(China’s Coal: Part 6)

On my last reporting day in Shanxi our team has split up. I decide to try my luck at getting into a better-run state coal mine. As the option only came up in the morning, I no longer have a translator with me and head off with just a driver and one of the school’s photo instructors who had come up to scope out the area.

On our first drive-by, the situation appears to be a bust. The one man that we had a connection to is already down in the mine for his shift, so I decide to park it for an hour and wait for the shift change. I figure I can get a few photos of miners coming and going. We park by the office where the miners come to change into their work clothes. I ask the first miner I see if I can take his picture. He agrees and my driver chats with him a bit. Within a couple of minutes, word spreads that a Westerner is hanging around and I find myself surrounded by 20 to 30 people, my back to the taxi. Without a translator, I get a bit unnerved.

At a loss, I reach into my bag and pull out the West Virginia mining photos that my family sent me before I left. This peaks everyone’s interest and loosens up the situation. Par for the course in China, an older man offers me a cigarette, and before long he is telling us how to get inside the mine office and down to the tracks for the shift change. The pics had set a few people at ease before, this time they seemed to part the seas. Coming from a family that has worked in mining, I am one of them and my interest is honest.

The miners at the shift change smile and wave. The driver, Susan, and I mill around, walk up to the entrance to the mine shaft and check out the transit system. A group of dusty faces comes off shift and before the next heads in we are run off by a supervisor. We watch the rest of the change from outside a fence.

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Duane Moles

Duane Moles is a freelance journalist and a student at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.