Because It’s There

By Jane Mountain | January 12, 2014

8,200 km so far.

Last night we checked our map, and were glad to find a small provincial road that runs in the right direction for us this morning. We have had enough experience of the national “G” roads to know that the G325, which is the most direct road, will be wide, busy, and boring.

Adding a little distance and a little elevation to our day on the less-direct route was totally worth it.

The Tropic Of China

It didn’t take long to get out of the busy town centre, and back into rural China. This is a completely different landscape than the one we cycled through just a few days ago in Hubei Province.

There, the air was cold and misty, the earth dark and rich, and the smell of winter was on the land.

Here are vibrant swathes of green, with giant banana trees hanging over the roads, and water everywhere we look. Farms are built in and around the waterways down here, boats are just a part of life, and fish and other water creatures are key ingredients in cooking.

The air is moist and warm. In Hubei we were numb, here we are sweating with the effort of our ride. We are so happy to be cycling in a single layer of clothing, and not needing to be wrapped up in mittens and scarves.

Rural school in Guangdong.

Rural school in Guangdong.

We returned to the G325 about 25 km into our day, and were glad to find that it was sparsely trafficked today. Even in China, mostly people have the day off on Sunday.

G325, Sunday traffic, Guangdong.

G325, Sunday traffic, Guangdong.

That means fewer truck horns blasting our nerves, and lots of space for us to ride.

Empty Homes

Around lunch time, we spotted a fancy new housing development, which looked like it might have a decent spot for lunch. We rode in and looked around, only to find that the development, like so many we have seen before, was staffed up and ready to run, but no one was living there, and no businesses were open in the small shopping street they’d built.

empty development in kaiping china

Tower and palms at the empty development, Guangdong.

It’s not really surprising, since this particular upscale development is about 8 km outside a very small town a few hours from Guangzhou. Who could afford to live there and what would they do for work?

These developments seem insane to us, but they do keep millions of people around the country employed. We’re just not sure who’s paying them, and how they could possibly benefit from such an arrangement.

Lunch Language Lessons

In the nearby village, we cycled the backstreets until we came to a little canteen that checked all of the boxes. It was staffed by women, filled with customers, and did not have any large slabs of meat or animal parts on display. We did, however, have to park our bikes against the large metal box filled with live fish, waiting to be eaten.

We sat down and immediately caused an uproar as all the men drinking and dining in the restaurant exclaimed at our presence.

When Stephen showed our new food slideshow to the ladies working, they laughed and pointed at the pictures. We have a pig, chicken, cow, goat, and eggs with a red circle and slash through them. The last picture in the series is of an adorable cat and dog cuddling together, also with a red circle. This one always gets a big laugh.

We showed them our picture of tofu, eggplant, and nuts and they said yes to the tofu.

Two small girls had been watching all of this with interest, and when our ordering was done, I tried to engage them in conversation. I know kids learn English at school here, so enunciating carefully I said “Hello. My name is Jane. What is your name?”

Two little girls, Guangdong Province.

Two little girls, Guangdong Province.

The smallest girl giggled and pulled her ear as if to say, “Whoa, what is that strange sound you’re making?”

Stephen showing that he doesn't speak Chinese, Guangdong.

Stephen showing that he doesn’t speak Chinese, Guangdong.

Then she touched her nose and mimed pulling it out long. After which, she pointed to my nose. She couldn’t believe what a giant nose I have! Then I stood up, to show her how much taller I am than she is. She jumped and jumped, trying to reach my height.

Eventually the older girl mustered up the courage to use her English. “What is your name?” she said. “My name is Jane,” I replied. “What is your name?”

“My name is Jane. What is your name?” she said, mimicking me. We played this game for a while, with the girls collapsing into giggles every time one of us would speak to them.

We never did find out their names.

One More Night

A quick post-lunch ride brought us into the small city of Kaiping, which has a population of around 5 million.

We were very excited to ride by the Abus factory on the outskirts of town – they make the frame bike locks which have kept our bikes safe for the last 9 months. Finding a cute hotel was no problem, and before long we were showered and rested and ready to hit the town.

We soon found that we have regained our celebrity status.

Exclamations of surprise and wonder follow us wherever we go. As much as we are a novelty, I also think people can’t really comprehend why, of all places in the world we could go, we’d come to their humble hometown.

Because it’s there people, because it’s there.  

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  2. Comment by Cassie

    Cassie January 14, 2014 at 6:39 am

    So awesome – that interaction at the restaurant and with the little girls! That’s what it’s all about for me.

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