The high life that borders on danger

By Hu Yongqi and Li Yingqing in Nujiang ( China Daily ) Updated: 2012-12-04 08:45:41

Mountain passes and raging rivers are part of the daily experience for frontier soldiers, report Hu Yongqi and Li Yingqing in Nujiang, Yunnan province.

On an October morning, Huang Jianfeng, 34, drove down a rugged dirt road. He was on patrol along the border with Myanmar in Yunnan province.

Nearby, the misty mountains resembled the classic heaven of Chinese myth as plants swayed in the sunlight under a clear azure sky.

The high life that borders on danger

Huang Jianfeng (right), a political instructor at Dulongjiang Frontier Police Station, keeps in close contact with the villagers. [Photo by Wang Jing / China Daily]

Huang, a political instructor at Dulongjiang Frontier Police Station, had little opportunity to enjoy the beautiful scenery, though. Instead, his eyes were fixed firmly on the newly built road that sliced like a knife cut through the mountainside.

Huang repeatedly glanced into the valley, watching the rocks tumbling down the hillside.

The ride was bumpy, jolting one of the five soldiers napping in the back who hit his head on the roof and woke up shocked. The car was easy to spot because of the huge dust cloud left in its wake.

As the only armed force in the border township of Dulongjiang, which neighbors Myanmar in the west and the Tibet autonomous region in the north, the small garrison patrols 115 kilometers of Yunnan's 4,000 km border with Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos.

Huang was driving the soldiers to the 41st boundary marker. As usual on their trips to the isolated region, they had brought a bag of rice and some cabbage prepared the night before. Having borrowed cooking pots from the residents of Qinlandang village, where the road ends, the men sat down to make lunch.

After eating, the soldiers walked 5 km to the marker and crossed the Dulong River via a bridge made from wooden slats connected by steel wires. When they reached the middle of the swaying bridge, a couple of the soldiers stopped, fearing that one false step could be fatal.

Huang took over and taught them a valuable lesson: Fix your eyes on the other end of the bridge, rather than the water down below.

One kilometer farther to the south, a 10-meter-wide waterfall "coming from nowhere" formed a tunnel across the road. Water from the cataract soaked their clothes as they stepped carefully underneath, aware that one slip on the washed-out stones could be deadly.

Difficult as it might sound, this journey is easier than in years gone by, when a routine patrol to the 41st marker took at least seven days.

"In some places, there was no road and soldiers had to explore the path, using a wooden stick to check for subsidence. Even horses couldn't be used because the road was so narrow," said Chen Jiawen, the station's deputy director.

Chen and Huang appreciate the roads that have shortened the walking distance. "Before, the soldiers had to walk all the way to the border, but now at least we can access the dirt road by car," said Chen.

Scores of people regularly cross the border from Myanmar at the 41st marker to buy daily necessities in Dulongjiang, and the locals find the soldiers' presence reassuring, said He Xiangxiong, the Party secretary of Dulongjiang.

The two other border markers in the area, 42 and 43, haven't been visited since 1996, because of the dangers of the journey and a shortage of soldiers, according to the patrol's records, but that may soon change.

"The station will try its best to conduct more patrols. It's important that we provide security for the locals and show our sovereignty over the land."

The high life that borders on danger

Li Jinhui, a doctor from the Dulongjiang Frontier Police Station conducts a healthcheck on a Derung woman. [Photo by Wang Jing / China Daily]

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