we walked into the rather office-looking building, I noticed that the parking lot proudly proclaimed that it was solar-powered and there were a couple of sad-looking solar panels (probably hooked up to a desk lamp in the guard's booth) next to the exit.

Inside, we walked to the third floor, since the rest of the building looked like an abandoned student center. The beginning of the exhibit showed on an interactive map where the largest concentrations of coal mines are in the world and zooming in on china's coal veins. Scattered around the hall were giant statues and carved figures made of coal (or carbon, as some called it). Apparently, this type pf coal is very rare now because it is so hard. Below is some crazy cat made of coal. (The pics are blurry because I was trying t get around the "no pictures" rule)
The next room looked like a storage room from Jurassic Park. There are giant replicas of prehistoric vegetation and animatronic dinosaurs. Yes, animatronic dinosaurs.
I guess this was supposed to explain how coal is formed (from millions of years of pressure on decomposing plant matter). However, if the robot dinosaurs weren't convincing enough, we were led into a small theater and given 3-D glasses. This was no ordinary 3-D movie, this is what they call 4-D where spurts of water came out of tubes in front of our faces, the seats rocked back and forth and gusts of wind blew over our heads as the movie illustrated what the climate must have been like in China millions of years ago. I am surprised they didn't blow coal dust directly into our lungs.

The rest of the museum was pretty boring after that: the invention of the steam engine, plastics, coal mining is safe...the same old shpiel. BUT WAIT! There's more. They took us downstairs into their modal coal mine shafts. We rode in a rickety and tiny coal tram into the tunnel and were given miners hats.
We navigated through about 1/2 a mile of fake tunnels beneath the museum and were subjected to creepy looking mannequins "mining coal." I'll admit, i almost called Amnesty International to save those dummies and oput them in a nice-paying storefront window job. They were supposed to be showing us the wonders of modern mining, but it all came off like bad propaganda. At least we could buy some cool stuff made of coal at the end. It made up for the black lung.

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