Chapter 12 - Panning for Bits of Gold
As they traveled up the mountain, Tang Can introduced the area to her. She soon learned that their destination located within the Chengbu Miao Autonomous County and was at the confluence of two rivers between the Xuefeng and Nanling mountain ranges. The area was within the Zishui valley and was known throughout the country for its stores of dog’s head gold. Other than dog’s head gold, it was also rich in gold dust and other types of gold ore.
Shen Yu saw the first placer mine after they traveled about ten kilometers into the mountains. The lush green canyon had a large crater about a hundred meters wide with a river running through it. Within that crater, she could see a high platform piled with white sacks. The platform supported a large sluice about three meters wide and ten meters long. At the sides were two forklifts and excavators moving piles of sand and dirt onto the platform. One of the excavators poured the dirt into the sluice, which combined water from the river with the dirt. The mixture was then divided along the chute into the green colored sluice boxes which captured the gold dust.
Seeing gold panning for the first time in her life excited and intrigued her. The gold jewelry in the shops...I wonder if all of them were made from gold mined in this way? She felt some regret that she couldn’t see the gold dust directly in the sluice boxes as they needed to make haste to get to their destination, which was further up the river.
Tang Can reassured her that she could try gold panning herself when they reached the end of their journey. It would actually be a good experience for her since she would be able to describe it better in her report. Shen Yu looked forward to trying and could not hide her excitement.
They continued to travel up, following the river. After traveling twenty more kilometers, Shen Yu was able to see the largest placer mine in the mountain range. The mine was a large operation, with dozens of excavators, forklifts, and dump trucks. Machinery parts were heaped into small hills surrounded the edges of the pitched tents.
Shen Yu thought that they had reached their final destination but, to her surprise, the vehicle didn’t slow down as it passed the area. They continued driving down the dirt road that lead deep within the mountains. After hours of being bumped on the gravel roads, Shen Yu felt exhausted. Her body ached from head to toe. She didn’t dare complain as the others were all in great spirits, and she didn’t want to be scolded for being weak.
The car continued to chug along without stopping, and they ended up eating some sausage buns for lunch in the car. This was the first time Shen Yu had ever traveled into the mountains, and she had never known the mountains could be so vast. Although the off-road vehicle could not travel as fast as it could on the plains, it was still going at a decent clip. Shen Yu felt scared when she calculated how far they had already gone without stopping. If she got lost here, it was very likely she might not ever get out and starve to death. The thought was enough to give her goosebumps.
At about four in the afternoon, the car finally stopped. Shen Yu’s legs were numb from sitting for so long and she was unable to get out of the vehicle without Tang Can’s help. Sensation in her limbs slowly came back as she carefully moved her body.
They were at a small valley. Within the ravine was a cheerful little creek which gurgled as it flowed down. The water in the stream was muddy with silt. Along the sides of the river were several tents and she thought that she could see a car parked there.
Just as they were about to set out, a yellow dog appeared, baying furiously. A pack of other dogs soon followed. As someone raised in the countryside, Shen Yu was not scared of dogs. Farmers often had dogs, and she could tell from their barks whether a dog was likely to attack people or not.
Zhang Fei, on the other hand, was afraid of dogs. When she saw the dogs running towards them, she immediately grabbed a branch to defend herself.
“Don’t move,” said Shen Yu. “These aren’t stray dogs. If you don’t attack them, they will leave you alone”. Her advice fell on deaf ears.
When the yellow colored dog saw Zhang Fei’s movement, it barked in alarm and stood still. The other dogs soon caught up and then they rushed towards Shen Yu’s group.
Mazha was from the Mongol ethnic tribes and grew up on the grassy plains. The Mongols loved dogs and often raised them, so he understood their characteristics. He knew that Shen Yu was right about the domesticated dogs. Domesticated dogs were not aggressive and as long as strangers didn’t provoke them, they would not attack first. Unfortunately, Zhang Fei's actions had already alarmed the dogs. With the pack rushing to strike first, it was hard to predict just how much danger they were all in. Mazha had no choice but to ignore his sensibilities for his teammates. His first priority was to protect the females of the group. He crouched down, picked up a stone by his feet, and hurled it at the dogs.
Zhang Fei’s aggressive facade dissolved when she saw the dogs charging at her. She screeched and immediately hid behind Shen Yu, using the girl as a shield.
Before Shen Yu could react, a black dog had rushed up to her to attack. Luckily, Tang Can slammed the dog away with a kick in the shoulder. Shen Yu watched speechlessly as the dog flew across and fell heavily. The black dog twitched its limbs from where it fell but could not get up. Tang Can had injured it heavily with his kick.
The other dogs had been scared away when Mazha threw the rock. They all hid several meters away and barked furiously.
At this point, a man hurriedly ran over as he blew on a whistle. The dogs all ran to him as if he was their savior. They hid behind the man’s legs and continued to yelp in fear.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” exclaimed the skinny, middle-aged man of average height. He apologized continuously to their group while also berating the pack dogs.
Tang Can walked towards the man. “I also apologize, sir. I was the one who kicked the dog over there. I am more than happy to pay it’s medical fees or pay for another dog should it not survive its injuries!"
“Comrade, don’t be so polite,” replied the man hastily when he saw that all of them were wearing military uniforms. “This is all my fault for not being faster. I consider myself fortunate that the dumb animal didn’t bite any of you.” The man chattered nervously and was probably afraid that their group was there to investigate something. He pasted on a smile and offered some cigarettes over. “I’m not sure what you are all here for today. Our group has gone through government approval to mine gold here, if you need to see any paperwork, I can bring it over!”
Tang Can waved away the offered cigarettes and directed a friendly smile at the man. “Thank you, sir, but I don’t smoke. Please don’t worry, we’re not here to conduct an inspection. We’re here to find Old Mr. Yun. Would you be able to bring us to him, sir?”
The man immediately smiled and replied, “Since you’re an old friend, you’re more than welcome here! Please come with me!” He invited them to follow him as he continued to scold the dogs. The group entered the valley behind him.
In the distance, Shen Yu could see that there were many workers standing in the creek. In their hands were shovels that they used to bring up the silt and dirt to a small machine. I hope I get a closer look at that!
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