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No Dragons, No Boats, No Festival
singapore sunset
What shall i be doing this Dragon Boat Festival? I shall be watching NXT Takeover Chicago. And then i might play some computer games or watch a few more episodes of Rap of China. I will also drink pineapple beer and cook spicy spicy noodles. Basically, the usual things i try do to exorcise these Sunday night blues.

But the upside of a three day weekend is getting one day in the week where i am not either recovering from work or dreading going back to work. So, yesterday, i hit the road.

My plan was to check out another patch of green i spied on the map that i didn't know what it was. When you live in city like Shenzhen, these patches of green could be anything - the last one i went to turned out to be a rubbish dump on one side of the gully and a luxury condo development on the other.

I headed off around 1pm, looping north into Longgang District.

On hot summer days the city has its own special stink. City folk often complain about how farmland stinks of cow shit, but the dirty secret is that there are days the sewers back up and the funk of human muck leaves cities smelling just as acrid. I like it, it reminds me that i'm surrounded by millions of other people. Cities shouldn't be sanitized, they shouldn't be all air-conditioned and well-lit and inoffensively fragranced.

As i pedaled north pondering the stank, the greenway abruptly ended. I decided to duck down a side alley to see if i could cut through an urban village. A bunch of kids were chattering and playing in the street as rats darted back and forth. New Shenzhen is a giant shopping mall, so it's actually rare to smell food coming from open storefronts on the side of the road, but here you still could. Sweat and shit and delicious cooking.

I popped out next to the freeway and crossed over past the railway station and an amusingly named greasy spoon - 乡巴佬湘菜馆 (xiāng bā lǎo xiāng cài guǎn), which means something like Redneck Hunan Diner.

In Taiwan there is a very visible movement of country yokel pride - chewing a betel nut, wearing flip-flops, speaking in dialect, tattooed up and slouching on a battered old scooter... But here in mainland (and certainly in Shenzhen) there is a disdain for 乡巴佬, the new migrant hicks who haven't sufficiently "civilized" themselves. It was cool to see the slur reclaimed. I do like Hunan cuisine, so i will have to head back there sometime.

Next little area was a part of town that looked familiar. I realized i have briefly visited it before when i was on a different bike trip heading in the other direction. I think the area is called Buji, and in the old days when Shenzhen was just a little village on the Hong Kong border it was the next town on the route to Guangzhou (Canton). I snapped a photo because it's one of the few parts of town that looks a bit like what people think China looks like if they only watch cyberpunk movies and visit Hong Kong Island.

In reality the only towns i have found so far that really embrace that aesthetic did so due to geography - Chongqing and Guiyang are both built on very steep hills and use vertical space in ways can feel both science-fictional and claustrophobic. But one constant everywhere in China is those plastic stools you can see out front of the 蒸菜 (zhēng cài) joint. To me the number of plastic stools visible on the street is directly proportionate to the friendliness of the locals and the deliciousness of the food. But, then, i'm an uncultured barbarian and not much better than a 乡巴佬. My bourgie colleagues tend to look down their nose at plastic stool joints.

It took a bit longer till i finally hit the green patch. I decided to follow a little side road up one of the hills, BMXing in the mud as construction lorries barreled by kicking up dust and spilling water. I had to rest several times, and near the top ducked into a little convenience store to buy some sweet tea to cool down. I asked the owner if there was a route through to the other side, then headed on...

Unfortunately this hill was not a park or even a place for small-hold agriculture, it was a run-down industrial zone. Welcome to the PRD - all the money is in manufacturing. The workers and security guards were all very laid-back, but they still told me there was no way through. Probably i shouldn't even have bothered asking, because when i got back to the convenience store the owner said there was definitely a route through and i should have just gone.

Instead i zoomed back down and looped around to another community nestled up against the hills which i shall call Chai Town. So named because of the 拆 (chāi) painted on every storefront. This is a symbol that means unravel or destroy. I guess the entire neighborhood has been marked for "urban renewal". Problem is, the demolition hasn't started yet and people are still living there. Strange vibe. It was stupidly hot so i bought another sweet tea and let a local take a selfie with me. Foreigners are rare out there.

Heading on i decided to trust my map and follow a road that was clearly a major thoroughfare that you would not expect to be able to cycle down ordinarily. But Shenzhen is no ordinary town. It was a road to nowhere.

As you get further out of town you find lots of these optimistic engineering projects - gleaming skyscrapers and empty freeways. Sooner or later they will be as busy as the rest of the city, but right now they are a weird silent city where the only people around are construction workers and bored security guards.

Going up that road turned out to be one of the best cycling decisions i ever did. It was a hard pedal to the top (this was the center of the green patch i had found on my map), but when i crested it - holy hell. Letting your bicycle glide down an elevated freeway with no cars is awesome. The view was great, the road was smooth and fast and suddenly i understood why motorcyclists love their hobby so much. Screaming down picturesque roads with the wind in your hair is awesome. Even more awesome was not hearing any engine noise.

I felt like i was flying free for hours... but in reality it must have just been a kilometer or two before i was dumped back into reality.

I decided to visit the Pinghu eco park on the way home, since last time i was there i saw families playing in the water... Well, that's not a thing any more. In the past few months they have fenced off the entire lake with razor wire, just like every other reservoir in town. I get that the government is trying to protect the nature, but it's sad that to protect nature they need to wall it off. Also it's sad that i could not paddle in the lake. So i flopped onto a plastic stool at the shaved ice place i remember from last time to cool off, then jumped on the bus home.

All in all about a 30km ride and a 4 hour adventure. Great way to spend an afternoon.

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Great bike trip. Thanks for taking us along (mentally). I like your version of Shenzhen better than the famous China Vlogers.

I don't know any famous China vloggers, but I can imagine they might spend more time in nice, modern shopping malls gushing over how shiny and clean and efficient things are here. That's true too, but a lot of the country is still developing and I think that's at least as interesting as the parts that look like the Vegas Strip or Times Square or One Infinite Loop.

Back when I was on other side of the Great Firewall I quite enjoyed a Taiwan vlogger called DREAM清醒夢LUCID. He's on YouTube and his videos are sort of artsy fartsy walk'n'talks through unusual spots in Taiwan. You might like his stuff too.

Edited at 2018-06-23 08:48 am (UTC)

They go all over the place, but it's mostly white guys complaining about stuff and bragging about how not racist they are because they have Chines wives.

That Lucid dream guy is a trip. I liked checking out his videos. They're not so cliche. He does his own weird thing.

that's some adventure! and i don't even know what they serve in those red plastic stool restaurants, but just the thought of a random lunch from a little chinese greasy spoon makes me kinda hungry.

those brand-new, completely empty highways and apartment towers that are just waiting for people to fill them are spooky and fascinating to me. "optimistic" is a good word for them.

All the plastic stool restaurants are different! They usually specialize on just a few dishes. I like the ones that specialize in dry noodles because I really love 热干面, 凉面 and 凉皮, all of which are theoretically vegan. Those places usually also serve fried chicken or hotdogs as a meaty side dish to the noodles. There are also places that specialize in BBQ, dumplings, wonton soup, fried noodles (hor fun), regular noodle soup (ramen), hot and sour soup, spicy-numbing (mala) soup and so on. Definitely a good way to eat, especially if you're alone.

I adore going around all of these newly built ghost towns. It's like being in a computer game or something, everything is so clean and perfect yet empty of people. Really interesting vibe.

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