I used to think that if I dug in the dirt deep enough, I’d come out in China!
Miss Anne Fleming, a missionary from the Disciples of Christ churches, told
fascinating stories about jade and ivory and about how little girls’ feet were
bound to make them beautiful. When she was home on furlough, I loved hearing
her tell about fancy paper-cutting, gold, chopsticks and bamboo hats.
Those memories account for the fact that I went on an 11-day bike ride inside
Communist China, the first ride that was open to the public. I called to tell
the trip leader that I would be the oldest, most wrinkled, white haired, most
deaf -- and asked if she’d take the chance. “No problem,” she said, after I
told her of some other rides I’d made. “There’s a fellow from New Orleans
who’s 15 years older than you are!”
At age 67, I was the oldest woman, and the only person from Missouri to make
the trip. The cycling was mostly in the Pearl River Delta. American Youth
Hostels Inc. and a similar group in China planned the itinerary, food,
lodging, health insurance, etc. We were asked to wear shirts and blouses -- no
halter tops -- and not to take expensive gifts. I took Missouri corn cob pipes
and plastic sponges. We were asked to share Poloroid prints when it seemed
appropriate. We were warned to drink only boiled water and to fill our bottles
before leaving the hotel.
We were also advised not to have any open food in our rooms that might attract
rats. We made the mistake of leaving a patio door open one night -- I’ll tell
you that story some other Tuesday!
We took our own bikes, flew to Hong Kong and went by river steamer into
mainland China in the middle of the night. The 16-day trip cost approximately
$3,000, including all necessary expenses.
All 16 bicyclists stayed in tourist hotels, ate tourist food and visited
factories, temples, a large commune and other points of interest that bus
tourists see. The big difference is that bicyclists see a backdoor China that
many tourists don’t know exist. We were elbow to elbow with people who had
never seen light skin or heard a foreign language. They were especially
interested in our 10-speed bicycles, pumps and water bottles.
We biked from 20 to 50 miles a day and were accompanied by two interpreters
from Hong Kong. They were fun people who answered our questions, cared for us
when we were ill or injured. They rode in the bus that hauled our extra
baggage. Our trip leaders biked with the rest of us. We were teachers,
plumbers, millionaires, farmers, attorneys and others. We became a closely
knit family for the 11 days in an unfamiliar, austere communist society.
The first evening we reassembled our bikes, aired the tires and set out in
single file on a shake-down cruise in downtown Canton. We stopped when a gal
had gear trouble. A crowd gathered, chattering and staring.
I spoke to a little girl nearby and rolled my handkerchief into a “playlike”
mouse. Placing it on one hand, I stroked it and talked to it and Mouse
suddenly jumped into the crowd. Everybody laughed and yelled. A fellow handed
Mouse back to me and said, in Chinese of course, “Do it again!” Those gentle
people who have so much sadness in their lives laughed heartily every time
Mouse jumped. As we pedaled off, thumbs went up, people waved and called out
what must have been, “Go, Granny, Go!”
What a nice way to start a wonderful “backdoor” visit with those beautiful,