Day 809, chronicle 103, Shantou (N23°21.365′ E116°40.661′) China, 20 April 2012 10:55 am – I have a confession to make which may surprise some, but, hopefully, will not disappoint anyone.
After four-month stay in Italy, I reluctantly resumed this trip. I felt like I did not have any more energy to go on. In the first couple of months after the departure from Bangkok, I kept on going onward more with the inertial force of the previous two years journey than for a renewed thrust. Perhaps, the main reason not to stop was the terrifying prospect to return to a normal life, which, whether I like it or not, sooner or later, I must do since my finances, made of 15 years working hard-earned savings, are inexorably shrinking.
The desire to continue to explore the world and the people who live on it was still very strong, and the discomforts that travelling involves did not put me off.
I think that such a lazy start was also due to the combination of crossing countries that I know like the palm of my hand and the fact that this nomadic existence is becoming the normality in my life.
And, like everything that one gets used to, or worse, becomes routine, takes away the taste for novelty. But, I never seriously contemplated the possibility of aborting the trip. Whatever it was, this negative thought has dissipated as morning mist under the scorching sun of this tropical land.
If I confessed my embarrassing psychological défaillance is because there is no more trace of it in my heart and mind.
After crossing the friendship bridge between Vietnam and China, I found again the mental attitude that makes me waking up every morning with the genuine determination to start the day with a positive spirit, fully rejoicing and appreciating every moment of this incredible experience.
The interview of April 13, 2012 at Pizza Hut restaurant, chosen to make me feel at home!, with Kun and Yang journalists of Southern Daily Metropolis, a newspaper less subject to government censorship and therefore the most read in south China, resulted in a full-page article. Two days after I left Guangzhou and headed eastwards along the national G107, that runs through the province before merging with the G324. After the city of Guangzhou ends, the urban agglomeration of Shipai soon begins, immediately followed by Huangpu and Xintang and so on for a couple of hundred kilometres of interrupted cemented land. Plants are confined only in some parks, like museums where to observe these oxygen producing creatures in the middle of carbon dioxide spitting machines.
The scenery is quite monotonous: hundreds of thousands of skyscrapers, with millions of apartments for tens of millions of families. The dazzling flashes of welders and the towering cranes visible from kilometres reveal that many more are still under construction to host hundreds of millions of Chinese migrants from rural areas.
Gigantic numbers on the concrete skeletons inform that when finished there will be apartments from 40 to 400 square metres for different needs, and for different financial means.
But not all are success stories in this uncontrolled and chaotic building development. In fact, many projects are started and never finished for the developers’ bankruptcy leaving concrete carcasses soon attached by the time and the natural elements; skeletons covered with protective nets fluttering in the wind that carries away the dream of a house and savings for millions of people.
In these urban areas, roads always have a lane well separated for slow transportation means that, if on one hand it gives the security to a cyclist not to be run over by four-wheeled vehicles, on the other hand it slows down the march because carts and other bicycles congestion.
However, when houses finally cease, roads are free of vehicles and the horizon widens on paddy fields, orchards and vast fields of corn, but the road surface becomes so worn and often muddy that one is forced to proceed slowly and with caution. This is another example of the big difference between urban and rural areas.
On April 19, arriving in Shangrenjia, I discovered that the bridge on the highway G324 south of Shantou was a toll bridge and forbidden to bicycles. The toll-man told me to go a few kilometres back, load the bike into a taxi and cross the bridge! Clearly, I found the idea absolutely disgusting and deplorable, there must have be another way … In fact, about five kilometres east along the coast, I found a small harbour with a ferry that took me to Shantou city centre. Here I found accommodation in the “historical” city centre, a word now almost unusable for the vast majority of Chinese cities. In fact, this is the first town where I have seen buildings dating from the end of IXX century not been razed to the ground and replaced by modern constructions.
Most of these two-floor picturesque dwellings, with porches, balconies, round windows, floral ornaments and other decorations are uninhabited and in a state of neglect, covered with dust, broken glass and stucco to be redone, but at least they are still there.
I expected to catch the ferry to Taiwan in Shantou, but I learned that the only port for maritime links with Capitalist China is Xiamen, 250 kilometres to the north. Until next time.