“You must look all the time; look front, look back, look everywhere. All the time. Look.” That was the advice I was given by my Chinese host, Ji Hong-Wei, as I set off on a typical hotel rental bike.
This folding bicycle is a small wheeled "Guangben", with soft rear suspension and misaligned handlebars. The brakes were good though, and with the saddle raised fully I was able to get my knees down to my chest from my around ears.
TengChong is a tourist town in eastern China, in the Yunnan province. It was one of the last border towns on the old silk route and is very close to the Myanmar (Burma) border. There is a massive trade in jade, and many of the shops stock extremely expensive examples; honestly I'm still trying to work this out, many of the small pieces were more than my annual salary, I just don't understand how anyone can afford this. This is also a volcanic region, with 'young' volcanoes and hot springs. TengChong is over 1600m above sea-level.
I suspect it was a dubious idea to go cycling with Friday afternoon traffic in TengChong shortly after completing the Teesside to Amsterdam to Beijing to Kunming to TengChong flights, and not having slept for 30 hours.
The traffic wasn’t too bad once I got the hang of it, everything moves fairly slowly in towns, and I was able to pootle along in the flow, being overtaken or just caught up in the melee. There were some rules I was able to discern. Rule one; keep to the right, let traffic past. Rule two; no one wants to knock into anyone.
Kids and older folk were cycling or riding trikes designed to haul loads, there were lots of scooterists and motorbikers who were mainly running on tick-over. Women were riding mopeds with their baby on their knees amidst trucks, taxis, buses, cars; and all moving fairly sedately. I had the impression that everyone wanted to conserve fuel. There were people everywhere, and then I realised why my host had warned me to “look”, he was making sure I didn’t crash into anyone else, he wasn’t worried for my safety; he was worried that I would crash into someone. How wonderfully excellent the world is.
Now that I knew I was fairly safe, I relaxed and made a few turns to get myself lost; then I saw a hill and figured that riding this fairly challenging bicycle uphill would be fun. The road rose steeply and I tried my best to keep going, but the gradient defeated me at one point and I only had the choice of pushing if I wanted to go further.
Once over the steepest bit I turned to look back through the buildings and found I ridden a fair climb already. This boosted my confidence and I continued further, towards the sharply steep and wooded hill which loomed over me.
As the road reached the hill there was a grand sign over the entrance which announced something in Chinese writing. As the road had become a paved surface, I assumed I was heading into a sort of public park area. Following the road on its curved route with the drop of the city to my right, I passed a rose garden and a long sloped path back down to the city. I used the universal tourist language of holding my camera and pointing to my chest to ask two ladies if they would take a picture of me. They laughed at me and my bicycle choice, and then posed for a photograph themselves.
Further up the road I came across a Buddhist temple. There were incense sticks burning in the doorway and 5m high statues of warriors surrounding the massive golden Bhudda figure, with a prayer mat in front.
Around the sides were bamboo woods, and lost among the overgrowth were gravestones.
I stopped here and prayed for a while, giving thanks to God for the peace and beauty of the place, for the friendliness of the people and for the place of sanctuary that the temple appeared to be. I assume that people come here to pray to Bhudda.
A colleague of mine, Ni Qin, later told me that the Chinese are predominantly unbelievers, but the society is also highly superstitious. Many people come and pray to Bhudda for luck, or for money, or for a good marriage; and that the likelihood of having your prayers answered is related to the integrity with which you pray.
After a while I returned to the town of TengChong, enjoyed the descent, and weaved my way back towards the Guanfang Hotel. Nearby was a football stadium and around the outside were stalls.
I had to look twice when a man came past inside a Mickey Mouse go-kart. Then another chap; this one inside Spongebob. The oddity of seeing grown men riding in kiddie karts was brilliant, but I resisted the urge to smirk. I realised they were drumming up some of the passing family business.
Nearby were three identical bridges crossing the Dieshui river, the path over the top was rounded and it was a challenge to get the bicycle over the one I was on. It was then I discovered the gear lever and looking down found I was in the largest of three gears.
I followed the river I came to a shopping district selling furniture. I have never seen dining tables as immense as these, cut from a single piece of wood and polished to a high sheen. Shop after shop filled with carved furniture spilling out onto the street.
Further on still were wooden carvings and I was astounded by the size of the carved animals either side of the shop entrance.
Business trips are intense events. The following morning I was first up to start presenting to our Chinese Customer User Group; but in this 2 hour slot I was able to fit in a great adventure around TengChong.
Strava record of the route and the elevation.