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Friday October 18, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Monday October 21, 2013 MYT 8:56:27 AM
by li yang
Ouyang Yuanming, 60, a retiree from Guizhou province, moved to Bama with his wife three years ago. — China Daily
China’s remote Bama county is home to some of the oldest, healthiest people in the world.
A MAN in his 90s sobbed at the door of an old adobe house. He grumbled that he had so much farm work to do every day, but his mother still assigned him new tasks, such as helping his grandmother chop firewood and cook supper. When asked where his mother was, the old man pointed to the mountains and said: “She’s cutting pigweed somewhere in the valley.”
That joke is often told in Bama Yao autonomous county in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. The county, which was designated a global “home of longevity” by the International Natural Medicine Association in 1991, covers 1,971 sqkm and is home to 270,000 people.
Bama is exceptional among high-latitude areas noted for longevity. The 1964 national census recorded 28 people in the county aged 100 or older. By May this year, 86 were more than a century old.
Bama is the only world-famous longevity home in a subtropical region. While other long-life hot spots such as the Caucasus mountains, southern Xinjiang in China, Pakistan and Ecuador, all share features such as an abundance of fresh water and unpolluted air, Bama has an added ingredient.
The county is situated on a deep fault line that cuts directly into the earth’s mantle and the resultant strong terrestrial magnetism helps maintain a high number of negative ions in the air, ranging from 2,000 to 5,000 ions per cubic centimetre, helped by the primeval forests and abundant rainfall.
The Panyang River flows east to west along the fault line. The mountains on the river’s north bank are covered by a thick layer of soil, while a range of limestone hills stretches away to the south.
Influenced by terrestrial magnetism, Bama’s spring and river water is restructured into micro-clusters, which some scientists believe promote cell regeneration.
“Almost all the micro-elements in the water and earth in Bama are the most important for the human body, while those the body doesn’t require, such as heavy metals, are found in very low proportions,” said Peng Yingao, a geriatrician at Xinjiang University.
Research suggests that the local houses, built with rammed bricks made of local stone, mud and wood, also help to promote longevity because of the beneficial effects of low-level radiation emitted by the rocks. Scientists say the local conditions help to strengthen resistance to disease, regulate the metabolic rate, alleviate bronchial asthma and stabilise blood pressure.
The local diet is healthy, too. It includes corn, rice, millet, sweet potato, soybean, green soybeans, pumpkin stems, sweet potato leaves, mushrooms and meat such as pork and chicken.
The ‘bird people’
However, things are changing. In recent years, tens of thousands of “migratory bird people” have arrived to take advantage of the environment. Most have chronic diseases or cancer. The streets are full of ads for longevity-related products and restaurant menus emphasize the life-prolonging effects of the local diet.
About two million people visited Bama in 2012, accounting for 48% of its GDP. Take Poyue village: The local population of 400 has been swamped by the bird people, whose numbers have swollen from 1,500 in 2004 to 20,000 at present.
Work on Bama’s only sewage treatment facility will not be finished for several years, so all the domestic wastewater ends up in the Panyang River, the main water source for locals.
Contaminated water from a nonferrous metal mine in Fengshan county, on the upper reaches of the river, has leeched into the water supply and the quality has deteriorated.
The villagers have not drunk river water for at least five years, preferring to use mountain springs instead.
Changshou, or “Longevity”, village has a population of 500 and is situated near a water source called Dragon Spring. However, the source pool dried up after locals set up a series of plastic pipes and a water pump to deliver water directly to the inns where the bird people reside.
At first, the incomers rented the villagers’ houses, but now they offer them money to build houses on their land, reshaping the village with iron, steel and cement.
Two malodorous garbage dumps dominate the landscape at the foot of a mountain close to Baimo cave, a local tourist spot.
“We haven’t enough manpower to carry the refuse away,” admitted Liang. “Before the bird people came, the village garbage was biodegradable and was put into septic tanks.”
Thousands of bird people, in pyjamas, shorts, vests, in armchairs and on crutches, flock together in front of the cave every evening. Each carries a plastic bottle.
Some sit dazed, some walk and clap their hands as a keep-fit exercise and some dance. No matter, they all keep their eyes firmly fixed on the cave, which appears to them as the source of a magic elixir.
Two cancer patients, a man in his 60s from Shenzhen, Guangdong province, and a woman in her 50s from Jiangxi province, were breathing the air in the cave. The man said: “I will live here till I die.” The woman replied, “So will I. I can’t afford to go to the hospital at home.”
Zeng Xingmin, 53, and her husband have lived in Longevity village for three years. “My husband is an alcoholic and has hypertension. His blood pressure returned to normal after we stayed here for three months. My diabetes is also alleviated. I don’t need to take artificial insulin here,” said Zeng.
She persuaded her former neighbour, Yang Yuanming, a retired grammar school teacher from Luodian county, Guizhou province, to relocate to Bama.
“My physical condition is very poor, but I feel comfortable and energetic here. The terrestrial magnetism casts a spell over the water and air,” said Yang.
Folk tunes as therapy
“If food is the material wealth of the Bama people, the folk songs they sing every day are their intellectual assets,” said Chen Jinchao, chairman of the village’s Longevity Research Institute. He believes that singing folk songs encourages the elderly to maintain an open nature and helps them shed anger and anxiety.
But the elderly seldom come together to sing folk songs nowadays, except as entertainment for tourists. Instead, many sit at the doors of their family inns as living advertisements of the healthy local lifestyle.
“I’m sorry you cannot understand my language. I wish you a pleasant stay in Bama,” said 110-year-old Huang Masongmou, speaking in the language of the Zhuang ethnic group.
Huang has two daughters and one son, all in their late 80s, and more than 200 offspring through five successive generations in the village. Her grandson-in-law, Ya Hanzhong, said: “She lives a regular life and eats two bowls of corn porridge every meal. She’s happy that we’ve moved to a new house and have visitors everyday.”
Huang Makang also lives in the neighbourhood. At 107, she may be the world’s oldest pumpkin and wine saleswoman. Dressed in clean, tidy clothes, she is talkative and happy to have her photo taken with visitors. Her sister died in her sleep last year aged 103.
Wei Ruifen, deputy head of the county, said the provincial government plans to turn Bama into a world-class tourist resort in the next five to 10 years.
When a highway is built in a few years, the county government will enforce restrictions on the number of visitors and vehicles entering Bama.
“No vehicles will be allowed to enter the core zone. The natural resources are the village’s most valuable assets,” said Wei.
The regional government has taken over direct control of planning for the “new” Bama. A construction plan will be implemented soon and the county government is urging villagers not to construct large buildings for the bird people.
Zhou Yong, who runs Bama Longevity Geological Park, said: “Developing Bama is good for my company, but not necessarily good for the place. The more developed it becomes, the less natural it is.” He suggested the government should maintain a good balance between immediate profit and future benefits when planning the new village.
Huang Liyuan, a researcher of tourism development from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, has been conducting research in the village for two years.
“I focus on the effects of foreign cultures in Bama. Once, the local people made everything they needed for their daily lives, but now they buy everything. When their lifestyle and mindsets change irrevocably, Bama will die. They will no longer be the owners, but the slaves of the bird people,” she warned. – China Daily
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Lifestyle, Longevity, Seniors, The aged, China, Bama Yao, County
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