By Larry and Joan Dolinski
Continued from update #51
Upon return from the Li River Cruise we rejoined the main body of the Odyssey group and returned to our bicycles.
[The Real China]At this point we pedaled off into the countryside, through the impoverished, shabby and squalid villages, along rice paddies and encountered the most friendly people imaginable...especially the children. It has been like a continuous parade. Everywhere people were along the roads waving and shouting "hello." Nearly every trucker, bus driver, and motorcyclist honks and waves. Most of the bicyclists also wave and greet us. There are very few passenger cars anywhere. When one does see a shiny new black passenger car, chances are its passengers are "party" officials keeping an eye on things.
The children are especially precious. They gather in groups along the road, come to the windows of their schools, or gather on the back of open trucks to greet us. They are all waving and smiling and many are giving out flowers. They delight in being photographed with us. We are such celebrities to them; most have never seen a westerner before.
No matter how inconspicuous we try to be, we attract much attention. When we stop at a market stand in a village, it takes only seconds for the first curious bystander to hover. Within half a minute there are 10, and before two minutes has passed there are at least 30. They are all friendly and in no way threatening. We smile at them and give them a "Ni Hao" (hello) and they respond in kind with warmth.
On one recent day Larry had a flat tire just as we were coming to the outskirts of a small village. We decided to walk our bikes a few hundred yards out of town so that we could change the tube without attracting attention. A man on a motorcycle came up to us, dismounted and tried to be helpful by indicating that we could go back to town with him to get it repaired. We declined his offer in a friendly manner, indicating that we had all the necessary resources to take care of the problem ourselves. He turned around, went back into town and soon returned with another person. Soon others came and we were surrounded by 20-25 smiling, friendly people who were immensely curious as to how we were taking care of our problem. They were absolutely agog watching us pop the tire off the rim using an axle leveraged plastic bar which we simply insert between the tire and the rim and rotate (using the axle as the pivot point). They were also astonished to see that our tire pump has a built-in pressure gage. The original, helpful Samaritan won the acclaim of the group of onlookers when he located the hole in the tube. Just about the time we had the wheel all set to remount, a couple of Odyssey riders came by, stopped and took a photo of Larry holding the wheel with the enthusiastic group arms to shoulders, smiling and cheering. We hi-fived all the people in the group individually, said goodby and headed on down the road.
The roads in some places are adequate, in other places they are under construction and are muddy, rutted, and have the consistency of quicksand. When we encounter a long stretch of such conditions we usually get bused through the difficult portion. At one point on such a transit the bus got stuck in the mud. A 2 1/2 ton truck tried to pull us out and failed, so we waited until a five-ton truck came along and, happily, the heavier truck was able to do the job.
There are very few traffic lights (we saw only two in three days) and apparently not many formal rules of the road. The roads are teeming with bicycles and motorcycles (many carrying three adults), tricycles with truck platforms, buses, trucks of every type and vintage (many look like enhanced lawn mowers with steering bars instead of steering wheels). These vehicles use the entire road. The beeping of horns appears to be the major rule of the road.
Continued on Update #53
Please send corrections, additions, comments and praise to
© 1997-2002 CRW, Inc. All rights reserved. Revised: