Monday, November 9, 2009

Xianfan, China

Friends: Somehow I slipped off highway 103 yesterday afternoon, but the highway I found myself on was still headed south towards 316, the highway that led to Wuhan, so I felt no concern. As so often happens, my waylay led to a premium place to spend the night, an abandoned house, a rare sight in China.

Since I am in no rush right now, I began looking for a place to camp around four o'clock, two hours before dark. I knew it was a near impossibility to find a place to disappear to without the cover of darkness, but with the sudden cold temperatures there were fewer people out and about, slightly increasing my chances. I saw a couple of potential clusters of trees, but all were too recently planted. I gave a field of withered corn stalks a look, but the ground around it was too muddy for camping.

A little later, around 4:30, I spotted a row of three adjoining cell blocks a little off the highway, each with its door swung half open and no recent tire marks on the ground leading to them. There was no evidence of anyone presently abiding in them, so I had a place for the night, setting my free-standing tent up on the concrete floor of the middle unit. The windows in the front and back had been broken allowing the cold wind to blow through, but putting my tent in the corner I was adequately shielded from it. There was so little light I needed my headlamp to read even an hour before dark. The next morning was a rare occasion when I was in no rush to be under way and could somewhat sleep in.

The extra reading time allowed me to finish off the 1,006 pages of the Lonely Planet guide book, reading even those sections on regions that I wouldn't be able to visit. The final health section said about half the travelers to China come down with some digestive ailment in their first two weeks in the country. I was spared that, but Stephen reports he was laid up for a couple of days shortly after he crossed into the country, setting back his schedule enough that he's now going to need to take a bus to reach Wuhan for our rendezvous. Its no great tragedy, as he's had to do that several times already in his travels.

As some times happens, when I asked the whereabouts of a shangwong (Internet place) here in Xianfan, there was one right across the street. Like many, it was on the second floor and had no sign identifying it. But whenever I ask, people know where the local shangwong is, even though they seem to be mostly patronized by young men playing shoot 'em up games. Most have fifty or more computers and are packed. All have comfortable, high-backed padded chairs that make it easy to spend hours at. The government evidently isn't too happy about this use of people's time and would like to discourage their use. One city when it had a reported case of swine flu used that as an excuse to close down all its shangwongs.

Yesterday when I asked for a shangwong a well-dressed man pointed down the street and waved for me to follow him. He took me to his home and let me use his computer. I only did a quick fifteen minute catch-up on email before continuing into the heart of the city and finding a shangwong where I wouldn't be imposing on someone.

Later, George

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