Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Solitary tour of Canton anything but lonely

During our 11 days in 1981 in mainland China, people stared at our bicycles and welcomed us warmly at hotels, and our hosts, the All China Youth Federation, gave us the red-carpet treatment. However, there were a few incidents in which sudden anger stopped me up short. I saw the real, everyday Chinese stores and eating places the day I wandered alone in downtown Canton.

Here’s how this foreigner happened to be alone.

A young woman in our group was riding too close behind me and when her front wheel hit my rear wheel we both went down. My helmet saved me from a head injury, but my back was muddy, my right ankle hurt and my left leg was muddy and bleeding from abrasions below my bike shorts to my ankle.

Adhesive Band-Aids wouldn’t stick in the rain, so I pedaled on; we were only three miles from the hotel where we would spend the night. I was 67 years old. The trip leader said I must be examined the next morning to keep the insurance valid in case some additional problem might surface later.

Two interpreters walked with me to the hospital and, after the exam, a written report in Chinese, three envelopes of pills and paying the 45-cent bill for the doctor, hospital and medicine, the interpreters approved my request to wander around downtown.

The other cyclists had gone shopping at a "friendship store." It was a unique request, and the interpreters shouldn’t have allowed it!

Carrying a saddlebag with a tag identifying me and giving the address of our hotel, I wandered through sidewalks and streets filled with people, bicycles, chickens, a few pigs and an occasional stock truck packed with workers, standing up, on their way to jobs in factories.

I had both the crisp, clean tourist money and the crumpled, worn out "people’s" money.

In a drug store, a crowd of people gathered to stare at me and to interpret my pantomime and gibberish to the man across the counter. I wrote "acupuncture," and an older woman read the letters out loud but couldn’t make out the word. I sketched a person’s arm with a needle in it, and a young man from the crowd called out "acupuncture needle" in Chinese. I bought 12 for almost nothing.

People selling sugar cane stalks on the sidewalk laughed with me, and a fellow chewed a stalk and spit to show me how to swallow the sweet and let the fiber drop to the ground out of one side of my mouth. Chickens came running for the part that dropped.

I photographed a man squatting on the sidewalk selling dried, smoked fish about 8 inches long and a father and son selling bundles of twigs and scraps of wood for kindling. An elderly man repaired worn-out shoe heels; he was one of the few elderly people I saw in the 11 days. I asked "Picture?" of a woman mending umbrellas. Laughing, she timidly said "no." A dozen bystanders urged me to take it anyway, and I did.

I saw an open meat market with butcher blocks completely covered with flies, but when a woman saw my camera she angrily scolded me and shooed the flies away. I photographed the empty blocks and made a quick getaway.

Most people were excited and happy to see foreigners, but an artisan at work had hung some unwrapped, fresh raw meat with bone on a nail driven into the window frame. She was furious when she saw the camera, so I apologized and departed without the picture.

What a memorable day I spent alone in Canton!

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