Cycling through China’s Countryside

28 Oct

Once again. No clue what day it is. I look at days now in terms of weather. Is it a full body SPF day? Just a SPF for the face, neck and hands? Is it the purple, PTA-style rain jacket? Break out the over 65+ floppy hat? Or, is it the entire ensemble?

That’s right. Sure to hook up with a hottie sportin a purple rain jacket, white zinc-oxide and floppy hat while riding a bike with baskets and a bell. Gosh, can’t WAIT to infuse some style into my life when I get back home. I’m having burn the clothes party. All are invited. By the way, the nub bangs are finally growing. Girls will get this. But, it’s emotionally exhausting to be this ugly and unkempt all the time. I look in the mirror and say, “Really?” Can’t wear the lipstick, apply zit cover up or eye liner for fear of buying a whole new set of hotel linens. Get me to South Africa or Australia NOW. They must have bleach there. And, no import tax on luxury goods like Hanky Pankies, J Crew or Naturalizers.

One thing that is for certain when it comes to wardrobe….is EVERYDAY is a long sleeves

Seen this before? Long sleeves..Long pants.

and long pants day, regardless if it’s raining, snowing, or polluting. My skin turns a hot shade of hot pink when exposed to rays. Yes, I even get fried when driving in a car or bus with tinted windows. Right Kate? Kate refused to believe this tale until my visit to California. I pull up. Get out of the car. Kate says, “Amanda, your skin is pink…are you burned…is it a rash?” My reply, “Yes, it’s called sun burn, sun poison, sun rash and soon to be sun cancer. Served to me via a car window.”

In pictures, you’ll always see me covered up. The positive is the Chinese, Thai, Bhutanese all cover up too. They even waltz around carrying parasols. In a past life, I was probably an Asian, certainly not a Scottish Viking naked and freezing wearing a plaid kilt. Yes. I was certainly Asian…Love rice.

Focus. So, getting ready for the cycling trip. What will it be today. It’s misty. NOT raining. And, its NOT pollution, according to Chinese propaganda. Whatever. Heavy doses of dirt, dust and diesel in air equates to pollution. No matter, I’m lathering on SPF 50+ to cycle Southern China’s countryside.

The travel posse gathered early AM to get first dibs on the Chinese bikes. As they jockeyed for bikes, I was in my own “la la” world – observing the morning rituals of this little town of 300,000. It’s 8 am. Calmness – Chinese style – was in the air. Just breathing it in.

Because of my Zen-”I need to be present” mentality and meandering through the streets stopping, watching, taking pictures…. I was burned on getting a good bike. That’s what I get for being “in the moment” and not “planning for the future.”

When I arrived at the bike-depot, only two bikes remained. Option 1: No brakes. Option 2: Girl bike, front breaks only, no cushion, seat only goes up a good three good inches. Basket is in back. Bell barely rings. Looks like the sequoia will be traversing the countryside Fred Flintstones style – using my feet for breaking and voice as the “get out of the way” bell.

Olive, chipper Chinese tour guide, gives us the 411 on “how to ride a bike in China.”

The only thing I heard was avoid being hit. One thing we must remember was all bikes, mopeds, motorcycles, motorcycles posing as cars, small cars, large cars, tour buses, public buses, oxes, kids, babies, dogs – you name it – they all believe THEY own the street and THEY have the right away. Bike depot did give us helmets – the only tourons I saw with them on – for protection. Good.

The group of sixteen, many of whom have not ridden a bike in years, were off and running. Let’s just say, even the mangy dogs avoided us when they saw us coming. I think the helmets scared them. It took about 20 minutes to get out of the metropolis into the countryside. What we encountered was purely breathtaking. The imposing mountains jutting out of nowhere. Awe-inspiring rice patties being harvested by hand as far as the eye can see. A stunning river flowing with determined force and purpose. Mud clay roads jumbled with random potholes, overflowing with murky water.

We weaved. We braked. We crashed. Such joy. I finally scooped out my MOSTEST favoritEST food in the whole wide world – RICE. Love the stuff. Give me some beans, and call it a day. The Southern Chinese rice is days away from being harvested by hand. Wish I could see that. I would join them in hacking it…Abutting up to my favorite food though was a dirty, little stream being used to wash clothes by the locals. I wanted to scream, “you can’t contaminate my rice! Call the rice Po-lice now!”

Rice fields.

Other wonderful foods I saw were oranges, bananas and fruits I can’t pronounce, but seem to eat at every meal. I’m in heaven. Let’s see… Ducks and water buffalo littered the fields. Never encountered any horses. Hope they are NOT eating them too. Biking gives you a good sense of rural China. The labor. The hard work. The need to cultivate food to feed the 1.3 billion. Damn, starting to rethink “I was Asian” past life. Not so sure if I can spend hours, days, years cutting rice with a butter knife for survival. Barely got chop sticks down.

Whenever we stopped to take pictures, old women looking around 110 but probably more like 60, would appear out of nowhere. It was like they were beamed to us from the Starship Enterprise. They just appeared to sell us flowers or rocks. Anything.

I wonder how much they rely on our $ to make it through the month. What has STRUCK me and where I’ve had to add “confused” in front of the word Communism, is the fact China does not have a social safety – medicaid, social security, food stamps, homeless shelters… Nothing. That’s right. You heard me. ZERO. The government, built on the premise of “everyone is equal,” does not have a welfare system as we know it or what I expected from a country like the indomitable China. I had no idea. I must have missed the 411 on communism according to Chairman Mao in college. I think I will dedicate a whole blog exploring my capitalism communism confusion. OK. Leave it for later. Let’s just say – The Chinese are taxed on income. Pay for all medical. Pay for high school and University. Pay tolls to drive on roads. Good news is there’s no sales tax on food/items. Phew….off the hook there.

Back to a happy place. Biking. For lunch, we stopped at Moon Hill or, was it Moon Pie, cafe. Either way, it’s in the valley of Moon mountain. Olive, our chipper Chinese tour guide, did what she does best – got us seated and got us fed and is getting us FAT. She ordered food. We nod. Open our mouths. And, inhale. Oh, need to take a moment to worship ME. This is MY blog. Guess what? I can almost use CHOP STICKS. It’s called survival if I want to eat, right? I’ve never used chop sticks b/c I’ve always opted for using a fork to shovel food in as fast as possible. Two little sticks to pick up a peanut or three rice grains does not pass muster in the world of consuming everything as fast as possible because we have something to do now. But, I’m trying.

After inhaling, we hiked up Moon mountain. Felt good to get the glands sweating again. Little old ladies walked with us carrying coolers and postcards, trying to sell us water and to remind us that their photos were much better than our shitty cameras. Can I be mean and say, HOW annoying? Don’t have patience. Is it selfish? Probably. I’m talking to my new BFFer, Sandra from Switzerland about my major crush on tennis player Roger Feder, and little Chinese lady weighing about 65 pounds is right behind us screaming her ten or twelve words in English at us. “Hello…Slow Down… Water… Coke…Aloe…Postcard…Good deal…Rest…Picture..” We ignored her and told us we have our water. She did not stop. Finally, she got pissed. Yelled. And, hawked a luggie at us. After tossing spit on us, all guilt flew out the door.

At the top, we took pictures. My other BFFers, Libby and Julian from Australia had a ghast of a time taking pictures. They crack me up. Poor things. I will be stalking them forever and ever and ever… They just don’t know it yet. Going to stay with them in Australia… Poor things.

Anyway, at the top of Moon Hill, there was this cute, young Chinese couple who asked Julian to take their photo. Julian is hysterical. He says in his Aussie accent… “Ok..get closer you two… now, Kissy…Kissy…Give me a kiss…” Well, the Chinese girl expression went from all smiles to mortification. The Chinese are normally sooooo shy. And, this may be a first or second or hundredth date, but this little lady does NOT want “kissy kissy” on a camera camera. The Chinese dude was all for it. He reached over and gave her a big kiss. Julian captured it. The Chinese dude ran to Julian..and in broken English asked, “did you get the kissy kissy?” Oh my…. Never a dull moment. Some things are the same, regardless of country. Chinese girl, not so happy.

We biked back. Stopping off to talk to more water buffalo and admire the orange trees. No one was killed or maimed, which is always a good nice. It was a nice ride.

Next stop – tomorrow, whatever day that is – we’re taking an overnight train to Wuhan where we will board a boat and head up to the Three Gorges. Again, no clue on the day or location. Just focus on the weather. The overnight train will be like the Moscow train. Six to a compartment. No door. No air condition. No sleep. They call these trains a “hard sleeper.” I wonder what they call my hotel bed made of plywood? Comfy, cushy and cozy….If that is the case, Moscow train was marvelous in comparison to what we are in for… Stay tuned…

2 Responses to “Cycling through China’s Countryside”

  1. susan 30/10/2010 at 9:05 am #

    so funny to me :).. yes I agree- stalk those Aussies!

  2. MaryStuart (sister) 11/11/2010 at 10:23 pm #

    i felt sorry for her, until she spit at you all! talk about customer service! get a clue, little lady!