Daily News… Project “Cycling world tour for disadvantaged and disabled people”.
Since I crossed the Mount of Clouds in Vietnam, exactly twenty days ago, I have not seen the sun and it is the norm at these latitudes at this time of year, where the warm moist air from the equator meets the Arctic cold one.
Our star is perpetually hidden by a layer of leaden clouds, so low as to cover the hills tops and becomes a thick mist that reaches the ground. It is easier to cycle with temperatures below 25 degrees during the day, and I am proceeding so fast that, for the first time since the beginning of this journey two years ago, I am ten days ahead of schedule.
The problem is that the humidity, which turns into heavy and frequent downpours, soaks me to the bone and I can not get rid of the smell of sweat combined with mildew, both on my skin and on my cloths. On March 29, 2012 I left behind my shoulders the glorious city of Hanoi, heading towards the Gulf of Tonkin and reaching the busy port of Hai Phong the same day.
I traversed the floodplain that the Red River has created in millions of years, as a comfortable sofa where it snakes placid and serene advancing a few hundred meters per kilometre in length. In 2500 years of permanence in the delta, the Vietnamese transformed the marshes in ordered rice paddies and banana plantations interspersed with occasional grey villages.
Very different is the country’s other major delta, the Mekong, which has not been completely tamed, retaining a wild and rebellious disposition, unwilling to be reduced to a simple instrument for agricultural irrigation. On March the 30th I was in Ha Long, known for the bay dotted with thousands of limestone stacks, one of the eighth wonder of nature.
During my career as a tour guide in South-east Asia, I have often sailed with traditional junks through this amazing place, each time surprised to discover new and interesting details and I am now convinced that the stacks can not be but the scales and teeth of a dragon plummeted from the sky, just as the legend tells … On April the 2nd, with my heart beating faster than normal, I crossed the Friendship Bridge in Mong Cai and I entered Dongxing in Chinese territory.
On the bridge, I was approached by two Chinese girls who asked to take a photograph with me, that reminded me that here I am the strange one! Putting my first wheel in China, I felt a strange emotion, almost like a reverence for a land so rich in history and culture, so vast and varied, so mysterious and enigmatic.
On April the 4th, I felt ready to move my first steps in the heart of the Dragon by following the coastal road that goes up to Quinzhu via Fangchengand and from there it continues inland. At nightfall I set my tent near Luwu, a rural village of some hundreds thousand inhabitants, yet a tiny urban entity considering that in China there are at least 30 cities with more than ten-million residents. The experience of sleeping in a tent confirmed the immense difference between Chinese culture and the one of the other major Asian country, India. I already wrote how the two cultural areas are different and incompatible (see the first chapter http://travelforaid.wordpress.com/english/diary-vietnam-italy/ chapters/uk_01-9-12-oct/ ) and I continue to compare them just because both have evolved on the same continent, geographically contiguous.
In fact, it would be like trying to compare the land with the sea and wonder why one can walk on the former and not on the latter. In the specific case in question, if I had camped near any human agglomeration in the Indian subcontinent, I would have hardly slept being kept awake all night by the natives curious to know about me and, eventually, the “lord” of the area would have invited me to be his guest.
Here in China no one came near within twenty metres, and only because they had to pass at that distance.
I do not think that Chinese people are less curious or less hospitable than the Indians, their sense of privacy and interpersonal distance is just very different. Instead, what it is the same in the two giant nations, are the conditions of the rural areas, remained unchanged from Neolithic to present time. If it is normal and “right” to see children with bare feet, buffalo pulling wooden ploughs, farmers planting rice by hand, men carrying on their shoulder heavy bags of vegetables, in countries such as Laos or Bangladesh, to name two that I visited and that belong to the ten poorest in the world, it should be a surprise to see such things in the planet’s second economy.
As much country’s towns are squalid, anonymous, grey, dirty, with brick buildings and unpaved roads, as cities are shiny, colourful, cleaned, with futuristic skyscrapers and palaces decorated with precious marble and glass.
Looking at these two Chinas, one can not but to agree with the official position of the government: China is not (yet) a super-power, but (only) a developing country. Objectively, it is not an understatement, but a statement that fully complies with the reality. Hereafter there are two real-life anecdotes little examples of how life takes but also gives.
On April the 7th, I tried to make a phone call and a recorded voice informed me that my credit was finished; the strange thing was that the day before I recharged it with five dollars and I had the receipt of the operation.
So, I went to China Mobile office in Rongxian to elucidate the arcane. Here the young lady at the counter, after consulting her terminal and analysing my receipt, informed me that the recharge was not done to my phone number but to someone else’s entirely similar to mine except for a digit, 1 instead of 7, and that there was no way to recover the five bucks!
The next day I stopped for lunch in a restaurant adjacent to a service station. I started to go around the tables pointing to the dishes that other diners were eating and I wanted to have, as I normally do when there are no pictures on the menu or the dishes are not written in Latin letters.
The waitress, who happened to be the owner, kept on saying “no”. I was about to leave when she asked me to sit down and filled a large bowl with rice noodles, vegetables and pork meat taken from the bowl that she and a couple of other people, were having at a table in the corner of the room.
Then she brought me that, a bit ‘of soup and a pot of hot and bitter green tea. I ate it up to the last grain of rice and, when I asked for the bill, the lady gestured that I had nothing to pay … On April 10th, I arrived in Guangzhou, China’s first true megalopolis that I cross on my path.
The fields abruptly ended about 45 kilometres before the city centre, which I reached wriggling my way out of a tangled jungle of bridges, flyovers, tunnels, bike paths, streets with dozens of lanes and even some pedestrian area.
I had an appointment with Jay, a young advocate volunteer for a HIV / AIDS association supported by the Harmony Home Association Taiwan (http://www.hhat.org/) .
I stayed as a guest at the shelter for HIV / AIDS patients from the countryside who come for a visit at the local hospital, one of the few in the country with a HIV dedicated department.
I saw some Westerners, and also many Africans and Arabs; there are restaurants of all kind of cuisines and the atmosphere is very international with many Chinese people who speak English. In various corners of the road there are signs with the emblem of the People’s Republic of China, and the following four sentences in English. Important Notice for Foreigners: 1.
Please have your passport with you for routine check by the policeman; 2. you should report your accommodation to the local if you live in apartment house; 3. it’s prohibited to buy and sell or take drugs. Going whoring is also forbidden; 4.
You will be fined or detained if you are against the law. In other words, remember that even if you are foreign you are not above the law! Until next time.