D42: 苏区 → 海丰 - Oh Hai - CycleBlaze

November 21, 2019

D42: 苏区 → 海丰

Suqu. Is there really anything I can say about Suqu? It exists. It's a place. Like practically every single place I've come across that has been renamed in modern times to reflect modern sensibilities, the current name (which means "Soviet Area") is kind of stupid.

Granted, you've got places like Zuoquan County which renamed after its native son Zuo Shuren (Zuo Quan being his nomme de guerre) died in battle. But most renamed places, it's just the current version of political correctness. The politics could be anything from religion (Istanbul from Constantinople), to war (Petrograd from St. Petersburg), to politics (Stalingrad from Volgograd), to a change in social norms (Threadneedle Street from Gropecunt Lane) but it seems like it's nearly always politics and it's often replacing a name which--as an outsider--seems to have been perfectly good in the first place.

(Places like Zhangmo Township which were renamed because the character originally used to write the name simply didn't make it into Unicode were a bugbear of mine even before I had a friend with an untypeable name.)

As befits a place named "Soviet Area", Suqu seems to have had a bunch of Revolutionary Stuff happen there. On average, compared to the other towns and villages around this area, it doesn't seem to have that many more Historical Sites of Interest but, compared to just about any other place I've been in China, gee there sure are an awful lot of brown signs pointing the way to the Former Home of So-and-So and the Original Site of This-and-That.

After the first few that were locked up tight, I stopped going on detours to check out the places brown signs pointed me at unless it looked like I was going to see something interesting on the way, since I probably wasn't going to see something interesting there.

While in Suqu, I didn't bother with the Former Red Army Hospital which, from the window of my hotel room, I could see was a) not very big and b) not open; I also didn't bother going to the Red Army Plaza I'd biked past on my way into town as it had appeared to be nothing other than a modern boulder with the words "Red Army Plaza" carved on it. The Revolutionary History Memorial Museum had five steps up to the entrance which, combined with the absolutely thrilling sounding content, and the less than thrilling presentation I'd already worked my way through at The Red House (Original Meeting Site of the People's Government of Suqu, Founding Site of the Communist Party Committee of Suqu, and somewhere that Zhou Enlai Once Slept), was enough to make me give it a hard pass.

I did go to the Red House. It was a bog standard late Qing farmhouse of the not very pretentious kind. Nice enough to be made out of stone instead of rammed earth but no carvings, no gardens, none of that. According to the introduction, at the time the Communists took it over, it was being used by the local Landlord as a place for grain storage. Which, truth be told, could mean absolutely anything given the general relationship that the revolutionaries had with Landlords and the caliber of research on display at the Red House.

I did rather like the display of original furniture. You could sort of tell just by looking at it that most of it actually was the general stuff they'd been able to scrounge up from what was around. And that even though the Red House hadn't officially become a Recognized County Level Historical Site until the 1980s, that it had been lovingly preserved as well as most local historical societies ever preserve anything.

I also liked the handmade hammer and sickle flags, and the hagiographic story of the time Zhou Enlai stayed at the Red House for three days and three nights; how he fell ill with a fever; how the wife of one the men he was visiting went to the market and bought herbal medicine for him; how she cooked it; how he eloquently gave a speech on the equality of women in society while still feverish; and, how he insisted on giving them hard silver cash to repay their kindness when he left. It was one of the stupidest, least believable, most fairy tale type stories of An Encounter With a Great Man that I've ever come across. And, at the same time, particularly given that the room which Zhou stayed in had a plaque above the door identifying the temporary resident but not the regular one, everything about it was genuine and heartfelt and you knew that the people telling this story really believed it had happened exactly like that or, at least, really wanted to believe.

Upon leaving Suqu, although I would attempt to visit two more brown signed Sites of Interest, they were (rather unsurprisingly by now) locked up. I gather that even though patriotic Red Tourism is a thing (witness the sheer number of people at the Ancestral Home of Ye Jianying), no one really wants to go traipsing about particularly poor parts of the countryside to look at unremarkable 19th century buildings that are only interesting because some people did some stuff there in the 1930s and 40s.

For reasons that go way above and beyond my understanding of modern Chinese history and economics, many of the areas of China which are labeled 老革命区 [Old Revolutionary Districts] are also some of the poorest and least developed ones. Although I'd previously realized this on a practical level, it's apparently fairly common knowledge and gets regularly mentioned in the academic book which I was working on before this trip (and which will be finished before the due date).

Leaving Suqu, I immediately started a gentle climb that gradually got less and less gentle to the point where I started zigzagging back and forth across the road to lessen the grade. I'm normally not comfortable with doing that but I was getting less than Vietnamese levels of traffic (not only were there barely any four wheelers, there were no three wheels, two wheelers, or tractors).

Eventually, the downhill which had been promised to me by the topo maps came. Scarily steep with a number of hairpin switchbacks, there were quite a few times where I had to pull over and engineer a complete stop just so I could rest my cramping hands and my tense shoulders. One of these times was at a Guanyin Temple whose existence I knew about because they helpfully put up signs starting about a kilometer uphill warning people Temple Ahead. The 'original' historic shrine to Guanyin was up the side of the mountain and, after climbing about 30 steps and not being able to see how much farther it was, I gave up and went back. 

(From when I passed under it shortly afterwards, it may have only been 40 steps, but by that point I was already accelerating downhill again.)

Down, down, down, down, up.
Down, down, down, down, up.
Down, down, down, down, up.

Always with the sorts of ups where you have to change back into the granny and ooze your way uphill again too.

When I got to the bit of straight, flat, wide, divided road that headed into a (officially not yet open) tunnel, I spent a good five minutes debating with myself whether or not to climb over the dirt berm that was clearly there to stop pedestrians, motorcycles, and cars from going through the tunnel so as to see if it looked like a bike could get through when someone came out of the tunnel and got their motorcycle temporarily stuck in the process of getting it over the dirt berm. It was a choice between something like 300m of elevation gain or the tunnel so, much as I don't really like tunnels, I went through the tunnel.

Down, down, down, then up, then down, then flaaaaat. Gloriously, wonderfully, amazingly flat. Somewhat truck infested and far too narrow for the amount of traffic that it was getting but it was flat. It really only takes a day or two of intense and crazy mountains before I'm back to thinking, yeah, flat is good.

Combining topo maps with road maps, it looks like I had a different, less trucky, route which I could have taken south from Gaotan [高潭], but it wasn't obvious at the time and, it wasn't like the road I took was that bad, it's just that all of the countryside around these parts was ever so much nicer than the big ugly road.

In the town of Gongping [公平], I stopped to eat oranges and consider my evening plans (i.e. whether or not to continue past Haifeng) which lead to some guys by the side of the road starting to talk with me about my trip, only it didn't go the way these conversations usually go... cause about half of them turned out to also be cyclists. (One of them even showed me the GPS track of the day he did 300km.)

I didn't even get the chance to tell the one non-cyclist that my front wheel is a generator hub which powers the headlight and the USB charger because one of the Chinese guys admiring my bike did it for me before I could. I've been to multiple bike shops this trip for a variety of minor reasons and had to tell the bike shop staff more than once that my bike really really honest to goodness really isn't an e-bike.

I don't know what it is with this trip but I go to large city professional seeming bike shops and they're terrified to so much as touch my Alfine 11 (even with Shimano having directions available in Chinese) to do the oil change that's now 1300km overdue (it requires a work stand or I'd try to figure it out myself) but I can stand by the side of the road in the middle of bumfuck nowheresville and have small town strangers just casually come up to me and admire my hubs.

After inhaling the last of my oranges and deciding to keep riding, I made it about a kilometer from the impromptu Tour Bike Admiration Session before changing my mind and deciding on lunch after all. Although I wasn't feeling hungry, the physical all over pleasure which I got from eating indicated that my body really wanted those calories.

Skipped all the potential Sites of Interest in Haifeng in lieu of heading straight for a cheap hotel where, despite having a specialized ID card scanner that is not hooked up to a computer, and thus actually being one of the rare places in China in 2019 that really shouldn't be letting me stay because they actually can't register me, they had absolutely no problem at all with photographing my passport and calling it good.

Today's ride: 70 km (43 miles)
Total: 2,546 km (1,581 miles)

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