Even waking up bright and early, sober and sharp, it still took me till after one to make it out the door. I will never be able to be one of those early hikers or travelers. Mornings should be reserved for coffee and TV and wikiholes.
Over the Golden Week, Mobike decided to shift a whole battery of bikes to directly out front of my apartment block. For some reason, my apartment has always been a bit of a dead zone - there are hundreds of bikes stacked in places around the city that appear to serve no purpose, then none at all in front of a complex with a cluster of 25 storey highrises. This is one of the reasons that the data mining of my travel history doesn't bother me. If they see me bike home from work and leave a bike in front of my apartment every single day, eventually they will move more bikes in front of my apartment.
Well, it's nice to think i'm that important.
It was certainly a pleasure to walk out the door and take my pick. When i go to work i don't care if i get a busted up clunker, but when i'm going on an adventure, i want one with good brakes and a seat that stays up.
After the last adventure where i went to the beach and then found out when i got there that i was outside the service zone, i decided to play it safe and head deep into Longgang District - the north-east corner of Shenzhen. Up until 2010 Longgang was outside the Special Economic Zone, so there was a soft border and checkpoints. Now those checkpoints have moved out to Dongguan.
How could i know this, dear reader?
As usual, i just took a look at the map and tried to find a blue or green patch i haven't been to yet, then headed in that direction. The green patch i chose was about 20km north, which didn't seem problematic to me because the last stop of the Longgang subway line is still a little north of there, just way out further east.
Today's lesson? Shenzhen is smiley-shaped, not oblong.
I headed off down my favorite starting road, the one that snakes along the west side of the Shenzhen reservoir. Yes, it would be better if all the reservoirs in this city weren't surrounded by 10-foot fences. Yes, it would be better if i didn't have to share the road with a bunch of cars. But every now and then there's a gap in the traffic and it's just you and the trees, zooming down a hill and then stomping back up... It's less than 10 minutes ride from my place and i keep forgetting how good of a getaway it is.
This afternoon the two-lane road was cut down to one lane at various points, as cleanup crews clipped trees and maneuvered logs into trucks. I guess it's still fallout from Mangkhut. Although downtown most of the cleanup is done, along the reservoir and in Longgang there were still huge piles of debris on the sidewalks.
Well, more than the usual amount anyway.
I decided not to loop through the village at the north end of the reservoir and take that BMX route under the eastbound freeway, over the barrier and up the unused off-ramp. One day they will open that off-ramp and i will be terribly upset.
Instead i headed up the freeway that heads out to Huizhou - the city north-east of Shenzhen. Although theoretically there is a wide sidewalk, due to various scheduled construction plus the aforementioned piles of typhoon debris, a good amount of the ride had to be on the road.
I like biking on the freeway because it's flat and wide and it feels a little bit naughty. Although greenway cycling is obviously much safer and arguably more aesthetically pleasing, there's something great about reclaiming the streets for human-powered vehicles.
China will be a much less interesting place when it develops to the point where freeways are great big ribbons of speed and misanthropy.
There were two guys waiting at the bus stop at one point where i had just done a sweaty hill climb. I ducked into a kiosk to get a sweet tea. The smell of burning wood was in the air, and it occurred to me that perhaps the haze and pollution of the past week is the city disposing of fallen trees.
I'm not sure if the guys were trying to flirt with me or what, but they both decided to jump on share bikes and head north along the highway like me. When i stopped, trying to figure out how i was going to get past the latest pile of branches, they stopped too. Then they bravely pedaled out into the freeway and looked back at me. So i followed.
If it had been another time of day or a more intimidating-looking couple of dudes it might have annoyed me. But they didn't leer or catcall. Once we were past the worst of it, they slowed down, watched me cycle off and called out 加油 (jiā yóu) - add oil! - the universal Chinese phrase for "keep it up", "crack on" etc. That was it. They melted away.
Eventually i peeled off the highway and down a small road with a nice view and some cleaner air. In spite of the narrowness of the road, it didn't stop a few truckers trying to sneak through.
There was a nice stretch along another (sadly, also fenced-off) reservoir before heading back into my favorite part of the PRD - that weird juxtaposition of run-down factories and shabby small-holds.
I don't know if it's poverty porn. When i see these guys fishing in the slurry, or still harvesting ong choy amongst piles of trash, i just think "these are some hard-nosed motherfuckers". It's one of my favorite aspects of the Chinese peasantry and working class - their lives are rather shit, but there is some kind of bloody-mindedness to it, like i won't fucking quit. It inspires me.
Of course i didn't talk to these guys so maybe they're just a couple of old folks quite happy with their lot, living in one of the last relatively "wild" places in Shenzhen.
Except, it turns out i wasn't in fucking Shenzhen any more, was i? God forbid Mobike gives you some kind of notification or indication you left the service zone. After cycling past some factory villages, where housing and shops and everything are provided inside the factory gates, i pulled up at the park and slid the lock shut.
It should have been a hint that i was riding along a road called South Park.
But it still didn't click, even when Mobike spanked me with a fine. I just got pissed that yet again they had decided to draw a contrived border where there shouldn't be one, paid the fine and grumbled my way up the mountain.
There was a pagoda at the top, which is less exciting than it sounds because i haven't found a single pagoda in China where you can go inside, so what's the point? I sat down at the base and did my flash cards.
On my way back, i noticed those "City of ..." signs that parks put up to tell you how great they are for maintaining the park. That's when it finally hit me. I looked on my map but still didn't believe it, so i asked some random guy where the fuck i was. Then proceeded to babble something about how Mobike docked me again for biking too far, ra ra ra. I'm not sure if i made any sense at all. Some girls asked to take a photo with me, though, so yeah. I guess i'll pop up on another Weibo thread about the ignorant foreigner.
Turns out Dongguan has a little spike of an area called Fenggang that protrudes between Shenzhen's Longhua and Longgang districts.
My bike was still there when i left the park - not really surprising, considering any Dongguan local taking it for a ride would immediately be fined when they locked it, so i decided to bike it back to Shenzhen in the hope that i could regain some cred with the Mobike helpdesk. (I should add the context that i have been emailing the Mobike helpdesk lately because one reactionary urban village right next to my work has decided to list itself as a no-share-bike zone, and due to imprecise location services i have been fined twice for leaving my bike in that village when i very fucking much didn't.)
I would have liked to stay in Dongguan longer. The people there felt more laid back. Probably not because their jobs were less stressful - Dongguan is factory central. It was also a hotbed for prostitution and gambling until the government shut all that shit down a couple years ago, but it still has a reputation for having lots of loose girls. That's probably not true, although it might seem that way because the gender split leans hard toward women. In China women do most of the factory work. (Men work construction and logistics.) There definitely seemed to be more bars and KTVs than in Shenzhen. And lots and lots of plastic stools. Perhaps that's why i liked it. It felt unpretentious.
But i had a duty to return my trusty steed to its rightful home, so i headed south under the setting sun. I pulled over next to a couple of electric bike taxis who tried to sell me a trip to wherever i was going. When i said i was going back to Luohu District, in Shenzhen, they laughed their asses off. Who would cycle this far? They said it'd take me over an hour to get home! They could get me home for 20 kuai, but i said if i accepted their offer i wouldn't get the same enjoyment out of the ride.
On the Shenzhen border, i noticed there were still checkpoints. Not for small vehicles, but for trucks. That made me wonder if the truck i had run across earlier in the day had been trying to sneak round the back way.
I pedaled on, past factories where women in blue shirts streamed out, looking spent but happy to see the end of their shift. The street vendors were out in force, prepared for the waves of tired and hungry customers.
I hopped off when i caught sight of a woman making 煎饼 (jiān bǐng). That is, pancakes filled with random stuff and wrapped up like a burrito. Although there is a place right downstairs that makes them, like all the other trash fast food joints in my part of town, its food is bland and disappointing.
I asked how much, she said 10 for a full griddle or 5 for half. There was already a dude waiting and we agreed to split half each. When she asked for chili i said hell the fuck yes chili. Unlike the fast food places, when a street vendor puts chili, they actually put chili. I went along with the filling the other dude wanted, got my bing and cycled off to find a good spot to eat it.
It. Was. Fucking. Amazing. Usually the filling consists of a cracked egg, chili paste, crispy fried dough (something like corn chips), lettuce, pickle and meat - maybe a hotdog, or at my favorite place when i lived in Nanshan there was a guy who put soft tofu in it. But this woman did like the ultimate north-meets-south version (煎饼 is a northern snack): she added fucking char siu. Which is that fluorescent pink BBQ meat that normally comes inside pork buns. It's a speciality of Hongkongers and Guangdong guys, and it's one of the very few meats that i miss since going mostly vegan. So good.
In general the food smells were good up in Dongguan and Longgang. Like, i smelled "the Taiwan smell" (five-spice stewed meat), and "the Hong Kong smell" (char siu, which btw Hong Kong does not smell like any more in 2018), and other smells i don't know what they were. Sure, also the open sewage smell and the weird factory fumes smell and whatever else, but who cares? It saddens me how those smells have disappeared from Hong Kong, and how they don't really exist at all in Shenzhen or Shanghai or any of the big cities in China. It's like the city gets big, the smell police come along and turn it into a shopping mall.
When i got back to my home base, i decided to stop at a hipster restaurant i have been avoiding out of principle because i hate spending 20 kuai for a beer. It's called Chicken and Beer. They sell fried chicken and beer. It's actually not that hipster all. It's pretty awesome. I ordered beer.
And then i don't know if it was a security guard or the 城管 (not-cops who enforce city ordinance), but along came some bureaucrat to admonish the workers for leaving an electric bike out the front on a quiet Sunday night after the holidays. I wonder if it's these humorless motherfuckers and their never-ending harassment of street vendors and small shops that has caused the bigger Chinese cities to lose their smell.
But, you know what? It was a good day. I got a text message from Mobike saying thanks for bringing the bike back. They refunded the fine and told me to watch out next time.
Now i am home and trying not to think about the fact i will be back at work in 8 hours.
I wish i had this guy's job.