The River That Disappeared

My family used to live in a very small village about 20 years ago. Our house was only 200 meters away from the river. I spent a fantastic childhood swimming and catching fish in it. You pick up a stone the size of your fist up of the riverbed with your hand in a very slow and subtle move, then there is it, a tiny little fish wiggling right beneath it in the water without being disturbed or knowing what is about to happen. Yeah~that’s what you want the fish to think about right~. Now both your hands are submerged in the water surreptitiously and are approaching the fish in a stealth move from both directions. Then, when it was close enough, you cup your hands together (bam!) in the fastest move that you could maneuver. And voilà, congratulations for your first trophy. You have mastered your skill in barehanded fish-catching.

Then somewhere around 2008, I went back to visit my hometown. It came to my shock that the river was gone! Probably I did not come back in a rain season or something. But seriously, it was gone! What was left were huge sand pits along the exposed riverbed one after another pushed up by tractors for the collection and storage of rain water. All of a sudden, I was magically brought back to reliving my childhood again. Only this time I found myself standing right next to the river looking at all the plastic pipes lined up along the river sucking the water out of it in order to irrigate the farmlands that the villagers depended upon for their sustenance and living. The dots were connecting and I seemed to have understood something in that streaking moment of flashback.

Old Water Well. Photo Source:

During a conversation with one of the villagers, I had another upsetting discovery. I was told that “The borehole now goes down as deep as 50 meters and there is no underground water”. As I recall, there used to be a water well inside our house which resembles the one in the photo to the left. I called my mum  just to ask about this. She told me that ” We sank the pipe down to only 6 meters and the water was plenty”. Being a village kid, I never had much ice cream, smoothie or milkshake. But I did get a lot of brain freeze from drinking the cold water fresh out of the well lol.

Last month, I checked on google map and made this screenshot below. I don’t know when google captured this image. I was so happy to find out that the river was there again..

My home from Google Map. Never forget where you came from. 勿忘出身,勿忘初心,勿忘根.

Not being able to see it with my own eyes, I called up an old friend of mine to help me check out the river. Then two weeks ago, she went there and told me via a voice message that the river was indeed still there. I almost jumped like a child. However, my ecstasy lasted for only seconds. My friend then went on sending me couple of video clips and watching them had brought me a mixture of feelings.

Yes, the river indeed is back again, but there is something more. A garbage dump is now next to it and gradually building up. My friend went to not only the part of the river next to my village, but also another part in the upper stream, both littered with garbage. The river that was once a beautiful ribbon now looks like an old man with his clothes in tatters and wrinkles are carving deep into every inch of his withered skin. I was heartbroken.

As human beings, we have for centuries exploited and abused our mother planet for its once abundant resources. We have left scars in places wherever we set out footprints on. We avariciously take resources from the earth, make them into stuff for our need and greed, then at the very end,  we let them go waste and throw them away in garbage dumps and landfills. Though wastes are better managed in developed countries, it dose not mean that there is no waste problem there. It does not take a rocket scientist to know that people in the developed world in general generate more waste per person than people in the developing world. And as people in the developing world are getting richer, their level of consumption as well as their production of waste are really catching up. I would not feel one bit surprised if someone tells me that some of my fellow Chinese or some families in Africa have surpassed their European or American counterparts in terms of consumption and waste production. Waste is everyone’s problem regardless of nationality. If an verdict were to be reached, then everyone of us would be announced guilty to be the plunderer of the earth.

So many people don’t really know how much impact their small actions can have on the back end.

I still can’t fathom why the river disappeared in that moment. But something is not right and it’s very likely that it can be attributed to human causes. We’ve gotta change the way we do things…How I wish I could bring the river back to when I was 10 years old…


We’ve got to expose the waste problem that’s plaguing our community, our society and our mother planet. We’ve got to make the entire public aware so that our overall awareness can be transformed into initiatives and actions.
My story is a not fantastic one. It is quite an ordinary one but it can happen to anybody. If it has somehow moved you, please help spread the message out. Share it on whatever social media that you have. And If you have an amazing story of your own, do not hesitate to send me emails or to share it with us in the comments. Zero waste initiatives are happening RIGHT NOW especially in developed countries. No matter where you are, join in, take zero waste initiatives and be a member of the generation that makes real changes. Everybody counts!


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