No, no, no; a little humanity,
06 Jun 1998 11:54:46 -0700
Fandian along G108; Shanxi -- China :: TU 02 JUN 98
Power went out a while ago, so I write by candle light.
A note on language. Chinese often comes across as poetic when
translated literaly. Perhaps because fewer grammatical articles exist
to clutter articulate words.
I've decided that while Lonely Planet insists 'fandian' means
"hotel for foreigners and rich locals," in the past few years the regular
and poor locals have adopted the term for their own use. It now equally
applies to a roadhouse. Undaunted by the previously discussed fandian
experience, I am billeted yet again at another roadside attraction. Dinner
was fulfilling, and I've extracted a price for the bed: 10RMB. Down a
fraction from last time. Owned and operated by a small family of three:
he mines/prospects for gold; she minds the store while he's away; the
five year old girl is proficiently cute and holds long conversations with
me in Chinese. I intermittently respond with 'uhhh,' the Chinese equivalent
of 'uh-huh,' as an indicator of, "I'm listening."
Now, let's try the last few days a little more descriptively
The white-washed concrete kilometer markers refer to it, in
that ubiquitous Chinese red paint, as G108. Highway 108. Vivian suggested
it as a route to Xian. I was skeptical. It's a thick red line on the maps.
Only the expressways, which don't allow bicycle access, are thicker. I
rode such thick red lines into Beijing, harried by buzzing traffic, deafened
by truck klaxxons. And mile-upon-mile of decrepit villages and towns.
A negative impression.
G108 begins without pretense, and without any marking. Find
it; stay with it through the factory land of West Beijing, where coal
dust swirls from truck upon truck, forming thick, soft shoulders of black
girdling the beaten in highway. Stick it out. In a dozen kilometers the
Now begin the lessons: discipline, fortitude, pacing. Climb
and climb above the city haze, winding and winding up the mountain walls.
On clear days these dominate the low Beijing skyline but today they springboard
into the China most tourists never see. Dig deep and climb into the deep.
Always one more switchback it seems, one more goodbye to...to what? The
northern mountains corral the smog shroud. Only a few emergent smokestacks
shape the city. Goodbye, Beijing.
Now drop, drop into another China. Not like the busy, populous
eastern plains. Not like the megatropoli of Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing.
Drop into the valley. Cottonwoods line the path, trunks white-washed below
the China-red line painted at shoulder height, sunlight flutters over
Another day to finish; I drift off to sleep...
10:40 Bing Zhou Hotel, Taiyuan; Shanxi -- China :: SA
06 JUN 98
While every corner of an incline reveals more roadway to climb,
the declines always end so quickly. Enough time only to savour the elation
of speed before the valley floor rears up to offer another incline. With
inclines, savour the opportunity to gather in the land.
Terraced hillsides, villages of red brick walls and charcoal
clay rooves. Tidy. Tended. Clean, elegant lines. Small plots, small buildings,
gathered close. The square symmetry of architecture contrasts the organic
flow of agriculture.
Over a small factory a pair of flags hangs languidly in the
still air. One is unmistakably the Chinese national flag but the other
reveals only patches of red and white. Could it be? Scanning and scanning,
turning to look back as the roadway climbs beyond. A puff of wind reveals
two fields of red bordering a field of white. In the center, a red maple
leaf. A good omen.
The road is mine, nearly mine alone. A trickle of traffic. A
few cars pass, slowing: thumbs up, or "Hello!" A van enthusiastically
offers bottled water, gladly accepted. The trucks allow space, and mercifully
hold their tongues reserving horn blasts for urban cyclists. Some other
bicycles struggle with the grade, or glide by downhill. Rusted, battered
steel creeks and moans.
Another valley ridge precedes another exhilerating descent.
I would savour it all the more if I knew it to be the day's last. Here
the long climb begins, upriver, upriver. Valley walls increasingly steeper,
bare rock punches through the foliage. Kilometer after kilometer my pace
slows as the water's flow quickens.
In a rhythm now. Pedaling. Pedaling. An established pace difficult
to stop. In a town a stop for bananas, and another more water to stave
off the afternoon heat. Only long enough to buy, then pedaling, pedaling
again. Feel the legs as the pedals twirl, muscles drive the crank arms
full circle. Pedaling is twirling, twirling. Breathing, breathing. As
the valley closes in, as the river progresses from ambling to arching,
to driving: twirling, twirling; breathing, breathing.
Roadway shoulders too steep for willows and cottonwoods. Drop
another gear. Sun bears down. Sweating. Twirling, twirling; breathing
breathing. Fatigue. Twirling, twirling; breathing, breathing. Drive the
body on. Drink deeply then, twirl, twirl, twirl. For hours legs can pump.
Keep the rhythm. Twirl, twirl; breathe, breathe. Another banana, twirl,
twirl, twirl. Handfuls of peanuts, raisins and chocolate. Driving, driving.
For hours legs can pump. Keep the rhythm. Twirl, twirl, twirl. Breathe,
For hours, but not forever.
Another cycle pulls alongside. One gear, one pair of legs to
pedal, a passenger side-saddle on the rear rack. Young boys. Young eager
boys. Grade-school english conversation. "Where are you from?" "Where
are you going?" and "Where did you learn english?" "Which is your village?"
Stock questions cannot fill the distance. We pedal through comfortable
"We are going swimming. Please, will you join me?" Yes. Time
for a break. "It is not far." But the reservoir is far enough and welcome.
~~~ Responses Sought ~~~
Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.
Watch the turmoil of beings,
but contemplate their return.
Each separate being in the universe
returns to the common source.
Returning to the source is serenity.
If you don't realize the source,
you stumble in confusion and sorrow.
When you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
kindhearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.