July 21st – 350km; Huludao, Liaoning to Zhuanghe, Liaoning
Today we had some of the worst of driving in China as well as some of the best.
First the bad and the ugly
The morning was just terrible. For maybe a full 4 hours we were in and out of road construction. In china though this doesn’t just mean detours though because that wouldn’t be so bad. Rather here, they tear up the whole road and just sort of leave you to go through and around piles of dust and stone and potholes as big as my tires. At the same time as I’m trying to navigate my way around these gaping pits, there are also giant semi-autos doing the same thing. Sometimes the vehicles coming from the other direction have to swerve into my lane to get around the potholes on their side which makes the whole thing even more treacherous. Finally, since none of this is paved, the whole time you’re just engulfed in an endless cloud of dust that’s being kicked up by the cars and trucks.
As it seems must always happen after things are bad though, things did start to turn around for us. We stopped for lunch at a little complex of tea shops on the side of the road that had a grocery store attached at the end. We didn’t want to waste time trying to find a restaurant so we decided to settle for instant noodles.
Our Own Personal Tea Ceremony
Just as we were letting the noodles brew in the hot water, a couple of guys walked over and asked if we wanted to drink some tea with them after we finished eating. Amy was a little skeptical, particularly since we still had a ways to go after the construction had slowed us down so much. In the end though we decided that we weren’t going to let this trip be all about a schedule but rather about the experiences along the way. So after lunch we walked through the back of the store and over to their tea shop. There, one of the guys who looked like he had seen a couple of fights back in the day with scars and burns in various places around his arms, started preparing some tea. He had a couple other friends that stopped by, including one with a little girl who was also curious about the two foreigners visiting their shop.
The man with the scars started to prepare the glasses in proper ceremonial fashion, rinsing them out with lightly steeped tea and then handing them out to each of us to be served. We sat around the table, which had a full tea serving station setup, and chatted as the tea was served out, each time a little bit stronger as the leaves got more and more saturated. We learned that this group of friends and family were all originally from Fujian in the south, which is where the tea was from too, and had moved up north to Liaoning to develop the tea market up there.
After about 40 minutes we finally had to say our goodbyes as we didn’t want to be driving in the dark. Suddenly, one of our hosts quickly walked to the back of the shop where there was a large white storage cooler. He stuck his head in and rummaged around before coming out with a bag filled with a couple dozen neatly packaged bags of tea! He shoved the bag in our hands and wouldn’t take 不好意思 for an answer.
After our amazing tea house experience, our luck seemed to really turn around. Our route cut right across the top of the Dalian peninsula. As it turned out there is a beautiful mountain range in the area and the scenery was breathtaking. As the road wound up through a pass in the mountains, it also widened up and flattened out as we left the construction far behind. Even the rain that started up towards the end of the day couldn’t ruin the mood as we weaved our way around the lakes and fields that sat in the valley in between the mountains. After riding like that, I really can’t wait for areas of the south like Yunnan and Guangdong where we’ll have scenery like that every day.