china, cycling,

Forced to Take a Covid Test in China

Daddy Jan 06, 2021 · 7-min read
Forced to Take a Covid Test in China

This week I decided to revisit a spot I didn’t get to on a previous trip; someone had mentioned that Pingtian was a beautiful town in the mountains. Come to realize, this part of the province just east of Shaoguan is pretty rich with interesting sites that could all be strung together in a single, week-long tour.

Shaoguan to Shixing was the first night of the trip and the last night of the new year. I watched the clock turn under a street lamp along the small highway, and slept on flattened stalks of grass not far off the main road.

My online map showed there was an old Hakka fortification in the city, but I was already deep in the city before I realized I’d passed it. Knocking out an extra 40 minutes just to go back was frustrating until a couple of wrong turns revealed there were several of these little castles. Their proto-concrete outside is harder than the typical mud brick houses build by the other little pig and have tiny flanged windows just big enough for someone to shoot out of. Inside are 5 to 6 stories of cramped rooms, not much bigger than a walk-in closet – probably 40 rooms in this building roughly the size of a two-story estate in the Midwest. This isn’t the one I rode in front of in the video, that one was locked; it was another left to crumble among newer buildings.

From there I headed along the highway to Pingtian up into the mountains with an ambitious goal of getting there in a day. I made it, barely, and instead of trying to hunt for a sleeping spot where it gets more developed, I spotted an orchard along the road. It was too steep beneath the trees but on the top of the hill there was a spot sheltered from the wind. The day started with a slow-burning sky waiting for the sun to rise over the mountains, and from there I entered the worst day of the trip.

All of the pictures online of Pingtian are of gingko trees about to drop bright yellow leaves, but coming two months too late the party was over. It sounds crazy to expect fall foliage in January, but for some reason the trees here change colors very late, if at all. The ones across from my house didn’t change until February.

I cycled down roads hoping to find a part of the village that was worth seeing or perhaps miraculously discover a tree that had held on to its leaves in anticipation of my arrival, and while turning back from a road to nowhere, I realized the red car I just passed had also turned around. I waited by the road to check my map, and they waited in the street. Being treated as a spectacle that people can just ignore social conventions for is all too common. I turned down a side road to brush them off or see if they were really following me, but the road didn’t go anywhere either. The car was waiting for me at the intersection as I headed back.

I made a break for a pedestrian path, came to the back side of a housing unit, and wheeled my bike between two houses onto a small road. As I started into the clear, the car came barreling down after me. I turned off the road again and hurried to a restaurant trying to hide my bike on the side of the building.

I was being paranoid, but went in the back entrance anyway and waited at a table letting my mind have its peace. I could see through the front doors a white car pulling up in front of the restaurant and said something to owner. A man and a woman were pointing inside, and when I came out they put their masks on and told me to show my health pass and my transit pass. These staples in post-pandemic China show that you haven’t traveled to risky places or failed a covid test. Then a man in a police uniform from a black SUV told me to show him the same, except he was very apologetic and overly-friendly. “Sorry to bother you, do you have a vaccination?” “No” “Oh ok, you should really get one, they’re very easy to get. Do you have a nucleic acid test?” “Yes, from November” “Oh, I see. You must be hungry, you should order some food.” As I waited, an ambulance pulled up and I just glared at him. “Please be understanding. These are special times, the pandemic is very severe.” It was a line they all say. I approached the ambulance driver who started rushing to get his mask on. After the test, I asked if I can go. Another, older man came who I hoped would put all of this hysteria to rest told me I could go once the results came back in about one hour. I knew this wasn’t true, this wasn’t like developing film at Walgreens. It could take the rest of the day waiting in this uninspiring town. By 2:30 the results came back negative, and they waved me on with unreturned politeness as I reassessed my trip.

(The dead bat on the side of the road asks, “Could you not discriminate?”)

Checking for directions at the bottom of the mountain, a man came out of a van and asked where I was from; I just kept riding. It was too risky. Soon it was dark, and the road became so broken that there was only a flat spot for several rotations of the wheel before hitting the next series of gouges. It was like this for at least an hour. A dump truck driver, one of the many who had turned the rural road into alligator skin, leaned out of his cab and asked me where I was from. I ignored him too, but he shouted to turn left when the road forks; he was just being nice. I made it to Longnan and the burning in my stomach I assumed was from stress turned to a spinning head and weakness, and I felt sicker than I had in a long time. There was nothing in me to continue the two hours of night riding to Wudang Mountain. Luckily, the hotel I went to didn’t turn me away, probably because I was shivering and stammering my words.

 

Strength found me in the morning for a ride to a massive fortified city that took 29 years of ramming sand, pebbles, lye, gluttonous rice, and brown sugar among other things into three story high walls. Along the way I spotted a similar structure on a much smaller scale. Its only door was latched but unlocked; I had the whole place to myself. This leg was a detour, and the mountains I was really hoping to see were still hours away. There was a chance the sun would set before I got there, and after huffing it through endless hills made it just in time for the sunset.

Somewhere along the way, I came across a house that looked as if the occupants had died and no one bothered to take out the furniture. Everything had been waiting through the modern era, and no signs of the life we know had crept in anywhere. Everything was handcrafted from the same wood it seemed. There were steps to an upper platform in one of the rooms with wooden chests and clay jars that are the kind you find lost Van Goghs or Dead Sea scrolls in (there weren’t any). The detached kitchen had a wood burning stove and a pump was hidden in the weeds overtaking the courtyard. This is the China I came to China to see and you can only find it randomly in biking around the country side with a healthy appetite for the unexpected.

 

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Daddy
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Technophobe gracing tech companies in the Global 500, Fortune 500, a Kickstarter unicorn, and several little dinky places. Bike touring is my sanity factory.