D10:店头→香坊 - Me China Red - CycleBlaze

March 28, 2021


This sleeping Buddha looks very Christlike
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People often ask why someone with the financial resources that I have wants to stay at grubby countryside hotels when I could just as easily be staying at resorts.

First of all, I'm not anywhere near as well off as I appear to be. Although my work is ludicrously well paid on an hourly basis, it's also infrequent. Very infrequent. As well as being random and unscheduled. I've managed to organize things so that I don't have to drop everything and immediately start working the way I often did a few years ago, but—whether I'm at home or on the road—I often don't know on Monday morning if I'm working Monday afternoon.

Second, if I spent a not unreasonable 10× as much on hotels, my holidays would have to be 6 or 7 days at a time instead of 60 or 70 days at a time.

Some very colorful bikers I met at the Shuangfeng petrol station
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Third, after basic needs are fulfilled according to Maslow's Hierarchy, the greatest hardship comes not from a lack of luxury goods but from wanting luxury goods that you don't have. Simply put, it's a lot rougher to go back to my tent, or even an ordinary rural guesthouse after I've stayed somewhere properly nice.

Fourth, even when priced internationally, Chinese luxury properties often aren't. By which I mean, they're mostly just expensive. There's a place in Haikou that has a USD 2.5 million dollar artistic blown glass creation in their main lobby. Last time I was there, I surreptitiously ran a finger along it and left such a deep track in the dust it was obvious that it hadn't been cleaned in weeks

Fifth, if I'm going to be spending actual money on something, I start getting critical of the thing's flaws. I'm willing to put up with much worse service over a 10y meal than I am from a 100y meal.

Sixth, cheap and out of the way places are—paradoxically—more invested in providing quality service than mid-range places are. A town with only three restaurants is going to have three places which—within the limits of the local economy—are going to be spectacular as all three places are engaged in active competition.

Not bad for CNY 70 (+10 for use of the washing machine)
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The hotel I stayed at last night can best be described as "interesting". I'm reasonably sure that the bedroom part and the bathroom part of my hotel "suite" were actually in two separate buildings that had been built at different times and then had a hole knocked between them. Although it was covered over in linoleum tile, it even felt like the floor of the hall between the two was that sort of semi-temp metal scaffolding that gets used to make those kinds of connections.

As is the norm in places that cater to customers who remember what it's like to go to sleep with every muscle in their body screaming from having worked a hard day, the bed was wonderfully soft. Not quite one of those "physical manifestations of what clouds look like" beds like you get when you're paying 1,000y a night, but not actually all that far off either. It's the middle class places that are aimed at office workers and petit bourgeoise that go in for the rock hard beds. Farmers with money, truckers, the lower classes in general, they can sleep on a hard bed, but if they have the choice, they're as bad as Westerners are for wanting a comfortable night's sleep.

I couldn't initially find one of my gloves or one of my socks. The missing glove turned out to be in a jersey pocket; the sock stuck in the washing machine. It's just a sock. A lefty/righty athletic sock from Decathlon (thus making it relatively expensive as socks go) but a sock nonetheless. Once it was confirmed to be where it was, they took the time to figure out how to extract it, and to get it out for me before I finished packing. 

Because while it may be true that I'm probably never going to be in Diantou again, that I'm probably just passing through, that I'm not the kind of customer who is in a position to be making recommendations that will affect them in any way, they have still internalized service quality for the sake of encouraging repeat business. And that's not something I can say about the last place—the last five places—I went that cost 5× as much.

After Diantou the road is no longer a divided highway. This is a positive in terms of being closer to what little scenery there is, but a negative in that I'm also closer to the trucks. Having watched them navigate a tricky bit where the flagmen for some roadworks weren't at all coordinated when it comes to making sure all the eastbound traffic is through before allowing the westbound traffic to start moving, I have to say that I'm really quite impressed by the drivers' abilities. I still don't want to be that close to them.

I fail to find the Changqiang Village Grottoes though a brief stop to post a video of my finding out (in the form of signposts and a topo map) that China is creating a network of national hiking trails leads to the discovery of a nearby location pin in TikTok called "Grottoes". None of the videos posted at "Grottoes" are of grottoes and the attempt to ask some locals has a man that confidently gives me directions to somewhere else entirely and a woman who seems terrified to speak to me from a distance of 10 feet or less.

The sandstone around here makes the statues very melty
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Many of the heads are obvious replacements
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The Wanfosi (Thousand Buddha Temple) Grottoes at Wan'an Zen Temple are a National Historic and Cultural Relic Protection Site as well as being a AAA ranked tourist site with a ticket office and a parking lot. I find them without any trouble. The site is thoroughly covered in scattered bits and pieces of statuary of the past three or four hundred years, much of which is surprisingly shoddy quality for "old things that lasted this long" and I'm a bit disappointed that all but the one big cave is the modern statuary you'd expect from a living temple (as, shrines and incense and offerings notwithstanding, this is not a living temple).

The helpful guy who let me park my bike next to his office window tells me some road info, gives me directions to the Xiangfang Grottoes, and is pretty sure he knows where the Changqiang Grottoes are. However, he says I didn't miss out on anything by not getting in to the Yanfeng Grottoes yesterday and he's never heard of the Mailuo Village Grottoes.

I thank him, head out past the coal mine at the edges of the town of Shuangfeng that hopefully won't be where I have to spend the night as, for all that the people I've met so far in Shuangfeng were perfectly lovely, tomorrow is already looking to be long and I don't want today to be any shorter than absolutely necessary.

After a nameless millennium old pair of niches that technically count as grottoes on account of the just visible Buddha forms still peeking out of the eroded sandstone, I manage to find the sign for the Xiangfang Grottoes, and the marker posts delineating the edge of the Protected Area, but I can't find the Grottoes themselves.

This potentially turns out to be because they're about an hour's hike uphill from there. Or, at the very least, there's a cliff temple which is pointed out to me that's an hour's hike uphill that is presumably the Protected Historic Site despite it not actually being anywhere near the sign or the marker posts. Separate from the cliff temple on the south side of the road, I take note of a less cliffy (but no more obviously accessible) hole in the rocks on the north side of the road which I end up not trying to find a path over to as the owner of tonight's guesthouse—after an initial fright that I might be a disease vector—wants me to record her making dinner.

I don't actually do anything with this video though as there is nothing special about her cooking technique, her food, or her attitude. Whereas the noodle shop in Shuangfeng treated me like any other "not from around here" customer in terms of logging that I'd been at their restaurant (and then gave me a free meal on account of my being me), she charged too much for everything that cost money, let me know that all sorts of usually free things were being included at "no extra cost", was disorganized, forgetful, and sufficiently afraid of my disease carrying self that she had to ask the local committeeman as he was walking by if it was okay for an American to stay.

And, as is so often the case when I run into an official with an ounce of sense, he rolled his eyes, gestured at my bicycle, and asked just how far she thought I'd managed to travel and where I possibly could have come from recently that wasn't not only inside China but also somewhere nearby.

Today's ride: 34 km (21 miles)
Total: 404 km (251 miles)

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