D41: 榕江→寨蒿 - China Blues - CycleBlaze

October 9, 2020

D41: 榕江→寨蒿

Last night, as I was approaching Rongjiang in the dark, I noticed that despite it having seemed like a sleepy little town in 2012, it's actually a city in its own right. It's just that it expanded up along the river valley and I'd entered and left from at angles that only saw me ever seeing the small town aspects of it.

The presence of a few monuments and parks and the like on the map as well as the sheer variety of different ethnic groups (as evidenced by what people were wearing) on the street indicated that, despite my generally having no affinity for cities I don't live in, Rongjiang very likely was a city worth exploring. However, being all disgruntled with the police left me in no mood to do so.

Instead, I had breakfast near the hotel, people watching all the amazing colors and shapes walking by. The beef noodles I had were really good but the stomach gurgles I had later in the day seem to line up either with the noodles or with some fried things I bought on the street to have as a road lunch so I'm not so sure.

The first site I was hoping to find turned out to be only a few blocks away from my hotel. Across the water from the part of Rongjiang that I'd experienced, it must have been the last gasp of rural on my way into town in 2012. Unfortunately for me, it's no longer rural in the slightest and, being located on the campus of a primary school, is quite thoroughly gated off from members of the public just wandering on in to take a look at a 19th century pagoda. 

It was probably gated in 2012 but, being as it was summer vacation, and being as there weren't so many buildings to hide the pagoda from me, I must have just wandered on to the campus without anyone stopping me. Now, however, it's the middle of a school day in the fall.

I did a rather thorough circuit of some village that's supposably been recognized since the 1950s as the village where the standard version of the Dong language is/was spoken. Other than having a few costume shops with outfits people could rent to take photographs of each other in and a particularly large wood pagoda facing onto an even larger plaza, there really wasn't anything special to distinguish it from any other village on the outskirts of a modern Chinese city. Some of the alleys were straight up indistinguishable from my neighborhood in Haikou though I'll grant you that among the people hanging their laundry out to dry in odd places in my neighborhood, I've never seen someone hanging a freshly dyed bolt of fabric.

It's apparently weaving season in Guizhou. The time of year when the weather is cold enough that there's not much else to do so the women who might otherwise be planting and harvesting vegetables sit down at a hand loom and weave. Then, they dye and re-dye the fabric with indigo. Depending on how rural the area is, they might even be harvesting their own cotton and spinning the threads themselves. This fabric will be turned into clothing which will be heavily embroidered but which, given the difficulty in cleaning compared to modern synthetics, will only come out at festivals and holidays.

It's time intensive work and one older woman who I had a conversation with a few days after this quite proudly told me that she can make nearly 3 meters of cloth in a day. Like many of the other locals who I spoke with, however, she doesn't particularly value the fabric. The fabric is the easy part. After all, anyone can sit down at a loom and weave. And anyone can dip a woven length of fabric in dye. All it takes to make fabric is cotton and time, and neither cotton nor time cost much of anything. It's only once the fabric has been made into clothing or embroidered that it gains value as those require skill.

(Knowing this and having found out what a middleman sells this "valueless" fabric for, I suspect that my day to day wardrobe is about to take a large step away from t-shirts and denim towards a lot of different shades of cream and indigo homespun cotton.)

The average outfit of the average woman on the street has moved farther towards boring normal modern than it was in 2012 but there are still a lot of people wearing traditional clothing. It's just traditional clothing with machine embroidery on polyester crushed velvet. Truly, the sheer number of people I see doing farmwork while wearing polyester crushed velvet is something that boggles the mind until you realize that this is the easy-to-clean day-to-day stuff which is worn instead of the fragile natural fibers of handmade clothing.

Little if anything on the road to Zhaihao is familiar to me other than as "yet another pretty river valley in northern Guangxi/southern Guizhou". It's a narrower valley than the one I've been in the past few days so it's quite a bit more scenic when I've got the time to pay attention to the scenery. The trucks that built the expressway which I'm running parallel to (and which just opened to traffic last week) did quite a number on the road surface and although there are indicators that the surveyors have come out and have plans to not only fix the damage but improve the road as well, they haven't yet moved past planning.

I break a spoke at some point and very briefly consider the possibility of going back to Rongjiang to deal with it but I know I didn't like the Rongjiang bike shop in 2012 while I liked the Kaili bike shop very very much. I decide that I'll risk continuing to ride with a broken spoke and unless I break more of them, I'll deal with it when I get to Kaili in a day or three.

Taking a good ten or twenty minutes to watch some women using a Really Big Mallet to pound the ever loving shit out of a batch of fabric because this gives the indigo a crisp sheen, I'm utterly amazed at just how much work goes into making clothing. I mean, sure, I had the logical sense that in Ye Olden Days owning three sets of outerwear was quite an accomplishment because clothing was expensive but even having made stuff (with a sewing machine!) I never really visualized just how much labor went into some of the things that we've mechanized away over the past couple of centuries.

Dinner in Zhaihao at the first restaurant to look right, they walk me over to a friend's hotel where no one so much as bats an eye about registering a foreigner, because the problem I had in Rongjiang—the problem that WikiTravel and TripAdvisor think is a "government regulation"—is a problem not with Guizhou, not with Kaili Prefecture, not with Rongjiang County, but specifically and only with the police station that handles the city of Rongjiang.

Since this hotel is also a restaurant, they helpfully agree to take the rest of my duck eggs and hard boil them for me, though they warn me that once they've been cooked, the clock will start ticking on how fast they'll need to be eaten. So far as I'm concerned though, even if some of the 25 duck eggs I've got left end up having to go in the trash, it'll still be better than having breakable raw eggs in my luggage.

Today's ride: 45 km (28 miles)
Total: 2,108 km (1,309 miles)

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