D50: 水步→金鸡 - Oh Hai - CycleBlaze

December 2, 2019

D50: 水步→金鸡

Well. I've been here before. Twice in fact. Once in 2005 and again in 2013. Depending on how you look at things, the 2005 trip (which was an unmitigated disaster) was probably my first bike tour. I had an AlphaSmart keyboard with me so I had a pretty complete journal all told. (I love the AlphaSmart so much that if it didn't weigh nearly as much as my laptop does these days, I would get another one.) However, what pictures there were, were on film; I didn't get around to developing those pictures until a month later in Vietnam at a shop which destroyed both rolls of film; and I was insufficiently knowledgeable about what I was seeing on the road to realize that any of it might be notable or interesting.

On the basis of having been back this way in 2013, and having a much greater knowledge base with which to compare things to, I can say for certain that most of it was neither notable nor interesting. But there were things both notable and interesting and, by and large, on that trip in 2005, I noticed none of them. A large part of my journal from 2013 is me saying "look at this cool thing I don't remember seeing last time" with the various cool things all being large immovable objects anywhere from 30 to 150 years old.

It's really cold this morning. Cold enough that I'm thinking of potentially putting on another layer in addition to the thermal vest. Cold enough that I'm reminded that part of what made the 2005 Tour (which took place 13 years and 50 weeks ago) such a disaster was my inadequate clothing for the cold weather.

Even if I was wearing two silk undershirts, both of my jerseys, arm warmers, leg warmers, the longer of the two pairs of padded bike shorts, an acrylic sweatshirt, and two pair of cotton socks, I couldn't handle it. I was freezing cold. Around the place where the four layers of short sleeves met the one layer of arm warmer it felt like someone had slipped an ice cube into my clothing. My thighs were cold enough that I considered putting my second pair of bike shorts over the ones I was already wearing (and maybe even the unpadded pair too). Logically, I knew it wasn't that cold. I was passing groves of orange trees and the occasional stand of sugar cane. The sides of the mountains were dotted with a mix of pines and palms.
Had there been a tailwind instead of an intermittent headwind mixed with a crosswind, or if I had spent a week up north (in a merely subtropical climate) getting used to the weather before starting out I might have been able to do it. As it was...

Getting out of the shadows of the buildings and into the sunlight made it tolerable. I kept the thermal vest on all day but sometime around 2pm, it ended up unzipped and it stayed that way until after darkness fell.

The road running south from Dajiang [大江] (where I didn't spend the night last night because I'd been underwhelmed in 2013) to Taishan [台山] is a very factory heavy road. Very dull. Big building after big building. Gate after gate after gate. Looking at it with current eyes instead of a dozen years ago (or even only six), I see that most of the factories are buildings from the earliest years of Reform of Opening Up, that hardly anything is more modern than ten years ago and those scant few are truly few and far between.

Back when it was mostly still cheap socks and low skill sweatshops, this is where "Made in China" first began. Even the factory buildings still being used look dated with their overly big windows that save money on lighting but probably make it hella uncomfortable to be doing anything inside for 8 months of the year.

In Taishan, I do not stop for water and ice cream at the convenience store across the street from the gate to the park with the pagoda as I did the last two times. For one thing, it's too damn cold for ice cream. For another, there's no convenience store.

Instead, I stop for elevenses at a chichi dimsum place that has the audacity, when it comes time to pay my bill, to try to tell me that 7+13=25. I ordered a 7 yuan dish (dense steamed mantou with sweetened condensed milk) and a 13 yuan dish (meat buns). For each dish, a separate printed receipt was brought to my table and stapled to the order form. I brang the order form up to the counter and get told "25".

Now, I'm not saying that China doesn't sometimes have a service fee tacked on (around 10% at the very fancy hotels) or that China doesn't sometimes charge extra because you want the special extra sanitized dishware that come individually wrapped. Cause it does. These things do happen. They happen at places that blatantly write all over their menus "+10% service fee" or that have a price per set printed on the plastic wrapper that lets you know these dishes were specially sanitized by this and such dish sanitizing company. However, one thing you can be certain about in the country that invented bureaucracy a thousand years before the birth of Christ is that you won't get a random extra cost just tacked on to things without some kind of documentation.

Usually, if you aren't paying at a place that has a Point of Sales system installed, when you scan the QR code, you enter the price. However, it is possible for the other person to write in the amount owed and you to scan and pay that amount. I argued that 7+13≠25. She insisted that was my bill. I pointed out that one 7 yuan item and one 13 yuan item could only ever total 20 yuan. She insisted that I owed 25. So, having brought my handlebar bag inside with me for once, I dug out cash, gave her 20 yuan, and walked out.

Hainan, having been a part of Guangdong prior to 1989, has pretty decent dimsum anyways ...

I know to go dipping in and out of the various villages that kind of sort of abut the road. I've spent enough time in this part of Guangdong by now to realize that almost every one of them has both an entrance and an exit and that I can get in close to take a look at the old buildings this way instead of just passing them by at a 50 meter remove. 

Few are anything truly special, mostly turn of the century things in somber gray brick. Although it sometimes has windows and those windows sometimes weren't cut in later on, the wall that faces the large concrete pad that is now a mix of storage and parking lot but which would have been the rice drying area between the houses and the village pond is generally a blankly defensive thing. 

I only see one or two villages that still have any remnant or sign of the gates that were at the open end of the alleys but I don't bother going down the alleys anyways. I've done that two or three times now and there's basically nothing to see but more blank walls and the occasional door. Most hallways are wider than these alleys and its not really all that hard to understand why people knocked down their own buildings to build modern ones, or why, now that knocking down historic buildings is a no-no, the whole village just got up and moved 300 meters to the left.

I turn off the through road to Sanhe [三合] at the town of Shuinan [水南], which is now called a village, even though it's definitely a former town with a main street and a marketplace and multiple rows of crumbling arcaded shophouses. In theory I'm heading for a temple that showed up as a potential historical site of interest but, once I see the crumbling shophouses and the vintage propaganda on the safe usage of electricity, I decide I'm not actually all that interested in going in circle to try and find a temple with an "approximate" location and continue onwards.

In deciding that I shan't go looking for my specified detour, I spend a bit of time looking at the maps and figure that I've got a farm road option available for most of the way down to Sanhe. I'm pretty sure I won't be spending the night in Chishui [赤水] like I did in both 2005 and 2013 but I know that I've got lodging available in both Chishui and Jinji so I'm up for a bit of farm roads.

This turns out to be an incredibly excellent idea as, just south of Shuinan, I find an empty diaolou in explorable condition with a gate that was, shall we say, not exactly locked. There's no question that I should not have been able to go inside and should not have gone inside. It's just that there was nothing physically preventing me from it either.

In Southern China in places where it got hot and you really wanted the door to be wide open for a breeze but you also didn't want bandits or other ne'er do wells to be able to just saunter on in, the 19th century solution was a cross between a wooden screen door and a portcullis. The individual wooden bars can be removed one at a time and, in the case of this gate (one of the first times I've seen an intact gate that wasn't a shiny restoration) there were metal rings for a latch and lock to be attached. They just so happened to not be attached.

Then, after I went into the walled garden around the diaolou, I found, much to my incredulous surprise, that the front door was also unlocked and unlatched. You can't be going around leaving unlocked unlatched empty historic buildings just lying about where I can find them and not be expecting me to wander inside to take a look now can you?
Can you?

Of the residential variety with at least two (and possibly four) rooms that were clearly identifiable as bathrooms (which a servant would have carried the water up to), the lack of any electrical wiring anywhere in the building indicated that this particular diaolou had been uninhabited for quite a long time. However, the swept up leaves, and the lack of hardly any randomly discarded bits of furniture that weren't also permanent attachments (like the six burner glazed ceramic wood burning stove in the kitchen) meant that it was clearly being taken care of too. Someone had collected the various ceramics and glass bottles that they'd found in other parts of the building into a number of small neat piles.

A few unsightly and possibly quite dangerous cracks in the concrete structure and the remoteness of the building make me doubt that anyone will be able to do much of anything with this other than keep it clean and empty but wow was it cool to wander around inside.

Nothing else the rest of the day was quite so cool. Which is not to say that there was nothing else. Just that it didn't rank up there with exploring an empty building that, for once, didn't smell like rotting wood.

Sanhe has a couple of shophouses but nowhere near as many as Shuinan. However, it's on a road that's more important in modern times, so unlike Shuinan, it's a town instead of a village. From Sanhe, I continue to Chishui. It's gray and dreary and not at all particularly appealing though it's much better paved and banked than it was six years ago and just the remembrance of how un-nice it was to ride not that long ago makes it much nicer to ride. I still take the Y351 side road that exists on both the paper maps and the electronic maps which gets me the opportunity to check out a few more old villages and a few more distant dialou before dumping me on a dirt singletrack that, for all that it seems impossible, is in fact the Y351.

After I get back on the pavement, I decide to stay there for the rest of the day.

Chishui's shophouses are more or less as I remember them. The bus station where I once sat on a wooden bench outside and told the admiring crowd watching me eat my oranges that I'd biked all the way from Jiangmen in one day is still there, though the bench has been replaced with a concrete one. The hotel that I stayed at in both 2005 and 2013 is also still there but looking even more faded and worse for the wear. I think it's one of those 1980s ones built specially for Overseas Chinese coming to visit 'home'.

I go out the south end of Chishui to a specifically marked pair of dialou in a village just outside town. They are dramatic and photographable and interesting and locked up solid to prevent people (like, well, me) from getting inside and damaging things (with things defined as both the building and the people). Then, since I've got a decent amount of daylight left and my lodging options appear to be the hotel that was uninspiring (except for having a bathtub) both of the previous times I stayed there, or continuing on to Jinji, I continue on to Jinji.

Somehow, despite a lack of intersecting roads, the road west from Chishui to Jinji is now bigger and wider and has acquired trucks. It's also one of the first times I can remember in a very long time that a road has had obvious soft shoulders. Usually, if a road isn't to the standard to have hard shoulders, it just kind of ends at the paving. But this one has grass shoulders leading down to the drainage ditches on either side. Particularly as I'm in an area of China that seems to have completely missed the past decade's bulletin to 'rebuild everything' it's kind of discombobulating.

Dinner in Jinji. Can't find the first or the second hotel to be marked on the map but a third, unmarked, one is there between the two that aren't and although the rooms don't have heat, the blankets are thick and it's been a long day.

Today's ride: 62 km (39 miles)
Total: 3,132 km (1,945 miles)

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