[10/21/09. Posted by JP for GC. China blocks blogs.]
Friends: The Chinese love fireworks. They are one of the ubiquitous sounds of China. As their inventors, the Chinese are as devoted to them as Americans are to baseball, mom and apple pie.
People seem to set them off on any whim or for any occasion. I've gone to sleep with their sound in the distance and have been woken by them in the morning. I'll be enjoying a nice quiet bowl of noodles at a restaurant when a barrage of noise and smoke will suddenly erupt nearby for a minute or two. I've seen them tossed out of buses and trucks, some just randomly and others as part of some procession, funeral or otherwise.
The Chinese are a people of many customs, rituals and superstitions. The number four is avoided, as its similar to death. How one places chopsticks in a bowl has meaning, good and bad. I avoid incurring chopstick ill-fortune by relying on the plastic fork that comes in each ramen-style bowl of noodles I buy in the grocery store for my dinner.
Those forks are the only time I see a utensil other than chopsticks, except on that rare occasion when I'm provided with a porcelain spoon that is more of a scoop than a spoon with a bowl of noodles that is more soup than stew. Occasionally when I decline to use the chopsticks that are placed in my bowl, my waitress will think I'm concerned that they aren't sanitary enough for me and will give me a fresh set in a sealed plastic bag.
Yesterday may have been a propitious day of some sort, as I passed by a series of conflagrations of fireworks, some with a large red inflatable arch in front of a house or business. A couple of the structures were buildings under construction, implying the fireworks were a celebration of some stage of the construction or perhaps an offering seeking good fortune for its continued construction.
At times some of the explosions were so fierce their smoke filled the road, limiting visibility, halting traffic. With rockets blasting skyward, one risked being struck if one misfired and went errant, another reason to wait until all was quiet. Only the brave or foolhardy or well-armored ventured through the smoke, everyone else waiting for it to clear before they proceeded.
For the first time in four days I didn't have to roll up a rain soaked tent this morning. I've been traveling around the southwest perimeter of China's second largest lake. Much of its moisture seems to have been sucked up by the heavy cloud cover and sprinkled back down.
I didn't overly object to the first day of rain. as it was on my ninth day on the road and provided me with the excuse I needed to cut short my riding and give my legs a rest. I was lucky to have been mis-directed out of a city on the back roads route to my next destination rather than via the main direct route, as it made it easier to find a secluded spot to pitch my tent in early-afternoon.
It took several tries to find ground that wasn't already saturated and appeared to be on high enough and solid enough ground not to turn into a lake. The rain actually stopped some time during the night, so I didn't have to take down my tent in the rain. Having set it up in the rain, my sleeping bag absorbed some of the moisture from the tent floor. It is still damp, as is much of my gear.
I'm a week or so from Julie-Ann in Xian. She warned me before I came to bring chap stick and lotion, as it is very arid in her region. I will welcome that.
The rain has somewhat stalled the harvest of rice, or at least its drying. Sections of the road have actually been blocked by the grain spread out to dry, sometimes with chickens pecking away at it.
There have been quite a few vendors of oranges and grapefruit along the road the past day. Many of them set up for days at a time living out of cylindrical tents large enough to have a bed and a television. Some of the tents are only used during the day and left empty at night. They offered a possible camp site for me if I couldn't find one on my own.
For the first time someone stumbled on me just as I was getting ready to take down my tent at 6:30 this morning. It was an older man with a shovel. I had just discovered I had my first flat tire in the 900 miles I have come. When he questioned me, I showed him my flat tire, indicating that is why I was forced to stop there. It was caused by a tiny thread of metal that took some doing to extract with my tweezers.
Next up is the Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest.