The Longest Week

Having made it as far north as I was legally permitted to go (and even a little further), I turned around and headed right back down the way I came. For 350km. Then for another 450.

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Less than an hour out of town and I run into another group of cyclists. There go my dreams of having been the first intrepid cyclist to visit these parts. A conversation with a restaurant owner a few towns revealed that I wasn’t even the first westerner. Where the hell do I have to go to be the first? It turns out that these guys were foreigners, too! Taiwanese, at least. Chinese people will tell you that Taiwan isn’t a separate country, but the Taiwanese need to get a visa to come to China, can only stay one month, and technically aren’t allowed to pass the “Foreigners Turn Back Here” sign that I climbed all over in a previous post. When I asked how they were planning to get to Lhasa, they said they had some fake Chinese ID cards. Hope I didn’t just blow your cover! Other differences between Taiwenese and Chinese: all four of these guys spoke decent English, one of them was vegetarian, and another gave me a big hug when I offered a goodbye-and-goodluck handhsake. Taiwan rules!

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Of course, Chinese youngsters are cool too. This young couple had been hitchhiking for a month and had made it several thousand kilometers, all the way from Shenzhen, the Chinese side of Hong Kong. I had run into them briefly on the street in Bingzhongluo, and then ran into them again in a small town on my way south. When they asked me if I like China, I said yes. When I asked them the same thing, they said that the traditional culture was all disappearing and that they didn’t like the way things were going. Not the first time I’ve heard this from twenty-somethings; is it a universal sentiment or does it exist only among travelers? I’ve only got one more week to figure it out…

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The rainy season had officiall begun a few nights before, with thunder so forcefull that it rattled the wooden shack we were sleeping in. The river swelled, and the road was often scattered with stones and boulders that had fallen from the mountains above.

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The road that had taken me five days to get up took me only four to get down; I could have done it in three if not for rainstorms, and if not for having to backtrack (by hitchhiking) thirty kilometers to try to find my helmet, which I had left on the steps of my hostel. When I got back, though, it was nowhere to be seen. Nor was my bamboo flagpole. Nooooooo! Nothing else to do but press on southward, where the valley opened and the skies cleared.

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I camped for the first time in quite a while. It was so warm that I didn’t bother with the tent fly, or even with my sleeping bag. Just me, the crickets, and the stars, baby.

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The village I slept outside of was called “Mangkuan.” The next one was “Manghe.” The next two or three also started with “Mang.” Why? Because this is MANGO COUNTRY! (“Mang guo” in Chinese). Not only mango country, but mango season! Trees like weeping willows, except with fat, juicy, sweetandsour mangoes at the end of each tendril.

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Stopped at a roadside mango stand. $0.50/pound, holy Jesus! I gave the lady 5Y ($0.85) and she gave me ten medium-sized mangos. I ate five then and there.

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Across the street: a grove of mango trees that the locals claimed were a thousand years old. I don’t know about that, but they were easily a hundred feet tall, and there was a dude climbing them, clipping mangoes into buckets, and using a rope to lower them down to the ground. A woman would empty the bucket into a basket, then take the basekt over to the roadside stand to sell. When I came into the grove to take pictures, she told me to watch my head for falling mangoes. In other words, heaven.

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Can you see him up there? Risking his life so that I can partake in some succulence?

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The riding down here in southern Yunnan is pretty rough. Every day I spend at least three hours pushing up a mountain at 5km/h, only to spend about twenty minutes coming down the other side. Then I take a break for the afternoon and do it again in the evening. Total altitude gain (and loss!) daily over an 80-09 km ride averages 3000m. I could ride all 1800km of Vietnam without that much of an altitude gain. I think it’s safe to say that this will be the hardest part of my trip…until I hit the Himalayas next year. At least there it won’t be hitting 110 degrees at lunch time…will it?

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Three strategies to deal with the heat: 1) Avoid riding in the afternoons. Pitch hammock instead. 2) Stop at gas stations and use their faucets to soak my shirt, neck buff, and hat. 3) Ride shirtless if the sun’s not out. The locals do it, so I can too, right?

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Whoa ho! At lunch one day, a dude approached me and said in quite excellent English that he was a middle school Englih teacher and was wondering if I could go say hi to his kids. A much needed excuse to spend the afternoon chilling instead of cycling! I headed to the school and taught three forty-minute classes using the same game I used with my college students in Korea:

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Inside each bubble is an answer; the kids had to get together in groups and figure out what the questions were. After that, I opened up the floor so they could ask anything they wanted.

First question: A student looks in his book and picks one at random. “Why do you like panda bears?” After an initial wtf moment, I understood what had happened and gave him a nice little answer. I like all animals!

More, mostly translated by the teacher: “What’s your favorite animal?” “Why?” “Can you speak Chinese?” “Why did you come to China?” “What’s your dream after you finish your trip?” “Have you had any difficulty or danger here in China?” “What does America look like?”

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A middle school with 2000 students and 150 teachers, 30 of them English teachers. All of the kids board at school and go home for the weekends. They study from 7AM to 10PM, with a three-hour lunch break. Hardcore! The teachers said that the kids were lazy, didn’t want to study, just liked playing, only wanted tood grades and didn’t really care about content. The teachers also said they understood, but that their hands were forced. As were their boss’ hands. And their boss’ boss’ hands, all the way up the chain. Oh, education!

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I tried to weasel my way into sleeping in the teachers’ dormitory, but they weren’t having it. They bought me dinner and sent me on my merry way. Thanks Alice, James, and Mrs. Geography teacher!

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Clear skies – where to sleep tonight?

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Yeah! In front of a fruit vendor’s shop! Thanks, dude! And I get to wake up to a breakfast of mangos ($1/lb), papayas ($0.50/lb), and coconuts ($1.50/each).

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This is the point where some people whipped out video cameras and captured me cycling in the half-nude. Maybe I’ll be on some sort of China’s Funniest Home Videos show?

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Another rainstorm, another double rainbow! It’s a little tough to see, but there’s a trace of it there about 3/4 of the way to the top-right. Twice in ten days!

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What the heck is up with all these rice paddies? Oh wait…I’m in tea country now!

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“Continuous downgrade, 17km” Thank god they don’t have “Continuous upgrade, four hours” signs at the bottom. I might kill myself.

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Role model!

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Thus ends the most hardcorest week of my trip yet. Ten days of straight riding. 800km. $87 spent. Five mountain passes mounted. Thirty-odd mangoes and unspeakable number of dumplings consumed.

Now I’ve only got 600km left until Laos. Eek! Can this be so?

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7 Responses to The Longest Week

  1. 썌키 says:

    Hey that’s my game!

  2. Adam says:

    sweet pics and post man. looks like you are having a freaking blast

  3. Matt says:

    Just incredible, Mike. Keep up the great posts. I very much enjoy following this journey!

  4. mingyulee says:

    Keep Mooching! Jia you

  5. 杨松 says:

    nice trip,i super like it.