D37: 三河→松口 [Some Phone Pictures] - Oh Hai - CycleBlaze

November 15, 2019

D37: 三河→松口 [Some Phone Pictures]

I almost skipped the 明代古城 (which could mean Ming Dynasty Era Walls or could mean Ye Olde Ming Town) because, despite no written reviews, it had 2.5 stars which seemed kind of unpromising. Furthermore, the other nearby Sites of Interest on that side of the water were another unreviewed, unphotographed site with an indeterminate name "三河城" that just as easily could be The Walls of Sanhe as a shopping mall, and a statue.

Nine people had rated and two had reviewed the Big Communist Memorial on the other side of the water so having nothing at all show up for this seemed kind of sketchy and wild goose chase ish.

It was one thing when I'd thought I was continuing southwest from Sanhe on the S333 towards Dama [大麻] and Yinjiang [银江] on my way to Meizhou [梅州] but now that I'd refolded my paper map, it was obvious that I had intended to go to Songkou.

Problem with planning my trips out in spare time stolen here and there as much as two years before that particular trip is that I didn't especially remember why Songkou at first and had to refresh myself.

Seems it also has an Old Town.

If I wanted to have a reasonable ride up to Songkou without crossing and recrossing the water, it would have made sense to just skip this whatever it was...except that there seemed to be an awful lot more town on that side of the water and the food options on this side were rather dire, so I didn't.

I hadn't yet found myself breakfast when I saw the defensive walls and the moat. In point of fact, I never found breakfast on that side of the water. It's about as villagey as you can get and still be rather a lot of what was clearly quite a large town 500 years ago.

I cannot for the life of me understand how this is not some major tourist attraction that's been thoroughly cleaned up and filled with twee cafés and photo opportunities. It's easily one of the largest conglomerations of extant historical architecture I've encountered in China and that's including the tourist attractions with their twee cafés and photo opportunities.

The GPS thinks it's a 5 hour drive from Guangzhou; 6 hours from Hong Kong. There is absolutely no good reason for this to just be sitting here being all nothing. In point of fact, the gate that I went through in the Wall was restored (rebuilt is perhaps a better word) in 2000 with funds contributed from multiple sources so it's clear that something was realized almost twenty years ago but, even so, nothing has happened; it's still a sleepy rural village full of amazing, slowly crumbling, historical buildings.

Actually, I kind of think I do know why it's not been developed. There's a reason. Not what I would entirely call a good reason but definitely a reason. Sanhe's not just full of 19th and 18th and 17th and 16th century buildings. It's also full of Big Character Slogans.

"Public Loyalty!" shouts at you from practically every building. It's above the doorways. It's on the walls. It's written so big that even my wide angle lens has problems capturing an entire character from the other side of the roadway.

Other earlier slogans including something that starts with "government" and the year "1958" are also visible
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千万不要忘记阶级斗争 Never Forget Class Struggle

活着就要拼命干,一生献给毛主席 Being alive means dedicating ones all, throughout ones entire life, in sacrifice to Chairman Mao.

革命加生产,实现大跃进 Revolution Increases Production, Realize the Great Leap Forward

There's too much to scrub away or paint over (something which seems to accidentally on purpose happen rather frequently to some of the more offensive or uncomfortable slogans) without being really really obvious about it. So even though Sanhe has a train station and a nearby expressway exit, and a Big Communist Memorial on the other side of the water, this side of the water is quietly being not promoted and not fixed up because even though it's bloody well obvious that it should be getting informative signs and bus parking and all that good stuff, the old history has new history on top of it and that new history is a kind of touchy topic that no one really wants to spend too much time thinking about.

If you think the scuttlebutt about Chinese people supposedly not knowing what happened at Tiananmen Square in 1989 is a big deal, one of my friends who is college educated, intelligent, curious, and all those other good words, she had to ask me who a slogan was referring to with "Follow Chairman Hua in Studying the Lessons From Dazhai".

Imagine an American not knowing who President Nixon was.
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Eventually, my brain got full. This may have happened faster than it otherwise should have as my stomach was still empty. But I simply hit a point where I couldn't shove any more cool stuff into my head without a rest.

Also, since there were no signs or markers, no explanations (even of the piss poor variety that plague Chinese tourist sites), there really was only so much I could look at without context before it just became an overwhelming blur. Also, after some guy yelled at me for not leaving one of the abandoned buildings after he told me to, I got the impression (possibly untrue) that he was following me with the intent to yell at me some more and that, along with the obviously private and in-use nature of the non-abandoned buildings had me heading off for oh-gosh is it lunch time already?

After lunch, I started on the northeast side of the Meijiang [梅江] on what my maps thought was a county road but the signs thought to be a provincial one. In any case, it was an under construction road that mostly wasn't at the pouring concrete stage of things in the righthand lane but which was still a glorious mess of new dirt (often on top of the old concrete) and broken up cracks.

There was a bridge across the top of a dam on the Meijiang taking me to a farm road which the gate security at the dam told me was steeper and narrower and more twisty turny than my original road. They were pretty sure the pavement wasn't as fucked as the active roadworks so I topped off my bottles and went down one of the prettiest roads I have ever had the fortune to bike. Or, in the case of the 17% grade at the inexplicable hill in the middle, to walk.

Railroad trestle overhead
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At some point, in one of the many stretches of pomelo orchards, a large yellow fruit volunteered itself by rolling out into the road as I came up to it. It wasn't moldy or rotten and I didn't have to go on to anyone's private property to take it (which everyone around here keeps suggesting is fine for "one or two fruit") and, once peeled, although a bit sour, made an excellent bit of road snacks for the rest of the afternoon.

Eventually, my pretty road got to a spot where heavy trucks had messed it up and I got to do some full contact mountain biking of the type where you aren't exactly sure why you are grinning but you do anyways.

I had a bit of roadworks on this side of the river in my last stretch before Songkou but nothing too bad. It was much farther along in the process than the roadworks on my initial road which probably helped things along.

The Hakka are still a predominant ethnic group in this part of Guangdong and the local Hakka have their own form of tulou that I valiantly resisted the effort to go poke about in more because I was heading for Songkou's Old Town than because I'd learned my lesson from the boringness of the Fujian tulou. If past experience is anything to go on, I'm otherwise not particularly good at learning lessons of this sort and really only was able to generalize because something cooler was waiting for me.

My route in to Songkou was littered with still more old buildings including a few that didn't really look all that old except for the Big Character Slogans. Although you might see a moderately large character slogan advertising high speed internet these days, Big Character Slogans basically went out of style in 1976 with the death of Chairman Mao.

PUBLIC LOYALTY
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The sun was just starting to set as I crossed the bridge into Songkou which more or less determined that I was not going to go check out the pagoda I'd seen on the opposite bank as it was a good 10km round trip and would already be dark when I got there. Besides, I've managed to not visit every other pagoda I've seen in the distance so far this trip and it seems a shame to spoil that record by actually going to one of them. Right?

The parts of Songkou's old town that I found before the sun set were the sort of crumbling wrong side of the tracks type places that even if all of them weren't currently sporting "Dangerous Building! Keep Away For Safety" placards, they'd still have been singularly unlovely. In point of fact, I'm pretty sure they may have been slums when they were built.

Checking the map for lodging, a place showed up at 38 yuan and continued to insist that this was the right price even when I looked at in a booking app even though that was kind of sort of impossible but still enough to make me go look.

Turns out they did have rooms at that price. Not so much a loss leader though as the as yet unrenovated rooms from when the place was built in 1998. I was given a key to go look at one and found it perfectly acceptable which I don't think was the intention as it was a very shiny lobby and the renovated rooms are selling at three times that price.

Truth be told, it was clean, it had a soft bed, and it was actually kind of charming. Being in Guangdong, this close to Guangzhou, I'd've happily taken that room at 60 or even 70 a night.

Today's ride: 48 km (30 miles)
Total: 2,223 km (1,380 miles)

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