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As soon as I debussed in Nanning, I reassembled my bike and headed to the Vietnamese embassy, where I applied for my visa and arranged to pick it up in two days’ time. There also happened to be a group of six Chinese cyclists also applying for their visas and planning to take just about the same route as me. Insanity. I love making all these new friends but…can’t a guy get a day to himself?

At least, that’s how I felt until I met my couchsurfing host, Amy. Totally hilarious and energetic and friendly enough to shake me out of my curmudgeonhood. She works at a Porsche dealership and lives with her younger brother and two cousins. Her parents have an orange farm out in the country. Her friends and family are equally awesome.

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We enjoyed some simple pleasures, like cooking and eating together…

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I read the following exchange on Reddit: “Q: If an ancient Greek were transported to modern America, what would be the hardest thing to explain to him? A: I have a device in my hand capable of accessing almost all information known to man, but I prefer to use it to argue with strangers and look at pictures of cats.”

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Looking at farm pictures, wishing I had time to visit

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“Do you have an English name?” “Yeah. Castano.”
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And playing Charades!

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Alex (and Allen)

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“Don’t tell me how to play the goddamn game!”

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The next day, Alex got a surprise call from Amy, who had gotten a surprise call from the Chinese cyclists. They wanted to take me to Binyang. Where’s Binyang? I don’t know! Let’s go!

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Oh, didn’t I mention they’re all in their fifties and sixties?!

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During the car ride they, they gave my Chinese a real workout. We talked about all sorts of stuff, incuding Egypt, lions, pharaohs, and pyramids. I never did understand why the brought all of that up. It was a pretty disorienting conversation. At the end of it, they gave me a mask. What the heck is going on here?

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OK, let’s take stock. Dragons. Shirtless dudes in pointy hats. Popping noises. Stuff hitting my ankles. Hey, people are throwing mini firebombs at my feet! What the hell?

Welcome to Binyang, and whatever this festival is.

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First, everyone runs back and forth under the dragon, touching it for good luck.

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Then a priest guy does some stuff.

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…including making my camera freak out?

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And then…what the fuck?!?! Explosions everywhere! Deafening noise! Smoke filling the air! Dragon running around in circles! More explosions! More smoke! Oh god, my eyes, my ears, the pain! Do I flee the pain or stay and have a real cultural experience (TM)?

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The dragon runs around in circles, bobbing up and down. Spectators jump in and out, trying to toss chains of firecrackers into its mouth or around its body.

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After about twenty minutes (or was it five?) it was too painful to stand any more, so the sixty-somethings and I all headed away from the temple and back to the main street. ONLY TO FIND COMPLETE CHAOS.

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I have never been in a war zone. Perhaps the closest I’ve come is the Korean DMZ, where there were some dudes with guns. Still, no feeling of danger. I even said hello to North Korean soldiers through the fence, and they smiled at me all friendly-like. Here though! Maruders! Hoodlems! Vandals! All I could think of was the apocalypse! Smoke filling the streets! Explosions everywhere! Eyes watering, ears throbbing, mind reeling.

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We walked for about an hour, but there was no end to either the smoke or the mayhem. Some people carried packs of marble-sized gunpowder balls wrapped in newspaper, which they threw one by one or by the fistful at the feet of friends, strangers, and people they wanted to flirt with. Others carried long strands of firecrackers that they either dragged behind them, dropped right in front of cars, whirled overhead, or even just tossed straight into the air.

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There’s not even a dragon over there, you asshole!!!

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It’s important to teach your children about the ways of the elders. In particular, that tradition of throwing mini gunpowder balls at people you don’t know.

Seriously, how could you bring children to an event like this? I’m not even talking about the sheer senseless violence (even if mostly harmless) of the event, but simply of the damage done to the senses. I bet 90% of Binyang children are both hearing-impaired and ashmatic.

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Finally, we made it out and drove home. In the car, the women start digging into my environmentalism. Somehow I manage to explain to them how my original distaste for trash and messes has expanded to a distaste for all of the ways we trash the land. I also manage to explain that meat is land-, water-, and other-resource intensive. And that I think most animals have the same right to be happy and free of pain that we do. Dang, my Chinese is getting good! Do I really have to leave?

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Homemade dumplings in the hotel room! Maybe I should try to join up with these guys later if our paths cross!

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Phew, all those thoughts about the essential evilness of humanity, the hopelessness of China, and whatever else have been pushed aside.

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  1. SHAKY says:


  2. Chris says:

    I think you somehow had your flash turned on with the shutter set too fast to sync with the flash. Usually max sync speed is 125th or 180th of a second.

    And what’s up with all those scary red crosses on that street!? I thought religion was frowned upon in China?~

  3. Greg says:

    What a reckless and silly festival! Then the calm center of dumplings. What was the filling?

  4. Michael Roy says:

    This is getting messy! SHAKY, are you Niall or Chris? Chris, are you Shaky Chris our Aunt Christine Chris? Greg, thank you for not confusing me.

    1) Why am I a swine?!

    2) Chris, is there a particular photo you’re referring to? Actually, my battery was low so I wasn’t using any flash at all the whole night. I have a feeling it wouldn’t have looked too good anyway. As for the crosses, I hadn’t noticed them. Good question!

    3) The dumplings were unfortunately filled with 90% pork and 10% chives. I explained to the ladies in the car that I usually don’t eat meat, but that I occasionally make exceptions in cases of extremely awesome hospitality.