Recently we we were invited out to dinner by a “well-placed civil servant.” We never found out what he actually does, but he speaks English. Eventually the conversation came around to riding bikes because, well, what could be better? I had to talk about my recent discoveries along the Shahe and Yinghe rivers, and that I’d just gone the day before to Xiaolaozhen via the Shahe. He just stared at me and said he’d grown up 10 km from Xiaolaozhen, and when he was about 20 he rode his new bike from Zhenzhou to his home, probably 80 or 90 miles. He hurt for a week afterward and didn’t try anything like that again. He’s lived abroad and traveled quite a bit, but has never been to Xiaolaozhen.
I’ve heard things like this before. The English speaking professionals I talk to have traveled and have been to interesting places, but not their own backyard. The idea that there might be something interesting to see or do close to home is new. Of course there are places like Huaiyang and Luyi that people have always traveled to because they are historic and famous places of interest.
Also, people appreciate regional culinary specialties and beautiful scenery, but finding interesting local places is not so common, in Nebraska or China. Here, these places haven’t always been easily reached, and the development of domestic tourism is a relatively new thing. Bicycle tourism is so new it isn’t even a “thing” yet, but our freshman oral English text has a conversation drill about weekend plans that lists: “Ride your bikes along the river(!)” or “Go to KFC for hamburgers and french fries”, along with other choices. One of Steve’s students thought riding bikes sounded dangerous, so better to eat at KFC!
So what’s so great about riding upstream along the Shahe? I’ve seen people fishing with cormorants, though I haven’t been able to get close enough for good photos. I’ve crossed the river on makeshift pontoon bridges and want to take one of the tiny cable-guided ferries. Also, there are huge public works projects; dams and bank stabilization, as well as lots of beautiful countryside and rustic villages.
There is history all around me. In the Zhoukou museum I learned that this area has been populated for around 8,000 years. In that time legends have grown up along the Shahe river. Two stops along the often pot-holed, mostly dirt road on the levee have information plaques in Chinese and Chinglish. I’m considering making it a class project to properly translate them, though the hallucinogenic nature of the grammar makes them fun reading. They are difficult to understand due to the bad translation app that was likely used.
Now students and others are saying they want to go ride the levee with me, so who knows? Maybe bicycle tourism will take off before too long after all.