D49: 三江→水步 - Oh Hai - CycleBlaze

December 1, 2019

D49: 三江→水步

Come morning I am greeted by a glorious sight. Just outside my hotel, the offices of the local tax bureau have painted the walls surrounding their compound with some truly impressive art. Inspired by a fairly well known set of Chinese Dream "Core Socialist Values" propaganda images that anyone would recognize, one figure from each tableaux has, for some inexplicable reason, been replaced with a dragon.

So you have a dragon police officer catching the criminal grandson who stole granny's rainy day fund, a dragon businessman shaking hands with a farmer, a dragon scientist trying to use a photocopier because the artist for these murals thought that looked better than a computer, a dragon and a young boy saluting the flag, a dragon shaking hands with a western businessman, and a dragon giving up his seat on a crowded bus. Bearing in mind, the original images which were used for inspiration were a series of fairly lackluster cartoons, this is--by any stretch of the imagination--bad art at its very finest.

None of my Chinese friends are able to come up with a good reason for the dragon. One of them, thinking the paintings are on the outer walls of a school, suggests that it might be the mascot for the local sportsball team, but alas, no, it's the tax bureau. And despite the Asian love for totes adorable kawaii mascots for damn near everything, the tax bureau doesn't have mascots.

I skip my potential sites of interest in town as none of them are particularly between here and there and a all of them involve, at some point, the crime of turning around and going back the way I came. Instead, after I get breakfast, and with just the briefest bit of time spent admiring some older buildings (read: I got lost in a village), I head out in the direction of Jiangmen City's [江门市] Xinhui District [新会区].

Once I'm on the roads that go places, they are very big roads with very big vehicles on them. There's technically a separated bike lane but it's more like a painted acknowledgement that bikes are welcome to go on the sidewalk since there's no good reason for pedestrians to be out here. I take the condition of the bike lane (particularly the random bollards) as a challenge and mostly stay in it up until it goes away. Sometimes, at an intersection, the curb cut on the other side is too steep or the bollards too closely places and there simply isn't any way to conveniently get back up on my sidewalk.

At an underpass right before the bike sidewalk goes away completely (to be replaced by a perfectly lovely, wide, and well-maintained shoulder) I answer the age old question of "I wonder if can I ride over that pile of stuff without falling over?" by executing a graceful sideways descent into the landscaping.

The ride to Xinhui is abominably dull. It's only redeeming characteristic is the constant spicy incense of drying orange peels. Even in the places where there are no racks of drying orange peels to be seen, it still smells like citrus and spice. 

Once in Xinhui, I head towards the Ancestral Home of Liang Qichao. It's quite a nice looking museum and I desperately try to enjoy it but the translations (which are barely Google Translate quality) distract me from attempts to read the Chinese and it seems that wherever I go I can still hear the Very Loud Tour Guide (whose modus operandi seems to be guiding her group to stand in front of exhibits while she recites the content on the signs).

Even though my bike and gear are theoretically safe with the parking guide, I see no reason to visit the pagoda up on the hill behind the museum. While they look pretty nice from a distance, pagodas are actually a fairly boring piece of traditional architecture. If you can go inside, you probably can't climb up top; and very few of them have much in the way of interesting carvings.

I nom my way through a Very Large Bag of oranges outside one of the convenience stores fronting the parking area. The orange peels are actually what they are growing around here so the oranges themselves are a waste product. As it only costs me 2 yuan for a kilo of peeled oranges, I'm rather curious what they do with them when they don't have tourists who literally want to buy their garbage.

There's more big roads heading west from Xinhui though I point myself at a marked historic temple and find some truly extraordinary 19th century village houses. The temple itself is (gee, big surprise) locked up tight as is most of the temple next door to it. Based on the outside of the building, and the scrubbed off "to be demolished" characters that all the 'dangerous' buildings sprouted a few years back before there was all kinds of backlash about "losing our cultural heritage", if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say that the historic temple no longer has an inside.

As for the non-historic one, the bits I saw were 'only' a hundred or a hundred and fifty years old. Old enough to be ancient in the US, but practically meaningless around here.

While in the village, I get some nice pictures of metal signs regarding the safe use of electricity. While the general shape of the images is familiar, I've not seen this particular set before. Based on the clothing styles in the images, these were likely produced in the mid 1980s which, on the one hand, seems to be really late for electrification of a village this close to Hong Kong but, on the other hand, I know people born in the 80s who remember when their parents got electricity. Public Service Announcements about how not to accidentally kill yourself (or your cow) might not have actually been that far off base.

There's two great big islands in the Tanjiang River [潭江]. If I continue from the current island over to the westerly one, I end up not having a bridge to get back to the mainland and needing to use a ferry. This says to me that the island will be less developed and ugly than the main road so I go that way. It's still kind of ugly developed with a big Infinitus factory and a Lee Kum Kee soy sauce brewery but that seems to mostly be the extent of the large factories.

Something I've been seeing a fair amount of since I got into Guangdong is things that were donated by overseas Chinese. Considering the number of Fujianese who went abroad, I'm sure there are plenty of things in Fujian that were donated to the old family home, but nothing like I'm seeing in Guangdong. The original bridge to this little island is an excellent example. Built in 1994, it's named the Wong Cheung Kin Memorial Bridge and appears to have been funded by the Hong Kong businessman Haking Wong.

I can't find out much about Mr. Wong in English and my searches in Chinese are somewhat stymied by the other things he bought (including the Haking Wong Building and the Haking Wong Technical Institute) but this is perhaps one of the biggest examples I've seen so far of rich Hong Kongers donating vast amounts of money to help out 'hometowns' they'd rarely even been to. In this case, although he was born in Thailand and grew up in Hong Kong, it seems that Xinhui was where his mother came from.

The new bridge (2017), and the current boulevard are named after Infinitus though, judging by the amount of expensive stuff on display at the Lee Family Ancestral Temple just down the road, I'm sure this is only because it occurred to them to bid on naming rights before the Soy Sauce King got a chance.

After a bit of a ramble around the island (including two temples other than the Lee Family temple), I take the ferry across and am not at all disappointed in my decision to have avoided the main road. Unfortunately, from here on out, I don't have too many options to continue avoiding the main road. I try my best, darting into villages when I'm given the chance, taking a greenway that--like all the best greenways--abruptly dead ends in the middle of nowhere, but even though I have a brilliant time exploring the various bits and pieces of old stuff, I'm not doing a whole lot of moving forward.

As darkness begins to approach, I start taking a more serious approach about going the correct direction. In theory I'm headed for Dajiang [大江] though, in reality, I spent the night there in 2013 and was singularly unimpressed so unless I stumble across a newly opened hotel that isn't showing up on AMap, I'm actually heading a bit south of that.

Niuwan [牛湾] on the banks of the Tanjiang must have been something real special a hundred years ago. All kinds of impressive crumbling buildings that you can't easily get to or get into are visible from the road. It's just past Niuwan that I get off the trafficky road and onto the sort of quiet countryside thing I like. It's also around this time that the diaolou start to appear.

Diaolou are a particular kind of fortified tower which Jiangmen, Kaiping, and Enping are famous for. Ranging from just over two storeys tall to perhaps six storeys tall, although some of them were watchtowers that helped defend the whole village, many of them were houses of the 'go bother someone else' variety. As many of them were built by quite wealthy people who didn't want to completely forego creature comforts while living in a fortress, the top floor is often characterized by large open balconies with greco-roman colonnades. The lower floors have secure metal shutters over barred windows and rifle ports. Lots and lots of rifle ports.

However, sunset is fast approaching. Has approached. Has come and gone again. It's dark. I'm riding in the dark. I need to learn how to do this 'waking up early' thing because even with a headlight making it safe for me to ride in the dark, I don't want to be out after dark. You can't see the cool stuff once it gets dark.

I breeze through Dajiang, stopping for dinner at the peanut butter noodle fast food place where I ate seven years ago and decide that I'm going to continue on to Shuibu. On the one hand, it meant that I got a decent chunk of the next day's 'ugly factory riding' done and gone bright and early. On the other hand, it meant giving up a guaranteed known location where I could have slept for a bunch of time spent circling around and around and around and around before eventually carrying my bike and luggage upstairs to a place whose front desk was on the second floor. 

Today's ride: 65 km (40 miles)
Total: 3,070 km (1,906 miles)

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