Out of the Middle Kingdom

I finally managed to put the finishing touches on my flag – just in time to leave China, where I’ve somehow become somewhat proficient at the language and enter a land where I have no hope of explaing anything to anyone. At least Amy liked it. “Oh, Wow. So cool!”

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I’m a knight!

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It’s a bit over 200km to the border, but only about 10km out of Nanning, the road drops in quality pretty severely. Cracks, bumps, chunks missing, big chunks missing, puddles, mud…I told Matt I’d make it to Hanoi in 4 days. Hrmmmm…

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On the bright side, the scenery is nice. Sugar can and rice for hundreds of kms on end. And everybody has cows! I guess I missed a lot of gradual change when I took that 700km bus ride.

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Guangxi province is famous for these Karst formations. Or, at least, it’s famous for Karst formations, which I assume is what these things are. It’s a nice feeling riding out here. Big skies, big fields, funny little mountains. Too bad I can’t look at any of them – the road is in reality about 100x worse than it appears here.

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I stop for lunch at a tiny restaurant; two guys at the next table beckon me over, so I join them. They break out the Baizhou (33% alcohol) and refuse to accept my refusal. I’ve only got 80km more to go today, why not have a few shots?! One man keeps repeating “We’re buying you lunch, Chinese people have money!” I think that’s what he was saying. I offer to share my tofu with them, but they kindly reject my offer on the grounds that it’s “Japanese style tofu.”

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The flag works well; several people at the restaurant peek and puzzle at it and eventually ask me what it means. When I explain, they say “Wow, you’re awesome,” then go back to whatever they were doing.

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At dinner time, I pull the old “I’ll give you $3, you give me a veggie dish, a soup, and some rice. How ’bout it?”

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And it gets me a tiny plate of stir-fried…everything.

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Not having a clue where the next town is or what time the sun will go down, I pull up to this shrine at about 6PM. Too late to keep riding, too much sunlight to pitch my tent, so I just sit for an hour stretching my legs and watching chipmunks play in the trees.

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Then I decide…screw the tent, I’m gonna try this real hobo-style! Just a tarp, a sleeping mat, and a sleeping bag. Rolled up jacket for a pillow. It was a little bit nerve-wracking falling asleep in the mostly-open like that, but I slept a solid ten hours. I wasn’t even clutching my pocket knife!

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Yes, I am faster than these bullocks.

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Note to self: stop looking like a dweeb while riding.

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Try again at lunch: $3 for one tofu dish and one green. Bosslady accepts my challenge.

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NOW THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKIN’ ABOUT! “Hey boss! I come China six months! Every day I wake up ride bike go restaurant eat. You make of tofu is most good of tofu! Thank you!” Really, it tasted like pizza. Cheesy, not beany. I have no clue how she did it.

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I take a brief amble around the market until the post-binge food coma wears off. Old people in funny hats everywhere, children waving hello, women in indiginoues headscarves, packs of men looking at cheesy soft porn mags. Why am I too scared to take pictures of anything except food?

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I get back to the restaurant, ready to leave. Two dudes call me over: have some beers with us! I have a long day ahead of me but…it’s my last full day in China, how can I turn down a chance to chill with the locals? One hour and three cans later, after having taught them to say “drink up” in both English and Korean, and having learned it in the local dialect which won’t be understood in the next town 50km over, I hit the road again. Five minutes later I turn around, go back, and pick up my gloves. Hot sun, bumpy road, overloaded bike, tipsy driver…this can’t be good.

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Thankfully the traffic’s not too bad.

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…which gives people an excuse to park in the middle of the road. Great.

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During a longish descent, my flag climps up and off its pole. I don’t notice until five or ten minutes later and have to turn around, asking everyone I pass if they saw my flag when I came the other direction. Everyone says no. Thankfully, I find it with relative ease. Make mental note: fix this tonight before you start blogging. Whoops…

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Ride and ride and ride

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…and finally I got to the town before the border town. An unfortunate college-aged couple tried to take a picture of me as they passed me on their moped. I quickly smelled an opportunity to take advantage of my super-coolness and asked them if they could lead me to a cheap hotel. They took me to one that cost about $20; I told them that I meant cheap cheap, like five bucks or less. Then, feeling guilty for being both push- and sting-y, I blurted out an excuse: I was nearly out of Chinese Yuan and couldn’t afford anything more expensive. Bad move! They brought me to a cheaper place, talked the boss down from $10 to $8, and then paid for half of my room. How guilty I felt as I hid my remaining 200 RMB while forking over to them 30 in small change. When did I become such a scourge?

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Out Korea – In China – Out China – In Taiwan – Out Taiwan – In China – Out China – In Hong Kong – Out HK – In China – Out China – In Macau – Out Macau – In China.

So, here I am! I’m a mere 38km away from the Vietnam border. My visa is at the ready. To be honest, I’m not particularly excited about Vietnam. I mean, how could it top China? Friendly people everywhere, honest vendors, mostly pleasant riding conditions, plenty of places to camp, not so many mosquitoes, awesome food, and most importantly, a language I can speak. How am I going to find bathrooms in Vietnam? How am I going to explain that I don’t want plastic bags, or that I don’t eat meat? How will I ask for directions? Make small talk? Explain where I came from? Or what my flag means?

Then again, as long as I’ve got my bike, my tent, and a bit of currency, what could go wrong?

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4 Responses to Out of the Middle Kingdom

  1. Matt says:

    Great updates, Mike! It’s always a joy reading about your latest and greatest stretch of adventure, cool company and range of foods. Good luck in your Vietnam travels.

  2. Michael Roy says:

    Niall, did you crib that from some 80’s ESL textbook?

    Either way, it’s definitely not me…I don’t have any potential!!!

  3. M&M Roy says:

    Hey Nephew, just got your website and address from Tiz. Looks like you are having a great adventure, we’ll keep following your progress. and will have lots of questions.
    On this side of the world, our grand daughter Krystle gave birth to a baby girl (Avery) this past August and grandson’s wife had another girl (Lidia) in Feb. which now gives us 7 great grandchildren. Starting to feel my age. Oh wait ,I am old, turned 70 in Jan.