Guiyang: Capital city of Guizhou Province
Made it to Guiyang via Air China smoothly, despite losing my cell phone the day of departure. Do I really need it? It was crowded at the Beijing Airport and some asking around eventually got me in the right place. Amazingly, I needn’t pay a fee for my bike as additional weight. Amazingly, it wasn’t an issue at all. Air China flight was great. I swapped seats on two occasions with passengers that wanted to sit with their family members. As it happened I was in a window seat, which was useless at 9pm. But as it worked out with all the switching, like a beneficial rubic’s cube, I was eventually toggled to an aisle. The only reason I am writing about this flight is that it was unique in the sense, I am guessing, that more than half of the passengers were first timers. I have never seen so many people actually pay attention to the flight safety demonstration. You could have dropped a pin. Would have made a funny photo, all those heads and wide-eyes leaning in the aisle.
When we were flying into Guiyang there was not a light in sight, indication, I thought, of the level of development of the city. Turns out though I was wrong (needless journalistic foreshadowing) the airport was just 30 minutes from the city center. We exited the aircraft like presidents do, on the tarmac, in the wind, walking down a roll-away staircase. We all, one hundred of us, stood in the dark waiting for the shuttle bus. After that, nothing too strange. I managed to get my bags together and move through the small airport and out to the front where there were a bevy of unlit cabs. That’s the most I can say about the airport, there were hardly any lights. The cabby and I chatted on the way to the city. And it seems that the Guizhou accent isn’t too heavy for me to comprehend. I told him I wanted a not-expensive, but good hotel. And he delivered. It was a typically Chinese hotel in the weirdly San Diego-reminiscent downtown. 24 hour noodle shop next door. I bought 2 bowls at 2 am, one for breakfast the next morning, one for right then and there.
"Mo zhong qiu" is the charming boy I met tonight in the Longli KTV/lounge/restaurant. I am sleeping in a KTV (karaoke bar) tonight, but the room is pretty fantastic, in weird fantastic kind of way. One wall is ceiling to floor windows, and my view is of Longli's grimy, yet personable city center, decorated with a inflatable dragon-archway...
The day was remarkably long and adventure-filled. First, I spent 9am-12pm "getting helped" from the maitre'd from my hotel. I had 2 questions: How do I get to route 320 and where can I get some air for my tires. I was pretty confidant that I could have managed those on my own by just asking people on the street. He was extremely helpful, if not overly so. He walked me up and down asking little shop owners if they knew of someone with an air pump. I kept asking him where a gas station was (to use a gauged air pump for car tires), but I guess I wasn't saying it right. Well eventually we found a pump, but I had to buy it. That was fine, except that it was a piece of crap and kept breaking even as the shop keeper was attempting pumping up my tire. I threw it away in the next town.
It was his directional advice that was really interesting. The road I took was both a quintessential high road and old road rolled into one! It exited the town, unlike most roads which skirt obstacles like mountains, but by actually going up and over them. I pedaled on my lowest gear up an incline that was just laughable, indeed I was laughed at by the locals on the road. I ended up walking most of the steep hills, that is to say, most of the day. But in fact, this road took me through two provincial forests, one which was at the pine tree line of a lonely mountain ridge, which then turned into a small park with lots of people.
I passed through many little decrepit villages that seem charred with coal dust from making coal cake, I presume. While cycling through, I spotted a little corridor packed with people and paper flowers, and bedazzled with other items and colorful Spring Festival Decorations that I have never seen in Beijing. This was the countryside's Spring Festival, and it was really rustic and traditional (those words finally a good fit). There was chanting in a megaphone, gongs, Chinese trumpets, and firecrackers lit not for their arousal, but to relinquish bad spirits. Every time I stopped for a bit I ended up in a little conversation.
Later down the road a well-to-do young professional driving a new Honda hatchback stopped in front of me. I pulled up and we chatted for a while in English. He was nice enough, he reminded me of my adult students of the same age. He wished me luck and when I went to shake his hand he said "Awww" and opened his arms for a hug. So I hugged him, but as he limply hugged me he either kissed or licked (?!?) my neck a little. It was weird! It was awkward! I said "uhh…I am sweaty." He said "No, you are cool!" So that was that.
Then 20 minutes later when I was in the pine forest descending down an empty road, I looked back and noticed a mini-SUV trailing me. I watched from my periphery as it trailed for another 15 minutes. Then I stopped to "take a picture" and he passed slowly. I looked at him, another young professional, playing lite-pop music. He was grinning and giving me a goofy thumbs-up. I don't really feel nervous about these encounters, as I believe that I represent some kind of encounter with Foreigner Yuppie eXXtreme-sports culture that hasn't fully surfaced here, and so far it still intrigues the Chinese Yuppies. It's innocent curiosity.
The little gray and gritty city of Longli is barely featured on the map. It seems abandoned, at least in the buildings, but at the same time it is teeming with people. Everyone was out on the streets for Spring Festival. The street fruit vendors were everywhere. Villagers were pedaling their bushels of cabbage and greens in baskets loaded on either side of a bamboo stick, which they place across the back of their shoulders.
...So back to my KTV Hotel and Mo Zhoung Qiu. I was entering the lounge below my room and I was greeted, as of often happens, by a "Hello" from somewhere in the room. I replied hello back to the mystery person and sat down. 1 minute later the 9 year old boy showed up and we talked (in Chinese) for good while as I waited for my food. His English was marginal but he had an English teacher in school. So, I wrote a simple letter that said:
"Hello, My name is Hannah. I live in Beijing. I am an English teacher. Mo Zhong Qiu is a good boy. He speaks English well. (signed me)"
He folded it up nice and small (really small) and told me he would give it to his English teacher to translate. So then he asked me to light fireworks, and I was all "Yes! Yeah!" So after dinner the two of us scampered up to the roof of the KTV (joined by his Mom and Dad) and we lit fireworks for about an hour. Watching him play with his fireworks, in that determinedly playful way that young boys have, was highly pleasant. His parents and I stood, precisely as adults do, in the wise observation of this youthfulness.
I awoke to a morning that was delightfully grey, cool, and recently wetted by night-time showers. The steep hills persisted while leaving Longli, but again it's a happy trade to pass through old villages with white blossomed trees and valleys filled, really bursting, with yellow flowers.
I came upon a village that was crowded with kids and elderly people. The men were gutting an enormous hog on the porch. I stopped, straddled my bike, and took out my camera and everyone started to laugh. Soon I was sitting in there cement floor living room with about 30 kids surrounding me on a wooden bench. I was expected to eat, so I ate with the village's single policeman and a few of his jolly, silly, smiley friends. They brought out a gritty old wok stuffed with stirr fried stuff. Then they placed it in front of us on the coal-burning oven that was central to the room. It was good food and the whole family was crowded around me. As we ate the men were laughing at various things that I did, which I guess where humorous. I can't say. They brought out the regional rice wine and poured me a sufficient sip. I told them I didn't want to get drunk, and they agreed that I shouldn't. One of the women, my favorite of the bunch, had the repeated refrain "bu zuo, bu zuo". Don't go. She wanted me to stay and sleep in their village.
It was tempting, but….but, but, but….I had a long way to go. I thanked them to the best of my ability and went on my way, just beaming for miles. (It was the perfect traveling encounter that everyone hopes for.)
About mid-day I realized that I would not get very far on the hilly two lane road and at the first (and only) opportunity I crawled over a freeway divider and hoisted my heavy bike onto the expressway. It had a wide shoulder and it was flatter while still offering a great view. The only thing was that at moments the shoulder was coated in a bunch of oily sludge. At one point on a bridge I was slowing down (with inadequate back brakes, I now know) and I skidded out and fell, I was generally okay, but I sprained my shoulder and now it is really tender and I have limited range of motion. It makes getting on my loaded bike a little precarious.
After arriving in Guiding, another grey, drizzly, grimy town I was walked to the local hotel by a sheepish 8 year old girl and her proud mother and was settled in. I asked around for a good restaurant. I Was given a name, which I told the motorcycle taxi driver. He delivered me to a shimmering gaudy restaurant and hotel called Huan Dao. There were chandliers and the smallest table seated 10, at which I sat by myself and ordered 3 dishes plus rice. They had two muzak systems going on at once. In my muddy boots and dusty pants I sat in an embroidered white laquer high-back chaise and ate steamed broccoli and sautéed potatoes with purple, gold tipped chopsticks.
After the elegance, the ultra-placating maitre'd asked the hotel's driver to drive me to an internet café. He did but it was full, so then he drove me to my hotel, my OTHER hotel. He refused my tip. I am greeted with generosity and helpfulness at the smallest inquiry.
Woke up with a headache and a sore shoulder from yesterday's fall. I could've ridden today, but no-way would I have made it to Duyun. As it turns out, it was too far and too hilly. I asked a young employee at my hotel for directions to the long-distance bus station. Instead of giving me directions, he 1.) walked me to the station, 2.) waited 20 minutes with me for the bus to arrive 3.) arranged for my bike to be put in the trunk and 4.) negotiated for me to sit in the front seat. In situations like these, which are occurring on a daily basis, I am at a lack to express my appreciation. I just say "thank you" over and over and in a sincere tone and in English. Its more resounding if you say it in English (a good thing to remember).
Duyun is a cleaned-up city and I found a super nice, reasonably priced hotel within 1 minute of asking for one. After dropping off my stuff, I spent the afternoon meandering around the lake, which bisects the city and admiring the old men that partake in a slew of activities including: fishing, birdcage watching, sitting, making nets, selling sets, and playing flutes. I took some photos of a flute player and next I was asking to play a flute. Of course, he had me try out all the flutes he had. When I asked how much for one small flute he handed me three flutes and said, "gifts". Confused, I said, "No!" Then a small crowd gathered around me. Another man explained to me, though still in Chinese, that the old man wants me to have them because I came to china in a plane, or something like that. Again, this generosity is unparalleled to anything that I have experienced before. It's an un-bounded friendly-zone every where I go.
Anyways, hours later, I went back and found that next door to my hotel was a nice bike shop. The next day. I got fenders for mud-defense, new break pads for my rear wheel, and a helmet. (I forgot to buy one in Beijing). Now, I am so very much safer, for real.
I will type a little about today. I faced some serious mountain roads. The roads themselves were in fine condition, not trafficked. But the ascents and descents were massive and slippery. I was crawling up and inching down. At the pace I was going it was almost intervention that I blew a flat, that my air pump broke, and that I could not just fix it and continue. My flat occurred on the up hill of a extremely steep road. I just decided then and there that I was going to flag down a passenger bus or a someone to give me a lift to Danzhai, the town that I assumed was only 2 miles away. A small-town police man drove by and stopped. I explained and we were on our way. As it turns out, just over the mountain that I stopped on were the most scary, twisty-turny, up and down roads ever. And they were like this for 30 minutes in the car before we reached the city. He asked if I wanted to go to the town further, Sandu because there he has a friend that speaks English. Sandu was my destination 2 days from now, but I saw from the car that I probably wouldn't have made it. I was falling asleep in the passenger seat as we bobbed and weaved through these beautiful canyons filled with terraced-yellow flowers and green vegetable fields.
It was Miao and Shui minority country. So often we would pass women in strange beaded headdress walking behind a donkey cart. When we arrived his 2 English teacher friends greeted us and they immediately handed my tire to a local, who insisted on replacing the tube, instead of me doing it myself. The teachers took care of me and walked me to a nearby hotel and made my arrangements for the night and for tomorrow when I will depart on a bus. Its clear that this region is impermissible on bike. Wet roads and hills are a bad mix. It would be absurd to continue. I am only creeping along by 10 miles a day. So tomorrow I head to Rongjiang, where the BikeAsia itinerary that I am following officially begins. Now I see why they had bused it from Guiyang to Rongjiang. I am glad I've ridden and tried these roads. It's been a whole-hearted attempt. Guizhou is surely still an un-touristic topography.
Taking the bus from Sandu to Rongjiang was such an unbelievably a good idea. I had written down the bus adventure in my journal last night while waiting for a women to stir-fry my vegetables in this little open air garage type restaurant. But alas, I forgot to bring it. The most important part is the that the roads were trafficked with buses and motorcycles, plus they were slippery with constant drizzle, plus there was broken pavement with intermittent rumblings from the mountainsides. It took 3 hours to get about 34 km, although one of those was spent in the bus station waiting for the bus to fill up. They won't leave until it does. The bus stopped along the way picking up people and their dirty bundles. It was fun! And I never hurt so much from needing to pee that bad in my life. I was never before so relieved to see the absolutely revolting trough they call the bus station restroom.
Now, for some reason, these stinky loud, drunk male teenage ridden internet bars are letting me not only connect to blogger and flickr, but I also get to use my USB cable. Thus, I get to slowly upload my photos and tell my tales. Although I haven't really gotten any emails from anybody, so I guess no one was worried. Although, maybe you should be a little. This was a hardcore mountain China week of unknown turns and grimy, misty, crummy, decrepit, but also bustling and lively, and other not-so-bad things. It's only these little pit-stop mountain cities that make me feel like I am in a real other-world. The countryside, despite being the most beautiful and most-cultivated and treacherous I have ever seen, is comfortably familiar, maybe because I have seen it in pictures. But it has been a week of just crawling up mountains and inching somewhere between 10-25 miles a day, and that's cycling for 5-6 hours.
That is until today. That's not to say that it was flat, but the hills were manageable. I didn't have to walk my bike up not a one. I made some real mileage by cycling 84 km, and all of it really very pleasant. I would pay for this ride, I guess that's why its included in the Bike Asia itinerary that I am now kinda following. I rode along a somewhat wide clean river in the valley of some high hills. Perched along the road and the sides of the river were the villages of the Dong minority. These people carry everything on their backs, or donkeys, or in little sampans in the river.
There timber homes are on stilts and the women all wear traditional smocks and head-wraps. So it was 40 or so miles of these lovely villages. They are so much nicer and fresher looking than the Han chinese dwellings along the road. It's really getting unbearable here in the internet cafe, and I am exhausted, so I will finish all this at some other point. Tomorrow I am on the bike going up to a remote village, I think there are hairpin turns or something. Eek.
Rongjiang to Congjiang
Riding from Rongjiang to Congjiang was the best riding day thus far. The road was gently rolling and skirted along a river canyon. Beautiful timber Dong minority villages flanked both sides of the river. They use sampans to get across. The women wear their hair in a loose, but intact pretzel on top of their heads. They wear traditional clothes, woven with the cloth that they make and dry themselves, of course.
84km (maybe about 40 miles) a good ride that felt like some real progress. The city of Rongjiang was the typical Han (Chinese majority) outpost of white tiled gritty facade buildings on a single mainstreet, but it was charmed up with new bridges and seemed much cleaner than the previous cities. No doubt they are enjoying a bit of tourist dollars (though I didn't see any), but this is Dong country, and there is a reason for tourists (Chinese and foreign) to end up here. It was a great ride. I'm nice and tired in a very warm head heavy kind way.
I headed out at 11am and met a Chinese women riding a fold up bike. She was riding from Hainan to Tibet. We spoke in Chinese, so I am fairly certain this is the case. We chatted excitedly and rode side by side out the town. Then stopped to take photos and exchange names. We were both thrilled to meet another lone (and female) cyclist.
Headed out on a horrible dirt road, through a mine project, for a while, but eventually it got better and I glided up and down hills to the classic Dong village of Gaozhen. I was headed to the bigger conurbation (and tourist-catered) village of Zhaoxing 30 miles of mountain roads away. But long story short, I didn't make it today.
The initial road was so lovely that I had high spirits. Reached Gaozhen, 5 miles into it, had a guy fry two duck eggs for me. Big orange yokes, most delicious ever. Village life, as it goes, seems simple. Dong people sitting around tiny shop fronts selling eggs, soap, cookies, etc. but not really much else. They wear shiny plastic-looking black clothing. They transport everything by "stick-sticks." Some don't where shoes, despite climbing in mountains, rice paddies, and over the stones of the village road.
I asked someone to read aloud the character on my map, so I know how to say it. In fact, he couldn't read, the only person who could was a younger woman nursing a baby. She ended up (I learned 2 hours later) directing me up a high dirt road to not anywhere I needed to be. I ascended up and up and realized that no way could this be the "Bike Asia" route and it seemed wrong direction (according to the sun). Slowly, I inched back down and a man resting on his motorcycle confirmed this. Headed back and found the actual road, which wasn't much better in terms of quality and incline, just as rocky and steep. It started to drizzle, it was 1 am, going at this rate another 56km seemed stupid, so I turned back to the town of Congjiang and planned to try again tomorrow. These are crucial decisions to make, as just trying to go for it despite that I had already started could put me in precarious situation. Mountain road in the dark, riding all night to an unknown place. Scary stuff. I went back and spent the night in a better, quieter hotel on a cliff over looking the river, so it wasn't a total replay of the night before.
The high road to Zhaoxing
Now, finally I get a decent early start to Zhaoxing. And there of course are two roads, the high and the low. I take the high, no traffic at all, thats because its a mountain path. I rode up and up on a pebbly dirt road for about 4 hours. Astounding views of the valleys and the abandoned rice terraces. I stopped at one point to bathe a little in some erratic water coming off the rock cliffs. The wind blew quite hard around some bends. It was hard, but I never felt distracted by its difficulty. Like a streaming endorphin flow. I didn't (and I don't) listen to my mp3 player, it doesn't even occur to me to listen to music. Indication that I am fully present in the action, I guess. (But when I do remember that I can plug in, music makes it all the more sweeter.)
When I finally reached the top I, of course, thought that everything would be down hill from here. I sat on the very edge of a mountain and ate a soy sauce-soaked hard-boiled egg. It was 2pm. I crunched down the mountain passing a village tucked in a hanging valley.
I kept thinking that Zhaoxing (after 5 hours) was just around the corner. I was wrong. Once I was down off the mountains and onto paved road, at a town called Guandong, I was just half-way there.
A little disappointed but still feeling pleasant from my accomplishment of getting over the mountains, I decided to eat a little lunch (though I usually don't eat meals while I am riding, but instead snack here and there). I Stopped at a woman's outdoor kitchen and had her fry up some eggs and greens, with a bowl of rice. I love this simple eating. Some kids ogled my bike and shyly practiced their English in the next room--I guess working up the nerve to perform it for me. They never did and instead opted to yell "Hello! What's your name?" at my back while I rode away. Riding down main street, with the locals gawking at me, I turned around and yelled back, "Hannah, and you!?"
From the city on it became very hilly, and not the pleasant kind of hills, but the kind that you crawl (or walk) up and then go down so fast that you end up needing to break most of the downhill. It was frustrating, but again the scenery- rice paddies, orange groves, and the first sight of limestone outcroppings- made me not dwell on how exhausted I was. Actually, this was the toughest, but not longest, ride (I think) I've ever done. It was 30 miles of thigh engagement and deep lung heaving. The Bike Asia crew do the ride with no bags. My bike, is hardly lift-able, maybe 70 lbs or more.
Zhaoxing was the Dong oasis I was expecting. It's not as pristine and renovated as I thought, but that's good. It is a living village that invites tourism, rather than existing because of it. It's in working order, rather than all appearances. Here in the lovely Dong Village Hotel (40Y), I met and hung out with the first foreign traveller in a month. A young, hip Japanese doctor from Osaka named Massa. We had dinner together. His English wasn't great, he had a lisp (a cute one), but his exuberant miming made up for lost meanings. He couldn't speak Chinese and I enjoyed being a bit of a translator. I couldn't imagine traveling around a country only pointing at scribbles in a notebook, which is how he gets around. Japanese characters are 3/5 understandable in Chinese (according to him). Tomorrow, no riding, except, maybe a little.
Woke up late at 8:40am and slowly made my way down to the hotel's canteen where the super friendly owner was sweeping up in his dress slacks, oversized sport jacket, and shower sandals. He made two fried eggs (lots of eggs these days) and asked me if I wanted pancakes, assuming that I would, since it's a quintessential backpacker's breakfast. I didn't want them and ordered the steamed bread instead. He brought me some delicious instant coffee (presentation makes all the difference) and then walked out the door with an empty saucer. I watched him by a piece of bread from the dinky bakery cross the street. Then he brought it back to me. It was something like a microwaved croissant (rock hard-on the bottom and crumbly on the top). I like it when someone serves me what they think I would like (makes all the difference). And I liked it!
I meandered around the M.C. Escher-like village, with stairways, bridges, and footpaths and narrow alleys. Time passed and I ate some lunch, then felt really lethargic and- to heck with it- crawled into bed. Woke up energetic and a little guilty from being lazy and decided to bike the 5 miles up the mountain to the "Eco-Village" Tang'an (apparently a China-Norway collaboration in sustainable such-n-such).
In just sandals, shorts, and a short-sleeve shirt, no bags I flew through town, while feeling a little self-conscious. I know that I am showing more skin than is kosher and I turned a few heads. Little old ladies laugh and often look at my legs and try to quantify their size with their hands. I laugh and tell them that I am Big person and in China everyone is little. Ho ho ho, white giant.
The climb was steep, but with no bags, and little clothing and a sun-shiny blue sky, I relished it all. It was really great and the rice terraces were millions on top of each other, the most beautiful I have seen so far.
Once I got up to Tang' An I was sweaty and my hair was crazy from the wind. I found a stream and washed up, let my hair down and combed it. Left my wet arms, legs, and face to dry in the sun.
Played with some kids, and let a boy attempt to ride my bike. Then as I was heading up to the village with the kids clamoring around me (it's so movie-like I know, but it's what happened) I heard some English from a yonder window. A man appeared and invited me in his traditional home. He is a accountant from Tianjin. He married a Dong woman and is now spending a year living in the mountains. I later asked about the Norway-China thing, and as it turned out his wife is a singer and has not only cut a live album but has traveled to Norway three times. Her and the group sing traditional Dong songs in a special collaboration and exchange to preserve the musical tradition of the village of Tang' An.
Zhang (the husband) is using some of his time in the village studying and recording his wife's music. Real anthro-field-musicology. I told him about my love for new music, especially regionally music from little places around the world. He and his wife sung a drinking song for me as I recorded on my digital recorder (I bought it especially in the off chance that I would have an encounter like this). I asked to buy a CD off of her (they weren't selling them). He attempted to upload some of his recordings on my mp3 player, but a virus on my player stopped him. No worries. It was really super cool. They were wired in that hut. It was about 5pm and I had the long winding downhill before the sunset. It was the most wonderful long coast down a mountain ever, the road was smooth and the terraces glimmering.
Stuck in Liping
I ended up in this typically loud little Chinese city because there were no buses out of Zhaoxing to Sanjiang and I thought I could get a connection here. It started raining and the mountain roads around this region are majorly hilly, half of the way there I was told would be under major construction. Well its been two days now and I hope for a bus down south tomorrow. I can't really bike out of this city, to any reasonable city nearby. I am stuck waiting for the every-other day bus to Sanjiang. So fortunately, there is a decent internet cafe. And it's not as slow as others, though it is slow. In my rainy day in waiting I have been transferring my journal entries to my blog and I am glad to be done. It's a lot of work. If I have not emailed it's because the blogs are taking up my internet energy, but please consider them just as personal as a message because I post them with the same measure of care and desire to share this experience. Here are some pictures I took around Liping trying to kill time. I have lots of pictures and the better ones can be found at my flickr site, which is more frequently updated than this blog.
Chenyang Qiao, outside of Sanjiang
"Heard of the Sea versus the Scenery"
Despite that it has been recorded in exhausted-laying-on-my-side-in-bed scribble in my journal, now like 20 pages, I choose to not really detail all that has happened in the last few days, in the hopes that I can pull myself out of the greyness of the its difficulties. Not that they have been completely bad. My National Geographic Traveler extreme outlook on traveling allows me to swallow every "adventure," even if it's a sucky adventure, with a grain of salt. I don't really know how to use that expression. Swallow with a swig of juice, or with a jello shooter. In the swiftness of putting it: I had not money to pay for things, such as lodging and food. The reason was that gritty town of Sanjiang had some problem with being advanced or civilized or nice enough to accept my Bank of Beijing bank card. Stupid town.
I survived by the skin of my witty teeth. In the ensuing adventure not on a bike-unfortunately, as it was dire that I get to big city Guilin for the singular purpose of using a ATM machine (ha!)- I: rode a crap bus on the crappiest mud and bumpy rode in civilization, and sat behind several people who vomited out the window, vomited on the floor, live chickens in bags (yes!) and I proudly managed to pee in a bottle on a moving (actually jumping) bus, also at one point I had to sit in a wet seat, which was probably pee because of cosmic karma.
Now I am in Guilin, a city that, in its glorious neon punchy up-lighting essence, is a Disneyfied version of itself. In the river, which runs through the city, there are circulating about 100 little ferries covered with Chinese tourists taking pictures with their camera phones. Here is the location on earth of the famed Karst Limestone Pinnacles. If you don't know what any of those three words refer to, they refer to odd shaped (boob-shaped) mountains. I'm spending two nights here just so I can sleep-in and because the weather is cold and damp and I can't even really see the boob mountains.
Tomorrow, I thankfully ride 88km south to Yangshuo, the charming Western Enclave. The city exists to cater to all those foreign 20-something backpacker-types that choose to not make eye-contact with each other while walking around Beijing and presumably other big Chinese cities. I hope I get some eye-contact actually because long into it and being alone in the beautiful, yet rough and tumble hinterlands already I am talking to myself, laughing at my own jokes, and speaking in different voices. I haven't named them yet. Oh goodness.
Lan gui shing. It kinda looks it, but its not a Chinese word. It's what I do when I get into the city. Coming from me, it's not entirely bad, I'm a productive person by nature. Since I left the village of Zhaoxing about a week ago, leaving on a day when it pelted cold rain, the cold drizzle and the sense of languish hasn't really abated. I wrestled my way out of the gritty bus horn-remarkable northern towns. And have since spent two days in the city of Guilin and the tourist-enclave of Yangshuo.
The well-trafficked and bleak road to Yangshuo, scenery just out of reach.
I once met a young happen'in female tour guide in Beijing who told me in her years of experience in China the city she would want to live in the most was here, Yangshuo. True that the grey rocks covered in drippy green bushes protruding like noses ringing the city are fantastic/ical. No better setting, sure. But living here? Are they, the expats, living here? The main attraction of the town is "West Street" with its perpetual souvenir hawking and bar/cafe's playing Bob Marley, and foreigner 20-somethings wheeling around on rented mountain bikes, and this whole laid-backness that is desperately perpetuated using little more than the decor alone. And there are the assumed backpackers (I've only seen a few actually). But the backpackers, with their gersh'dern brightly colored performance outerwear and backpacks with a confusion of jangly straps and lycra loops, ahh!
I mean who am I if not exactly them (but I like to think somehow I'm not just because I don't like that scene). So, there is this self-awareness that tends to distract. But really I'm mildly disappointed (=playfully bitter) because I haven't really met a single one of these backpackers, and it's like their just figments of the marketing imagination of the town. I'm here in the internet room at my lodge and there are 2 obnoxious backpacks (as described above) leaning against the wall, but with no people backpackers in sight. Where are they? I want to talk to them! Its dire, as I haven't talked in non-baby language for 3 weeks. But...there are plenty of adorable Chinese tour bus tourists, who opposite to Western tourist, dress in their best and lavish upon the kitschy boutiques and gift shops, walk in lines behind tour guides holding little flags, and take ample amounts of photos in front of monuments and landscapes. And I love them because I like to tell myself that they are transparent and "true" in their goals and methods of "seeing" and the whole managed affair lacks the self-awareness and tourist-guilt of a western backpacker looking for a unique story to tell and some kind of true communion with the people (that's not a bad thing, of course, but I'm just saying). In Chinese tourist's guilt-free commodification of place it is kinda of a gas!
Meh. Its not important. The weather is gray and drizzle cold, and its getting to me. Since it is not quite raining, the usually gritty towns aren't quite washed. Instead, the grit combined with drizzle is made slippery shiny and more apparent, positively grimy! I am already nostalgic for a week and half-ago when I was in shorts riding my bicycle on sweet mountainy mountains. Oh life was simple then and I was righteous and I thought, "This here place is a marvel! And my very "adventure" life is a marvel! And everything hence forth (in my life) will be so much better!" because of the merest coincidences that the weather happened to be good on that particularly pretty road. So, tomorrow I leave Yangshuo having spent more than the usual daily allowance on coffees and diet cokes and massages and hair cuts (4 things that are luxurious to me) and with photos of not the Moon Hill or the Li River cruise or what-not tourist must-see's, but with the standard street shots of things I delight-in: shadowy-ness, over-stimulation, junk, peeking in and sometimes the feeling that I can't get enough of these things. Meandering and a healthy-bit of languishing is my essence.
Officially, I finished with my self-declared "Phase I." Tomorrow, I start Phase II: 2 weeks through less populated areas headed toward the "eternal spring" of Yunnan province, where I am hoping that my travel life will again match more approximately the idea I have in my head of my travel life. And this happens only when I moving and sweating and meeting people on my bike, not while sitting in the hotel room, restaurant, or at the internet cafe, even.
"Head on the saw-horse."
I left from the north road, north of the reservoir. I passed a dismal resort, if one could call it that. The pool was filled with sludge and two-by-fours. But the reservoir sludge was deceptively brilliant emerald green and I was inches from swimming in it myself, but I heeded the signal the smell was sending me.
In the courtyard of the resort there was a broken porch swing half suspended; a large tattered rainbow umbrella laying on its side, its colors dulled from coal dust and its metal wires radiating dangerously. A boy wandered around the pool in an over-sized white suit jacket, his uniform, he worked there, doing what? Some fat men and skinny boys were standing in soggy underwear on the edge of the reservoir.
I rode by slowly, inching up a steep hill. A truck sped by sending a puff of dust in my face. I put on my sunglasses, despite the overcast skies. I wrapped a scarf around my mouth, despite my aerobic excursion, the scarf convex-ing and concav-ing in and out of my mouth.
...Last night I watched "Half Nelson" from an internet bar, I was really enjoying it as it was the first movie I have watched in month. But the connection was lagged, and while it buffered, a middle aged man, fumes of alcohol rolling off his face, whispered in my ear, "Jianada de, Meigou de ma?" Are you Canandian or American? He asked over and over and eventually I waved him away in repugnance, which maybe wasn't the best move.
I left before it finished and he followed me home at a sad-puppy distance. I stopped to buy a popsicle. I stopped to pat my pockets. I stopped for no reason here and there and stood still. He was still there behind me. Eventually, I ducked in a well-lit pharmacy. I said "bad man, bad man, there." Maybe he wasn't really bad, but I knew only how to say that he was. A helpful woman in a turtle neck, lab coat and high heels walked me home to my government hotel, arms linked together elbow to elbow. And I fell asleep under a mosquito net in the glow of government programing...
A truck passes and sure enough the dust was kicked up in clouds around me again. I go up and down along a river, neighboring countryside, green things, wet shacks, for 36 self-affirming miles on a 2-lane road, under an almost thunder storm.
I then came upon a messy scene. I wasn't there to witness the moment, but I could put the pieces together when I saw it: At mile twenty-eight an 18-wheeler barely nicked the sideview mirror of another 18-wheeler and time-space popped, and like chemistry experiment changed their states of being. Both of them jack-kniffed at the point of contact, leaving a human-sized gap between the two now useless machines. For miles trailers (filled with hogs), busses, and cars filed one behind another.
And I pedaled by them, the passengers, wide-eyed, but expressionless watching me like I was a animal eating another animal. As a traveller in their country, sometimes it is me that has to smile first, and I find this odd. But the gap was big enough for me! While straddling my bicycle I walked between the two piles of metal and counted my blessings that I was not on a bus that day. I went on my way and the thunder storm broke and I later arrived to yet another cheap hotel, wet and, today, happy.
What to do next? ...How my decisions are made.
Example: In Lipu, a nothing special town, it was tucked away, off the loud street, although as per usual it was across the street from this KTV. It had a desk attendant and behind the desk on the wall were 5 clocks: London, Moscow, Tokyo, Beijing, New York. It is a mystery as to why all 2-star Chinese hotels have these in their lobbies, as it is by no means an indication of their international clientele. It is, ironically, a tell-tale badge of their very 2-star status. But something else, because I still haven't looked up the character for "binguan" (hotel), the presence of clocks lets me know what the establishment actually is. I typically ride down the street peering into shop-fronts, looking for these silly clocks.
It was 100 kuai, which is not a great deal, but it did, however, fall within the high ranges of my daily budget. I was at first excited by the large room, with cleanish looking carpet, as carpet meant that I could stretch on the floor instead of on the bed. Stretching is more effective on the floor and lately I am very tight from all the cycling. The bathroom was tip-toe icky, but that is standard. Also standard, apparently, were the black scuffs of shoes on the wall, about waist level. Again standard: the tea cups come with wet used tea leaves in the bottom, and wet plastic bathroom sandals in a flimsy paper bag that reads SANITIZED. Some times, but not this time, a ribbon of paper with the same SANITIZED loops around the lid of the toilet. Though I have suspicions about all of these claims.
I perform the same tasks upon getting to the hotel after a day of cycling. 1) Shower, which may or may not be enjoyable, but, in this bathroom, was. 2.) And then sit on the white bed sheets, clean wet hair in a white towel and take in about five minutes of TV before I realize that I'm not really watching anything at all, since I can't really understand it, but just staring exasperatedly. 3.) Then I go out and seek food.
I always look for a particular kind of garage/open air kitchen whose prominent feature is a wok with a fan affixed to it. Other kitchens without the prominent wok/fan might offer noodles, or something other than what I prefer, which is plain stir-fry. In the kitchens that I prefer I can go in and point to the vegetables and meats and tofus that I want and then they (a good chef) usually suggest the tastiest arrangements, which doesn't always assume that everything should be mixed together. I am thankful for this kind of kitchen access, as anywhere else I am usually at the mercy of the "way its done here" like it or leave it. And I haven't ever left it, though I have thought about it. Nothing like eating something you don't like after a whole day of biking. It's depressing, actually.
Then maybe I find an internet cafe, or maybe I just walk around taking photos, or just go back to the hotel room.
In Lipu, I went back to the hotel room after doing both of the above mentioned, and it was late. I got a late start on getting ready for the next day (i.e. partially packing up my panniers, which I have to completely empty out every night; and then looking at the map). I did neither, actually, and I lay in bed kind of in a "WHY? WHAT?" funk staring at the TV. I heard a rustling somewhere in the room and assumed that something was tumbling over. I fell in a restless sleep and then was awakened to a clang in the bathroom. I sprung up and turned on the light. And a black blur of a rat scurried from under my bed. MY BED THAT I WAS ON! I was rattled, and I screamed once, and then froze in indecision. Leave or complain or what, what? So I got on my boots and went into the creepy ill-lit hallway (by the way also, standard) and went down to the "24 hour" attendant desk, which was, of course, not only not-attended, but actually cloaked in absolute darkness. I didn't even step out of the elevator. I entered in my nightmare turned reality hotel room and climbed on my bed, and made a decision. Seeing as how my sleep will, undoubtedly, be so very bad. And seeing as how, as of this moment, I think I've just had enough of this road 321 and it's towns that are the way they are, and blaghhh! So I scrapped my 1 week of plans and decided the next day to take a bus to the other side of this province and get into the next one, Yunnan, where I really want to be. Gosh... And so that's how my decisions are made.
Song for the Waiting
On the same road about 15 miles apart I saw two distinct traffic-halting accidents that where exactly the same. The first time, described above, I happened to be on a bike and I pedaled past. The second time, the next day, I was in a bus, actually the only one in the bus, other than the driver and the ticket-guy, two laugh-y talky pals. We scooted up on the scene and my heart sunk. It was on and off rainy, I knew that the road was hard, and we were at least 60 miles from the nearest town. I couldn't hop off and bike out of this. I was stuck with the rest of the hundreds of people on this little dinky road for 2-3 hours while waiting for the police and crane to arrive to move the huge completely busted semi off the narrow country road.
Like most commotion or accidents everyone got out of their respective vehicles and stood around the scene, doing nothing for nothing was to be done.
I took some pictures. I stretched out across the sooty back seat and tried to listen to the BBC Worldservice warble in and out of frequency on my short-wave radio. I fell asleep. I walked around a village on the side of the road and used their stone outhouse on a cliff. The village could have been 100 years ago. The "villagers" were walking around with bundles of sticks and sickles, continuing their business in the fields. They seemed un-moved by the turmoil on their stretch of road. I bought gross fried cookies (it's something they have in villages) from a man who set-up a little stand under an umbrella in the mud on the side of the road. I went back and leaned against my window in the empty bus and then I heard a song drift in from bus in front of me. I immediately loved it, like its the song I've been waiting to hear for the last year and a half of my life in China. It suited every sense and feeling of the scene. I stepped out of my empty bus and crouched outside of theirs, full of people with their shoes off and legs hung up on the seats. I like to think that it matches the melancholy and exasperation in everyone's expression, while at the same time hinting at our acceptance that we just have to wait....Listen
Flower Piece (sic)
It was a tad stormy inside, but outside the yellow haze from wood fires and coal pollution hung motionlessly about the crumpling shacks and stained white tiled apartment complexes. And as the color of the sky inspired nothing, the weather, though not terrible, conspired against full-on storms, which was what I needed. I was stuck in limbo between what was breaking and what was seemingly incapable of breaking. I wanted the sun, in and out, the sun. But I wanted a clean sun light not a dusty pillar of kicked up road. First, I wanted a storm to wash away the dull and bring in the sun. I needed an anti-poison to wash the toxins in my body. And they were really there. I felt truly poisoned from the abominable and omnipresent cigarettes, all forms of pollution, from the nauseating toilets, from being on buses where village women puked out the window, from the smell of livestock and manure, from the endless train horns that come out of dump trucks that barrel around me casting loose dirt all over my body.
I tried to cry in those dull moments when I was resting in my hotel bed. I tried to cry it out, but I was so dry inside that I couldn't cry. In my little bed staring at a disgruntled Queen Latifah and bewildered Steve Martin speaking in Chinese, oily fumaroles from the squat toilet curling around the thin wall, I sat in what can only be described as "a Horror." I contracted my Horror on a 4 hour bus ride through the most oddly beautiful mountain-scape I had yet to see, but on this ride I endured a constant inhalation of above listed toxins and made sick by the lurching tangle of humans clutching to any hook or protuberance coming from the rat-trap bus walls as it weaved around hairpin turns. I had been on worse rides in the past few weeks, but maybe I had had enough, maybe I felt like I was wasting my trip and I was unhappy, and though it was a fucking adventure, that this (at this moment) wasn't delivering me to place I wanted to be...
I arrived in the Town of Xingyi, finally, and I had bicycle business to take care of. I had a ripped tire and needed a new one. Incredibly dizzy and nauseous, I put my bike together and pedaled slowly up the hills of the town. Immediately, I found a decent bike shop and after an hour of doing mostly nothing they replaced my tire with a new one, it was 3 dollars, the whole thing...I meandered in the direction of increasing noise as that was the direction I was pointed towards. The hotel was a bargain and old, but clean, despite the smell from the toilet (but that is standard in most Chinese buildings). I settled for three days. And by settled, I mean, I capsized, dog-sick and depressed. Wanting to vomit but couldn't, and actually paralyzed to leave the hotel room for as soon as I left I was sure to encounter someone smoking a foul cigarette. And I just couldn't take it.
I spent that night on my side, nauseous, staring at the wall next to me. The next day I made it about 1 block to the grocery store to by water and juices. While I was in the grocery store, as usual, the floor ladies followed me. And being annoyed and sick, I forgot completely what I wanted. I stood in front of some packages of candy gel and squirt bottles filled with high fructose syrup, with neon packaging so inane and bright that I become enraged at its stupidity. Where is the edible non-gross food? So eventually I found the water and picked up two liter bottles and a thing of Gatorade-stuff and then carrying my items like a baby, I piled a few apples on top too. With all this I stood transfixed in front of the bakery while the baker twisted purple dough into a jagged crystal bun. Then my arms got weak wobbly and I dropped everything on the floor. The ladies standing at a distance, but in a semi-circle around me, just stared. Picking them up I noticed that the water started fizzing in the bottle. I read the label featuring a blue Polar Bear "Mentholated Water" God dammit!
When one is afflicted with the Horror, frustrating grocery store experiences can push one over the edge and as it happened my right nostril began gushing blood. Surely, I thought, I was decaying from dryness from the inside out. A well-intentioned man handed me the tiniest scrap of paper towel which was soon soaked red. I dropped my stuff and walked briskly to the back, to the dark and dank (and probably awful smelling--if I hadn't my nose pinched) employee bathroom. I turned on a pvc-pipe faucet and washed away the blood in the concrete trough containing dirty mops.
When I left the grocery store anticipating a fresh spill of blood from my nose, I passed a filthy dirt caked man squatting on the side-walk. He was wearing a filthy turquoise jacket for little girls and a black-lace petty-coat. His gnarled feet were squeezed into child's plastic sandals. He was clutching a bag of sauce drenched chicken feet and had discarded feet strewn about on the concrete around him. His face smothered in dark red sauce, but he looked up at me with crystalline clear eyes.
Another day passed in not-agony, but agonizing immobilization. Smells and noises and everything filled me with sickness and something approximating hate. I'm sorry how it comes off, but I had a hateful heart for the environment I was in. Luckily, it 85 percent passed and I was able to get to Kunming (6 hours away) on an old sleeper bus, which is a whole-other story, indeed. But I can, thankfully, just tell you in pictures later.
And like I hoped the sky cleared just as soon as I entered Yunnan province, the eternal spring with no storms, but with plenty of rocks.
Get back to whole...
For the past 2 days I've been in sun-shiny blue Dali an ancient city in the basin between a big snow-capped mountain range and little rounded range skirting Er Hai, a big blue- oh thank you lord- lake. I am healing with fresh air and sun.
I ride around the smooth roads through the fields of beans and tall edible grasses wearing shorts and sandals. I'm getting my Arizona tan back. I'm feeling happy. I'm getting lost in the narrow cool alleys of old villages and being guided back to civilization by old wrinkly women who show me ponds with huge birds and people living on wooden house boats. I'm following roads until they turn intolerably trafficked with loud trucks and tourist SUVs heading into the view points up in the mountains. But I am finding that roads around here go a long ways before they descend into that. There is a bookstore here with a small, but good selection of English books. They actually have a book I've been wanting to read for a while, Andrew Marshall's The Trouser People. It is about Burma during the British empire and Burma now. It is fascinating, funny, and wonderful. Its so nice to be reading again. I have nightstand and I can arrange these new books on it with a flower vase that the keeper replenishes every so often. It's a really special thing to be coming from an experience where I can now not take these charms for granted.
I'm not having vivid dreams or restless sleep. There is no reason for me to leave for a while, and for quite a while I've been looking for no reason to leave. So I am going to stay for a week or so before heading towards southern Yunnan to the Burmese border.
Wait to be written
Because I don't want to think about it today, but it happened in those mountains. And here's the day of and before and after...If it's any indication that I'm still good as gold, and with maybe a bit harder resolve. (Sorry for the suspense)
Now I'm here. It's a city called Yongping and it's okay...
Resort/ Resorted to...
A week ago, I left Dali with the ambition to continue cycling for the next month down to the Burmese border to a town called Ruili. The geography and cultural landscape down there is reportedly more Burmese than Chinese, with Indian Buddhist stuppas and vast moonscape of volcanic cinder cones. I wanted something other than Chinese. Badly wanted.
I headed on the road west through the mountains. The road went for the most part alongside a river, though at varying elevations. I left at the unproductive hour of 3pm and by 4pm I was out of the city and making way on a perilous slice around several bends. It is windy season here, and this coupled with the twisty geography of the canyon made the winds impenetrable. So I kept going and debated turning back 15 miles to town, but then came across a nice looking cluster of condos, not usually seen in this part of the country. On the backside of the condos was the standard old village with restaurant and seeming hotel. They informed that if I were to stay the night I was to stay in the condos. As it turned out it was the "Phoenix Hotspring Resort," a "nutrious for body oasis" for "corporations and families" alike. I walked passed the "Dress Appropriate" sign wearing shorts, sneakers with hair in a gritty-wind-blown shamble of a pony-tail, and into the muzak-drowned shimmery-gold reception area. After some pleading, the cost of the room, pool, gym, breakfast included was 450 kuai, a ridiculous luxury considering my usual price range of 30-50 kuai. But, I did it and I spent an out-of-the-ordinary/pleasurable night swimming in warm (though not hot) pools and bathing in my huge in-room sauna, and lavishing (turned languishing?) as much as I could in the huge size of my room, sitting room, and two porches. It was of course way too much, and after a week resting in Dali, I wasn't really in need of the pampering. At some moments I debated whether I was appreciating it as much as I was supposed to. After a while of flipping through the tv channels and laying my recently purchases books out on the clean white bed linens, I found myself sitting at the desk staring at nothing in particular, bored and rather lonely. I had a strong urge to be back in Dali or some kind of civilization with internet access to bypass the loneliness with an internet movie. I really wasn't appreciating anything. It's really tough thing to feel alone in the world, even if your cozy-ed up in a resort.
The next day, I felt pretty great and my clean surroundings put me in a good mood and I headed off down the road, in the good mood. In cheery spirits I went mostly down hill on a smooth, beautiful (though truck-trafficked) road and I thought "This is so good that it worries me." And sure enough, a few miles down the road, the road turned to pointy (actually stupidly pointy) cobblestones. Not letting this disaster get to me- cobblestones are the worst of all road conditions in my opinion, as they impair a nice downhill (when on a loaded touring bike they make it unstable, so you have to ride the breaks a little and you end up with tingly nubs for hands)- I kept a clear-head. It only lasted about 5km and then went smooth again at a little spot with a truck stop. I asked about the road continuing onto Yongping and was informed that it was absolute crap, which it, as it turned out, really, really was. I caught a rickety bus and instead of putting my bike on the top rack they, because it was easier, hurled it down the aisle onto the arms and legs of the other passengers. So I sat in the bucketing bus, clutching my bike and bracing the frame with my legs trying to keep it from slamming into the people around me, having it slam into me instead. I was thoroughly contorted while sitting with someones rooster between my feet. And at one point its neck became wedged underneath my front tire, like a guillotine, which I was just barely in control of. Like a bauble in tin rattle, I watched in horror as the rooster tried to wriggle its body from underneath it, clucking wretchedly and drawing the stares of presumably its unconcerned owner. Despite all this I was still in a good mood and I smiled at some lady and she smiled back, compelled so surely at my awkward posture wrapped around my bicycle.
The road smoothed and I asked the driver if the rest of the way was good and he said yes. So he dropped me off, I ate some chips and headed up...
An hour later I was still heading up and I thought When is the damn thing gonna go down? At this point the river turned to a trickle and I was going upstream of it, which was an indication of how long I still had to the top. For as long as it trickled down I still had a ways to go. Eventually, I saw a rusty barely-legible sign in Chinese telling me the town was still 50 km away. Yeah, but up or down, was the crucial question. It was 3 or 4pm, leaving about 4 hours of sunlight.
The road climbed higher and ever higher into the tree line. I looked down at the the crease in the mountains where the creek would be. A truck passed every so often, but infrequently which suggested this wasn't a road preferred by the locals. I grew hungry, having stupidly eaten only chips and a Popsicle for lunch. The road was so steep that I had to push my bike up, so I was just crawling along and very wearily so. I asked some locals living in remote clusters of shacks here and there when and where exactly does the mountain turn down hill. "20 km more" they kept saying, every 5km or so, telling me again "20km more." I didn't know what to believe. Very hungry and with little water I resisted eating my only food (which if eaten would probably just choke me), my bag of fiber cereal. A bit whimpery and frustrated I came across some young girls in their yard and asked if they had some food or water and they said yes, but then cruelly started laughing at me. So I walked away pissed off, glaring at them. Could they not see that here in the dwindling twilight far from the mountain top, in the wind, pushing a big bike, that I, a foreign single gal looking pretty nervous, could use some hospitality. Bitches.
The next bend was indistinguishable from the last. That is, apart from the shack with three snapping, barking dogs scampering around in a plume of dust of their own making. They saw me creeping along and decided to, all three of them, follow me at about 3 feet, while barking, growling and foaming like the crazy, idiot beasts they were bred to be. In my state of weary exhaustion I mustered up enough strength to yell obscenities at them while still trudging along.
Oh gosh, it just gets scarier, unpleasant and worse as the sky went dark and semi-trucks barreled from behind. A tried to wave down the odd car, but no one was willing to help me out, or maybe they just couldn't see me. I got to the top to find that my sharp descent (20km or so) was on unsealed gravel, in the dark, with my little flashlight fashioned around my handlebars with a hairband. I wasn't set-up for comfortable, safe night-riding, which I admit was just stupid.
A came across a semi having some trouble with his hydraulics or something and he pulled out in front of me going at a pace that I could trail him by, using his break lights as a guide to the path ahead of me. But sure, as he puttered along, the back of his truck was spewing burned rubber and toxic fumes. I had to wrap a scarf around my nose and mouth and squint my eyes from the bits and pieces. I got down into something of a wide valley where I could see illuminated, on a far away hill, what looked like a erect cucumber wearing a bandanna. A beacon of the town? A beacon of hope? Descending more through an ill-lit row of shacks I stopped at the first shop I saw and bought some food and water. And soon the concerned ladies running the shop put me and my bike in the back of some guy's tuk-tuk carriage and he drove me the 5 km along a very flat, well-lit, smooth and wide boulevard to a cheap hotel. I was happy for the unnecessary lift.
I stayed 2 nights in the hotel, the next day just recovering my strength. I had "bonked" on the mountain, meaning that all of my energy stores had depleted and it set me up for some hard-core exhaustion. The next day, my chest hurt, but I felt pretty good, like super strong, despite actually being quite weak with soreness.
So...I wrote some friends about my harrowing adventure, and felt better, and thought not about writing of it here until now.
Gods are laughing
I tried to leave the nothing-special town of Yongping by bus still continuing on my way south. I went to the local back to find that the ATM was sealed up with crinkled tin foil. The lady inside said it was the only one town. And it being not my bank a non-ATM, human-to-human transaction was impossible. I had 15 kuai, enough for half a bus ticket or half a hotel-room, either way staying in town wasn't going to get me money. Whereas, going on the next bus to any other town was a slight hope. I went into the bus station and walked my bike around to whatever bus plus bus driver was sitting there and asked where they were going. As it happened none of the buses were going south (my preferred direction) and all of the buses (which was one bus) was going all the back to Dali, where I started! It was either become penniless in this town, or shamefully go back to where I began this trek. The answer is clear. So I showed the bus driver my empty wallet and literally said something like:
"Please, I have big problem. My ATM card is not okay here. Yongping has one bank. But in Dali it is okay. I have the most money in Dali. I give you money in Dali, okay not okay? Sorry. Thank you."
Then he waved me away, in a way that said "Yes, whatever, shut up." And I got in the full bus, and we eventually headed off on the free-way, going a steady, unshaky, un-nauseating, 70 mph skirting the mountains that scared me good one day prior. And it was the best bus ride on a cheap old bus ever. I took the fact that it was comfortable and that "I had to ride it anyways" as a sign that going back to Dali was what I needed to do to keep myself safe. It was a fortuitous occasion to say to myself, "Yeah I can stop cycling now. It's really enough."
Build up to my Burmese Crush.
When patches of your skin are the color of port wine, but under the clothes you're pearly white, and sand grit sticks to your forehead and abrades the uneven burn under your bangs. When you go to brush the stuck together strands of hair out of your nearing blood shot eyes, then that’s a day like mine, a day like the past few days. Like the past few days, I woke up around 10am and made it out the door around noon wearing shorts, sandals, sunglasses and with my one light pannier. I rolled down the same narrow cobblestone road between grey walls casting one half of the street in the same color and the other in a squint-inducing brightness. Locals wearing the characteristic long layers and sun hats, carrying spades, baskets, pushing carts, kids running up the hill in the school tracksuits, they all instinctively bunched in the shadows, and I dodged and dodged until finally acknowledging my place on the sunnyside. I had a map and was going to attempt to find a road that encircled the blue lake Er Hai. Actually, I was just out to bike sloth-like on the flat road in the sun. Today I felt good, but inordinately slothy and nothing, not even three ice cream (oatmeal-flavored) popsicles (spaced out over 2 hours, mind you) was lifting me out of it. I cranked my pedals like hoisting a full-pale from a deep well and losing interest. Then I made it to a bridge, where I suspected this was the road towards the road which should turn into the road I wanted, and the road it was, was it.
But the nice manicured river side soon got churned up into mounds of gravel, as it turns out the road was actually being built right below me. So there was no road to ride, but I saw an accessible “beach” of pebbles and I groggily walked my bike to its edge. There was bonfire fueled by a pile of canvas sacks filled with twigs and, often, it popped frighteningly and I scampered quickly down wind, as both the blaring sun and its jet-engine wavy fumes continued to burn my skin. I sat back to the more industrial face of the lake’s harbor, looking blankly at its vast blue waters and sun-scorched rounded mountains beyond its far banks.
A few different men, as groggily as I, sauntered behind me on the mound of gravel, but unlike me they wore dusty over-sized suits, dress pants rolled up at the calf and wearing orange plastic bath sandals. It’s a typical style amongst working-class Chinese men. I looked out and fell asleep with my eyes open, sitting upright on a uncomfortable rock. I saw a few empty tour boats idling within the middle of the harbor and considered spending 100 kuai to hitch a lake ride the measly 6 miles up to the town of Dali, where I am currently staying. I didn’t.
The wind howled and turned my head to find a young man my age sitting on a rock fairly close to me. He was watching and washing his feet in the shallow and algae-ish bank. I found it comforting, actually to have him a little near, on this long blank beach and moreover that he was not looking at me like a foreign lady thing to watch while he soaked his feet. We just mutually lazed like lizards or blinking alligators not acknowledging the presence of the other.
I biked back with the gale-force winds at my back and falsely believed that, because of my speed, I had picked up some energy points somewhere on the beach. Actually, I was spurred by the thought of getting back to Dali and visiting this little Burmese/Indian/Thai restaurant that I passed the other night. So, I got back and dropped in. There where some fun-loving groovy types outside playing Thai volleyball with their heads. I entered the unassuming doorway to the restaurant and entered a parlor that had a cozy, worn, faded colorful, scruffy, exotic decor. Lou Reed played on the stereo system and pervaded all the somewhere's of the bungalow-like interior. This place is so different than world I've been hanging around in. I yelled hello and that’s when He sidled around the corner.
He was already smiling brightly before he even rounded the corner fully to greet me. I instantly felt a flutter, and I’m not really a fluttery type lately. He had a poofy helmet of black hair, dark brown skin (like Indian, but not quite), and a round face. He wore faded jeans, a t-shirt, and worn dull skate-border shoes, but he seemed to wear them unconscious of their stylishness. He had a pleasing round head and face, in fact every feature of his face was as round as the script of his native language, which after I asked, I found out was Burmese. I asked if I could order “take-away” and he looked a little perplexed then I said it in Chinese, “da bao,” and he said, “of course,” and quickly exited the room.
I sat down on the couch and looked at the menu. Then he rounded the corner smiling and holding a huge Chinese beer “Qing Dao”. I informed him of the mistake ("da bao" sounded like Qing Dao to him) and he apologized for his bad Chinese and English. I was becoming ever more smitten with his constant smile and I just waved the international gesture for “no biggie.” I ordered some sloppy Indian curry and naan, to-go, and cup of Burmese milk tea for “right now.” I gesticulated (while smiling). He smile-ly exited again and there-in returned with a smile still and told me to “okay, wait,” which I was already in the process of doing. Then he left and I got up to check my self in the mirror and sink, which was in the hallway. I looked pretty okay, but there was a bleariness about me, sun over-exposed, hair limp from sweat and wind. Oh well, whatever and sat back down at my table. I looked across my shoulder to the garden kitchen where his friend cleaned some ingredients. Then he came around the corner again and for some reason I stood up at my table. So both standing we had a little cute broken English conversation about our relative whereabouts. I told him that I really wanted to go to Burma and he suggested that I “go in this instant,” which I re-interpreted to mean to go while I travel in this instance of traveling, rather than bolting from the restaurant and making my way to the country right then and there. "We have a 'Land of Gold,'" he said, and I knew he meant that Myanmar means “Land of Gold.” I learned this from the book about Myanmar that I am currently reading/loving. He left and I sat down and noticed that he had slyly placed the Burmese tea perfectly on the table.
I watched the hacky-sack game through the window. They used a large wicker ball, slightly smaller than a volley-ball, and bounced it off their heads and elbows and chests. A old Chinese man, dressed in the standard dark blue work issued pant suit with a “Mao” collar, and I delighted to watch his toothless happy expression as he watched the youths of this alien era blithely play in the street. My Burmese waiter came around again and I stood up again, for no reason, again and while smiling (almost manically) we exchanged a few more interpretive meanings and I felt like there where wires in my mouth. I wondered if he was smiling because he knew that I thought he was cute, probably not or if he is just shy and very its in his nature to smile. Then I diverted his attention to behind his shoulder at a shelf featuring a package of cheroots, a type of banana leaf cigar, enjoyed by the Burmese. He said that they were good and gave me two which I have yet to smoke. Then he left while smiling at me and emerged grinning, clasping my take-out. I paid him and he hesitated when saying the amount, as he didn’t quite feel confidant in his number ability in either Chinese of English. I asked "What is it in Burmese? He made some syllables whose enunciation I couldn’t exactly match. He laughed a little and I laughed and then I left and he said after I turned my back “for you to come back” and held out two cards. I took them and I left with my food and smiling home thinking that it was a nice feeling to have a crush. Not a feeling you get to keep while on the biking alone for weeks on end.
I got home, took a shower, washing off the sand and cooling the sun-blistered heat of my arms. I came out to my food to find that the sloppy curry and yogurt raita had entirely soaked through the paper take-away box. And I thought wow this looks so good. And it was excellently a mess.
I haven't been silent. I just haven't been typing. Those who were keen might have noticed that for the past weeks or days that I haven't posted, but I have been alive and kicking, or flicking, on my flickr page. My photographs are more my thing now because they are more about the joy of all the stuff that's around me. And its like if I can see it then I can feel it. But, my insides of late are more tangled and garbled, lonely and, therefore, somewhat dark. Taking pictures saves me. It really, really does. It's more. It's so much more than ever a salvation that I could hope for. Hokey huh?
I'd like to write some kind of overall beautiful and personally revealing spiel about the trip as of the last couple months. And I will. Absolutely. Maybe I will write it on my 38 hour train ride across the country back to Beijing. I embark in two days. It should be written, but honestly, I think I've done a good job at documenting it through my photography and these journals help me remember my feelings. And I'd like to say that I am proud. I'm Proud!
And I still have my thoughts about Beijing, and all photos there that are yet to be taken, and about new places in America when I return and elsewhere after that. And a whole lifetime of places and curiosities that continually save me from myself. And I know you know what I mean.
Love. Love. Bye.
2007, edited (a little bit) for clarity.