[10/20/09. Posted by JP for GC. China blocks blogs.]
Friends: It was cool and damp, not even sixty degrees, when I broke camp at 7:15 this morning, one of the few times I've needed my jacket. It remained on for a couple of hours until I began overheating on a long gentle climb.
Moments after I paused to shed my extra layer a young cyclist with longish hair stopped beside me and blurted in rapid-fire English, "I've been chasing you for ten minutes. Sorry, I'm all out of breath, but I wanted to ask you some questions."
My first reaction was shock at such fluency. "Wow, your English is excellent. How did you learn to speak so well."
"Thank you very much. I study very hard and watch a lot of American movies and television."
"Are you still a student?"
"No, I graduated two years ago. I work as an accountant at a factory a little ways back. I was going to work when I saw you. I hope I'm not bothering you?"
"Not at all."
"Can you understand me? My teachers tell me I should speak more slowly."
"You do speak fast, but I can understand you perfectly."
"Oh, that makes me very happy. Where are you from?"
"America! I've never met an American, just a couple of Australians. Their English isn't so easy to understand. Do you know Kobe Bryant?"
"Yes, and Yao Ming too. They're both great players."
"Where in America do you live?"
"The home of Michael Jordan. He was the greatest."
"Do you know Lance Armstrong?"
"Yes he finished third in the Tour de France this year. He won it seven times. He's a great person. My name is Jay, what is yours?"
He wondered where I spent the past night. When I told him I'd camped about 20 miles back he thought that was a dangerous thing to do and told me I could get a hotel for 30 yuan then offered to write out "Where is a cheap hotel" for me in Chinese to make it easier for me. I told him I'd greatly appreciate that. He exuberantly replied, "I am so happy to be able to help you."
We continued chatting about my route and my impressions of China and where else I've traveled and his longing to visit America. When I asked if I could take his picture with his bike he was astounded that I would want his picture, but was delighted. We exchanged email addresses before we parted and went our separate ways. His last words were a final, "I'm so happy."
Never before in my 30 years of traveling the world on my bike have I encountered such non-stop genuine warmth and welcome. The Thais certainly lived up to their reputation of being The Land of Smiles and in Columbia, where bicycle racing rivals soccer as their national sport, I was continually feted, but the Chinese truly seem to go out of their way to be kind and to be of assistance. Again yesterday I was given some food at a grocery store by a person making a delivery there.
The touring cyclist always attracts attention, but here it is of a respectful curiosity. People are drawn to me, but don't linger interminably as in India. The Japanese are known for their politeness. The Chinese I've encountered are close rivals. In my preparatory reading on China I read warning after warning about being wary of scams.
A cyclist who wrote a book about touring in China advised carrying only one water bottle on one's bike, as people would think you didn't need more than one and would ask for your extras. I'm carrying my usual three and have had no such problems. Maybe China's increasing affluence has made them more kindly and giving. My friend Lisa, who traveled and taught English in China a little over a year ago, gave me a set of phrases. One of those was "you cheated me." I asked how often she had to use it. She said maybe twice. But then she was frequenting areas that drew travelers and tourists. So far no complaints from me, other than road signage.