03 December 2010

China, Day 1--Newark to Beijing

The morning of our departure, we awoke to a clear autumn day. The leaves were a little behind upstate NY, where they were nearly all off the trees, except for the oak tree in our front yard, which annoyingly clings to its leaves well into December, usually until after the first snowfall, and well beyond when it's anywhere near pleasant to be outside raking. In New Jersey, the trees were still in the middle of dropping their leaves, and my uncle pensively remarked that there would be much raking to do upon their return. But the leaves would wait. China filled our whole windshield--it would be our only concern for the foreseeable future.

We buzzed through breakfast. Between bites, we compared last minute notes on things we were bringing. A couple people were bringing something to help them sleep. Dad was still debating about bringing his Crocs, as was I. Not having been able to decide before leaving home, I had thrown two extra coats and three pairs of shoes in the trunk of the car. What to wear, what to wear... Although I was concerned that it would be cold and windy on the Great Wall, I decided the need for a warm coat would be brief.  A windbreaker with a hood for wind and with the hope we would not be forced out in the rain for too long would do.  I could layer for cold.  I went with my old broken-in sneakers for the Great Wall and in case it rained. As "ugly American" as they are, I decided to wear my Crocs on the plane--they were just too light and comfortable (and easy to take off) to leave behind.

The airport bus arrived, and it was time to go. Dave's wife Cheryl and their daughter Jeannette served as our farewell party, wishing us safe travels and waving us off.

The trip to the airport, checking in, getting through security, all were pretty routine. The big 777 waited for us at the end of the gangway. I gave the plane my customary pat on the fuselage as I got on: Good plane, trusty plane, I know you will get us there safely. I had a middle seat between my two cousins. We all like to play games, so there was some thought we might play cards--Lord knows I was prepared for that, with a half dozen games in my backpack--but it never happened. Continental gave us each our own personal entertainment system, with movies, TV shows, games, an in-flight map, music... We each took advantage and passed a great deal of the time watching our little screens. I didn't sleep more than half an hour, if that. I read a little, watched two movies, wrote in my journal a little, talked with Dave and Paul. I got up a couple of times to go to the bathroom and stretch my legs. I won't say 13 hours went quickly, but it went by pretty smoothly.

Our flight path took us north over Canada. After passing Hudson Bay, we crossed the Arctic circle, and passed within shouting distance of the north pole. We skirted the north coast of Alaska, then headed south over Siberia before making our descent into China. Flying almost seven miles high, it was hard to comprehend exactly how far we'd traveled. Nothing was really visible, and the flight was smooth as silk. The frozen wastes slid by under us, unseen beneath layers of clouds. Our screens glowed with information about our flightpath and the conditions outside our flying cocoon. The outside temperature, mere inches away from the faces of those by the windows, was -70 degrees F, but we were comfortable (if a little cramped) inside a technological wonder hurtling along at 600mph. What a far cry from the trip my father, my uncles and my grandmother made in the opposite direction in 1937, fleeing wartorn China across an ocean of danger in a cargo steamer.

We arrived in Beijing in the mid-afternoon. Locally, the time was nearly 26 hours after the time we left Newark, although we had been on the plane for about 14. We deplaned into the new Terminal 3 of the huge Beijing Capital International Airport. The massive Terminal 3 expansion, opened in 2008 to accomodate the influx of visitors to the 2008 Olympics, has made BCIA the world's second busiest airport in terms of passengers served. Terminal 3 was the third largest building in the world in terms of floor space when it opened--it is currently the fourth largest. It's also the cleanest airport I've ever been in. The floors--all of them--looked like they were just polished ten minutes before. The massive ceiling rose dozens if not a hundred feet overhead. We followed the crowd and the signs that directed us to the immigration check, where hundreds of people were gathered in several lines waiting to have their passports and visas checked. There were no questions, merely a brief, diligent glance to compare our pictures with our appearance and stamps in our passports indicating our arrival.

Heading down to baggage claim, there were a couple of indications that we weren't, as they say, in Kansas anymore.  First were the replicas of some of the terracotta warriors--those life-sized statues unearthed in the ancient capital of Xi'an. We paused there for some of us to hit a nearby rest room, and I noticed a sign that I couldn't resist photographing.  If I'm not mistaken, this is a sign advertising the 590th anniversary of, presumably, the construction of the Forbidden City in Beijing.  A sign advertising the 590th anniversary of something is something you just don't see in the good old (but relatively young) U.S.A.

Once we claimed our bags, we had to run a gauntlet of drivers, business associates, friends and family members waiting with little signs with the names of travelers. There were hundreds of them, all crowded behind a rope, waiting just outside the inner terminal door. There was something almost chemical about the coming together of the fliers and those awaiting them--the fliers walking down the line until they recognize or are recognized, then the two parties, separated by the rope and the crowd, joining up with each other at the end of the line and peeling off to go to their cars or buses or the train to leave the airport together. Like floating electrons, we were gathered in by a nucleus--our tour guide, Jasmine--and we formed a new atom. We shuffled to one side of the stream of fliers and those awaiting them in order to make introductions and gather up to move on to the van waiting to take us to the hotel.

From the word "go," Jasmine was a dynamo. She already knew all of our names, and--this being a family trip for which she had helped to prepare for over a year--all of our relationships to each other. She was--is--the soul of preparation and anticipation. She was constantly in motion, as demonstrated in this, my first picture of her, in which she appears as a black-clad blur with a white headband. Throughout our trip, she was either in preparation for the next phase of the trip, watching over us like a mother hen, or telling us something interesting about our surroundings. In emails she sent before the trip, she had forewarned us about not drinking the tap water, not crossing the street alone, and keeping our travel documents with us at all times.  As promised, she had water waiting for us in the van, and also snacks. We would learn that we could rely on her to anticipate our every need, and to have an answer to nearly any question about our surroundings or about China.

Jasmine's first task was to shepherd her weary travelers down to the garage level where our van awaited. She introduced Mr. Tan, who would be our driver during our stay in Beijing, and as they packed our bags in the back, we packed ourselves into the front. On our drive into the city, I felt very little jet lag, eagerly staring out the windows to take in the look and feel of the city. Working our way towards the heart of the capital, we saw an urban landscape similar to that of most U.S. cities: raised highways passing rows of high-rise apartment houses. The difference was in scale. Most U.S. cities have a beltway or two that encircles them, providing a bypass for travelers who wish to go around the city, not through. Beijing, a city that has added approximately 10 million people since 2000 (current population estimate is over 22 million), is currently up to six beltways--known as ring roads--and is currently working on a seventh. As the kilometers of apartment buildings went by, we caught our second glimpse (Terminal 3 being the first) of the amazing modern architecture of the city: the CCTV tower, known colloquially (and for obvious reasons) as the "Big Pants."

Finally, we reached our hotel. As we clustered together in the lobby and Jasmine gathered our passports to give them briefly to the hotel staff for recording (something we would have to do at every hotel), I felt a mixture of feelings: The uncertainty of being inexperienced at international travel, mitigated by the growing confidence that Jasmine had our back where the details of travel were concerned; excitement at realizing that I was a Chien in China (how cool!); topped off with a growing weariness from being awake for nearly 24 hours.

I must have been more tired than I realized because I'm fuzzy on the sequence of events for the rest of the day. I know we went out to eat, but I can't remember if we walked or drove. I remember that it was at this meal that I ate eggplant for the first time in my life and didn't hate it as I always imagined I would. There were oddities about our room at which my brother and I were either puzzled or surprised: There was an inch of water in the bottom of the waste basket in our bathroom; the beds were hard and our pillows were filled with buckwheat hulls or something similar and, while surprisingly comfortable, were decidedly not fluffable, making it difficult to sit up in bed; there was no Wi-Fi, so in order to let Lori and the girls know I was there and OK, I used my cellphone to call around 6:15pm, which was 6:15am for them--the middle of their getting-ready-for-school routine. With an early morning planned, we finally managed to settle down and get some sleep, which one would imagine would have been easy after being awake for over 24 hours, but was not: Knowing I was in China for the first time--where my father was born, land of my grandfather's family, land of how many unknown ancestors and current relatives, a land that was a mystery waiting to be unfolded--was enough to keep me awake well past a prudent bedtime.

13 November 2010

China, Day 0--RPI


My journey began on a bright October morning, when I left my home in Rome, NY for my brother's in Troy, and then my uncle's house in New Jersey. Parting from my wife and two daughters was harder than I thought it would be. The tears flowed and, although I knew an exciting adventure awaited me, I knew there would be times I missed them and wished for their beautiful faces to come around a corner and light up my day, as they always do.

The drive to Troy was occupied by a few phone calls (thank you, BlueTooth) and to listening to an audio recording of The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck, which I had checked out via downloadable audio from my library. I had read the book many years ago, in college perhaps or maybe high school, and it seemed like an appropriate way occupy the first hours on a trip to a China that I only, to this point, knew through fiction, armchair travel, and my imagination. Though the China that awaited us was certainly less feudal the China of Buck's book, we were due to learn that its dependance on the earth and the lives of those who work it are just as real as it was to the nation and people depicted in the book.

I reached Troy and picked up my brother and his luggage. Before departing for our uncle's, our first order of business was to visit the campus of RPI--the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute--just up the hill from my brother's apartment in Troy. Our mission was to view and digitize portions of my grandfather's thesis. My grandfather completed his engineering schooling by studying for his master's degree at RPI.  He graduated in 1925, and his thesis won the Institute's prestigious MacDonald Prize, awarded to the top thesis from the graduating class. I had received the text of the thesis via interlibrary loan a few days before, but the large drawings, charts and maps bound into the back of the volume (as reported by my brother, who had seen these things on an earlier trip to the campus) were not included. Oddly, neither did my grandfather's name appear anywhere in the body of the document. Although we already had a photocopy and PDF of the thesis to bring to China, we wanted to photograph the remainder of the work to complete the record.

After a couple of tries, we finally got the students at the circulation desk to find a staff member who knew where the older theses were shelved and to retrieve it for us. It was a special moment, holding grandfather's thesis for the first time. How hard had he worked on this thing? How many hours had he spent working on it? I wondered, how proud was he of this accomplishment? What did his Chinese family know of this and what did they think? This document serves as a lasting beacon on the arc of his career--a monument of academic achievement and an indicator of his potential. Unlike a published book, it's a one-of-a-kind document. And here it was in my hands. Cool!

We looked for a well-lit table, but didn't find one that was large enough to accommodate the opened papers, which my brother knew were large.  We settled for laying it out on the floor, and carefully opening the papers. They were in a very fragile state--rather dry and brittle, especially the map at the end. It was difficult, too, to get far enough above them to get a straight-on picture. I think my brother might have a picture of the awkward pose I assumed in order to hover the camera above the documents. One chart was so large, I couldn't get it all in one picture. I made a special effort to get as clear a picture as possible of the name "Chang Kan Chien" stamped into the front cover since I had found it unsettling, when I received the scanned copy of the text of the thesis, that nowhere in the text was my grandfather's name! The only indication that this was his work was a name stamped in the front cover (hard to read if you don't know what it's supposed to say), the name "Chien, C.K." pencilled(!) inside the front cover, and his name in the library's catalog record for the volume.

Once we finished there we went to have some lunch--a good old diner lunch of Eggs Benedict. My mind went again to wondering what I'd be eating for the next week. Such trepidations seemed trivial, though; in 24 hours, we'd be winging our way over Canada on our way to China.

Our documentation in hand, we set off from lunch to my uncle's house in New Jersey. There, we'd meet up with the rest of the crew, have dinner, then settle in for some sleep before getting up early to drive to the airport. The great adventure was at hand!

05 November 2010

China, There and Back Again

We are back from our big adventure, and there are stories to tell. I am simultaneously anxious to organize the 1700+ pictures and videos I took, and exhausted from jet lag. Last night, riding the high of getting home and greeting everyone and answering questions and giving presents, I started an impromptu photo show for my wife and my mother-in-law, Pat, who had been visiting while I was gone, but was leaving for home in the morning. We started at around 10pm, and at 12:40am we had to stop when, about 2/3 through the pictures and my accompanying commentary, my camera batteries died. I have a lot of organizing and winnowing to do before I can give an organized presentation, which I have promised to do in December at the local senior center.

Problem number one in dealing with the pictures is that I forgot to change the date and time on the camera while there. Fortunately, after only a brief investigation, I've found that iPhoto has the ability to make the +12 hour adjustment on all the photos in one batch. The computer is busy changing the files now.

In the meantime, I can tell a bit about the traveling--specifically, what am I glad I brought, and what did I bring that I ended up not needing or not using.

Things I'm Glad I Brought

  • A 16GB SDHC card for the camera. I used over 14GB taking about 1,740 pictures and videos. Glad, too, that I bought a class 6 card which reads and writes faster than lower-numbered classes.
  • Imodium. Never needed it in China, but it saved me at the very end when "the urge" struck just as the plane landed in Newark.
  • Ibuprophen. Helped me deal with a stiff back the first few days of the trip, although doing my back exercises was the real key.
  • A journal. Wrote quite a bit in it. I could have possibly typed it all into my iPod Touch, but it's nice to have the tangible object, which accompanied me to China and back and can serve as the record for the trip. I did fall behind in writing in it, so I have some catching up to do to complete it.
  • 2 pairs of shoes. I don't know. I just liked having sneakers when I needed them, and something lighter to wear on the plane and for bopping around. Crocs. Mortifying, isn't it? Well, I liked having them.
  • Gum. Good to have on the plane and nice thing to share with my traveling companions.
  • iPod Touch. I used it constantly to look up Chinese words (Qingwen Chinese Dictionary), take notes (PlainText), play games (Reiner Knizia's Money, Mü, Galcon Lite, Cut the Rope), and to call home for free when I had Wi-Fi access (Line2 free trial).
  • Cargo pants. Used them on the plane to stuff my extra pockets with things from my backpack so I didn't have to keep it under the seat. The extra leg room was priceless. Don't stuff the pockets until you are through security, though.
  • Gorilla Pod. It's a small flexible tripod you can set up almost anywhere. Used it to take the group shot on the great wall. Also good to have in the camera bag: a good lens brush and lens cleaner, and twice as many batteries as you think you'll need.
  • The book The Building of the Burma Road by Pei-ying Tán. The story of why will have to wait for the appropriate time in the narrative, which will come in another post.
Wish I'd Had (or remembered to bring)
  • Rechargeable battery charger (forgot mine--borrowed one from my Dad), or more batteries
  • One more pair each of socks and underwear (actually, I had them, but I forgot I'd stuffed them in my backpack)
  • Benadryl as a sleep aid and for allergy relief (borrowed from Dad and my cousin)

Things I Brought But Didn't Need or Use

  • Binoculars. I always think I'll use them, and I never do. Never again.
  • Sunglasses. I thought I'd use them. Never pulled them out of my backpack.
  • International adapter kit for the iPod. Every hotel had dual-voltage plugs that took both European- and US-style plugs. $40 down the drain. If you want to buy one, I'll be selling mine on Amazon. I give you good price.
  • ALL the games. Remember all that business about what games to bring? Never had time (or the desire) to play one once. In retrospect, the only thing one has to bring is a deck of cards, just in case.
  • Tripod. Could have used it if I had been determined to do so and took the time. Generally, was too rushed and didn't want to carry the weight around.
  • Swiss Army Knife: Another item that I always think I'll need but, A) Can't carry it on the plane, so I forget to fish it out of my luggage and put it in my pocket , probably because B) I never do end up wanting it. Now, if we were camping? Different story.
  • Earplugs: That's personal preference, though. Some of our group used EarPlanes. I had noise reducing earplugs for my iPod, which I also used with the entertainment system on the plane.
  • Toilet Paper.  Again, never had it with me when I could have used it, although, thankfully, I never wished I'd had it. Probably would still bring, just in case.
  • Book to read.  Alas, I bided my time on the Continental flights with the entertainment system and my iPod. Didn't even crack the book I brought, Neon Rain by James Lee Burke. And me, a librarian. Shame on me. To atone, I bought books in China to bring home.
Well, iPhoto is finished changing the time on my pictures. Time to get cracking at organizing and winnowing. The story of the trip will follow...

23 October 2010

You can't get here from there

A colleague was speaking to my wife the other day, and said that she heard that Blogger blogs may be banned or blocked in China. She did a little investigating and found out that it may be true. So this might be the last time I'm able to post until we get back from China. Just in case, though, I'm getting a little practice in by typing this one on my iPod Touch.

We are safely all in Emerson, NJ., our staging point for our flight tomorrow. It's then when we head out on our great adventure. This morning, my brother and I gathered the last information about our grandfather's academic career when we visited the library at RPI and photographed the large maps, charts and drawings at the back of his thesis. It was remarkable to hold the volume in our hands, knowing that he had once held it proudly. We had to take great care opening and refolding the papers because the had grown so fragile with age. I'm glad we digitized them before the became too brittle to handle.

It's hard at this point to put into words what we are all thinking. We who have not yet been to China are full of questions for those who have been before. For example, I wondered aloud what one has for breakfast in China (fried chicken feet is apparently an option). That prompted a long discussion of what our food options will be. Choices I will be looking for: noodles, fried rice, and broccoli.

We're watching a DVD of home movies of China that were made by a friend of my grandmother's while he was in the navy in the 1930s. The picture is a little fuzzy and my father is recounting the events of his escape from Shanghai, which was under bombardment at the time, to Hong Kong and beyond via freighter. Many of these stories I am hearing for the first time. Already, this trip is proving to be the opportunity to learn more about my dad and uncle than I have ever known or asked about. I am so grateful for this opportunity, and I will do my best to document it to share with my girls, first, and my wife, friends and extended family.

16 October 2010

Getting close, now

With only a few days until we depart for China, the list of things to do doesn't seem to be getting smaller.

A haphazard pile of things to bring is slowly gathering in my suitcase, which lies open on the living room floor, and into which I've been tossing random items over the past week as they came to hand or came to mind. There are a couple of long sleeved shirts, a pair of pants with legs that zip off (I want to have shorts if I need them, but also want to keep exposed skin to a minimum). There are a handful of games: No Thanks, a deck of cards, Farkle, San Juan, and a print-and-play game called Pocket Civ, which might be good for the airplane.  I'm trying not to let those take up too much space, being conscious of my tendency to bring way more games than it would be possible to play on any given trip. Besides, I have a ton of games on my iPod Touch, and the international adapter set for the charger, should taking in the bustling and historic ancestral land to which I'm travelling prove boring. Methinks I'm over-preparing.

In my backpack so far is my passport, small binoculars, a shrinkwrapped tin of spearmint Altoids, and my camera bag.  In my camera is a new 16GB Class 6 SDHC card, which should give me plenty of speed for video recording and lots of pictures. I just ordered a pair of headphones with a mic to use with my iPod Touch. With it, I hope to be able to use Skype or Google Voice to "call" home using VOIP. I'll also have my phone, but I won't use it except for emergencies due to the $1.99/minute roaming charge to call home from China.

I've applied for an absentee ballot since I will miss the general election. I've received a PDF of my grandfather's thesis, although a trip to RPI is in order the day before departure so my brother and I can photograph the large maps and drawings that weren't included in the PDF.

Things still to do: Get cash. Trim down the contents of my wallet. Wash some clothes in our new washer, which arrives on Sunday--the old one died over a week ago.  Stock up the iPods with music, games, a good Chinese phrase app, and maybe a recorded book.  Pack some more clothes appropriate for the weather in China. The long range forecast our first day in China says Beijing will top out at 58 degrees F, with a low of 38--very similar to what it is here in central NY in October. (The Kunming high is forecast to be 67, Dali 57. Although far south of Beijing, both are at much higher elevations--6,207 ft for Kunming, and 6,535 ft for Dali).

I have to pick a book to read on the plane. I finished Deborah Fallows book, Dreaming in Chinese. I highly recommend it to all of my traveling companions. It's a quick read with many observations and insights into the Chinese language and culture. I enjoyed it very much.

And the list goes on. There will seemingly always be one more thing that could be done before the trip. I haven't yet reached the tipping point, where the preparations that have been made outweigh what remains that could be done. The goal this week, then, is to reach that point, and avoid the moment when I will say, "D'OH! I forgot blahblahblah," at a point where it's either too late or too far to go back and get blahblahblah. However, as the trip looms larger in the windshield, so to speak, it becomes harder to plan for. I'm nearing the point at which the it will cease to be some future event for which preparations can be made, and will become something that is happening, regardless of preparations. Palpability, if you will. The moment is not far over the horizon. It's not 5:00pm on Friday or noon on Saturday, or even the moment of takeoff on Sunday. It looms around some nearby corner--one I will reach sometime this week. It will fill the whole windshield, and I'll be in the middle of it, and unable to think of anything else because it will here, it will be happening, a long-awaited event.

11 October 2010

Interest grows

Less than two weeks until our departure! As the time approaches for the Chien family visit to the Chang Kan Bridge, local and regional media interest in our visit is growing.

When I say "local media interest," I'm talking the TV station in Baoshan, near the bridge, and YNTV, which is a regional TV network in Yunnan Province. (If you know Mandarin, you can look at Yunnan TV's own website here.)

The original plan (and still the plan) is to have a ceremony at the Chang Kan bridge on October 29, the 60th anniversary of my grandfather's death.  My uncle and my father have written a statement commemorating my grandfather and our visit, which they plan to read at the ceremony. Our tour guide, Jasmine, has arranged for the ceremony to be covered by the Baoshan TV station. Recently, though, Yunnan TV got wind of our visit and has asked if they can conduct an hour-long interview with us on the day of the ceremony. They also upped the ante by proposing that they follow our entire trip, from our arrival in Beijing to our departure nine days later! 

This is an unexpected level of interest, and we're debating how much access we want to give the media. My uncle asked us all to weigh in on the proposal, but I haven't yet heard whether a consensus has been reached. On the one hand, it's nice to have so much interest in our visit from within China. We are honored in the interest in our grandfather and his family, and are pleased at this opportunity for a cross-cultural human interest story. It is very pleasing that CK's accomplishments and sacrifice are remembered in his homeland. Plus, if the coverage would mean we'd get a copy of the footage to take home, it could be a very nice way to document our visit.  

On the other hand, having TV cameras in our faces as we try to enjoy the sites in China is a bit more of a fuss than we were expecting or, frankly, are prepared for.  In their proposal, YNTV promised not to intrude too much on our trip, and that the coverage would not reflect badly on CK or our family. This is reassuring, but the thought of having cameras in our faces and having to be "on" throughout the trip is a little unsettling.

Meanwhile, we are preparing for the YNTV interview. My uncle has already sent copies of old family photos he has to the network.  More background material has been found in the form of old home movies that were made when a family friend visited my grandmother and grandfather in China in the 1930s. (How cool is that?!) Finally, my brother visited the library at RPI, where my grandfather received his engineering degree in 1925.  He was able to look at my grandfather's thesis, for which he won the McDonald Prize--RPI's award for the top graduating thesis of the year--but was unable to check it out. The librarian told my brother that the thesis may be available for inter-library loan, so I'm attempting to get the thesis so I can somehow copy it before our departure. If that fails, a colleague has sons who attended RPI and may be able to use their alumni privileges to borrow it.  If I can get my hands on the thesis, I will scan it if the binding will stand the strain. If not, I plan to photograph it.

We hope to bring digitized copies of all of this material when we go to China, in order to provide the TV stations with information they can use for background for whatever story they do about us.

03 October 2010

More information about CK and the bridge

As the trip approaches, it is clearer than ever that the bridge we are seeking--the Chang Kan bridge over the Mekong (aka Lancang) River in Yunnan P.--does still exist.

My uncle unearthed temporarily forgotten translations of information from websites in Chinese that were given to him while he was in China on his family's visit in 2009.  The translations provide information about CK's education, his engineering endeavors in China, and his death, as well as information about the bridge and the area surrounding the bridge.

An article called "Bridge expert Chien Chang Kan" says that, from 1934-37, CK was a supervising engineer on the Qiantang River bridge at Hangchou. This bridge was the first bridge of steel construction over a major river in China, and, according to the information translated for my uncle, the first double decker bridge in China, having a road bed on top of a rail bed. My grandfather was "very much dedicated to its construction," and was "on the site from the beginning to finish," according to the translated Chinese website.

At almost the same time the Qiantang River bridge was being completed, the war with Japan broke out. The article goes on to say that the Nationalist government in Chongqing entrusted CK with the construction of a new bridge over the Mekong River for the Burma Road. The old bridge over the Mekong (or Lancang River, as it is called in China)--the Gongguo bridge--was not strong enough to handle the volume of traffic that was to travel the road. The bridge that CK designed and built had a span of 135 meters and was "China's first suspended road bridge with cables." Starting in February of 1939, it took 21 months to design and construct, being completed in November, 1940. In the process, many young Chinese engineers received valuable training, and CK's design for the bridge was replicated for many other crossings on the Burma Road. Unfortunately, before construction was completed, CK was killed when a plane he was traveling in was shot down in a Japanese air raid near Qujing, northeast of Kunming, and the bridge was destroyed by Japanese aerial bombs only 42 days after it was completed. The bridge was rebuilt, although not to the original specifications: The deck was remade with wood, the load bearing capacity was reduced, and the surface of the bridge reduced to one lane.

Another article, entitled "The Forever Unbreakable Cable Bridges on the Burma Road—The Gong Guo Bridge and The Chang Kan Bridge," corroborates some of the information from the previous article, and provides additional detail. The Chang Kan bridge was built 700 meters upstream of the Gong Guo bridge. The original Chang Kan bridge was completed November 4, 1940. All the materials for the bridge were obtained from the U.S. and were brought in over the Burma road. (An interesting detail: to bring the suspension cables in, coils of cable one meter in diameter were suspended on a pole between two workers and walked in from Burma.) From October 18, 1940 to February 17, 1941, sixteen bombing attacks were made on the Gong Guo and Chang Kan bridges. The bridges were severely damaged several times, but each time, the Chinese were able to rebuild the bridges in days.

A brief article, "The Chang Kan Bridge," states, "Before the current Yong Bao Bridge was built, the Chang Kan Bridge was the most important traffic bridge between the Baoshan area and the Dali area on the Lancang River." The article concludes by stating, "The Chang Kan Bridge is still in use."

A final article gives details about the Baofeng area--the area where the Chang Kan bridge is located. Baofeng Township is located in Yun Long County, Dali Prefecture, Yunnan Province. Most of the people living in the Baofeng area are of the Bai minority. They live and farm on the side of the steep mountain banks of the swiftly flowing Lancang River and along the Bi River, a tributary of the Lancang that runs through the township.  The area is widely forested, both with native trees and vegetation and with cultivated olive, chestnut, walnut, eucalyptus and bamboo.  The article states, "The Chang Kan Bridge lies in the south of the town—local people call it the 'unbreakable bridge.' The remains of the anti-aircraft positions are still present on top of the mountain."

While the websites are unknown and the translations are undated, they provide a clearer picture of the area we are to visit and evidence that the bridge is still there, waiting for us to arrive.

[Edited for grammar, spelling and clarity 10/4/10]