It was a pleasant 14 degrees and sunny when I headed out for a ride this afternoon. It was precisely for this kind of winter weather that I was drawn to live here in southern China. In recent years I have grown to despise the snowy and often times unfortunately messy winter of my home province of Newfoundland. It isn’t just the messy part. It is the strong changes in weather that give me such strange feelings and sensations and the long slow descent into darkness and my own inevitable descent into a similar darkness that I dread most. I thought that moving to a place with no time change, less difference in daylight from summer to winter, and an average daytime temperature of 14 Celsius in the coldest months would help ward off the demon. Alas, sadly, I was wrong. As the fall set in, a featureless gray sky seemed to settle interminably over the world casting a funereal pall across the land. The life force within dwindled from a roaring fire to a thin light pressed upon by infinite dark, so feeble that it seemed the smallest breath of air would snuff it. Yet it endured and does still and will once again roar.
The turnaround began just a few days before Christmas when we had a series of nice warm sunny days. The recovery hit overdrive on January 1st when I was able to get out and enjoy the beautiful and warm holiday with a 75km ride…in shorts! Since then, the lessening burden of work, plus the longer days, and an increase in sunlight have seen those winter blues slip away, hanging on only by the faintest of clutches, like a tendril of smoke to a towering spire. Throw onto that the approaching 3+ week winter vacation and I am feeling about as exuberant as I have in some time. And as always, riding helps.
Yesterday, I enjoyed a ride into a small group of mountains on the far edge of town. It is a nice little spot perched atop a steep 3 kilometer climb. In places, it is probably as steep as any road I have ever ridden. At the top of the hill are two small villages separated only by a second steep stretch of road. The towns themselves are nothing special or remarkable except that they sit overlooking a cultivated valley in the heart of south eastern China. China. I am living in China!
When you become immersed in the day-to-day trappings of life, it is often easy to lose track of the wonder that surrounds you. That happened to me. I forgot for a time how fortunate I am to be able to experience such an adventure and how different and unique to my readers, family, and friends these day-to-day trappings are from the life they know, from the life I knew, and remember. I forgot the wonder that can happen in a simple visit to a fruit mart where the uncle of the family that owns and operates it reacts with such pleasure every time I enter and how he keeps shaking my hand and patting me on the shoulder and telling me I am a handsome man. Or the look of joy on a student’s face when I say hello to them in passing and use their name. Or the look of wonder on the faces of young and old alike when this 6-foot-tall 220 pound red and smiling faced foreigner comes peddling through their small and isolated town that Chinese people don’t visit unless it is family during a national celebration. Things to make a life feel special no doubt. I will try not to forget again.
On a completely different note, yesterday’s ride did force me to reconsider an observation I had been set to carve into a stone tablet. It is regarding the apparent passivity of Chinese dogs. You see, it hasn’t mattered where I have ridden in this country, I can’t recall a roaming dog having barked at me, and there are plenty of them around to do so. That all changed when I rode down a little side road in one of those small mountains villages. I had arrived at a place that was in out of the wind and the bright January sun was showing it’s might. It was a glorious feeling. Unfortunately, I was not the only one enjoying the warmth.
I began to turn and my tire ran over some loose gavel sending a couple of small stones flying across the road. Immediately, 7 dog heads rose from their slumber, salivating as if someone had wrung a bell. I felt like a fresh prepared fricassee thrown recklessly upon a table before a crowd of savages, hungry, drooling, and vile. Of course, unlike a fricassee I have wheels. So, as the band of feral beasts launched into chase I rose from the saddle, and chuckling just a little started back the way I had come. Very quickly a couple of the older fatter mutts decided the chase wasn’t worth the effort and took a “that’ll learn ya” attitude back to the warm spot upon the road from which they had arisen. A few strong pushes later and a few more of the dirty looking mongrels gave up the chase leaving just two wide eyed youths chasing me down the road. They quickly closed the gap between us to a few short strides until I flicked the lever up a couple gears and started to power away. They stopped suddenly and eyed me carefully as I rode away as if to say, “And don’t come back.” I looked back smilingly at my heretofore pursuers. And for a moment as they stood there partly obscured from the sun by the waving fronds of an overhanging palm, their countenance appeared regal. Proud chests pushed forward, muscled shoulders standing strong, and well lined jaws and well proportioned snouts pointing forward proudly. Then they turned sniffed each others ass and went back to join the other mongrels upon the lea’s warmed earth. Oh well. I guess regality is fleeting.
Until next time.