Shantou – Hong Kong

A part of me wishes that like events would happen in clusters so that I could give my posts snazzy, thematic titles. So that I could have some sort of social phenomena to interpret. So that I could offer some sort of insight into some aspect of…something or other. Instead, and wether for better or for worse, I have no choice but to give you this, a record of both extreme monotony and unbelievable randomness.

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First off, my pants ripped. Again. Along both the x- and y-axes simultanesouly. I’ve been wearing these pants since Dec. 2008, i.e. since I started backpacking in Asia. They’re ugly, baggy, stained, and riddled with holes and scars around the crotch area, which I always have to explain is due to a campfire incident at Yosemite, and not anything else. Pekemas, please back me up on this…

I said goodbye to Winky and Family after taking regrettably few photos. I’m still not quite into taking photos of people; I generally find it a little invasive, and the moment never feels right to me. Like, if you ask whether it’s ok to take a photo, the moment you want to capture is already gone. Mission for this week: get over it!

Eager to resume my adventures and in search of something rustic, I took a provincial roat out of Shantou rather than a national one. Bad choice. Instead of long open stretches free from the overdevelopment of cities, I found interminable stretches of villages decidedly unrustic. Greasy mechanics, cracked asphalt, crumbly buildings, traffic jams, rubble/trash/mix everywhere. To make matters worse, I had gotten a late start, meaning i had only covered 40km or so before dark fell, and I wasn’t able to find anywhere to pitch my tent. I eventually returned dejected, tail between my legs, to a hostel Iwhose high price (8 bucks) I had previously scoffed at. Ummm…is that offer still good, ma’am?

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I felt pretty miserable until later that evening when there was a knock at my door. Boss lady, who had kindly elected not to jack up the price when I came back all humbled, had brought up her two boys, saying that one wanted to speak English to me. Here’s what he said, in an accent pretty thick but mostly comprehensible and not bad considering that he lives way out in the boonies:

“Hello. I am [I forgot his name.] I am Chinese. I love my great nation. I love my people. I want to learn English. I want to communicate with the world. Thank you.”

I spent the next 30 minutes or so hanging out with him and his mom, – she spoke in local dialect, he translated to standard Mandarin, and I answered. She asked me, “So, you’re not Japanese? Aren’t Japan and America the same thing?” He asked me, “Do you have presidents? Do you have monks? Aren’t you tired from all that riding? Do you have enough money for your trip? When I told him that it was pretty cheap and that many people even give me various sorts of freebies, he replied with the most touching line of the night: “If I were the owner of this hostel, I’d let you stay for free.”

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The next morning, the father invited me to have breakfast with them: fist-sized sweet potato chunks and and rice cooked in the same pressure cooker pot. How ashamed I was to have tried to talk them down from $12 to $6 the night before. They’ve gotta feed four kids! The father tried to talk to me at breakfast…something about big families maybe being necessary still, and also about how the Japanese are assholes…I was torn between my desire to put an end to silly prejudice and my desire not to get into a fight. The latter won; I nodded and played dumb.
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The boys are 11 and 3, the girls are 7 and 8.

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The boys begged me to stay another day, but I’m hurrying south, so I got a move on, with only occasional stops for snacks and photos. These boys and their family were running some sort of sweet green bean pastry shop. Looks like maybe they had the measles? Hopefully they can’t be transmitted via cookie…

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I stopped in front off an empty house for a rest, only for the onwer to come out a little later with two cans of fruitjellystuff in syrup. Things like this are most definitely among my most hated products – why not solve the trash problem AND the nutrition problem and eat a goddamn guava, which tastes better anyway? Either way, I said thank you both in person and via note.

Bonus: I made a business card! This 3RR thing is REAL.

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Aforementioned trash problem.

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By now I had made my way back to the main highway (“National Road 324”). Perhaps counterintuitively, perhaps not, the scenery and riding here were much better, with fewer towns and more majesty. This pastoral scene was directly opposite the above trash stash.

The evening cheap hotel search was again a bust; people down here say that while Beijing is the political capital, Guangdong (AKA “Canton” – or maybe that word refers to the province’s capital city, Guangzhou) is the economic powerhouse of the country. Did I relay that fact in my last entry? Anyway, I can’t find any five dollar hotels here. I can’t even bargain down to five bucks by promising to use my own sleeping bag or by showing them that I have my tent and could sleep for free if I wanted.

Where did I wind up, you ask?

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At some sort of gas station trucker dormitory. At least that’s what I think it was. There was nobody around when I pulled up, so I snuck into one of the back rooms on the first floor. The lights and power sockets didn’t work, but I was trying not to attract attention anyhow. I ran into some jovial fellows on my way out in the morning and they didn’t bat an eye. I assume this means that it was OK for me to sleep there, and that it will be OK for me to sleep at all similar places in the future. Awesome. All I want from a hotel room is a roof and a floor. TV, bed, shower, electric outlets…once every three or four days is plenty.

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The room contained: a bunkbed frame, three sheets of plywood, and a brick. It was warm enough (in the 80s today) that I didn’t even have to use my sleeping bag. Just my plastic tarp, my inflatable mattress, and an all-purpose sarong that I used for a blanket.

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Now THERE’S the majesty! And the rustic! Even the crap days are good days, but this is a seriously good day.

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I even had the good fortune to come upon a dumpling shop. This woman smiled at me, so I asked if I could take pictures. She said yes, as long as I didn’t take any pictures of her. Then she bit her lip and shook a floury fist at me to let me know what would happen should I disobey.

My thought at that moment: “Now THIS would make quite a picture.”

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A little more riding.


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Winky had taken me to one tailor shop in Shantou; the woman had helped me out with my flag (!) , but had deemed my pants beyond repair. I stopped at this shop for a second opinion, where the dude fixed ’em up in no time. We’ll see how long it lasts.

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A group photo in lieu of paying for the sew job. Down here, they don’t say “You speak Chinese well;” they say “You speak standard dialect well.” Either way, it makes me friends and gets me free stuff. Do I really have to leave?

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Back on the road full time. Wake, eat, pedal, eat, pedal, rest, eat, pedal, eat, find place to sleep, rub aching knees. Wash entire body or select areas depending on water situation. Load up mp3 player with dorky podcasts about a) language, b) buddhism, c) book reviews or d) interviews with David Foster Wallace. Forget to brush teeth. Sleep. Repeat.

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