D27: 江永→祥霖铺 - China Blues - CycleBlaze

September 20, 2020

D27: 江永→祥霖铺

As I have often heard with no particular attribution, China is an empire pretending to be a country. In different regions they not only have different diets and different habits, they also speak completely different languages. These languages are more or less united by a common writing system but, other than the writing system, they are no more alike than French is to Spanish.

As a linguist, I wouldn't even attempt to categorize the number of language families I've traversed so far on this not very long trip. For one thing, categorizing the spoken Chineses is hard; for another, I'm just not sufficiently educated on the correct minutiae to be confident in what I'm saying.

Coming into Jiangyong County, I'm approaching my fourth writing system that isn't Chinese. First was Mandarin Pinyin - the official romanization of the official national language. Although often used incorrectly, it's all over the place everywhere you go in China. Somewhere around Rongxian, the romanization changed to something that-when paired with the Chinese characters it was representing-I could recognize as being a Chinese language, but which definitely was neither Mandarin nor Cantonese. This faded back to normal pinyin in the Jinxiu Mountains only, in the countryside around Shuijing, to dramatically changing to something that not only didn't phonetically map to the Chinese characters but which sometimes had the wrong number of syllables and, on the basis of certain repeating patterns seen across multiple village entrances, also had a different word order.

Now, there's Women's Script. I only saw a little of it yesterday and I'll barely see any of it after I leave the city of Jiangyong (where it is mostly secondary decoration on prettified shopfronts) but that's not really all that surprising considering that it's functionally dead as a language with no native users. Unlike hiragana (a similarly phoneticized version of a character based language which was originally used specifically by women), it never got the necessary body of literature (The Tale of Genji is a brilliant work of literature, it's also an 11th century soap opera) to take off outside a limited sphere and it didn't take much active suppression on the part of the modern world to kill it dead.

I missed the Women's Script museum in 2008 because it was newly opened and not trying very hard to attract people who didn't already know it for what it was. I missed it again this time because I spent so much time checking out other stuff that by the time I got there, if it hadn't already closed for the day, it was so close to closing time that I may as well not bother.

My day began with a visit to the Giant Bike Shop to see if they had anything I wanted (no) and to get a photo of myself outside the front of the store same as in 2008. It was in a different location than 2008 and the apparent owner of the shop was a completely different person who didn't recognize his own shopfront from my photo so I think maybe it wasn't the same bike shop. From there, despite my hotel owner insisting that the building in my photo from 12 years ago had long since been demolished, I went to the old downtown to see the interesting things that ought to be in the vicinity of a building like that.

As expected, it hadn't been demolished. I mean, sure, a lot of old stuff that I think has value is stuff that China and Chinese people don't think has value but this was a nice solid building in the middle of a county seat, and they're getting pretty good at not wantonly destroying the older stuff anymore. Separate from the gradual realization that tourists from more developed areas will inexplicably pay good money to go look at dirty old things, it's substantially cheaper to develop land that doesn't already have buildings on it.

Even before I wandered down the alley behind the pair of brickwork buildings with the really nicely done slogans to something that looked like a warehouse and a 1950s Sino-Soviet manse behind them, I'd managed to thoroughly enjoy my time in the old downtown. It was one of those places that had been well enough off that most of the buildings had been built out of stone and brick instead of wood and plaster so decades of indifference hadn't actually battered stuff up too bad. 

As a general rule, I'd even say that things were well enough preserved that it wouldn't take too much effort to clean things up to being tourist friendly. (Don't get me wrong, I love Haikou's historic downtown, but twee cafes and souvenir shops is a completely different kind of alive than it was when it was pipe fitters and people selling kitchen supplies.)

The manse was fascinating and I would have loved to know anything at all about it but the people back there (including an elderly couple that apparently lived on the first floor) were completely uninterested in talking to me. I'd already guessed by the presence of an apothecary's cabinet that, despite the lack of a sign, they sold TCM (traditional Chinese placebo) which was later confirmed by commentators on my TikTok with "isn't that the place where the old TCM doctor has his practice?" 

In any case, to every question I asked him, he pretended to be unable to understand me. When I tried asking questions of the wife (like "do you speak Mandarin"), she told me that the two of them were deaf. Then I asked LOUDER, including "do you mind if I take pictures of the building" complete with pantomiming my taking photos and she just ignored me. 

As I was taking photos of the building (carefully avoiding them), they held a conversation with each other at normal volume in standard Mandarin regarding the lunch they were in the process of putting on the table, and I reminded myself that they were old enough to have lived through the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward, that the violence of the Dao County Massacre had spilled over into neighboring counties, that even if they hadn't been perpetrators, they'd known victims.

My next stop was the pagoda which I didn't camp at in 2008 because, in one of those bizarre China episodes that just happen, I was introduced to the local foreign teachers (Craig and Erin) and ended up sleeping on their floor. I had any number of roads which I could have taken to the pagoda, so I of course took the smallest most obviously an alley because it was most likely to have originally been a main thoroughfare back in the days when main thoroughfares didn't have two way truck traffic.

It was stunning. The bit of early 19th century (with some possible 18th century) village that I crisscrossed three times in order to make sure that I got the pictures I wanted and the video I wanted was icing on the cake but the cake was a washpond and drinking water well outside the Public Security Bureau with an inscribed plaque "The Police and the People have an Inseparable Relationship like Fish and Water" from when the washpond had been upgraded with new stairs and concrete and the like - in 1997. And, there was someone doing her laundry in it.

Not that the pagoda had been very interesting in 2008, when I was afraid to climb the ladderstairs because they looked dangerous, but the pagoda was even less interesting now that its in the middle of a landscaped park and the doors are locked.

Finally I got on the road, not taking the southerly of the two routes out of town because, even if the guy from the bike shop was pretty sure that the (he called it "boring") pagoda I'd photographed at a distance was on that route, I didn't think I could have messed up my way out of town as badly as all that twelve years ago. Looks like I did though because everything else that I came across was where it was supposed to be in terms of timing between things and only the pagoda never appeared.

One old town after another after another. Clusters of old buildings surrounded by slightly less old buildings surrounded by new buildings. Old buildings under repair, under reconstruction, abandoned altogether, completely renovated into a horrible something that someone was probably proud of (that particular one, I'm told - via TikTok - was built in 1896, so it's not as horrible as it could be). I only completely detoured into three villages but part of that is because two of the ones that I would have detoured into were on the other side of a fairly substantial watercourse.

And then, it was starting to get dark. Since I was facing the prospect of the National Road for the last 20km, I was alright with the idea of forcing myself to make it to the county seat of Dao, but some part of me that really shouldn't have been reading up on the massacre really didn't like that idea and I got an incredible wave of cramps followed by loose bowels that used up all of my toilet paper supply and necessitated the sacrifice of a spare sock.

Xianglinpu, where I spent the night, is already in Dao County and its kind of fitting given what Myf and I described in 2015 as a psychic stain upon the people of Dao that dinner was the first time all trip a complete random (another customer) has demanded of me that I produce my Health Code and show that I'm actually allowed to be traveling during Covid. 

It's also kind of fitting that I had to make multiple circuits of town to confirm that there were only three places with rooms for rent, that they all cost too much, and that at least two of them (the 50y and the 80y) were grimy shared bathroom down the hall. However, by this point, it was drizzling, and as my camping hammock did not come with a rain fly, I had to go with the 50y one.

Today's ride: 40 km (25 miles)
Total: 1,348 km (837 miles)

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