Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hong Kong - Gaoming - Zhaoqing. Confucius says: "A man without a mustache is a man without a soul.”

I felt a complete sense of liberation as I left the Chinese ferry terminal on my bike, carrying on it everything I needed to live for the next few months, perhaps even years. When I was preparing to leave I had two great fears 1) That I would hate bike touring and would immediately return home 2) That I would love bike touring and I would never return home. At the moment I'm somewhere in between, so I think I chose my method of transport well.

I took off towards the centre of town and stopped at the first China Mobile stall I found to pick up a Chinese SIM card. When I first started riding I thought I might be on the wrong side of the road because all this traffic was coming towards me - cars, scooters, cyclists, pedestrians. I checked my bearings, and I was indeed correct, but apparently it's okay to drive on the wrong side of the road if you're just going...a few kilometres down the road. As a strict law-obiding, nanny state Australian citizen, I strigently followed the traffic light signals, but it seems I was the only one. I stopped and asked a girl I met in town whwn I can cross the road as a pedestrian, I had stopped at the lights and I had the green man telling me I could walk. But the girl told me we had to simply wait until there is no traffic, and then it is safe to cross. I didn't really understand the logic of having traffic lights if nobody followed the rules, but that's the way it seemed to work in China. On the bike I had to ride very slowly through the villages and cities because people, vehicles and car doors jump out at you very quickly.

I'd heard China had made it compulsory to learn english from the beginning of primary school so I was generally surprised when very few people spoke even a single work of english. Through the help of baidu (China's google equivalent), I was able to communicate that I wanted to buy a Chinese SIM card. The man sent me away telling me that I needed an ID number from the townhall. Sceptical of this, I decided to move on and ask at another China Mobile store. At the second store I had more success and AUD $15 later I had a Chinese phone number and could access maps and emails from anywhere. I was surprised that wherever I went in China, no matter how rural, there was almost always access to wifi, though apparently it is illegal not to have a passworkd on your wifi account. I found most shops and hotels used either their phone number or a simple string of numbers (eg 88888888, 11112222) for their passwords, so if you're ever stuck for wifi, just try using the telephone number as the password and you might have some success!

My inability to communicate reminded me of a section I'd read in One Hundred Years of Solitude: "The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point". For me, all things lacked names, and all I could do was point.

I was too scared to buy Chinese food on day one, fearing that I wouldn't be able to communicate to them that I was vegetarian, so I was quite hungry during those first couple of days. I usually used the phrase "Zhe li you sucai ma?" (Do you have vegetarian food), even though I could obviously see vegetables displayed. When they pointed to the vegetables, I would respond with "Wo chisu" (I'm vegetarian) to explain that I only ate vegetables, and if they didn't understand, I took my phone out and showed them a series of words until they understood. I also liked to eat street food because you could point at exactly what you wanted, and, with the exception of meat broth used to cook the noodles in, I always got an almost complete vegetarian meal...although I often had to turn a blind eye to the stock they used, otherwise I would return home very skinny. Chinese restaurants also seemed to enjoy putting tiny shrimp in my soups which resembled sea monkeys.

The first day of riding I took it quite easy and rode to Zhaoqing where I was staying with a Polish guy from couchsurfing. Unfortunately, on the night I was there, Tomasz was on holiday (I arrived on a Chinese national holiday when all of China was on the move), so instead he left the keys to his flat with his friends and left me free to roam his apartment without ever having met him. I was very appreciative, but didn't stay long. I was determined to head further north to see the prized limestone karsts I'd heard so much about (okay, I'd seen them once in a picture at Phil's place, but I think it's good to have somewhere to aim for, to keep you motivated and inspired).

My home in Zhaoqing - mosquito proof in Tomasz' appartment

The beautiful lake by the university. It would be quite romantic if I wasn't wandering the streets in solitude.

Another successful night ordering vegetarian food.

The apartment blocks where I slept in Zhaoqing

The lake by day.

Enjoying the safety of the bike path

China day 1: Gaoming to Zhaoqing
Distance: 71.49 km
Average speed: 16.6 km/hr
Max speed: 37.2 km/hr
Total ascent: 503 m
Total descent: 523 m

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