Sunday, October 11, 2009

Guangzhou, China

[10/11/2009. Posted by JP for GC. China blocks blogs.]

Friends: If the Chinese people weren't so overwhelmingly hospitable, bicycling China would be a nightmare of epic proportions. It has been quite perplexing and frustrating, bordering on the horrific, trying to find my way so far, though I have been kindly assisted by nearly everyone I have turned to, few of whom have spoken a word of English.

My latest benefactor was a young English-speaking woman who saw me huddled over a map with a security guard who spoke no English. She intervened, asking, "Can I help?" After locating where I was on the map in the heart of the monstrous port city Guangzhou, formerly known as Canton, and determining the best way to exit the city, I asked her if there might be a place to use the Internet nearby. She invited me to her l9th floor apartment, just a block away, to use her computer, where I am now. It has been such acts of kindness that have prevented me from unraveling and have kept me going, as I struggle to solve the mysteries of bicycling China.

I have pedaled 120 miles from Hong Kong in a day-and-a-half through a non-stop urban sprawl. There was not a single breath of greenery all the way. Still I have managed to wild camp both my nights here--the first night in a patch of trees not far from the Hong Kong airport and last night in a vacant lot behind an abandoned house in the heart of some big city.

I will be heading north now, hopefully out into rural China. At least I didn't have to dread my approach to the urban sprawl of Guangzhou, as it was just more of the same. I made my way mostly by dead reckoning, using my compass and the sun to guide me, as the road signs are entirely illegible and English-speakers are virtually non-existent. I had to double back several times when I made wrong guesses.

Another of my rescuers was a cyclist who guided me to the Hong Kong/China border. Hong Kong may have been returned to the Chinese, but there is no free passing between it and China. I was told by just about everybody I asked, including the trio of people working at the airport tourist information desk, that I couldn't simply bike into China, but would have to take a train to make the crossing. I doubted any of them had first-hand experience and didn't really know, so rather than seeking out the nearest train station, I biked the 25 miles to the border, the last five with the assistance of the cyclist, a young man with a couple of water bottles on his bike and a cyclometer, out for a morning weekend ride, not particularly caring where he went.

He had never biked into China, but thought I could take a bus across the border. He delivered me to the bus station just before the bridge to the border. There was plenty of room on the bus for my bike, but I was denied entry. The bridge had a no bikes and no pedestrians sign. I might have ignored the sign and attempted it if the bicyclist hadn't been there to take me another two miles to a train station, one stop before the border, the end of the line.

The train deposited me at a full-fledged border-crossing, with forms to fill out and a row of immigration officials checking passports and a metal detector to pass through and a hodgepodge of places to change money from Hong Kong dollars or whatever into Chinese yuan.

Much more to report but I can't ignore May and usurp her computer any longer.

Later, George

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