|04-21-2013, 02:47 AM||#1|
Joined: Apr 2013
Beijing Birthday Bonanza!
My girlfriend Phoebe and I had just had an argument, the topic of which centred on me not having organised her birthday weekend, the day before we had intended to escape the concrete, smog heavy streets of Beijing.
“I have planned it”, I kept on insisting, “but the bike isn’t running well, and we may not be able to risk it”.
Contrary to her belief, I had actually proposed to whisk her away on my motorbike to Cuandixia, an historical village close to Beijing. I had also hoped to combine this with some mountain riding, something I had been desperately missing in my daily grind of a commute. Not only did I feel that I wasn’t taking advantage of Beijing’s beautiful surrounding countryside, but also that I wasn’t making the most of my new Honda CB400, which I had bought during the winter and had been eager to use to it’s full potential when the weather improved.
Devastatingly, just a few days prior to the trip the bike refused to start, and it was only after some minor tweaks by my mechanic that, despite my better judgement, we were ready to go. Using our smartphone google map application for directions, we skilfully navigated out of the city, forced only to reverse up one or two slip roads that had gotten the better of us. An hour later, we were just reaching the fringes of the sprawling metropolis, and as we encountered greener surroundings, the depressing thought occurred to me that soon the world will have morphed into one megacity, boundary less and uninspiring.
Living in Beijing, with it’s notorious overcrowded and polluted streets, one can almost forget that another world lies beyond the mountain range enclosing the valley. As we began to wind our way up the hairpin bends grinding through the gears with each swoop up, I remembered why I had been so eager to explore China, with it’s abundance of impressive landscapes. As the roads became clogged with cars, we began swinging in and out of the traffic, racing to the front of the line with smug smiles plastered all over our faces. The downhill sections provided the thrills where, switching the engine off, we swept forwards, ducking down to streamline ourselves while leaning smoothly into each corner.
Pushing on, we followed the road into a valley, and rode carefree alongside a meandering river. Every few kilometres were punctuated by riverside eateries, where the temptation of a well-deserved beer became too much to resist. What struck us in particular, was the friendliness of the locals. Like any big city, Beijingers can appear brusque and even rude, but out here in the countryside, we were met with wide smiles and hospitality. In our restaurant of choice, there was a peculiar twist: You were expected to catch the fish you wanted to eat. Every now and again a family let out a huge roar of excitement as the men of the house came back wielding their catches, while other hunger stricken families eyed them jealously.
As the day bore on, the clouds closed in and the humidity rose to a point where the most comfortable place was on the bike. Unfortunately the vistas we could otherwise have expected had been obscured, and the great mountains only hinted at their looming presence behind a layer of mist. With thirst setting in we were pleased to finally reach a reservoir which drew us oasis like to it’s calming presence. As we wolfed down a hearty picnic, we seemed to be a central attraction, as cars stopped to admire the view while eying us curiously, or as in one family’s case, jumping on the motorbike to pose for pictures!
As we made our final approach to the village, it was easy to see why it had received such media attention, being cited by the Chinese Government as a model for traditional Chinese architecture. Mountains towered on all sides, while the houses clung precariously to the side of the valley, each abode trying to outdo another as they rose up, seemingly into the rock itself. The traditional sloping Chinese roofs juxtaposed with the landscape perfectly, aligning themselves with the elements and striking a wonderful balance between Yin and Yang. It was enough to imagine wise old Chinese builders pouring their passion into each brick and mortar, as perfection was strived for and achieved.
Working our way up through the narrow streets, faded red Chinese characters still adorned the walls in public spaces, proud Mao slogans a of past era. Poking our heads around cracked old wooden doors we imagined the interconnected lives of families sharing the courtyards. Only now, they had become small hostels offering the more eager tourist homestays to sample a traditional, albeit tourism orientated view of Chinese village life. This became even more apparent when we came across a by now depressingly modern phenomenon: gift shops, offering everything from Chinese lanterns to Che Guevara mugs.
Having decided to stay in the village that night, we found a homestay offering a cosy courtyard with communal tables, and requisite topless Chinese men drinking beer. Perfect. The room, unfortunately, didn’t quite match up to the exterior. The ceiling was held together by a patchwork of 1980’s Chinese newspaper, there were what looked like bullet holes in the walls, and there was no fan, a somewhat troubling finding on a summer night in the mountains.
Rushing into the room, I found Phoebe hand over mouth pointing at the wall where a large multilegged creature was scrambling away.
“Kill it!” pleaded Phoebe.
I weighed up my chances of defeating the monster insect, and didn’t rate them. Giving Phoebe my sandal, I mumbled an apology and watched on in horror as she angrily made up for my lack of bravado. After combing the room for more would be attackers, it seemed the safest thing to do was to crawl up under the covers.
After a night spent mostly awake for fear that something would crawl into my brain and lay eggs, we rose early to tour the surrounding countryside. It’s always refreshing to see road signs prohibiting trucks from certain areas, but as a motorbike rider you’re drawn to them like a moth to a flame. As we leaned into the tight bends and powered out of the turn, it was refreshing not to worry about oncoming vehicles forcing you off the road and into a ditch, characteristic of much of the riding in China.
Climbing up the high passes, we enjoyed temperature fluctuations which reinvigorated the senses. The smells of pine trees and clusters of flowers sent me into daydreams of previous times and into a hypnotic state where I instinctively felt my way through each gear change and application of the throttle to ensure a smooth ride. Achieving this Zen like state I was unburdened of all of my usual woes, finding an inner peace that I had been sorely missing the hectic throes of daily China life.
Winding our way through the country roads, we found the pace of life slowed as we were watched thoughtfully by locals sitting in the shade by the roadside. Animated groups of men who had come together in the early afternoon to play cards seemed typical of every small settlement we passed while the bowed outlines of workers in the fields straightened up and turned their heads as they heard the approach of the engine.
As the long afternoon closed in, it was another route through a steep canyon and riverbed that drew us home. Whitewashed rock sprang from the water and shot vertically upwards to track our zigzagged progress from high above. Unwinding next to the sound of a small waterfall was all we needed to recharge our tired bodies and make the final push back to the bright lights of the city. With the birthday weekend rescued, it was time to go home, although I was certain that wild china would soon be drawing us into her bosom once again.
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