New Sensation

By Stephen Ewashkiw | January 17, 2014

8538 km so far.

Today was a fairly uneventful day. We rode 51 km, so a short ride for us, from Wuchuan to Zhanjiang. This gets us one day closer to Hainan Island. Only two more days riding and we will be there.

A couple of things have had me thinking more than usual about gratitude lately. One is the #365Grateful photo project Jane is taking part in, and the other is my mother. My mom has had many issues with her eyesight for most of my life, and is going through the latest stage of it now.

Today as I was riding, I was thinking about how fortunate I am to have all of my senses available to me. Each one plays its part in making this trip possible and making it as amazing as it is.

I See Red

I started wearing glasses when I was in Grade 2. I was so happy. My big sister had glasses and I wanted them too. I even remember drawing glasses on my Grade 1 school photo. A few years later, the trouble with my mother’s eyes began. For most of my life she has been recovering from one eye surgery or another. Eye problems are often genetic, and I am lucky that my eyes haven’t gotten any worse in the past 20 years.

Even today, on a fairly uneventful day, I saw so many rewarding sights. Smiling babies strapped onto their mothers backs, papayas growing by the side of the road, farmers farming in their fields, a 3 km bridge rising high up into the sky, chickens crossing the road (why?), boats lined up along the shore of a river, cacti growing in a field, and a dead pig floating in a stream.

River boats, Guangdong Province.

River boats, Guangdong Province.

Without sight, this would be a very different trip – and one I probably never would have undertaken.

Heard About Your Band

As much as the noise pollution in China gets to me – I can hear endless honking down below us on the street as I write this – it would be pretty dangerous to ride without being able to hear. And again, I would miss so much without this sense.

Jane’s note: This is why I tell you not to ride in the city with your headphones on! But do you listen?

Putt-putt boat in Zhanjiang, Guangdong Province.

Putt-putt boat in Zhanjiang, Guangdong Province.

Today I heard men clearing their throats, scooters honking to let me know they were coming, children laughing, airplanes flying overhead, Jane warning me that someone was coming up behind me and wanted to pass, many many people yelling “hello”, a policeman telling us not to ride over the bridge and that we needed to take the ferry, birds singing in the trees, and a cow mooing loudly by the side of the road.

The bridge into Zhanjiang which we weren't allowed to take.

The bridge into Zhanjiang which we weren’t allowed to take.

We could do a bike trip without being able to hear, but I am so grateful to have this extra sense to keep me safe and add to the vibrant scenes around me.

A Taste Of Honey

Truth be told, sometimes I could do without my taste buds. There are some strange flavours in the world. The other day we bought a green pear-shaped fruit that we hadn’t eaten before, but had seen locals eating. It was not to my liking. It was kind of gummy, bitter, and filled with seeds that reminded me of prickly pear seeds. Last night our tofu tasted a lot like chicken, presumably because it was cooked in the same wok as chicken.

Strawberry fields, Guangdong Province.

Strawberry fields, Guangdong Province.

But this morning, like every morning, I enjoyed a cup of coffee. Delicious! I love eating, and as much as there are strange flavours out there, there are wonderful ones too. Some of my favourite tastes of this trip include avocados, rosemary, Japanese curry, hops, coffee, chocolate, almonds, apricots, potatoes in just about any form, and eggplant.

PBR World War 2 Edition. Something we'd rather not taste.

PBR World War 2 Edition. Something we’d rather not taste.

I am sure I could survive without taste, and this trip would definitely be possible, but it would be a lot less pleasurable.

Touch Me, I’m Dick

We recently rode for a day in below-freezing temperatures. My hands and feet were so numb, I couldn’t feel them on my pedals or on my handlebars. Applying the brakes was a guessing game, as I didn’t have the sensitivity to know how hard to squeeze. We often take sense of touch for granted, but it’s probably the most necessary one.

Checking the map on the ferry in Zhanjiang, Guangdong Province.

Checking the map on the ferry in Zhanjiang, Guangdong Province.

Things I wouldn’t have been able to do lately without my sense of touch: rubbing a cat’s neck, feeling the wind blowing past, my feet touching my pedals, my hands gripping my brakes, hugging Jane, adjusting a student’s yoga pose, checking the map, typing this post.

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Yesterday we stopped at the side of the road for a bathroom break. We had stopped at a bridge because it is a convenient place to lean our bikes. As I was relieving myself, a nasty smell wafted up from below. Down in the river, I saw a dead chicken floating.

That shouldn’t be enough for this stench. When I was waiting for Jane I looked more carefully down the river. There were about 20 large bags strewn in the river – a common sight in China – but then I noticed that these were all filled with bloated, rotting chickens.

Yuck. I hope this is not someone’s drinking water, but I’ve no doubt that it is.

Dead pig, Guangdong Province.

Dead pig, Guangdong Province.

So yes, sometime smells are gross. But, like with taste, bad smells are often the body’s first warning to “Get out of here. That smell is dangerous.” The truck, scooter, and car fumes we ride with all day long are definitely a warning, but we can’t just leave them behind. Our masks do a good job of cleaning the air up, so it’s not so bad.

Without my sense of smell, I also wouldn’t notice the lilies we walked past tonight or the marijuana plants we rode past yesterday. I would have never found Hazel & Hershey coffee roasters in Hong Kong or the peanut roasters we sometimes ride past. And without it, the food I eat wouldn’t taste nearly as delicious.

Stop Making Sense

So far in China, I have seen far too many small babies pooping at the side of the road. Some days I wish the constant noise would take a day off. The water often has a metallic taste to it that I could do without. Sometimes it would be nice not to be able to feel the injury I got when I slipped on the hotel stairs in Shanghai. Food streets often generate ghastly stenches I would rather not smell.

Without all of these experiences though, this trip wouldn’t be what it is, I wouldn’t have the memories I do, and I wouldn’t be experiencing life as it exists here in China. Without my senses, the trip would be senseless, my experience would be less.

Today, I am grateful that my five senses remain intact, at least for now.

Soundtrack: Spoon, Kill The Moonlight | Calexico, Tool Box | Candi Staton, Candi Staton  

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  1. Comment by Cassie

    Cassie January 23, 2014 at 8:32 am

    Well thank you for inspiring many movie memories :)

    Cliff Poncier: I used to live out by the airport, underneath the flight patterns. It was really noisy with the planes going by all day. I used to have cookouts, and no one would come because of the noise. I got used to it. And then, when I moved… I missed the noise. I missed those planes.

    Janet Livermore: Cliff, what are you talking about?

    Cliff Poncier: I don’t know.

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen January 25, 2014 at 8:06 pm

      Ha ha! Man I love that movie.

      Debbie Hunt. Call me before I go to Cabo!

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