Saturday, October 17, 2009

Zhuzhou, China

Friends: I caught my first glimpse of Chinese television yesterday as I slurped a bowl of noodles in a tiny eating establishment of three tables and no menu. It was the usual local restaurant with a large pot of boiling water out front and several bowls of different types of noodles to choose from. This one was a little different with a frying pan, as well, and eggs. I added two fried eggs to my bowl.

The television was mounted on the wall above me, so I could only catch peeks of some sort of singing competition of young women who all gave the young host of the show a quick peck on the cheek after their performance. My attention was grabbed when I heard the words "Number One." I looked up to see a commercial advertising eye-liner. Fifteen minutes later the commercial was repeated. Those were the first words of English I had heard other than "hello" and "goodbye" and a few others from the friendly motorcycle cop since my afternoon with May in Guangzhou last Sunday.

Its not surprising that "Number One" would be an expression entering the lexicon. China is certainly hurtling into the 21st century bent on becoming number one. I see growth and prosperity all around from the first-rate and ever-improving roads to three-story, substantial homes being erected everywhere. Satellite dishes on homes are not an uncommon site. Internet sites may be restricted such as blogs and facebook and youtube and CNN and BBC and others, but I have not experienced any censorship or harassment in the least. My panniers were not checked when I crossed into China, nor was I obliged to pass them through a metal detector as everyone else had to do with their baggage. It may have been an oversight, as at that moment I was stopped by a Scottish guy who was living in Hong Kong teaching English who had long fancied bicycling around China. We talked for several minutes before an officer ordered us to move along. The Scot guaranteed me that my bike and I would attract plenty of attention in rural China. He was right.

This is my ninth day on the road and I have yet to find a loaf of bread for the peanut butter or soy butter I brought along, just crackers. That's a couple pounds of weight that I'd like to start diminishing. Last night I put a dab of peanut butter on my bites of banana to start making a dent in it. I'm saving the soy butter as that came in a lighter plastic jar, while the peanut butter is in glass.

The soy butter was a gift from fellow touring cyclist and occasional "Reader" contributor Jeff Balch. Jeff rode a Raleigh three-speed coast-to-coast across the US back in the early '80s, a remarkable feat. I think of him and his wife and two young daughters whenever I see laundry hanging out to dry. They do the same to the consternation of their backyard neighbors in Evanston, a lakeside suburb just north of Chicago. His front yard neighbors consider the solar panels on his roof facing them an eyesore. And they all regard Jeff and his wife as crackpots for not owning a car. Such is the world we live in.

Zhuzhou is the largest city I have passed through since Guangzhou. For the first time I was approached by two young people, a 20-year old young woman and a 14-year old boy, wishing to practice their English as I had my morning bowl of noodles. They drew quite a crowd with people asking them to ask me various questions about me and my travels and what I thought of China and its food. As I ate, several people brought me extra food. The young woman worked at a nearby stall in the market, but the boy was free to guide me to this Internet outlet a couple blocks away. He said he couldn't use the Internet because one had to be 18.

It hasn't been easy, but I've succeeded in finding a place to wild camp every night so far. Last night I was sandwiched between some railroad tracks and a new four-lane divided, superhighway under construction. I feared the construction might go on all night, but it halted at nine p.m. Even though some ten million people are on trains at any given moment in China, no trains interrupted my sleep, and only one passed in the early evening and one in the morning as I was taking down my tent. If anyone looked out and saw me, they would have thought I was an apparition.

Later, George

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