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The universality of pictures!
From Dongxing I made my way east through the relatively small suburban sprawl of the city. The place was dead – locals were still enjoying the benefits of a national holiday. Officialy, the Chinese New Year had begun a few days ago, but it would be the start of the next week before the populace would recommence working duties. The country was essentially on pause mode, a bizarre experience in vast metropolis spaces. The soundtrack to my departure therefore was provided not by teeming streets animated by business and recreation; rather occasional firecrackers would explode erratically in some unseen part of the city sounding for all the world like machine gun fire. All in all, it was a rather unsettling morning experience, and so I was relieved to make it into the safety and seclusion of the countryside.
The lack of a surface seal was actually quite fun in parts...
The rest of my first full day of cycling in China was dominated by the ‘disappearing road’ trick that was played on me with frustrating repetition. Around half of my 110km ended up being ridden on loose gravel, country tracks or sandy residue left over from some unfinished construction. Arriving into Qinzhou was a relief. Navigation hadn’t been completely smooth, I’d got considerably lost as least twice but through luck, judgment and providence I inevitably ended up on the correct path again. Once more I was thankful of the compass that sits atop my handlebar – countless times it has saved me by pointed me in the right direction if not necessarily the exact road.
Another helpful Chinese fellow
Pronunciation was also an issue – Qinzhou seemed to be ‘Chin-jew-ah’ and I found it easier to just point at the Chinese script on my map than attempt to say it correctly when asking directions. Still, plenty of time to improve. My attempts at finding a place to stay were aided by Chenyiyan, an extremely helpful girl who found me miming my way through a conversation with a guesthouse owner. Her English was excellent, and she was able to find me a nice place close by that was within my budget. The added bonus was that I needn’t embarrass myself to any further people with my ever unpopular ‘need a room for one night’ act.
Where city meets sea
The next day provided similar road surface issues, but was concluded with an evening at the seaside. Beihai is one of the four most livable cities In China, according to the internet, and it was certainly very pleasant for the few hours I was able to spend there. There is a strange tranquility that comes from watching the sea lap around one’s feet, the tide drawing circles around toes and crafting sand into patterns around the imprint. I watched fisherman bringing their boats in for the evening, and families gathering hurriedly together after the working day to spend the remaining hours of sunlight on the beach. Time seems to slow down the closer we get to the ocean; for me it is one of the great places of neutrality in the world. I forgot about maps, roads, language barriers and even bikes. My mind waded into the deep and washed itself clean of worries and discontent.
We should all go to the beach more often!
Sunset in the city
My road now was the G325 and it led me through small settlements and large areas of agriculture until I reached Zhanjiang, the last big city of Guangxi province. I found myself back in the middle of a huge urban centre after some days in the relative wilds. It surprised me slightly that I had no interest in partaking in any of the benefits that this offered. I ignored all the roomy restaurants with their Western menus and instead went on the hunt for my usual ramshackle roadside ‘diner’ – usually a couple of tables, a few stools and an elderly woman scrubbing vigorously at some ever-grimy pots and pans. True to form, this was what I found a few blocks from my guesthouse, and again as usual this type of establishment provided me with the most fulfilling platter of rice and vegetables that a hungry vegetarian cyclist could wish for.
My old friend the road-marker
Guangdong announced itself with a marked improvement in roads. The province is home to some of China’s major industrial cities such as Guangzhou and Shenzhen, and as such the transport networks seems to enjoy much great budgetary attention than that of Guangxi. I was still following the frustratingly indirect G325 as it shot north for a few kilometers, dive-bombed south and then returned to the same east-west plain as it been on before all the shenanigans. One downside of the road surface improvement was that it discouraged me from investigating alternative country tracks. At this stage as I approached Yangjiang, another city with a multi-million people populace, my mind seemed to have deserted my body and ridden ahead to Hong Kong. I wasn't concentrating on what was around me and I spent hours thinking about the ‘finish line’ It was clear as I pedaled apathetically into Yangjiang that inevitably I had become overwhelmed by the notion of an imminent ending to what had now been my life for such a long time. It appeared that the road from here would be mostly passing through industrial areas anyway, so it seemed to make sense to delay no further.
A rare spot of beauty near the cities
The next day I rode over 100 miles, which I hadn’t done in quite some time. A headwind battered me all morning, slowing progress to a devilishly frustrating snail's pace. After midday however it dropped it's guard slightly and I took offensive action, pumping the pedals in a way I’d almost forgotten how to. That night in Xinhui I ate and slept with a deep content – one of the beauties of traveling by bicycle is the many aspects there are to enjoy, if not necessarily at the same time It is very rewarding to remember the feeling of what it is to excel athletically, and push your body into a zone which can only be reached by having done the same thing for months and months on end.
Macau's celebrated Portuguese history is very apparent
I called time on my ride in China ‘proper’ with an uneventful, if also unenjoyable, cycle through the cities and suburbs of Jiangmen, Zhongshan and Zhuhai. This was it; the border crossing out of the mainland. Attached to the south of the city of Zhuhai is the Special Administrative Region (SAR) of Macau – a former Portuguese colony and now gambling Mecca for the Chinese. From there I could catch the ferry headed for Hong Kong just 45 minutes to the east, and I’d be finished. Whatever that means. I stamped out of China, into Macau and rode to the cheapest accommodation in town – a warehouse with cubicle ‘rooms’ separated out by sheets of iron. Home sweet home for a night or two while I prepare for the inevitable scoot across the water. Suddenly my nomadic lifestyle had taken on a very finite and limited time scale. A return to everything I’d rallied against was coming upon me. I needed time to mull this over.
I needed a drink!