Tuesday, December 26, 2006

draggers of coal

Everyday in Chengdu you can see men dragging coal. They move expressionless through the city, quiet and resolute and seemingly unaware of the happenings around them. The coal is piled up high on wooden sleds that rest by two bamboo poles on the men's shoulders. Each sled visibly sags with the weight it bears, while the bamboo quivers and bends.

All these men, all these draggers of coal, look strikingly similar, as if born of their profession and nothing else. Powerfully built and yet usually no taller than five feet, they have dark skin that has been covered by the black dust of their load and the lighter dust tossed up from the road. Their clothes hang off in tatters from their shoulders, exposing the tired, taught muscles beneath.

I’m not sure if they are delivering the coal to individual buyers or just transporting it from one place to another and I’m not sure where it has come from. In fact, I’ve never seen them pick up the coal, or deliver it. I’ve only ever seen them plodding through the streets with that giant weight strapped onto their shoulders and their eyes fixed firmly on the beaten ground below.

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