Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rucheng County, China

[10/14/09 posted by JP for GC. China blocks blogs.]

Friends: I had to walk a narrow plank last night in the dark to get to a place to camp. It was across a deep ditch with flowing water. The distance was short enough that I could hop across, but I had to make sure my bike came with me.

As has happened more than once in these travels, I had to keep riding after dark when I was caught by a surprise urban environment. I could have stayed at the bright, neon-lit Friendly Hotel, but its implied luxury was not something I cared to indulge in. There was no adventure or challenge to that. I much prefer roughing it. Would Muir or Abbey have chosen a hotel over camping? I think not.

If I have to stay in a hotel, let it be bare-bones. Maye if the stock market hadn't taken such a tumble these past two-and-a-half years, I would have been feeling affluent enough for such an extravagance. I was still smarting from having to stay at $80 a night AAA or Best Western approved hotels last fall on my Alabama and Mississippi trip at the insistence of my traveling companion, a demand I wasn't anticipating.

I was in a region of rice paddies and sugar cane with low-lying water, limiting my camping possibilities. I had turned back three or four times after scouting out sites that weren't feasible. This plank led to a bamboo forest and didn't seem to be a trail that would attract anyone. I barely have twelve hours of riding time with it light at six and dark by 6:15, so I have been riding right up until dark. I passed up a handful of attractive places to camp in a wooded area on a climb half an hour before dark, remaining faithful to my commitment of biking until dark. As always all has worked out and without regrets.

This morning I had my first prolonged climb, over seven miles up to over 2,000 feet. It was on a stretch that was under construction and just one lane wide. I gave great excitement to all the workers I passed. No one else was bicycling this route. Passing motorists gave me the universal thumbs up too. There was no descent after the climb. I'm up on a plateau and it has cooled off dramatically, enough for me to put on my vest.

This is my fifth day in China and I have seen only one portrait of Mao, in the office of the owner of a thriving gas station. He led me back to his office when I showed him my map and asked directions to the next town. It was a little complicated, so he wanted to draw me a map. He spoke not a word of English, nor could he write numbers that I could understand. He wrote everything in Chinese so I could show people if I needed help. He had a water dispenser in his office. I waved my water bottle at it gesturing that I'd like to fill it. Instead he generously gave me two one pint bottles of water. After I returned to my bike he brought out a chilled one-and-half liter bottle.

A couple days before, while I was waiting for the small passenger-only ferry to cross from the island in Hong Kong where the airport was to the mainland, a guy assisting passengers offered me a cigarette. When I declined, he went off and returned with a chilled bottle of beer. This at seven in the morning. When I stopped in at a small business here in Rucheng to ask where an Internet outlet might be, they offered me their computer. The great hospitality of China does not stop.

This is much more the land of Yao than Mao. I see several billboards a day with the NBA basketball star Yao Ming advertising something or other.

Later, George

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