When last I left you, I hadn’t actually arrived in Hong Kong. Now I have. Here’s the rest of the story.
But first, some moralizing regarding these remains from the night market. People looked at me funny as I walked around this giant trash heap leaning and squatting and searching for the perfect angle for a photo that would convey just how much of an absurdity this is. As if the foreigner taking pictures (granted, also wearing a helmit and butthugging lyra bike pants) were more out of place than this giant trash heap. The thing about this heap that makes me most frustrated is that at least 90% of the trash is, frankly, useless, pointless, needless. 500mL cups whose contents people enjoyed for 30 seconds. Styrofoam to-go boxes and paper noodle bowls so that people can drive home and eat rather than sitting down at the restaurant for five minutes. I don’t want to spend any more of my precious time peering into the contents of this mess, but oh how sad it makes me that people can be so callous as to do this even to their very own neighborhood.
I walked around the same market for two hours taking photos, checking out shops, making weird faces at people who made weird faces at me, mooching wifi, snacking, and having dinner. A grand time, totally trash-free.
OK, now that that’s done, I can get on to the good stuff.
Like the stream of cyclists all heading home to Shantou (which I had departed a few days before) for Lunar New Year.
Even some ladies amongs this group! And even one who made eyes at me and snuggled up real close for the photo. Oh, why aren’t you going my way?
When I said “Stream,” I meant it. I must have seen sixty or seventy cyclists this day.
What else was amazing? This country road. No dust, no trucks, no traffic.
This little temple that someone (do they have druids here?) had cleverly led a Banyan tree to turn itself into. Mystery of mysteries, how did they convince it to climb down around the rock walls they had built?
Naturally, I stuck my bike inside. I showed this photo to a friend in Hong Kong and he found it kind of sacrilegious. For me it was exactly the opposite! The bike is the centerpiece, both physically and figuratively, of my effort to exist in this world without harming it. Of course it felt right to give it a moment of repose inside this little holy house.
Not long after, the pavement faded away.
I bumped along through about 15km of fields and hamlets, too low and too wide and too vast to make good pictures. Then I hit the “Ten Mile Beach” subdevelopment in the making.
Done. Rotate body/camera 180 degrees and you get:
Then through 50km of nuclear plants and factories.
And into Shenzhen, a “Special Economic Region.” 1982 population: thirty thousand. 2012 population: thirty million.
A pattern has emerged in my riding: when I have a place to go, I can keep going more or less endlessly. Sometime around 9:00 PM, about twelve hours and 140km after setting out in the morning, I made it to my couchsurfing house. Brett, an American who has just finished about three years of hitchhiking and dumpster diving around the world. He went without spending a single dollar for five months. Now he’s tired of traveling and teaching here for a bit. Irina, his girlfriend, whom he met in Russia some time back and who has been his partner through many months of hitching on a $5/day budget. For the two of them. Jose, a Spaniard who teaches English here. Ira, a Ukranian who works for a company translating between Chinese and Russian. Julian, her French boyfriend. And, as of yesterday, Jason, a Swiss-American who hitched and vagabonded with Brett all around Europe, including up to the North Cape of Norway. These guys put my antics to shame! No wheels, no computers, no cameras, no phones, no tents, no money…no worries? Good times heading to the park to play basketball, picking fruit out of the discount basket at the supermarket, cooking vegan at home, and sitting around shooting the shit about how the world is falling apart. I ought to be hurrying southward, but it’s not often that I get to meet people even more extreme than myself. Gotta soak it up for a bit.
The real reason I stopped in Shenzhen, though, is that it’s right on the border with Hong Kong, which is pretty difficult to get into with a normal bike, let alone a behemoth laden down with gear. So, I left all the gear and bike at home, took off my bonobo pants, and became a normal person for a day.
Here I met up with Alex and Florence, whom I had met briefly a few months ago at Maobitou at the southern tip of Taiwan. We only talked then for about twenty minutes, but we swapped email addresses and made vague plans to get together when the time came. One of the last emails from Alex before we met:
“Hey Mike, we have a good plan for you, to visit the place what people imagine of Hong Kong. And please keep your stomach empty. We plan to have breakfast, lunch& tea tomorrow in Hong Kong island.”
Woohoo! I didn’t have a particular reason to go to Hong Kong, aside from the fact that it was nearby and would increase my so-far-pathetic country count, so I’m sure that had I gone alone the day would have been mostly boring and disappointing. As spoiled as this may sound, I’ve seen enough megalopolises to not really be excited when I come upon a new one. That, and Derek Jensen has pretty severly convinced that living in cities will be responsible for the downfall of the human race. Insead of thinking about that stuff, though, I got to make friends with two really awesome people. We…
Had dim-sum at the “Lotus Tea House,” the most famous in the city.
Rode a double-decker street tram.
Rode up some tourist tram to the highest point on the island, then went for a stroll in the park.
Wandered around the CBD.
Went out to an organic/vegetarian restaurant, ordered three differet dishes, split them all.
Talked about farming. It turned out that they are both hoping to someday, sooner or later, quit their jobs as flight attendants and get into farming. Alex is taking unpaid leave for a month so that he can go give it a shot.
Visited the Lunar New Year Fair.
Waddled along with the crowd for an hour.
Or maybe two hours.
Took a bunch of goofy photos, since we didn’t want to buy anything.
Including this perhaps goofiest of all.
Mostly, the whole day I was flattened, flabbergasted by how quickly we all hit it off, and how big of a coincidence it seemed like. We chatted about work, life, cities, the environment, politics, travel. We joked, chuckled, and enjoyed each other’s company all day long, just like old friends. Such is the power of the bicycle! It makes people feel special when I arrive at their home (or just their hometown) after several hundred or several thousand kilometers of riding, and it makes me feel special when people agree to take me in or show me around. With such vibes of mutual appreciation and giving from the very start, things are bound to go well. Take care you two! And good luck! See you again, on my farm or yours or somebody else’s!
By the time you read this, I’ll already have left. Vietnam or bust!