Zao Shang Hao (Good Morning)
The early morning was shrouded in the lingering mists of the morning rain. I prepped my machine and headed out. It was a Saturday with no classes due to provincial examinations in preparation for the national exam in June. It was a free day, forecasting a sunny day, and I planned to make the most of it.
The main reason I moved to Jianou, a small city in the low mountains of north central Fujian province in southeastern China was for the riding. It has not disappointed. I can head off in either of the cardinal directions and find excellent riding. In each direction, there are a myriad of small arteries branching off the main route. Each leads to new adventures and discoveries. On this day, I head south toward the tea fields of Xiao Qiao. (Read Here). I have been to the area before but today I hope to find a new path to explore.
Shortly after I cross Shui Nan Qiao (South Water Bridge) the sun breaks through the curtain of silvery mist. The suns rays spread like great arms stretching across the sky and the grey recedes before it. The vanquished pall exposes a speckless sky. The temperature soars and all around me coats are shed and everyone walks just a little taller and just a little lighter as if a great and long borne weight has been shed. People have been waiting for a day like this to offer a respite from the heavy rains of spring.
Into the brilliant sun, I speed. My legs pump rhythmically. The bike works perfectly. There is not a sound but the hiss of tires upon the asphalt. My heart races with the effort, and sweat covers my body. A smile breaks on my face. This is bliss. This is why I came to China. Call it vindication or validation or what you will, but it is days like these when the universe feels perfectly aligned, that all the decisions made in a life, whether good or bad, seem fated, because they lead to this day.
A long climb lies before me. I power up the challenging slope out of saddle until my legs tire and I am forced to sit. As soon as my legs feel rested it is out of the saddle again. I ride for enjoyment yes, but I also ride for the physical challenge. It is the test of will and endurance as much as the freewheeling bliss that makes riding so addictive for me. My 2-month summer vacation will be here soon. I am planning a significant ride. I must be ready. This day is just one of many between now and then.
After cresting the hill the beautiful tea fields of Xiao Qiao come into view. Then begins a long descent with speeds exceeding 60 kilometers per hour. The wind cools my sweat slicked body and the exhilaration of the freedom of flying covers me in goose flesh. I scream into the world ahead, “Woo!” as the joy in my heart cannot be contained. Man, I love this so much.
As the slope lessens and the speed begins to drop I switch into high gear and power down the road. A couple of bends and straightaways later and I am in a small village that doesn’t show up on my maps. I take a right onto the village streets. Soon, I have passed through the town and find myself on country roads amidst terraced tea fields and tall groves of bamboo.
Xia Wu Hao (Good Afternoon)
Often when I ride into places like this I am struck by the realization that it is quite possible that I am the first foreigner that has ever stepped foot here. Certainly, the many looks of astonishment and uncertainty I get speak to the fact that for many of the people I encounter I am the first white person they have seen in person. Just think of that for a moment. I see this as a great privilege to be that person who initiates “first contact.”
I also take seriously my burden of being a good ambassador to the people that I meet. It is important to me that their first encounter with a foreigner is a positive one. It can pave the way for future engagements. I have met people who have had great encounters with other foreigners and I have met people whose encounters have been less than ideal. The difference between their respective reactions to me is both startling and telling. I don’t ever wish to provide the negative experience.
A short time later with a few twists and turns thrown in for good measure, I am deep into a land I have never seen before. Perhaps no one of my kind has. It is so quiet here. So serene and peaceful, and wonderfully beautiful. I pass several villagers, farmers mostly, and greet them all with a cheery “ni hao” (hello) or xia wu hao (good afternoon) and a genuine friendly smile. It is with a sense of awe that I see this world. The great fortune that is bestowed upon me to be able to experience this is not lost upon me. Every returned hello is like a great gift. Every smile received is like unimaginable riches.
The road, which is nothing more than a concrete path not wide enough for a full-sized car, soon twists its way amongst towering bamboo and eventually springs into a wide valley draped on every side by steep tea terraces.
I sit for a few moments and enjoy a snack and some water and soak in the scene before me. Such rich experiences. Such great fortune. At moments like these I feel rich beyond my wildest dreams.
I take a few pictures and head back. Heading home. I have been baking in the hot afternoon sun long enough. There are three tubes of sun cream and one newly purchased spray-can of sunscreen at home and somehow, I can’t seem to manage to remember to take one with me. I will try to remember next time.
Wan Shang Hao (Good Evening)
Quickly I pass by all the people and places that I passed just a short time ago and soon find myself back on the main road. Lots of hellos and waves along the way. The ride home is leisurely save one long sweat busting climb, but soon I am back in the city. Up next is a nice shower, a home cooked meal, and a nice glass of wine with my book on the balcony.
How is it possible that this has become a normal day in my life? How is that something that just a few short years ago I would have considered to be so extraordinary and unimaginable, so unreachable, has become an integral part of my life? I guess I did something right somewhere along the long and winding road that has been my life. I think all it took really, was the audacity to believe in dreams, and the courage to live them. It is indeed a dream.
Until next time.