beautiful and mysterious luoping

The vast monsoon-saturated billboard, the only unbleached colour in two days of hard-sleeper train from Kunming to Guangzhou said, “Welcome to beautiful and Mysterious Luoping”. Behind, and congealing the heavy mist of two endless raining weeks were a wreckage of factories, a contortion of rusted, oxidised or oil-slicked intestinal metals, sky-gouging brick chimneys, cumulus billowings and ventings of steam, sharp hot-orange volcanic flares burning off gaseous leftovers, and orchre gashes in the enclosing hills where the town ate its land.

Luoping is cradled in the limestone strata of the Yunnan-Guangxi-Guizhou that becomes at its western isthmus the vertiginous accordion folds of Yulong Xueshan, and far east in Guangdong slips quietly into spindly towers amidst rice fields; this contiguous geology also supports recognisably similar aqriculture in the terraced fields, rice paddies, and water buffalo. As an eruption of smallpox pustules, towns like Luoping are avaricious plunderers, divesting the land under their influence in a single swipe before remaining only to rot; the antithesis of cycles of farming dating back millennia.

From Lijiang in the east each night, the sky pulsed ever-nearer with the impending monsoon. Returning from Daju was a special, irregular event as the entire town tended to the fields before the rains arrived. In Guangdong it had been raining for most of a month, and Fujian was partly flooded. By the time I arrived in Kunming, so too had the wet season. From there through to Guangzhou the land was under a desaturating mist, the fields shining with fresh rain, the horizon obliterated, and not uncommonly rivers overrunning their flood plains.