The first week of October I had a week off because of Chinese National Holiday, which is pretty much the Fourth of July of China but for a whole week! Kolter, my Peace Corps site mate, invited me to go on a 5 day trip to Shanxi Province with our local bike club. Considering that I didn’t have any plans but despised long distance biking, I followed along anyway. Now this is the first time I have ever traveled with a group that was planned by locals. I was really nervous to spend 5 days with 11 people who only spoke Mandarin. Kolter, who is on top of his Mandarin studies and has a year on me in China can hold his own. Unlike my lazy ass who would rather kick back then study.
Now if you don’t already know, the Chinese are very last minute people. They let you know about things last minute and boy did we experience that this whole trip. When Kolter and I arrived in the morning to the bike store, bags in hand, ready to leave. We loaded up the van with our bikes and bags but for some strange reason only 5 of us hopped on and started driving off. After about 30 minutes of driving we realized that only 5 out of the 11 people are going. The only person we knew, the person who organized the trip and bike shop owner, Mr. Wang, decided to drop out as well. It was Kolter, myself, 2 high school students and 1 of the guys who works at the bike shop who were going on trip, so that was that…
The first day we visited Hukou Waterfalls which is a segment of the Yellow River (Huang He) with a drop off of waterfalls. Its name did not disappoint. It was as dirty looking yellow as I imagined it would be. Unfortunately the water level was too high so you could not stand close and be splashed by its greatness not that I wanted to. It was very crowded because of the holiday week but managed to push through and get a great look. The Yellow River is the 3rd largest river and at this particular location, it separates the two provinces — Shanxi and Shaanxi. I know it confuses me too, the tones are different. Thanks China.
After having some scrumptious baotzi in the morning we finally headed off to the roads. We were itching to get on our bikes and ride. This portion of the bike route was fairly flat and not much to look at besides the cars whizzing by. After 15 more so miles, we ended up at this location where locals go to pay their respects to their ancestors. I could not find the name to this place. There were huge shrines, carefully maintained gardens and I felt like walking into a Chinese movie set. Except I was sweaty, smelly and wearing biker shorts.
There were many people trying to find their last names on these wooden slabs in the shrines to pay their respects to their ancestors. Unfortunately Piao (Pak, Park, Baek) my “Chinese (Korean) last name” was not there. After searching we looked in a museum that explains to the locals about their lineage based on their last name. Its crazy to think about the history of China, its enormous! My history buff self came out, full geek mode. After passing through this town, we finally were able to see some views passing riding through these small towns.
This was the hard day of biking, it was 20+ miles today but felt like the peddling would never end. Granted I’m a mountain bike guy, off roads, down hill and no pavement, this route was the total opposite. Fortunately, this day had some gorgeous views along the way in the valley. After awhile we happened to meet up with a group of bikers from Shanxi and we decided to ride together to our next destination, the Wang Great Family Courtyard, where the ancestry of the Wang family started. It felt like I visited hallowed grounds. Funny thing is that the most important people I have met since my arrival in China has been a lot of Wangs. Ping Pong Coach Wang, Wang Guiqiu (My Peace Corps Manager), Joann Wang (my host sister) and Giant Bike Owner, Mr. Wang. I thought this was most appropriate for me to visit. Surrounding the courtyards are huge walls that visitors were allowed to walk on with amazing views of the mountains and nearby towns.
After the courtyard we were on the hunt for a cheap hotel. In previous nights, the bike worker drops off the students in front of hotels so they could check the prices. It usually only took about an hour to find a decently priced hotel but this time… it took a recording breaking 5 hours. This hotel was in a dark alley way and would definitely be considered a budget friendly hotel. The rooms were very minimal, a wooden slab for a bed and a TV that looks like it was made in the 80’s.
Because of the rain and the long search for the hotel we decided to cancel the last day and head home. Man just looking back it was quite the Chinese experience, just going with the flow. Kolter and I literally had no idea what we would do each day which made it exciting and stressful at times. We’ll see if there ever is China Edition: Traveling with Locals Part II.