Sunday, November 10, 2013

China: The Deal of the Day

After four days of cycling in China, I’m still trying to make sense of this fascinating country.  If I had to sum up my impressions in a phrase, I’d say “What’s The Deal of the Day?”  There is so much stuff to buy, I can’t believe it.  The roads are filled with stores, factories, work shops, restaurants, and stands.  It’s manufacturing and consumer row for kilometers on end.  There might be a short break a field for growing fruits and vegetables, or rice patties, and then the commercial and industrial shops are back again.  China produces so much stuff and people are constantly buying, it gives new meaning to the phrase “Made in China”.

I say “deal of the day” because you can buy anything, any time of day, and anywhere.  Every town has all the shops you need for any sort of item and things are soooooo CHEAP!  There are no western restaurants to choose from, and even finding a more formal or proper restaurant is difficult, so I eat at the little food stands, or small restaurant stalls on the side of the road. Lunch is anywhere from 60 cents to 2 dollars, maybe 3 if I’m really hungry. I try to stick to things I can easily identify, but usually, I’m lucky if I can get a normal bowl of soup or some stir-fry veggies and rice. I’ve started to veer more towards being a vegetarian, just because it is the “safe” choice.  No use looking at menus, although I’m sure if I could actually read them, I’d be overwhelmed with all choices.  I just point to what I see people eating or what they have in the different pots. 

If I didn’t have to limit what I purchased due to the added weight, I might end up looking like some of the other bikes I find on the road!  There are some deals out there!  I see stores selling name brands everywhere, from Samsung, Calvin Klein, Nike, and Apple, you name it and you can find it for sale anywhere in China. Today, I got lost and wound up in a tiny little village that unfortunately did not have a hotel, but wouldn’t you know the mobile store I stopped at to ask direction was an authorized Apple reseller,….imagine that!  At first glance, you definitely don’t notice it is an imitation. 

Since they are a manufacturing country, I thought this would be a good place to get my biking sandals fixed.  After the first week on the road, I noticed the stitching in my Keene sandal had come out.  It was only a matter of time before the back strap would break.  Keene had offered to replace them, but they don’t have any stores over here (real stores that is) so I thought I’d find a seamstress to fix them for me, using an industrial sewing machine.  Sure enough the first night I arrived, I found a shoe repair and she charged me a total of 10 cents to fix my sandals!  Now they are just like new!  

The whole imitation and knock-off idea, leads me into the concept of trust in this country. I guess this is a huge problem amongst the Chinese.  For instance at hotels, you have to pay a room deposit.  When you go to check out the lady at the front counter uses a walkie-talkie and calls up to someone who I know very well goes through the room you just left to make sure that nothing has been damaged.  Also, the bikes and motor scooters that are everywhere are locked up.  It’s a shock to see this lack of trust after being in Hong Kong, where it was ever-present, along with respect. 

Last night I had first hand experience with the lack of trust and the locals.  On the start of my third day in China, I was excited to come across 3 other tour cyclists on the road pedaling in my direction.  They were the first tour cyclists I came across in Asia.  I obviously assumed they spoke English, but they didn’t and our conversation was simple and short.  I kept on pedaling and about an hour later, one on the guys caught up to find me to ride together.  I so desperately wanted to ask him questions about China and biking in this country, but instead, we rode one behind the other for about 40 kilometers in silence.  He finally made the eating signal with his hands and so we stopped at a restaurant and with the help of Google translator we figured out each other’s itinerary and realized that we were going in the same direction for a good 300 kilometers.

Of course when I finally find another tour cyclists riding in my direction, they don’t speak a lick of English. I’m such a verbal person, it killed me!  Jau ma, was my new friend’s name.  He had left his job and was off to explore the southern coast of China on bike for a month.  He was about 10 days into his trip and was doing a lot of wild camping, which I thought couldn’t be done in China.  He seemed nice enough so we continued cycling in the afternoon to a town where we decided to call it a day.  The other two guys were in a town behind and would catch up tomorrow.  It was a relief to see that he had a hard time finding a hotel as well.  I thought it was my language barrier, but I think the local working class in these cities just don’t travel or aren’t used to tourists, and so they don’t know about hotels.  We finally found one, washed up and went to explore the town.  It was neat to have a guide so that I could put my guard down and just let him handle things like ordering food and finding a few shops to stock up on some things I needed.  I tried to keep my questions and comments basic, or else his phone’s battery would die and there wouldn’t be any more Google Translator.  At dinner we figured out the route for tomorrow and had decided that we’d camp at the beach. I have my tent with me for my Asian route, but I thought I would only use it as a last resort. 

To make a long story short, let’s just say Jau ma was more forward than the horny Turkish driver who pulled over on the side of the road 5 times.  I had to use the Google Translator this morning to let him know that I was going to ride alone.  I know I’m a very trusting person, sometime too trusting, but I like to think that people the benefit of the doubt and think they are kind and respectful in return, especially tour cyclists.  Now I’ve got my guard up with these Chinese people, talk about trust!!  If this happens a third time, I’m entitled to a blog post to vent my anger about these types of men!

As you can see, after four days of cycling in China, I’m still trying to make sense of this fascinating country.  A kilometer doesn’t go by without something peculiar on the road that catches my attention.  First thing this morning I saw a bunch of pigs in cages on the back of a motor scooter.  The next motor scooter that passed had 3 dogs in different cages.  I really hope they were going to different places and weren’t going to end up in the same pot of stew!

The terrain isn’t difficult in this region of China.  In fact the kilometers go by quickly because it’s flat and until today, there wasn’t any wind.  I couldn’t figure out why I’m more tired than when I did all that climbing in Europe and had really long days.  I can only attribute it to the sensory overload from this country.  There is so much going on around me, it’s mentally exhausting, more so than physical fatigue.

From the time I wake up, there is constant noise and commotion.  I start pedaling, and I have to drowned out the relentless honking to stay focused on the street signs, roads, cars, motor scooters, buses, bikes, and animals loose, moving every which way, all sharing the same road.  The roads are lined with densely populated cities, one after the other, for kilometers on end.  When I stop for food, it’s a chore to communicate what I really want and finding a hotel is still tough!  Up until now, my “down time” on this trip when I can disconnect and day dream has been on my bike, but in China, that is virtually impossible!  At the end of the day, I take refuge in my hotel early and call it a day to have some peace of mind.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m still enjoying cycling through China, and now the fun is about to begin! I’ve caught up with the typhoon that is off the coast of Vietnam and China, but hopefully it will be a tail wind and not a head wind.

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