China by Bicycle :: April - October, 1998

Subject: Harmony Found
Date: Mon, 13 Apr 1998 22:52:51 -0700

16:50 Nan Lin Hotel (lobby); Suzhou -- China :: 10 APR 98

We've booked an evening train up to Taian. It'll arrive early tomorrow morning and we'll probably spend the day and one night there before cycling off toward Beijing, a 7-day ride according to the guide.

After checking out of the room at noon, we walked for a few hours around the city. Tree-lined narrow canals split the single-story white-washed residential zone. The eaves of black terra-cotta tiled roofs ornately carved. Glimpses through the open doorways reveal narrow halls and low ceilings, small tidy rooms coated thinly with the ever-present grime. Wooden doors etched deeply by time are splitting at the grain, a deep weathered brown under beleaugered paint. Stone bridges span the 15 foot canal's girth in artfully pronounced arches: engraved, embellished, carved. Four stone lions sit back on haunches caught eternally mid-roar, giving way only to the worthy.

Harmony found.

Now, we're hangin' in the Hotel lobby, reclining contentedly on overstuffed armchairs, writing up the last few days. The sofa invites us but we decline, preferring to avoid becoming the spectacle of an open-mouthed, snoring foreigner stretched out and oblivious. In the armchair across from us, a Chinese woman animatedly reads a story to an adorable two-year old. Something about the moment is touchingly beautiful. Some things cross all cultures.

19:30 Taian Guesthouse; Tai'an -- China :: 11 APR 98

I am surprised by the wealth here, surprised by the fashion, in Shanghai, Suzhou and now, Tai'an. The people are beautiful, and accentuate their beauty through the bold lines of clothing with presence. The style is decidedly western--pant suits for the women, jacket and tie for the men--but the cuts are altered, distinct. Not distinctly Chinese, per se--nothing about the look is reminiscent of historically Chinese forms or design--just a different inflection unique to China. Colours, use of piping, shape, fabric: subtly altered from the familiar western forms.

And it's still surprising to see such well-dressed people riding $40 dollar bicycles, as they do en masse. Their clothing allowance exceeds their transportation budget.

~~~ Responses Sought ~~~

The Tao is like a well:
used but never used up.
It is like the eternal void:
filled with infinite possibilities.

It is hidden but always present.
I don't know who gave birth to it.
It is older than God.

  graphical element Attributed to Lao Tse
The Tao Te Ching
Chapter 4.
trans. Stephen Mitchell