A couple days ago, I began describing some of the differences between riding in southern China and the Midwest of America. I want to continue the theme today.
Critters - One of the many odd things about my riding experience in China was that I rarely saw any wildlife. True, much of my cycling was done in a polluted, chaotic and sprawling metropolis that was barely fit for the 10 million humans who lived there. But I also rode a lot in undeveloped mountainous areas – like Nankunshan and Maofengshan – surrounded with lush subtropical forests, places you would think would be crawling with all sorts of critters. However, the only wild creature I remember seeing was a lime green lizard with really bad timing. He ran in front of my front wheel on a steep mountain descent, and I’m afraid I crushed his spine. I did see plenty of rats in the city and a turtle or two in the Pearl River by my home, but I can’t recall seeing any squirrels, rabbits or deer in rural areas. It was as if the countryside were stripped of all wildlife during China’s many famines. The Chinese have a knack for driving nature to the mat and getting it into a deadly choke hold. (OK, my Czech, German and Irish ancestors arrived in America after the white man wiped out the buffalo.)
The province where I lived, Guangdong, is home to the Cantonese – famous for being adventurous eaters: dogs, cats, frogs, scorpions, turtles. You name it, they’ll pick it up with their chopsticks. One of the cruelest, most disturbing things I’ve seen in my life was on display in Guangzhou’s famous Qingping market. It was some sort of small deer stuffed in a cage. The cage was so cramped that to get the animal to fit into it, the butcher had to hack off the deer’s legs at the knees. The creature stared out at me, eyes filled with pain and fear, with four bloody stumps sticking out of the cage. I witnessed this when I was a language student in China in the late 80s, but I can still close my eyes and see that animal.
In stark contrast, America’s rural and suburban Midwest region seems to be full of wildlife. I’ve been seeing a lot of wild geese. On one ride, they blocked the road, and I had to unclip and stand there with a guy in a big pickup truck, waiting for them to waddle slowly away as if they owned the road. If they tried a stunt like that in China, the whole flock would be captured with nets and on sale in the nearest market within minutes. I’ve already mentioned the raccoons in a recent post. Deer are everywhere. Yesterday, I was riding home in the middle of the afternoon when I saw a big fat pear-shaped brown mammal lounging around on my neighbor’s front yard. I quickly ruled out the dog or cat possibility. It looked like a beaver without the flat tail (I saw a beaver on another outing!). I’m certain it was a wood chuck. My neighbor behind me said she had a family of them living under her deck. Before I passed the creature, it woke up and scampered away.
I like to ride hard, hammer down the road like everyone else does. But I also love cycling because it’s a great way to get out and see things. I’m always ready to stop my workout to gawk at wildlife. I like the feeling of being in the presence of something that lives in another world with different rules and cares. It’s always a thrill. It’s also comforting. The presence of wildlife tells you that you’re living in a place that’s healthy enough to support all kinds of life. You’re not living on a factory floor or a toxic waste dump.
UPDATE: After reading the post, Brendan found a great picture of the rat at Bapian Mountain and shared it with me:
wafflesandsteel | Filed under: China cycling, climbing, Guangzhou cycling, Maofeng Mountain, Nankunshan | No Comments »