Little black clouds rose with every footstep, maybe it was coal dust, or some kind of leftover carbon byproduct. I glanced up at the mighty smoke stacks, hot gray smoke poured from their brick lips. Below them, a steel smoke stack belched fire. Pawel moved around looking or a good photo shot, complaining to the trees that they were too big.
“What do you think goes on here?” He asked as I bent down and pinched the thick black soot that covered the ground. Smooth like glass, sticky like wet sand, and a half centimeter deep.
“Maybe they make steel, this is carbon, as pure as it can be made. Somewhere they must be melting Iron and mixing it with this.” I walked over to an old building, the windows were black. I ran my hand down the glass. Black snow fell revealing an empty office inside. A fallen over chair, an empty desk, everything covered with the same black carbon.
We followed the smoke stacks until we wandered into the first active building in the factory. From outside the wall less building, we watched hard rolls of rebar, bound in bundles, slid down ramps, and workers in orange jumpsuits and blue filter masks, inspected them. We snapped photos, as the worked glancing from their work to us and back.
“They must think we are spy’s” Pavel said.
“Spys? And what are we spying on, this factory is older than either of us, it must have been commissioned by Mao, there is nothing high tech here, if anything they will think we are really eager investors.
As we approached the smokestacks Pavel threw an arm out in front of me. “Wow, see that,” he said as he aimed is camera up, High in the factory a bright orange beam seemed to move, to flow, like liquid. “Let’s get closer” he said and we did. With every step the air singed, the humidity dropped and the heat grew, the air tingled the hot air distorting, bending the light and making the steel beams of the factory sway and dance.
A voice boomed behind us, my Chinese was poor, but I understood one thing “come with me”. We followed him away from the heat and into the factory, up metal stairs that sung with each step, through thick metal doors, and down rusty corridors. He stopped and pointed toward a swaying greed door, a bright half-moon smile beaming from his face. “Go in” he insisted.
Like a space shuttle launch center from the 1960’s the control room glowed, dials, green and red buttons, nobs, handles and a big red abort button. The control center worker beckoned and invited us to join him, to set beside and watch the other side of a thick glass window as he moved mechanical joints that glided and turned giant pots of molten iron across factory.
Back outside of the control room, our volunteer tour guide took us outside, and stopped not far from the metal pot, we watched, as liquid steel and heat gushed from one pot to another, we covered our eyes but peaked out to watch droplets of metal bounce out of the bowl and splashed on the rocky ground below where they quickly hardened into glowing red rocks of iron.
As night fell the factory quieted and as soot covered as the workers, we left, our tour guide calling after us, telling us to come back.