November 30, 2011
We spent the day cycling in the Chinese countryside.
We rode to a 1400 year-old Banyan tree.
We then rode to Moon Hill, a beautiful karst mountain with a hole in it.
We loved the ride, but we encountered a little weather. Just 2 days ago, we had 80 degree days. Last night, a front rolled in. By the end of the day, Yangshuo was 40 degrees and raining. Luckily, we completed our ride just as the rain began.
We learned some things today.
We learned that climbing 1200 stairs two days in a row is not fun. Some might question climbing 1200 steps for anything other than to save a child or rescue a princess, but we can convince ourselves that one such ascension is worth it for the view. Even we cannot stomach a second climb. Apparently, the point of Moon Hill (or Moom Hill as the signs indicate) is to hike to the top and appreciate the view.
We walked over halfway up before we realized that 1) yesterday’s view was better, 2) we had biked 15 kilometers over dirt roads, 3) we still needed to bike back, 4) the weather was turning and 5) we are not fools. We stopped out climb and made it back in time.
We learned about Chinese traffic. Remember my derision of Italian drivers? I commented that they have no concepts of lanes. Being in China makes me think they are Germans. In order to ignore lanes, lanes must exist. Once away from the major cities, the roads are like barely 2 lane roads. That might seem like a comfortable amount, but that ignores the fact they must service effectively 2 streams of traffic in each direction – cars/trucks and bikes/mopeds. If cars and bikes are all coming at the same time, traffic simply stops until everyone sorts out the order of flow – the road simply cannot hold everyone. Luckily, this almost never happens.
The key to Chinese traffic is some unspoken Zen approach – do not worry about the traffic and it will not worry about you. Put differently, you should establish your intentions and hold steady. Everyone who is faster and more massive will drive around you. I know this sounds irresponsible, but I have watched traffic for weeks now and have concluded that this is the way it is. People work around the octogenarians driving the 3 wheeled bikes, around to 25 students walking and the workers carrying produce. We found our flow and we just rode.
We learned more about Chinese spitting habits. I know I have commented this in the past, but you really do not appreciate it until you are moving slowly on a bike through villages. Without dwelling on it, let’s just say that they exceeded my expectorations. I have opted for no photo here.
We learned that some activities go from ultra-cool to humiliating depending on the context of the experience. Before I relay the story that illustrates this truth, I should share that Chinese bikes have the brakes reversed. Rather than having the right hand control the (much more important) back wheel brake, it is opposite here.
I also want to say that Liam is an excellent bike rider.
With those caveats, here is my observation.
Crashing is cool when you are with other teens; humiliating when with your mom and family.
With other teens, you do not worry about the time constraints of your activity like biking, skateboarding, wakeboarding, etc). You just want to hang out. Also, with your teen friend, prudent judgment vanishes and extreme risk admired. As a result, trying a trick that results in a crash leads to comments like “Epic dude”or “Wicked fall”.
Change the context, and everything changes. You are now with you mom, dad, and three siblings. We have an agenda and timeline. Your parents actually value intelligence and injury avoidance.
So as you are driving, you remember a favorite trick – approaching loose gravel, breaking the back tire and getting an awesome skid. You get up speed, see the gravel, and then squeeze that right hand. Sadly, you have now frozen your front tire and you slide violently to one side. You get no praise – no “cool, dude!” Instead, your mother breaks out the first aid kit with Bactroban, asks you what you were thinking and you realize that your family is looking at you like you are the mentally impaired.
The same action gets completely different results.
We also learned that it is worth it to go with the top vendors when you rent bikes. We got top of the line bikes, helmets and clear instructions in English. We even got a weather report. We saw too many people with no helmets, bad gear and errant directions.
We learned that while virtually all products are written solely in Chinese, feminine hygiene products have English on them as well. This is critically important because there are certain things you do not want to pantomime.
We learned that some things are very easy to pantomime. Shampoo – easy. Conditioner – very hard.
We learned that the Chinese are really focused on money. Not only was the god of wealth the most popular at the daoist temple, but they have a game show dedicated to money. Contestant s attempt to identify counterfeit bills, create stacks of 100 bills as a race, count bills while dribbling a ball, and count bills while blindfolded using only the sound of the bills flipping next to their ear. On the bright side, it is a show that we can follow without knowing Chinese. On the dark side, I am a bit sad that such a lovely culture is becoming truly obsessed with wealth and cash.
We learned to advocate healthy environment. Yep, we will boycott of feudal superstition. We also refused to yellow, gambling AND poison! In case you are unclear, here is the explanation (see #8). BTW, please don’t ye noisy.
We learned that a good campfire is a joy regardless of your nationality or income level.