Days 139-141; Dec. 4th-6th; Qingyang, Anhui – Fuyang, Anhui – Kaifeng, Henan – Zoucheng, Shandong; 30,719km-31,730km
Dealing With Smog
As many expats that live in China are no doubt familiar with, checking pollution levels can become an almost obsessive habit. You wake up in the morning and look out the window to see what visibility is, usually having some landmark a block or two away. If you can see the building, you’re in the clear, but if you can’t, maybe you consider a “sick” day and stay indoors. Next step, check your smartphone AQI (Air Quality Index) app to see what the index is at and what the PM2.5 levels are. Below 100 and you’re feeling pretty good (at 100 in western cities they issue health advisory warnings), above and it’s pretty much normal, at 400+ (what the WHO lists as “Hazardous”) and you’re worried.
After several months in areas where the pollution at least wasn’t noticeably bad, and even a good amount of time in places where it would be counted as clean by any standard, we were back in familiar territory now, the densely populated east coast. Here, especially in the winter when all the heating goes on, pollution can get pretty bad and we happened to be entering during a time when the whole area was enveloped in smog.
Waking up in the morning and looking out the window, visibility was way down and the AQI in relatively nearby Nanjing was the highest in the country, at around 443. Winter can be enough of a downer with shorter days and colder temperatures,. The pollution definitely doesn’t help.
Well not much you can do so we just packed up, put on our pollution face masks we had brought (doubled as face warmers) and headed out.
Through the smog that morning in Qingyang we spotted what looked like some old European style churches. So before hitting the road, we drove past to see what they were. Interestingly, they seemed to be completely abandoned and tucked away down some alleys. It looked like someone had even turned it into a home and was growing a few crops in the small courtyard.
Boring Roads And Bad Drivers
The road back north wasn’t enjoyable at all. The only things of note that happened were a closed down bridge with a detour on a rickety plank wood bridge and then a proper bridge on our final Yangtze crossing. After that it was just pure boring, flat pavement through the small towns of Anhui and past lots of trucks.
The drivers in this province also seem to be particularly bad. Nothing necessarily out of the ordinary, just more people than usual making the wrong decision on the road: a bicyclist looking the wrong way down the road and crossing, a car changing lanes without signaling or just hovering over the divider line, passing when there’s oncoming traffic. You know, the usual.
It was more of the same as the next day we moved into Henan province (only two left from here!). To celebrate province number 31, we stopped at a local restaurant for lunch and tried some of the recommended specialties the main attraction of which was 红烧肉 Hong Shao Rou, which directly translates to “red cooked pork meat” but is sort of like braised pork, some fatty bits of meat and some one bone. You can get this dish pretty much anywhere in China but this was by far the best that Amy and I had ever had. The meat was rich and flavorful, and the sauce it was cooked in tasted almost like western style BBQ sauce. Back on to the dreary roads through to central Henan to our destination for the night, Kaifeng, a town that claimed to be the “King Fu capital of the Song Dynasty”. Whether or not this was true, we unfortunately didn’t have time to find out though there was a nice old Chinese style park nearby our hotel, lit up in the typical Chinese fashion complete with fake lilies and flowers fashioned out of lights.
Getting Back To Familiar Territory
Next stop now was province number 32, Shandong, and a familiar stop too. For anyone who has followed some of my past trips, you may recall a particularly difficult day I had on my way back from Shanghai to Beijing. In a matter of hours, crossing from Anhui to Shandong, I had been in an accident with a farmer and then had my battery (the second in as many days) die for good in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. I was saved however by a local motorcycle club, that called themselves “The No. 1 Motorcycle Club of Zoucheng”. Though they were also the only motorcycle club in the city of Zoucheng they were also incredibly hospitable, fixing my bike, taking me out to dinner, and riding out with me in a big group the next day. You can read about the whole adventure on Rubber on Road here.
Well, we were back in Zoucheng now and this time much better prepared. The bike was in perfect working order and I had given the guys at the club full warning that we’d be coming through. So we found a hotel and then rode the bike over to the clubhouse.
It was a great reunion with a lot of old and some new friends coming by. We went to a local restaurant for dinner and I ended up drinking an amount of locally produced baijiu (a potent kind of Chinese liquor) that was maybe a little more than prudent.
There has been a wonderful symmetry to the trip thus far from the way the final push has turned out. In the last couple weeks we are mirroring two of our previous long distance trips to Shanghai and Qingdao: visited family in Shanghai, a friend in Nanjing, and some new friends in Zoucheng. With our final few days we were going back to the coast to visit the coastal city of Qingdao (where the most popular Chinese beer Tsingdao is made) on to Yantai, then through to our final provincial level region Tianjin where we had also ridden to in the past to visit a friend that was still living there before finally ending in Beijing!
Stay tuned as we cross 33,000km and into province #33 for the end of The Great Ride of China. Spoiler: it starts to get really cold.