Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Cycling to Huangshan in Anhui, China

From my diary, Sunday 11th September 2005

Laoban tells me he gets 25 yuan per jin (1) of hickory nuts. That's what he charged me for bed and dinner. His son studies in Beijing, he says. The villagers line up to wave to me in the morning, mums and dads encouraging their toddlers to say "bye-bye".

Climbed all morning up to the Lu Ling Guan pass, between Zhejiang and Anhui provinces. An old gate-house fort stands guard at the top - as you move toward the provincial border all civilisation fades away and the land gives way to wild forest. The banner over the highway says "Chinese history and culture city. The Shexian county is welcome you."

Bananas and moon-cakes for breakfast, the bananas pretty standard but the moon-cakes unusual, stuffed with orange jelly. Perhaps it was they that got me thinking about Sir Edmund Hillary. A less modest scaler of the Earth's highest peak might have called himself Mountainary.

And then for some reason I couldn't get Bronislaw Malinowski out of my mind - yes, he who missed his stop at Warsaw Central and got off instead at the Toblerone Islands (or was it Chateaubriand?). And then along came good old Sir Edward Evans-Pritchard, another anthropologist, who decided to settle the long-running dispute between the structuralists (who wanted to build a better mousetrap), and the functionalists (who thought there was no point unless it caught better mice). He declared that in future everyone could call themselves structural functionalists (but not functional structuralists) - until a bunch of denim-clad Frenchmen led by Claude "Levis" Strauss showed up and started making a fuss, for reasons no-one could properly understand, about Tristram Shandy (or was it Tropicana?).

But this is by the by.

Up at the pass it was cool and the air in the high villages smelt buttery, but the road dropped quickly into Anhui and soon it was warm again. I left the nut-growers behind me; now I am back in rice country, with aubergines and peppers growing in the gardens. Further on there was maize, too, and cotton. The rice harvest was underway, stalks of rice laid out on the road to be threshed by the traffic, of which there is virtually none. Sheaves of beans drying at the roadside.

Tried to camp out tonight, but eastern China follows the "3 Unders" policy: everything is either under concrete, under cultivation, or under water. (This is a little-known precursor of Jiang Zemin's "3 Represents" policy, which in essence states that everybody falls into one of three categories, and the Party represents all of them, so be quiet and get on with your jobs, while we get on with governing you."

In Shexian town there's a huge PSB (2) building with a banner that says "Mankind are harmonious with Nature. She Xian County are mixed with Beautifulness", and there's more on this theme a little further down the road: "Warmly welcome the 34th Miss Intercontinental to She Xian. Well-known town. Civilisation. Charm. Signed by: She Xian Committee of the Communist Party of China, and The People's Government of She Xian County." A picture of a beaming Miss Intercontinental, Miss Peru, and Miss Columbia, accompanies.

Out of town, past the the toll station, this: "She Xian County, the capital of Ancient Hui Zhou, greet the Beauties all over the world with a smile".

Oddly, no-one in She Xian smiled at me. What can this mean?

Anyway, I wind up here in Tunxi, the relatively unlovely town which serves as the railway depot for travellers to Huangshan Mountain. Grander hotels in town are trying to re-brand the place Huangshan City - they think it sounds better. It does. I book into a tiny hotel room in the middle of the bus station, brothel and sex shop zone. Definitely Tunxi.

(1) 1 jin = 0.5 kg
(2) PSB = Public Security Bureau (gong an ju) = Police


  1. Amazing! I've been considering cycling across China - I'll be reading more of your blog and would love to hear your tips, etc...

    Best of luck,

  2. I know those un smiling towns...or when you can predict how you will be treated depending if they shout "laowei" or "weiguoren" when you ride by.

  3. I wouldn't want my attitude to the people of She Xian to be misinterpreted. They were lovely. I only said they didn't smile at me because of their banner which said they would "greet the Beauties all over the world with a smile". It was a round-about way of saying that perhaps I didn't qualify for a smile, on the grounds of insufficient pulchritude.