China Revisited

Mothers pull down their children’s pants so they can urinate on the sidewalk. Cranes are everywhere, as are piles of rubble. The wind blows dust into little man-sized tornadoes. Scooters, cars, and trucks honk continuously. Nobody wears helmets. A small crowd forms around my bike when I leave it in front of a peanut porridge shop. Fingers point, mouths gape and heads double-take when I ride by, or when others ride by me. Upon learning my nationality a cop says to me, “I thought Americans were white?” An eighteen year old boy who looks thirteen and his seventeen year old sister who looks twelve sit down next to me at a noodle shop. She says, unprompted, “I would be happy to sleep with you tonight.”

Yup, I’m back in China.

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The last picture I took of Taiwan. Goodbye, tiny subtropical island paradise.

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The boat ride over was again uneventful. Unless getting upgraded to my own 6-bed cabin counts as an event. Odd, since when I made my email reservation I was explicitly told that I wouldn’t get the same VIP treatment that I had received on the way over. You win some, you win some, I guess.

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China is a busy place People are always carrying stuff. Half of the time, it’s trash. All of the time, it appears to defy the laws of physics.

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Streets wide and spotless, skyscrapers all around…this is a “developing” country?

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Not atypical.

 

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Even the temple downtown was under construction.

 

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Actually one of the nicest temples I’ve been to. Plety of buildings with all that ornate woodwork and loads of buddhas and places to burn incese, but also a somewhat strenous hiking trail up over boulders and into the forest. I usually find temples to be a little…uninspiring. Perhaps I’m just an ass, but what’s the point of going to a temple, staring at some statues, lighting a stick on fire, waving it around, saying “may I be at peace,” and then going out to eat KFC and sell electronics? It might even be the case that temples prevent people from reflecting on their actions, insofar as they seem separate the world of morality from the world of economics.

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BUT! At Nanputuo, thanks to the long and winding paths, thanks to the banyan trees, thanks to the views out over the city, it is actually possible to escape the bustle and the ritual and get a bit of contemplation done. All the icons get you sort of in the mood for religion, and then you get past them to the real world of rocks and trees and sun. Things to be grateful for, things to protect.

Then again, people still litter. I spent about 15 minutes picking up trash, most of which had been dropped within 20 feet of a rubbish bin.

 

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You probably never even thought to be curious about what a monk’s undies might look like. Well, here you go. I had made an appointment to meet “Ren,” a monk I had happened to meet while eating at a nearby vegetarian buffet shortly before heading to Taiwan. He was kind enough to take me up to his room, where we drank tea and chatted for about two hours. I told him about my vipassana, my bike trip, my interest in farming; he told me that the food in China is poisoned with pesticides, that the government has no regard for human rights, and that people are so caught up in materialism that they are blind to how easy it is to be happy. Right on, brother.

 

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I mean, this is enough, right?

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Speaking of happiness – I headed back to visit Janet (the one in pink) and Keith (with the dreads), a super-cool pair of couchsurfing hosts who live on Gulang Yu, a tiny island off the coast of Xiamen, which is itself a tiny little island. Keith works three months a year and chillaxes the other nine, saying that most Chinese people work too hard and don’t understanding the meaning of life. A mighty declaration! We shopped and cooked together, went for a paddleboat ride, played some frisbee, got treated to some music by Lucio from Brazil, inspected some Chinese art with Baiwei from Poland, learned about Waldorf schools from Felicia from Canton, and made a flag to make my upcoming project official.

 

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Thanks for the help!

 

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My first graffiti!

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I tried to escape Xiamen the next morning, but ran into some other couchsurfing hosts and wound up staying another night. Yangfan, Lingling, Xiaowai.

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Finally, I hit the road again. A little concerned about my back spokes, since I haven’t ridden with a full load of gear since mid-December. I’m 300km into the trip now, though, and everything is going smooth.

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I’m confident that this was once a mountain covered in dense forest. Proportional to the majesty of any landscape is the heartbreak felt upon seeing it torn up.

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Plans for a new “Industrial Park.”

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I’m sure the view is nice, but…I think I’ll skip the stairs today.

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OH MY GOD IT’S A TRUCK FULL OF JACKFRUIT. I ordered a bowlful and talked to this woman and her husband for a good ten minutes. Local, fresh, from front yard direct to my mouth. I ate it all so fast that I forgot to take pictures. Sorry.2013-01-31 to Zhangpu 012.JPG

Holding this pose for fifteen seconds was no easy task. That monster weighed thirty pounds easy.

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I didn’t realize it, but the South is actually more developed than the north. I rode into the no-name “Zhangpu county” expecting a ghost town and found instead a megamall, tons of skyscrapers, and LEDs running up and down on just about every building. Not a cheap traveler’s hotel in sight.

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So, I did what any sensible traveler would do: eat at a buffet and then ride on out of the city until I could find somewhere to crash. I had planned to pitch my tent behind this abandoned building, but then I snooped around and found an open door. No running water? Shower out of my 500ml cup. No electriciy? Run out the battery and charge up at lunch tomorrow.

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It’s not KFC, but I’m still not eating there.

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The girl who proposititoned me and the brother who sat next to her calmly while doing so. We ate dinner together while I told them about my trip. At about 9PM, the boy showed me a translation on his phone: “It’s late and father is urging us to return home.”

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Next up: finish the ride to Shantou to meet Winky, a friend from the farm in Taiwan. I set a new personal record – 70km with no breaks. Who needs them when the road is flat and the wind is behind you? Within about 3.5 hours, I had found my way to “StarLake Luxury Apartments.” Winky’s family’s place is by far the nicest I’ve seen. Anywhere. When I stopped to ask a security guard somewhere else for directions, he replied “YOU have a friend that lives THERE?” Was it the dusty beard? The dark circles under my eyes? The giant tear in my pants?

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Mami and Winky, chilling out, playing cards.

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Lonely Planet says the only thing worth seeing in Shantou is the old colonial architecture, now in various states of total disrepair. Hard to believe this is only 5km or so from StarLake Luxury.

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Out for a 6AM bike ride, trying to catch the sunrise. Two problems: fog and smog.

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That didn’t keep these fellows from going for a morning swim/bob.

 

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Home for banana pancakes, which mom promptly stole and placed next to the big bowls of fruit at the ancestor worship table. They stayed there for about five minutes before we reclaimed and ate them.

 

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Winky’s nephew, staying with Grandma for the holidays while his parents are off visiting other relatives. He knows one English word: NONONONONONO!

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And, for good measure: the best picture of a Dalmation I’ve ever taken!

Next up: Hong Kong

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4 Responses to China Revisited

  1. Brian says:

    Mike,

    I love the photos and commentary! Keep up the good work brother. You are on a mission that most people could never fathom. I love relating to your journey in my own way, and I’m sure others do so in their own way. Well done my friend. Keep us all posted, and safe travels! Asia has so many unopened doors behind each and every bend. Enjoy the ride!

  2. winky says:

    really impressive three days with u.welcome to shantou any time again.
    haha.why my glasses appeared .
    just kidding.
    ^_^