Arrived into Chongwu dead tired.
City riding, early aggravation, slap on the wrist, head wind, horns, hot, ink blot roads vs. the colors of garbage, anger, McD’s, more horns, departing the highway, horns, headwinds, hot, quiet, shade, horns, arrival, walled city wives, “women shi work here” on the pier, dinner guests, sleeping with stars and waves, late night ride, at long last rest
We set out from our previous point, a spot somewhere near a city called Putian (Dan says 10 km out, only the GPS will tell for sure) unfortunately we still rode on the 324, a high way inundated with traffic. Not the friendly, honk at you with a rolled down window and a thumbs up kind either. It was the vicious, destructive kind. The kind of traffic that makes you pull over to the side of the road and evaluate your own humanity after you’ve cursed under your breath and aloud, tempted yourself with the rocks littering the road side, knowing that if only your arms were a bit longer you could ride and pick them up at the same time, prepared for the next assault. The kind of traffic that is made out of massive hunks of metal, spewing massive clouds of black, or sometimes white, smoke into your face, the kind of traffic that causes great joy in creating when your 7 and your soldiers are half inch bucket loaders and dumpers, with the occasional inch long people mover, held with great joy. But in full, or even over sized scale, when pushed, not into you, but against you, when smashed into your face, poured down your throat, shot into your ears, such traffic can be the death of you. The Chinese Death. The death of your soul, of your sanity, of your humanity and compassion. This is the traffic that makes people stop listening, or looking, or reading and leaves only shouting and staring and forceful movements through opportunity and not intention. This is the kind of traffic that causes someone to push their way into an empty waiting elevator. This traffic sinks deep into your soul and burns away any sentiment of being polite, of trust, or recripocation and replaces every cell in your body with the overwhelming sense of greed. This traffic shoots so many inaccurate synapses down your spine that your legs begin to refuse commands that once came and went without question. Your lungs refuse to breathe, your eyes refuse to blink, you tongue refuses to swallow, your ears refuse to clear. Your body becomes a tasteless lifeless vegetable, cold and cultivated for inaction. You forget where you’ve come from or where you’re going. All you know is that you’re going, and you must continue to go, because here is not the right place to stop, because no one else is stopping, therefore why would we? This traffic drives you insane.
It drove me mad. I couldn’t ride with it. I can’t ride with it. Dan and I were (generally) physically prepared, we were prepared for hills, rain, snow, theft, and fights. We were prepared for long days, odd people, rude people, overtly friendly people, we were prepared for drought, sunburn, injury, even typhoon as it turns out. But we were not prepared for this ugly, vicious, damning traffic.
So I say, invest in Chinese logistics companies, because they’re here to stay.
As we started out that morning, we’d already had a terrible ride the day before, and mentally I was broken. We put our heads on as much as we could and set out that morning with the hope of a short ride to our next destination where we’d get another rest day and a wonderful opportunity to meet people and see ‘things.’ However, as anticipated this traffic that I’ve spoke of overwhelmed us immediately and within five minutes of riding I’d escalated it to the point where I hit a man who drove his motorbike into (excluding contact) my bike from the side, given my uphill speed, I was flabbergasted with the skill to which this man could come so close without contact that I congratulated him with a firm open handed smack on the hand as he looked at me in confusion. I rode on. Silence pervaded most of the morning as each recurrence only made my dentist cringe with the dental trauma my jaw was creating.
As the day drew on, longer and longer, the head wind became stronger and the up hills longer, the sun was bright and high and shade was few and far between, and the inexplicable, indescribable, horns continually caused my heart to miss a beat as they were set off seemingly within inches of my cranium. I turned my brain off until I noticed an array of tar-based tire-tracked road-side Rorschach designs that reminded me of my favorite people and places. It put me into another reality. Life just passed by and I didn’t notice a thing. Perhaps I was hit by a car. Didn’t notice. I looked up at one point from my daze of roadside design and found a world around me a colors, reds and blues and whites and greens, in a field of grey and pink. Two forceful blinks later, I found the world outside of my narrow focus covered in discarded wrappers and cartons of the Chinese consumer. In a sedative state, this was a fantastically beautiful WillyWonka world, but after actualization I was again disgusted and my world became mud, not even my ink blots could save me and the ride continued up hill.
About 60 km down the road our accompanying highway held a sign that contained a set of Golden Arches and I mentioned to Dan that perhaps a McDonald’s would serve us well this far along in the ride. He damned me for bringing up such a thing and then saw the availability for himself and celebrated. We made our next left turn and paid homage to the worlds #1 hamburger stand for about an hour, half of which was spend under the high speed fans of their air conditioners. We consumed our daily bread and then after a good sit, remounted and settled back into the grind. Shortly after we reached our turn off and a little light of hope was ignited in me, this could be the end of the horns. I regained some bit of consciousness and noticed that I was pedaling a bicycle. Remarkable indeed!
About 100 meters later I received my pass back to reality with a long, loud, signal to my spine from about 4 meters away. There was simply no escape, my will to live cut off it’s head and threw it’s limbs to the sharks. I was in trouble. Not too far down our first turn off, our second turn off arrived and we started down an even smaller, less traveled road. I promised myself to physically injure the next person, within reach, that irritates me, and thankfully that person never arrived. While our new road, twists, turns, and all pointed continually into the wind, we were accompanied by a tall set of trees and oleanders on both sides of the road which gave some nice shade, and the coast pulled up along side for the ride as well. Dan started an insightful conversation about killing people and it kept us busy for the remainder of the two hour ride into Chongwu. The jury is still out on our conclusion, but I said I’d push the button if it came down to it.
Chongwu, at first seems no different from any of the other cities we’d see this far on our stay abroad, but with the correct avoidance of the signs signaling scenic spots, we were able to ride up to and along the outside of their walled city, then finding the north entrance, take a stroll through it’s narrow Italian-like alley-streets. A quick stop for a cold drink attracted the usual amount of interest, and soon we were atop one of the tallest homes within the city, getting a top down description of history, fact, fiction, and anything applicable to us, the city, and living life from a born and bread Chongwu native woman who was drying the peanuts that now fill my bicycle helmet atop her roof.
The city is small, and it’s no surprise that it’s outgrown it’s walls, but I was very surprised to know that the city was now ‘protected’ by the national government, yet it showed no signs of clear tourism within it. No hotels, no foreign children, neon signs, not even a map printed on the entrance. This was the kind of genuine atmosphere many people, including us, expected to find in many parts of China when we’re greeted with sales people hawking the same old ‘hand made’ crap, from North to South, East to West. I didn’t even see a store with bracelets. The guy we bought soda from was somewhat upset about having to sell something. The best part was it was quiet. My mind began to repair.
Leaving the walled city we got lost several times and had many more pleasant interactions with the local inhabitants, noting most significantly, their distinct physical appearance, with their face, eyes specifically, very different from individuals we’d interacted with elsewhere along our journey. Once out of the city we turned toward the coast for our fist real, substantial look at the horizon. We rode to a point that seemed just a bit too official for the road we were on and decided if anyone asked we’d tell them we worked here, in the most stern and serious Chinese we could muster. About twenty meters down the way we were greeted with they usual “Hello!” from 10 meters behind us and our little fear disappeared. Down a long cement pier we found a group a guys readying their boat for Taiwan and after they refused to acknowledge Dan and even my own Chinese we parked ourselves at the end to take in the view, the wind, the fresh air, and the solitude of the ocean, the edge of land.
Ten minutes later, as it goes, our solitude was interrupted by several friendly fellows, who all received their un-solicited, and un-wanted handful of peanuts, as is proper Chinese tradition, where upon the squatted and we all chatted (Yeah.. including me!) They said their good byes and then moments later returned with an invitation to dinner. These guys were old med-school buddies, distant for some 15 years, and had a hell of a meal being cooked presently and felt like we needed some good attention. I really like the people of Chongwu, I though to myself. We followed their car back to their place in a full sprint, which ended up destroying our legs the following day, but which served to wholly impress all passer byers with our intense sense of fitness.
Dinner was impressive to understate it. Every dish found it’s way in front of Dan and I first, even if that meant being set atop the most recent, not finished plate of deliciousness from moments before, just so we were sure to have tried everything. A bowl of soup with two spoon fulls out of it became too old to drink and was immediately replaced, as full crabs were placed before us, too hot to touch, but demanding to be eaten. Tooth picks with crustaceans and mollusks dipped in sauce and passed over all while we were guaranteed the safety of our sobriety as our beers were continually filled to the spilling brim. It was a meal that would have sat much longer and stronger after a day of working in the office, or surfing at Old Mans, but after such a day of stress, the excitement overwhelmed me and it was over too quickly. Dan and I fearful of never finding rest, bit our goodbyes, and then were shown to a nice piece of grass where we could sleep, sparing us the cost of a hotel stay.
In the middle of the famed Chongwu Statue Garden, we rolled out our bed mats, a first for this trip, and laid length wise, covered in sweat, dirt, sunscreen, and now mosquito repellent, looking straight into a sky full of stars (full in the Chinese sense). Meteors streaked the sky every so often and a bright planet, which after a long hard squint I identified as Jupiter. The Milky way dully matched the moving clouds, and ran the length of the sky. The ocean waves resonated off the cliffs in a chorus with the local out door opera that sounded somewhere from within the walls behind our heads. The historic light house cast one bright unmoving light onto the sea and into the night and for the most part life was good. However, the temperature never dropped and the humidity seemed to increase. The mosquito’s found their prey and the sharpness of grass was never so apparent. I couldn’t fall dead asleep. I couldn’t get into the sleep I had been asking myself for ever since I woke up the morning some millions of hours before. I took a walk through the dark garden and sat for a bit watching the water and listening the barks of frogs, hopefully counting the number of skeeters they nabbed. Then resolute I tromped back to our patch and woke Dan. I wanted a shower and a soft bed and protection from the fast coming morning light. We made one final ride for the day and ended up with reasonable accommodation. After a bit of a shower and full evaluation of the softest part of the bed, the day was finally over and I took to that with authority.