Road to Taijang
Copyright © Peter Snow Cao, 1998.
Back to November in Yangshou
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Road to Taijang
Another incredible day! We woke early and began the hour-long 8-km climb out of the river valley that afforded us so much peace and quiet. At the village near the top of the hill we asked the inevitable crowd of people, "Chir fanna?" where is the restaurant? They returned with a few blank stares and a few shakes of the head indicating there was no restaurant. So we asked again a few more times.
A young man about 22 came up to us and told us their was one upstairs. Great! We were starved. He showed us where to put our bikes and took us upstairs. It wasn't a restaurant at all, but rather his home, a one-room bedroom/kitchen/office/living room all wrapped up in one. He asked as to sit on his bed and began to prepare a fire to cook on. He first made hot water for us to wash ourselves, and then put on the rice. Then he pulled out a live duck from a basket outside and indicated that he intended to kill it for our meal. Panic set in as I saw this animal's life near a close because of me. I raced through my bag and pulled out the little book that has a few notes on food and showed him the one that is supposed to indicate, "I am vegetarian", or, "I don't eat meat". He appeared disappointed but we tried to indicate that rice and some vegetables would be fine. The message got through, somehow, and after some time we stuffed ourselves with great tasting food. Rainer offered payment of 5 yuan, but he declined.
As we were on the second floor, we were for once not completely surrounded by little kids who do their damnedest to be near us. It seemed like the whole town was outside waiting for us, and when Rainer went out on the balcony, the crowd of about 200 cheered.
At the end of our meal, it appeared that the town mayor visited us. He received us with deep bows and much handshaking. Given our minute command of the language, there was little else we could do. He wrote us a message but, as usual, we didn't have a clue as to what it said. Unfortunately, he kept the paper, as I would have liked to get it translated. I should prepare a short message in Chinese that states who we are and that we come in the spirit of friendship between peoples of different lands.Two and a half-hours after we arrived, we made our departure with the whole village watching. The road out of town was a steep uphill and it seemed like 200 kids were running with us out of town. The schoolmaster stopped about 90% of them. However we continued to be escorted by 20 or so hardy boys who took a few shortcuts to keep up with us.
The road we were on was extremely rough and at the summit we were faced with an equally slow decent. However, the landscape was breath taking. The scene of terraced mountainsides with a few paths and a small road linking them to the rest of the world.
We came across a truck full of men stopped on the side of the road, apparently waiting for repairs. This is a fairly common sight in China since there are few tow trucks. They were very excited to see us and asked if they could take our picture. Several shots later with various guys standing between us and shaking our hands, we managed to move onward on our seemingly endless trek over the top of China.
We were armed with only a sketch (shown above) of the route and found surprisingly few people to ask the way at critical intersections. Our road took us over one pass after another through some small villages. In one village a woman started to laugh hysterically when see saw us. The villagers were busy tending the fields, livestock, or house building. Their method of construction is quite fascinating. They use very few nails as most of the structural timber is slotted and pinned with wooden pegs.
In our first big town since we left the land-of-the-charted, we stopped to have something to eat. I asked a policeman where and he pointed down the road. It was a fairly large town and in matter of minutes the 10 to 15 people walking in the street grew by ten-fold. I found a noodle shop and sat down after ordering to wait for Rainer. After 15 minutes he showed up looking very upset and nervous. He said the police asked him to come inside their office and locked the door. They started asking him a lot of questions and writing things in Chinese. He said wrote things back to them in English and after a while they let him go, but they kept his phrase book. He was clearly shaken by the event as he said he lost his appetite. Obviously, they made quite an impression on him. When we left the noodle shop, we went back to the police office to see if they were holding his book in ransom so that he would return. One of the guys present said we could leave and made no move to return Rainer's book. That was fine with Rainer and he zoomed out of town and up the hill faster than I had ever seen him go. He said that his speed of cycling had nothing to do with physical strength, it was 100% psychological.
On the way to the next town we passed a minority group whose custom is for the women to wear their blouses open in the middle. Very erotic to two lonely guys on bikes! We have noticed many different clothing styles among the minority groups. Usually it is the women who seem to have the distinctive dress. Many have large hoop earrings; others have two silver bells hanging from each shoulder from a blue blouse. The babies often have very decorative headpieces. One was covered with silver.
In our last town of the day, Rainer managed to find someone to play Chung-ge with while I sat out front and traded stares with the locals.
After a while a large woman came up to me and held out her hand like I should give her something. She pointed to my watch and then to her wrist where there was none and made it clear that I was so much wealthier than her. She was quite adamant about it and the young woman who ran the shop suggested I go inside. This sort of thing seems to happen quite regularly in these parts; twice yesterday and twice today. I am at a loss at how to handle it. I usually just shrug and say I don't understand.
Tonight we are along the river, a rather large one (it even appears on the map!). It seems very secluded and I hope out of sight from the road. Tomorrow we should make it to Taijang, about 75 km.
This marks the 25,000-km mark since the beginning of the trip!
Back in the land of hotels and open cities. Hurray! It is the first one in six days. It wasn't exactly luxury accommodations, but I am not complaining (except about the lighting level, which just went down about 50%).
Compared to the previous days, today, although longer, was much easier. We had an early start and a beautiful mountain valley ride over a relatively easy pass. We passed a young woman on the way standing along side the road with a Walkman and headphones on. There is such contrast in this land. Also on the way to Jerha, a man was cycling at our pace and had the Chinese version of a portable bicycle pump; a ten-pound floor pump roped to the luggage rack.
We descended into the closed city of Jerha and tried unsuccessfully to find a place to eat on the outskirts of town. We were directed into town and I gave a big smile and "Nee how!" to a policeman and asked where we could eat. He smiled back and directed us to the bus station where there were a couple of sidewalk noodle shops set up. In a few moments, we had a fairly large crowd standing around watching us eat and one guy pulled out a pad and pen and wrote us a few notes. I think I am getting better at guessing what they are asking. The first question is usually, where do we come from? Other questions tend to be where we have been in China. They seem impressed when we tell them Guangzhou. They refused payment for the second bowl of noodles that Rainer had and also gave him some bananas as well.
On the way out of town, I stopped to put some powder between my raw legs when a crew-style truck with the requisite six officers in it stopped and turned off the engine. One guy got out and said, "Hello". I thought for sure that we were done for. He said Taijang and pointed toward the truck and I thought we were going to get a ride there. But, fortunately, he just wanted to say hi and look at the bike and me. It appears the best approach is to be very friendly toward officials and hope for the best. It is virtually impossible not to be noticed by the police; we stand out like sore thumbs. And in the closed cities, few westerns go there making us the star attraction.
After Jerha, we started passing lots of people dressed in minority folk clothes carrying goods to market. After about 8 km we came to a town which was a beehive of activity. First passing the livestock department, then the tobacco department. Adjacent to the dead meat section was a cold noodle stand where we stopped for our daily noodle fix. In no time we were the center of attention. About half the people were in the minority dress. The women were particularly interesting with large heavy earrings that caused their earlobes to droop. They also had a very distinctive hairstyle; their hair was wrapped in a bun and held in place with a comb attached to several white cords coming from the center of their head. I would have liked to photograph them, but an early attempt found them to be very camera-shy. I would like to rig a hidden camera in my handle bar bag. This market town was very interesting and I would have liked to spend more time there, but we had a large crowd following us and it seemed best to move on.
Our arrival to Taijang seemed almost anticlimactic. We were still of interest to some of the locals, but clearly they were used to seeing westerners here. There were no big crowds. What a relief!
On examining the map, it appears we are eleven days from Kunming if we ride every day. From there I don't know what will happen. I would like to go to Dali if for no other reason than to relax for a few days. We could see about traveling to other parts of China from fellow travelers. I'll probably end up spending two weeks or so visiting various places around Yunnan Province, and then start heading back to Hong Kong (maybe by boat part of the way) to use up my airline ticket back to Bangkok.
This morning I was awakened by the sound of a bouncing basketball outside my window which started at the first light of day; about 5 AM. It was so dark I couldn't read my watch. Then at 6 AM began the morning public announcements over the citywide speaker system, though it wasn't as loud or as long as in Longsheng.
It rained most of the day and we decided to we would rather just sit here than get soaked. We needed a break anyway. We had been moving every day since Yangshou. During a false start, we took the bikes into town and I broke my front derailleur cable. I stopped to change it and 50 to 75 people gathered around to watch - in the rain. They are easily entertained.
Observations: the government run stores are really different from the West. All goods are inaccessible to the public. They have a clerk every 20 feet or so that gets the item and collects the money. Some of the stores are too large and when there aren't enough different items to fill the space, some of the same goods are put in several locations.
I tried to make a call to Guangzhou and waited for almost 2 hours without getting through. To make a call, you have to put in a request for the number at the post office. They then call the operator and pass on the number. I then have to wait until the operator rings back.
I have been eating a lot of oranges lately. They are extremely sweet and about 4 cents each. I feel like I ought to start writing Christmas postcards now. I have a fairly long list of people to send them to.
There are two other westerners here, a Dane doing research on poverty, and a Swede doing research on the Miao Nationality writing systems. They are the first westerners we have seen since Guilin.
At dinner we met a truck driver who was very interested in communicating with us. He went through my phrase book and pointed out questions. He invited us to his hotel room and we met several other drivers. Later the owner came in and wanted to change some Reminbi for US dollars.
Skip to: Travelogue Index | Introduction | China in October | November in Yangshou | Road to Taijang | Killing in Kaili | Grinding in Guiyang | Out in the Boonies | Land of Eternal Spring | Dali in December | Tiger Leaping Gorge | Doing Dali Again | Train to Guangzhou | Goodbye China!
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