In 2011 I headed to China with my friend Bryon Friedman to source a supplier of bamboo for Bryon’s company Soul Poles. Soul Poles makes ski poles out of bamboo and Bryon needed not only high quality and consistency from the supplier, he needed soul. This is the story of us spending a week in China searching for bamboo with soul…
“That’s freaking China right there, right down there!” Moderately intoxicated we are standing on the balcony of a four-bedroom apartment in the Pudong district of Shanghai. We hadn’t seen each other for a few years and the last encounter was in a desolate area in Death Valley National Park in California. Dale was enthusiastic about our visit. He and his family have been living in Shanghai working as international teachers for the past five years and their journey in China was coming to an end with Scotland as a next stop.
“It’s crazy man, here we are, on this balcony, China right down there. You look in here, maybe not so much China, then you turn around and it’s right there. And here we are! In the middle of this, united by random chance!”
Two weeks earlier I had no idea I was going to China. Two weeks earlier I had actually been on Nevis preparing myself mentally to finish up an art show at my friend Bryon Friedman’s company show room in Park City, Utah. But when I had returned to Santa Barbara news broke that Bryon had to travel to China to scout out bamboo distributors in order to get his quality control in order. His company, Soul Poles, make ski poles out of bamboo. I said: “Well, you need a guy to document your quest for the perfect bamboo?” Three days later I was standing in line at the Chinese embassy in Los Angeles to get my visa and another few days later I was waiting to get a seat assigned on a Delta flight from Los Angeles to Narita with connection to Shanghai. Bryon had to change his flights last minute and fly through San Francisco so I didn’t meet him until Shanghai.
The girl at immigration in Shanghai looks at my passport and starts smiling, all good. Bag is one of the first ones out and I walk out of customs, no questions asked and no hassle and no waiting just cruising on through walking by lots of unfamiliar faces waiting for loved ones or business people or friends or whoever they are waiting for in the waiting area. On foreign ground I am, again. What to do? “Terminal 1. You go Terminal one, downstairs, shuttle to hotel.” I am passing a KFC on my hike through Pudong airport and there are sculptures of all kinds of figures, recognize an Indian, Native American, I should clarify. His face is frozen in time but tension is unmistakable. It’s cold. Elevator takes me down to bottom level and chicks at info counter want to reel me into staying at different hotel but give up when I tell them that its already paid for and I am told to walk down this direction which I do, just to ask another person thirty feet down and they also tell me to keep walking. Hotel counter appears in front of my eyes and I wait with three or four other people. Woman with seven-year-old daughter shows, passes me in line to get on the bus and doesn’t care about cutting line and doing so with physical contact.
In the room, just right there when I close my eyes and it’s dark and I can feel sleep taking a hold of my body and mind, the phone rings.
“Jooonas! Yeah, you want a beer?”
I just traveled for a good twenty hours, I am sleepy, drunk and in bed.
Dumplings with meat and vegetables and coffee that tastes like it was made in an old tire with all the pain the rubber was faced with during its existence fused into the dark water and the taste of coffee trying to cover it up, but moderately successful at best. It stings my taste buds. The walls are all crooked but on intent and there is a modern flair in the air, pulled back to reality by small windows and tight space and people that are not modern in appearance but speak of old souls and history and hunger and thirst and distance. They are all sitting, slurping looking at the two foreigners with their funny clothes and camera and eating all excited because they are hungry.
We try to get to the roof but the doors are all locked, three of them. I can see the light peak underneath and through them where they fail to meet the frame tight enough. I can see the dead bolt that keeps the world behind them - a scenario never to be explored by our eyes and minds.
Raymond is waiting with Driver. We get in and start zooming down perfectly smooth roads. There is construction everywhere, little and large shacks, buildings and structures that want to be buildings but fail to qualify as of yet or as of by now. Clothes hanging in the cold wind and smoke pushing up out of chimneys and factories up into the sky of grey and indifferent. Mud and water and trash, brick and plastic all in a turbulent stream of color and tones and light value outside the tinted window of the car. Like in a tunnel we are sitting still while this world of foreign but true is either flying by us or we are flying through it, either way, depending on where I want to position myself as far as the center of the universe goes. As it, or as moving around it. The Yangtse under us, here it is and it’s gone.
We get into Huzhou and Driver pulls into back alley and we get out to get something to eat. Little creek we walk past is polluted and dirty and behind it a tall building is reaching for the sky with bamboo all around it giving a strangling hug. Little river crabs and eel of some sort and other fish in dirty tanks with a cat looking at them. We enter into a large room and Driver disappears. Up the stairs we go and then turn around and walk back down after looking at a room with a large round table sitting in it, waiting to be used. We find a table in the back of the large room on the bottom floor and dishes, all wrapped in plastic, are placed and the chopsticks which get poked into the plastic and make it pop so we can take it off and send it on its way to the river, I am sure, just a few feet outside the door.
Chicken and pork in sauces, vegetables. I taste some garlic and I am drinking a large beer that does not seem to be very high in alcohol content. The food feels good in my stomach, tastes great! Driver has the most friendly face and eats his food like it’s a race, chopsticks going like a needle in a sewing machine, cha cha cha. Gone! He smiles when addressed but is quiet. Gets up to smoke at least three times during this meal and finally ends up just smoking on the table, blows the smoke to the side though, I see him. He gets to the point where he is comfortable enough to smoke right there but still has edge going and redirects smoke resurfacing from his lungs like a dragon that has just swooped down to kill a bunch of innocent sheep, away from us.
Not buzzed, just made me have to go pee, so I do. Bathroom reminds me of France - no bowl just hole in the ground but there is a pisser which I use while looking at the hole in the ground with thoughts of terror about having to use this space the way its intended to be used. Food feels very heavy in the stomach. Bryon and I are enthusiastic and ready to explore further so we all walk out and back to the car and Driver starts the engine and off we go, zooming through Hou Zhou with mopeds and electrical bikes and cars and buses and pedestrians dancing around each other incomprehensibly to our western minds and manners. Shut off from the world, behind those tinted windows in the back seat we watch in amazement the wavelength of collective consciousness so foreign to us as if we are watching a herd of gazelles darting from a lion, or a trail of ants, exceptionally efficient in their way of moving. Visions of being a piece of wood or a rock sticking out of the water in a rolling stream come to mind.
“You want hotel, or go to factory? Check in and have time and then go?”
“No no! Lets go right now.”
Past the city the landscape opens up and there is more mud and huts and brick, rubble and water and trash. Constant honking and if I held my hand out the window I could touch people on their little scooters or other cars we pass while we are going 50 miles per hour. Bamboo over there in piles, drying, dry and fresh. Yellow, green, black and gray. Mountains appearing in close proximity and stone quarries flying by. Gray, moody skies cover the sky, making the light soft and everything look in low contrast. The road ends and we drive onto dirt only for a minute and then Driver pulls into a factory.
Large piles of bamboo. Thick and solid, small and bendy, it’s all there. Men and women in layers of dirty clothes and with bodies that tell stories of hard labor in harsh environments but with faces that do not communicate pain or discomfort, rather content. They look at us, two hippies with facial hair and sneakers, in hipster clothes coming from this far away land to buy bamboo so people can race down mountains with them and use them to stay stable when they turn on frozen water, disconnected from the forest right here, mopeds with mittens installed permanently on handlebars and stone buildings, fire pits, mud and water. And all we do is share worlds, acting as ambassadors to our culture, our beliefs. Taking in their culture and making mental notes so we could bring it back and share and hopefully to have the bamboo like a window into another world. Some skier standing on top of a mountain and people skiing by and one stops and looks at those bamboo poles and asks: “What are those?” And the skier replies with a story about the mud, forests and people with dirty clothes, worked bodies but happy faces that live far, far away and who’s soul is in those poles which have just started a conversation that made the world a more open place.
We walk around large teepees of bamboo past the buildings, drying, exposed to the elements and recording, building soul. Old men washing bamboo, bundling it and looking at me laughing. They must think I look funny which I probably do with my vision-capturing devices that do so little to experience the moment, only serving to brag about the past. Smoke and fire in a stone building, used to bend the bamboo, correct a natural flow to make it more attractive. They laugh and are entertained. Next door the large hall is busy with people shuffling bamboo around. Large piles in an open space, the light fading hard from the entrance to the far away corners where I climb on rolling, wiggly bamboo poles, like a trampoline only not enough bounce, just enough to feel like I’m walking on a buoyant bubble in a river. Looking back and down from my elevated position, down to those workers, factory owners and managers I am in a very foreign world. These people have vastly different realities and while I am observing theirs, they will likely never observe mine, like an animal in a zoo I am, only free to move, taste and sample as I wish.
Business is on the horizon. Bryon is sitting down in the office with Raymond to talk about measurements, diameters, percentages, lengths and so forth. I walk outside feeling cold after drinking green tea which tastes so good, from a plastic cup which will likely end up in the adjacent river later on this day. The tea leaves are swimming loose in the water and clog my mouth. Not sure if I should accept the ingestion or pitifully try to avoid it. Settle for the first option.
The road is muddy and it’s cold. Chinese on mopeds and motorcycles drive by with an occasional truck and car rumpling down the road past me. I take a photograph of the bamboo forest that shoots up just past the creek next to the road and then another one looking down the road towards the hills. Eager to capture the surrounding area of this place. Not sure where to start or how far to wonder since getting lost here would mean serious effort to regain connection. I remember a little path we saw going into the forest right before pulling into the factory’s lot and I walk up the clayey, muddy road. My boots are clumped at the bottom and I am happy I wore them instead of my four year old Adidas sneakers.
Blup, I disappear into the forest like a leaf into a gurgling stream with the road behind me and nobody knowing where I am. Little muddy path wanting to be a road (probably drivable given the right vehicle, like a small jeep type or motorcycle). I walk, take a photograph of dense bamboo to my left and continue to a fork. Left way is puddle and mud and insured wet feet if not more. Right seems to have possibility of disappearance but dry and I don’t want to get stuck in mud to where I can’t pull my feet out and I just have to stand there until somebody decides to come by and somehow pull me out. Bamboo everywhere, shooting up green and leaves up high creating a forest of trunks with canopy, wonderful peace. I take some more photographs and after a while decide to walk back to join the folks of venture. The guy in a uniform-looking coat walks up and we look at each other, both equally perplexed for a moment. I raise the camera and point at it and then at him, indicating my desire to portray him. I can tell he is unsure of what is going on but he agrees and I position him right by the fork and get a nice full length portrait of him. He wanders off and I do the same in opposite direction. Funny encounter…
I have to pee and walk over a little bridge of vegetation, covering a run-off of sorts, into a little patch of bamboo and leave my mark. Back on the road the harmony is replaced by trucks and buildings, the awareness of the cold. I walk back to the factory where Raymond and Bryon are lost in translation trying to figure out what type of pole is acceptable and not. Raymond decides to bring in the manager of the factory to explain to him and get his input since he will ultimately do the selection. This adds to the confusion since now there are two Chinese and one American. I sit and listen for a while. I can tell Bryon is cold as he hasn’t moved enough to supply his body with warmth in this temperature.
Poles have to meet a diameter of 19.5 mm on bottom and 16mm on top, at length between 110 cm to 150cm. Make sure one end fits and the other end should fall into specs somewhere in between the 110 and 150 for a usable pole. It takes over an hour and I think they still haven’t understood that or it’s some problem somehow and it’s frustrating and cold and I end up participating in a conversation with no escape. Something gets lost somewhere.
Drive back to Huzhou is uneventful, except for more crazy behaviour of motorists and general road users.
“Go to hotel, then we go to dinner. Same place as lunch. Four star hotel!” We are semi excited about revisiting the same place for food but ready for an hour of rest at the hotel. Very cheesy place, massive but feels forced and synthetic, still very happy not having to sleep in some hut in the forest and to have a rather “western” night of sleep. We get two rooms on the 14th floor. Raymond is going to grab us in one hour to go to dinner. I can’t find light switches in the room and spend about 20 minutes looking, with multiple surrenders and anticipation of accepting darkness. Phone doesn’t work either. Finally find these funny little dials on the bedside table that look like an old radio from the thirties. I turn one of the horizontally aligned knobs and tadaaa! Light! I am excited and turn all the lights on, then play and adjust to have enough without drowning the room in it. Two twin beds, a little desk and a window overlooking Huzhou. All good.
We are trying to get out of revisiting the same place but before we can even voice our concern, or are inside the restaurant, food seems to had been ordered and we are guided into the kitchen. Vegetables in buckets, some meat being cut.
“You like lamb?”
“Sure, lets do some lamb.”
“Yes, pork is good.”
Out the kitchen, through the main restaurants entrance and up some stairs to the upper level and into a private little room that looks like a bedroom made into a dining room with a table in it and a heater. Heater on! We are past dinner time and last party to get food.
We drink green tea out of little glasses that contain about as much liquid as a healthy double shot of tequila. Constant refills. Tastes good. All kinds of food shows up on platters and a little eight year old girl brings me a fantastically large bottle of beer. She opens the cap and then disappears to a room nearby. I think she is excited to see the foreigners. We eat, we talk, we are tired. Raymond gets involved in cultural and political discussion and we learn a bit about his views of the system and wages of workers in factories, which seems to level out at about one Dollar per hour. They work ten to twelve hours a day, usually six days a week. Housing is expensive and owning a property is for seventy years. After that the government repossesses the land or the house and you can go to where the pepper grows. Raymond is very interested in American and European prices, wages and costs and the conversation stretches for a healthy 30 minutes. I start fading from a jet lag or simply exhaustion, thoughts slowing down, stomach full, ready to rest my body. Driver is more out of room than in and we get the feeling that this is either very close friends or family and that’s why we are brought back here twice. Raymond is a nice guy but obviously not an entertainer: doesn’t know where to go eat, has never listened to live music, funny guy but no exciting stories there. He wants to please but seems like he doesn’t know how to or is simply too busy managing life as it is.
Back at the hotel Bryon wants to go for a drink. I am tired but the idea generates enough energy for me to agree and experience this city without the shelter of Raymond and Driver.
Concierge doesn’t have good options. Fifteen minutes in a cab to some bar. Sounds off and lame, probably a crap place and we are in town centre. We decide against it and walk the streets. Crossing roads is a little like extreme sports and we end up on a road next to a mall and there are what seems to be thousands of girls on mopeds zooming and honking and smiling and moving left and right and quick, here, there, gone. It’s incredible to be in an ocean of girls on scooters. They came out of nowhere and they are drowning us. Incredibly no accidents, gas engine scooters and mopeds and electrical silent scooters, some helmets, mostly not, on the sidewalk, on the road, all kinds of directions in close proximity, pure disturbance of the senses. And then they are gone and the roads are empty like a tsunami of scooter girls took over and then receded back, left the roads deserted and sad with loss of youthful feminine energy. Now only stone and brick and darkness and confusion and a funny memory.
We walk over a plaza and I say: “Lets go to the palms of light!” Up some stairs the palms of light illuminate an area outside of a little bar full of Chinese hipster kids and cool cats and wine and beer and social exchange that feels like Berlin. We are the only white people in the place and everybody looks at us walking in. We get a bottle of wine and share at a table for two, having a conversation about how to approach life and experiences and its a great time in a great place with tired bodies but lively minds. The bottle is only half empty but we want to go.
“Maybe we can take it?”
“It’s sixty five bucks - we better take it or we give it to another table?”
Everybody is leaving and we decide on taking the bottle but the girl won’t accept a credit card from outside of China. We don’t have enough money. She asks if we have enough to pay for a cab and we say no, trying to add that we don’t need one but it’s too late. On top of charging us less for the bottle she now also hands us back a couple of bills for the cab.
“Never had a waiter drop the prize and then give me money back for a cab before...!”
We have an early breakfast in the hotel restaurant. More heavy food, dumplings, meat, noodles, eggs and rice. Strong coffee. Very little of it but better than 24 hours earlier.
“We have been here for pretty much 24 hours! Feels like a week already!” I say. Bryon agrees. I take a photo of him pretending to grab the goldfish in its bowl between us.
“Great little tart thing, I’m gonna get another one on the way out.”
I try to stick to non-sugary foods, already feeling like the heavy food is wrong nutrition. But cupcakes are gone anyways much to Bryon’s disappointment. Walking down the long staircase I wait for Bryon to reach the piano in the hall below me and snap a photo of him playing in the empty room with gigantically tall walls decorated with colours, drapes, stone and a foreign culture and he is this small dot in the room yet fills it with sound that makes heads pop out from behind walls and out of doorways.
Tony and his driver pick us up to drive to their factory. The car is smaller and the driver is much worse than Driver. He under-revs the car brutally, clearly uncomfortable behind the wheel, maybe in general. Slim frame, pale complexion, glasses helping him see out of his young eyes. Body movements looking skiddish, not placing his feet on the ground with trust. Tony’s English is not as good as Raymond’s but we can converse. I take blurry photographs of the hectic in my brain outside the car. We end up driving right past Raymond’s factory but it took a good twenty minutes longer to get there. Its snowing a little, seems cold and wet, snow turning into drizzle when we get to the factory.
It seems to be a much bigger operation but with a similar layout. Guys with weathered faces in dirty clothes and happy minds in the back over a flame, bending bamboo, away from nature and into customers strange vision of ‘straight’. There is an old woman, surrounded by bamboo towering over her, chopping off unwanted parts with a curved knife. It’s cold and I can see her breath. Bryon dives into explanations about pole dimensions and strength. I take some portraits of workers, stopping them in their path, pointing at the camera and then at them. Some stop and smile or laugh and pose and some shyly wave and laugh and walk on with their heads down, trying to hide their faces. I am wearing long underwear but it’s still cold. Water everywhere and behind the buildings is a path that leads up the hillside, I take notice.
We walk around the whole factory and I am surprised I can take photographs so freely. After all they anticipated a business man from the U.S. to come and talk and look at bamboo. Now there is a bearded skier talking about ski poles and his funny friend taking pictures of their workers and the factory. My guess is that in the States people would be skeptical about our intentions or at least wondering. Surely ‘documenting’ doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to them either but it doesn’t matter. I am continuing to photograph old women in corners behind gigantic bundles of bamboo who seem to be hiding or hidden with a bright fluorescent lamp and layers upon layers of clothes, their breath steaming, sanding down poles to make them look more uniform. I sneak in right next to them and take a portrait. They look at me confused but mind their own business, maybe afraid of punishment if they get too interested or maybe just way more relaxed than we are in our ‘developed’ world, scared and scarred by getting our picture taken like this. Maybe they didn’t even know what I was doing, who knows. No words exchanged, just a moment captured on celluloid, that’s it.
Another small glass of hot water and green tea leaves floating loosely and then in my mouth and between my teeth. Bryon is cold and hasn’t been moving like I have. His bag with shoes and a jacket have not made it and efforts of receiving it over the past day have been fruitless. I’ve been running around so I am warm. Sitting in the office with all doors open and the cold I would also be unhappy quickly. They talk about Moso bamboo for coozies. No Coke or beer can to know exact inside diameter but there is internet access so they look it up.
I decide to go hike up that path behind the building. Muddy right off the start and a fork. I go left and it’s steep and slippery but my hiking boots give me okay traction. Clay like yellow brown mud and then a large pile of shit of the same color. I try to avoid slipping and landing in it. It gets really steep and I have a hard time getting up the hill because it is so slippery. I slide a few times and almost loose it once but make it up the hill and look over the valley below me. Heavy cloud cover, moisture everywhere and a fog. The mountains across the valley are hard to make out and there is very little motion happening below me. Just smoke coming out of a couple chimneys and an occasional car driving somewhere. Looking down I have a bamboo forest to my left which I penetrate. Easier to walk here but very deceiving. Some patches of leaves are laying loosely on very wet mud and in a steep little section I almost loose it bad. A couple of broken bamboo sticks shooting from the ground and I have visions of landing on one of them and it jabbing through my torso and that’s it. Harpooned myself in a bamboo forest in China. What a disaster. But I catch myself and slip down a few feet, like on ice. I grab a hold of a bamboo tree and the shaking detaches a whole bunch of water from its leaves up high and I get a shower, camera wet and all. I decide to not hold on to it but hit a bamboo on my way down the hill and dart away only to get showered even worse for the crown much bigger and it hits other crown and all this water comes to school me not to fuck with nature. Mild warning. I take a photograph of a shrine of some sort but there is something not incredibly inspiring about it.
Make it back to the factory and they are still talking shop. I sit and eat some chocolate. Tastes damn good.
Noon is approaching and we have to be back at the hotel in an hour for Raymond to pick us up and drive us back to Shanghai which is three hours away. Tony wants to go to lunch so we are pressing on time a bit. Get into two cars and end up in some back lot. The car pulls close to a covered shack and there is a goose or something all de-feathered and dried out hanging head down from the ceiling. It looks pale gray-blue like it’s been there too long. We walk into a room and pick some food. There are a bunch of vegetables and some chicken, all in buckets. Then another bucket under the table that is pretty much full of blood and parts of something. Tony is trying to make us choose but eventually understands that he will not succeed in that quest so he just orders. Another empty room, except for a round table, where we get tea and beer. Heater is turned up but the door opens frequently, letting warm air escape like it doesn’t want to be with us or it’s trying to become cold air. There is a chicken foot boiling in the pot. Vegetables, bamboo shoots, fish. Many options, good food, just don’t think about its origin. Little white fish balls taste so fishy that I want to spit it out but I just swallow and wash it down with some beer. Not a fan of those. Especially with the rivers full of trash in my head.
Time’s up. Twenty minutes to one and we gotta go. A fast break and the driver is taking us back. Seems like he has no idea where to go and he under-revs the engine horribly again to the degree where I want to tell him. He’s stalling and then pulls over to ask someone for direction. Nothing worse than being at the mercy of someone without a backbone. We call Raymond and let him know that we’ll be a bit late. We get there and Driver sees us coming out of the car. I walk into the hotel to take a piss and Raymond is in the bathroom. Walking out he asks what we did and I have no idea if it’s cool to tell him that we checked out another factory. I tell him I took pictures which is the truth I guess but it doesn’t feel right. I get in the car while Bryon is taking a piss and hear Driver telling Raymond that we got dropped off so he asks who that was and I tell him that we looked at some Moso. Little awkward but who cares. He can’t expect that we fly to China and only look at his place.
Landscape zooming by, houses, construction, factories and industrial sites pushing steam and smoke into the atmosphere. The road to Shanghai is smooth and way smoother than we expected Chinese roads to be. They don’t have a GPS and Shanghai is a city of twenty million people. I guess they know where to go. I gave them the address to Dale’s. Traffic is really bad and we are stuck, surrounded by rows of houses stacking up towards the sky in every direction. Density is the word that comes to mind, both visually and emotionally. Creeping between glass, steel and concrete along the asphalted path so far from mother nature, it feels foreign.
We are close but lost so Driver pulls over to ask. Dale’s English directions differ from the Chinese ones and eventually I call to figure it out. Irene answers and guides us in. We shake hands and Driver and Raymond drive away home for about another three hours, depending on how bad the traffic will be towards the countryside. Quite the investment they did and it won’t pay off for them. Business, it’s a motherfucker, I guess.
We leave all of our bags with Irene and the nanny and walk to Starbucks across the field of Westerner girls playing soccer, kicking the ball in the rain and running with no sign of China, misplaced and unaware. Like an island in a big pond with no relation to the waters. It oddly feels like being in a U.S. city. This culture seems to be taking over the world with little satellite countries like colonies, spreading the message of capitalism and democracy in the face, bam! The locals are not able to leave and get swallowed by the mass. Then again, the islands are like little prisons. Who is truly at freedom and peace of mind? Does Starbucks make us feel good? What’s the real price of a three dollar cup of coffee? Grandmas in the countryside walking miles and miles each day, carrying food, engaging with their environment whereas in the U.S. they sit on a couch in front of a TV, drive their electric scooter to a supermarket with processed shit food and can’t walk or fit on a toilet. Freedom can ultimately be prison when one knows no discipline!
“Boom boom!” Dale’s face is filled with excitement and joy, arms wide open, welcoming. We hug. The girls are obviously excited: big commotion, everyone is on fire, we settle in. We sit at the table for dinner. Beer and Tacos in China! Feels nice to be at home with a family taking care of us and each other. The girls have to practice their instruments and finish their homework. Piano sessions with fingers trembling in excitement from the two familiar foreigners sitting at the table telling stories. Having heard stories about them with lightning coming out of fingers on sand dunes in Death Valley and driving into the middle of nowhere, they can hardly sit still but rules are rules and they are enforced. Guitar surfaces and Bryon plays and sings for a bit. Everybody is glowing: Carla is having a Bloody Mary and we drink beer with a glass never left empty. A map of the world over our heads on a board with colored pins all over it. Each color indicating one or a combination of the family members having visited the location. Good idea! Clusters in the U.S., Middle East, Europe and Asia. No Africa, little South America. We ponder for a while but girls have to go to bed and it’s a struggle.
“Boom boom!” We are on. A bean bag and a couch in the living room, sweetness in the air of explosive emotion, memories, new connections, stories, love and togetherness in a foreign place. So foreign and so domestic right here on this couch. And, uh, how much I learn from these two individuals that decided to live a global life. Nomads traveling and living in foreign cultures for extended amounts of time, raising children of the world. The dreamer and the ruler creating a beautiful symbiosis, lost without each other in this complex world but together moving along on a strong path as a unit. Balance! I found you embodied right in front of my face!
The night is long. Dale can’t stop hugging but stops walking. The family sleeps together to let the visitors sleep in comfort. I crawl into a kids bed, lay on my back, look up and suddenly I am eight years old looking at the stars glowing down on me with my legs bent to fit in the frame, toys and a paper eagle flying static and frozen by the far wall and those stars up there!
A relaxed morning with coffee, laying down on the bean bag. We get to Shanghai just before noon and our cab drops us off in an area with Artisan shops and little alleys to walk through. We don’t sync with the vibe and stroll through the walkways feeling surrounded by tourist traps. Not inspired, wandering, lost in commotion, down dark little paths with trinkets and merchandise glooming over us from every direction. Up above some meat is hanging off a balcony to dry but looks like it was placed there and forgotten about. We get out.
Now stark contrast - fashion labels and capitalism in full force in our faces. We take another cab to find a dumpling house and eventually end up on the second floor of a mall and order some food. Took three times to commit since the place looks like a mall restaurant but it’s the real deal. Dumplings are incredible and we sit on table with a local middle-aged couple. His eyes are moving around the room disconnected from each other and lost, seemingly unable to make sense but his grunts tell me otherwise while he slurps with hostile energy. She is laughing at the foreigners making a mess with dumplings exploding on first bite and spraying juices over the table and onto buckets of chop sticks and spices and the surface near him with his eyes freaking me out, left and right in opposite directions, full of grunts. She is making gestures on how to eat and he grunts in disapproval. We get more dumplings.
Overwhelmed by commerce and a hectic environment we take the elevator of a skyscraper to the highest level to see if we can get a view and maybe take a walk on the skywalk that we saw from the street down below. This level is shut down but a different elevator goes higher, for another six floors so we try. Bryon looks like a mountain man with a beard, piercing eyes, beanie and a big jacket. I am wearing a backpack and also a beanie so we look like we are scouting a spot to base-jump off the building but nobody cares and everybody is nice. We just pretend we know what we are doing and end up on the very top floor at the Carlyle Group’s offices. There is a nice Chinese girl at the reception who tells us there is no skywalk access or viewpoint but I see a meeting room with large windows and ask if we can just take a photo from there. Surprisingly she agrees and seconds later we get our view, take photographs, standing in one of the meeting rooms of the Carlyle Group on top of a tall financial building in Shanghai with our facial hair and backpacks and dirty clothes and nobody cares.
We get out of the cab again and immediately I see a guy pick us out and start following us. We are now in a locals area with cheap knockoffs. Hustlers everywhere, scents of food, dirt and exhaust fumes, honking and revving of engines, chatter from thousands of people. The guy follows us for a while but looses interest when we get approached by another. Bombarded from all directions, they pick up on our style of clothes and throw brand names at us. Bryon is trying to make conversation while I just give a forceful “No!” We make it into a gigantic multi-story mall and two girls pick us up upon entering trying to guide us to shops. One of them is incredible annoying and won’t leave our side: rides the escalator like she was a part of our little group, trying to make conversation but it’s all targeted to get a sale, not genuine, forced and she won’t leave us alone and keeps repeating same words over and over again and doesn’t accept a “no”. We are trying to find access to the roof to get a view and eventually I see an open stairway door. She is all perplexed and tells us to stay out but I peek and see a door couple flights up with light coming through and I know that this is what we are looking for. She is standing in the doorway and we are a little afraid she might call security on us but after some back and forth, in and out of stairway we loose her and go all the way up and find that the door is locked.
It’s raining outside a little as we walk through hectic streets. We pause by the river and it feels a little like Paris with bridges, water and the city. Soon after, someone walks up and throws a large black trash bag over the wall into the river. Nice. It floats away slowly. In the brew of bacteria, plastic, poison and junk, all molded together, brown and thick as if you could cut it with a knife. Away you go water of death, float on to another place, then to the ocean and everybody gets rid of their shit because it’s convenient. Only you don’t understand the impact, the death you are bringing to the world.
The Ritz-Carlton on our left - a symbol for a better neighborhood I guess. We pass the entrance and come to a stop light at a large intersection. I can see the skyline and people streaming towards what seems to be a look-out point. Tourists and guides, mostly Westeners who look so out of place but part of this reality. Everybody is going up the stairs so we follow along. There is lots of water and then Shanghai behind it with its large buildings and one looking like something I have seen in construction sites before. Three pipes continuously connected, leading up to a big ball and then moving on. People are taking pictures, walking, chatting and pointing at things. We are a little turned off as it feels like this is what the guides show you. We just saw the trash being dumped into the river!
As we walk alongside the river we get to a bridge and then walk by the Russian embassy. A little further and we are done with walking and done with the big city. We get a cab and ride home to Dale’s. We decide to get a bottle of wine as a thank you, though, at the supermarket.
We stumble into an insane shopping centre: merchandise of all sorts is punching us into the face. Unbelievable. So much stuff. Just rows and rows of goods and people running around shopping and we can’t find the wine but eventually do. Now which one to get - such a distraction and an awful quest. If only it wasn’t for making someone happy by showing our gratitude. It’s raining and cold outside so we are happy when we get back to the apartment and get some dinner. Then we get shoved into a cab before we even know what’s going on. Big hugs and goodbyes to Dale, Carla, Irene and Abi and we are off to the airport.
Firstly we have to find Bryon’s bag which was lost on the plane over and which we have been tracking for the past few days. After some back and forth we are presented with the ski pole bag and feel happy because we don’t have a whole lot of time to get on the plane to Guangzhou.
We get to Guangzhou and try to get a cab but instead we find these crazy guys trying to get us to get into their car. Seems weird but one has us caught and we have all the bags in his car when we see another person in the car and we don’t want that. Big argument. “No, no, only us!” We take our bags out of the car and the guy won’t leave us alone, harassing us for another ten minutes, trying to get us back into the car but seems sketchy and we are done with him and all the guys trying to lure us into their personal cars. I remember a story from Saudi Arabia where people would get dropped off in labor camps in the desert after getting into a random cab at the airport. We finally find a cab shooting down the road towards the crowd of people all trying to get a ride. It’s a mad house. We get in and feel all good, ready to leave this chaos. What a relief. The driver starts going, we show him the name of the hotel on our phones and he nods. Less then fifteen seconds later we get stopped by the cops right where it seems all the cabs have to get in line to pick up passengers. They make us get out and the cabbie goes on and we realize that there is a queue and everybody is waiting for a cab. We are at the end of the line and there is a cab maybe every two to three minutes with probably sixty plus people ahead of us. It’s one a clock in the morning we are tired and stuck. More youngsters are trying to lure people into private rides and some climb over the railing onto the street with parked cars. We stand in line for a good hour and a half until we finally get our ride. The guy seems to understand where we need to go and very slowly he creeps down the freeway towards the town. Painfully slow, Bryon get’s real annoyed.
We get to the hotel but it’s the wrong one as he misunderstood where we needed to go. Fuck!!! Now he drives aimlessly around town until he pulls into another hotels’ driveway to ask the concierge for directions. Another ten minutes down the road and we are at our destination. Looks like he is dropping us off at a back entrance. We get our room and as we approach the elevator it spits out one college kid after another. There must have been thirteen kids in that elevator: one girl barely able to walk, all hammered drunk, still drinking having a good time and if we weren’t so tired and so foreign it would probably be fun to join them and party a little in Guangzhou, China.
The room is fine and I fall asleep immediately. The next morning brings breakfast in a funky little restaurant type of deal - more heavy food and bad coffee. We check out and wait a while for our pick-up. When he finally arrives I am surprised how young of a guy it is. Funny guy too. We get in the car and speed off towards their laser engraving factory where Bryon wants to check out some machines and see if he can buy one. We zoom past endless buildings, concrete, stories of balconies with an empty tank and the light flaring orange on the dashboard but we keep going in traffic and out of it until we reach the factory in some odd back alley with water and dirt and trash on the streets.
The entrance looks somewhat like a garage and across the street some people are lowering a large metal frame for a table or something of that caliber down from the fourth story. It’s dangling on three ropes: two from the top and one from the bottom with a guy at its end pulling the frame away from the building. We sit and drink green tea. Strong green tea. A little can is full of leaves with hot water poured over them and the tea poured almost immediately. These guys are pretty goofy and they get very excited when I pull out my Hasselblad to take some frames. I get shown things they have engraved in the past and I can feel the conversation shifting to me and away from Bryon. I am not particularly thrilled since that means that neither one of us gets to do what we came here to do but I can sense that Bryon is not into the overall situation at this facility so I go along for a couple of minutes. Eventually they want to do a test run to show what their machine can do so I wander off a little bit after taking some photographs and try to see what’s outside and around. I start taking portraits of all the employees and our two new friends. Bryon’s face is telling me that he is not liking what he sees.
The manager guy pulls me aside and wants to chat. When I tell him about Shanghai he guides me to his computer and starts a slideshow of photos he took in Shanghai. I sit there in this laboratory type office on a computer looking at snapshots of some guy who I don’t even know. This has got to be the worst case of photo slideshow torture. Bryon joins and I get out of there without being impolite. He tells me that the lasers aren’t up to the standard of what they have been using and that he realized that the moment he took a look at the machines, hence the stern face since we got here. We walk across the street and go into the building that the people lowered the metal frame from earlier to check out the facility of a shoe manufacturer. A bunch of kids supposedly make sneakers in there. When we walk into their production floor it looks like an abandoned, war trashed factory floor. If there are any sneakers coming out of this place I would be incredibly surprised.
We get a cab and skip lunch since time has run out and we need to get back to the airport to meet Charles, another bamboo farmer, to look at the last farm on our journey. The funny laser guys who, now that I think of it, remind me of Manga comics somehow, give us a great goodbye and one of them goes to the airport with us to help find Charles. When we get to the airport he is clueless. “Been at an airport once”, he says, never on an actual airplane. This is a wonderful example of cultural differences. This guy can’t NOT help us, even though he has no idea how. We are probably better off without him but it would be rude for him not to at least try or make an effort. I was in Japan with my dad a couple of years ago and we got to a hotel at the foot of Mt. Fuji late at night, hungry. Asking for food brought on a tour of the place which lasted about twenty minutes. Repeated inquiries for food only led to an extension of the tour. Finally we got it - he couldn’t tell us that there was no food! That would mean loosing face! Completely overwhelmed with the airport and how to navigate it, we eventually take over and find the McDonald’s where Charles will meet us. Not having had lunch we get some burgers and fries. Death on a plate.
Charles is a young, shy and very polite guy. He waits for us to finish our food and then we get into the car outside. His brother is driving and his dad is on board as well, squeezed on an extra seat in the trunk area. Our stuff barely makes it into the full car. Guangzhou zooming by. I’m tired and Charles dad is incredibly smelly. When we get to a rest stop we all take a leak and there are these little pictures with sayings pinned above the urinals. On top the Chinese version and below a completely butchered English version which, in most cases, makes no sense, in some I can remotely understand why this would be funny. I take Iphone photos of all of them and call the series “(Almost) Lost in translation”.
The first bamboo factory we stop at is right on the side of the road. I take some photographs and walk around as far as I feel okay without loosing track of what’s happening inside. Bryon is explaining the importance of the right diameters for the poles. An old lady is sorting poles outside and she gives me an intriguing look. It’s pretty quiet except for the occasional car, bike or truck zooming by on the road. There is bamboo everywhere now. Forests of it in every direction. We sure left the chaos and noise of the city behind which feels good. Feels cold too, though. Before we get back into the car I take a portrait of Charles’ dad and brother, which gets everyone entertained. I guess they aren’t used to getting their portrait taken.
The next two stops at factories play out similar to the first. They all look around and I run off taking photographs. I should clarify that factory in this case has nothing to do with large multi story buildings with steaming chimneys. These factories are huts or small hangar-type buildings stuffed full with bamboo and a bunch of people running around doing mostly everything by hand. No rooms are truly inside, just covered, so it’s cold where these people work.
We finally stop at Charles’ family’s factory and they have a nice spot carved out for themselves. Right on the river with vegetable patties leading up to the water. There are a bunch of people running around all excited to see us Westerners. Bryon is in conversation again and I walk down towards the river. The vegetables smell good and healthy. Smells like nature with the river in front of me and behind it uncountable amounts of bamboo trees covering the hills. It feels great. When I get to the river reality spits me in the face. The banks are covered in trash. Looks like people just dump their trash into the river. I can’t understand why anyone would do this. Right next to where they pull their food out of the ground, which obviously also gets its water from the river. It’s painful to look at and makes me sad. I take some photographs and walk back towards the factory. The trash is consuming my mind, though. The whole drive, or at least since the pit stop when Charles dad moved into the front seat, I saw the trash. Then Charles dad wouldn’t stop dumping plastic wrappers out of his window which drove Bryon and me crazy and we had this whole debate about if we should tell them about the negative effects of this but decided that it would probably be perceived as an insult and we just had to suffer. It was hard to witness. These thoughts lead me to the realization that we, in our world, produce a whole lot more trash than these people here. We just dump it out of sight in some hole or in some other people’s backyard.
We are staying with Charles and his family in his little village and when we get into town it’s a fascinating scene. All houses have storefronts and something is going on in every one of them. There is more trash and dogs and kids running around and people looking at us and it’s far away from home. Very far away. We get out of the car and Charles offers us some time to walk around while they get the house ready. We agree but have no idea how to find them later. “Just walk down the road, our house is next to the school.” And they are off. Let’s see how this is going to work.
Bryon and I wander up and down the street and look at the goods for sale but everything is cheap crap, nothing worth bringing home. We get to a demolished house, only brick left laying around in piles. And in the middle of all the rubble is a stick driven in the ground holding a photo of chairman Mao on it. I take a photograph although not sure what the intention behind it is. We leave the main part of town after looking at some more merchandise and a music store and get to a construction site. Looks like they are building a massive bridge over the river and the valley. We spot a tunnel on each side of the valley. It’s a fascinating site. Huge concrete pillars, excavated soil, more concrete, modern life and technology raping this little village so peacefully tucked in the hillside. Like a scar from a whip on the back this bridge will be seen by anyone in town at any time as it runs right over the whole thing.
We climb up the muddy hillside to look around the tunnel, I take photographs and we can’t believe its massive, dwarfing dimensions. Up here it becomes clear that we are surrounded by bamboo in every direction. It feels like we have found the source, the place we have been searching for.
We surprisingly find Charles’ house no problem. His dad is outside and waves us in but before we meet the whole family, we meet Charles’ wife and baby Angel and Charles’ mother and uncle. We get handed a glass of tea upon entering the house and to my surprise it’s black tea. Hot. Good. Charles’ wife speaks very good English and she is obviously excited to have us. We chat for a little while. The car is parked right next to us in the house and people are dragging our bags out of it and carry them away to our room, supposedly. I spot a little piece of wood secured on the floor right in front of the front tire of the car. The bumper is only centimeters off the wall and I appreciate the idea of building a stopper on the floor to fit the car in as perfect as possible, every time.
Our room is large, with two beds and freezing cold. I was expecting to stay in some hut-like, little, crazy house with trash everywhere and chickens under my pillow but this place is clean and very much of a western standard. We even have fast wireless internet though I get entertained when the shower is explained to us. We have to open a valve of a gas tank and set the temperature on another little dial pad. We are then told to leave the window open since the fumes of the gas could be dangerous. The shower is pretty much freestanding in the bathroom and we have to stand right next to the toilet to shower. The blue, dirty tile that covers the whole room is vibrant and adds character.
We clean up a bit and relax for a second and then descend two stories to find the dining room. A large round table with a cooker in the middle and plates around for everyone.
It’s not warm in the room, the whole house is freaking cold but the hot steaming food warms the eyes. We get beer in tiny little shot type glasses and when we are done Charles’ brother jumps up and refills our glasses. The hospitality is amazing but feels a little over the top since I can tell that they are a little on edge though it might just be from them being excited about having Westerners in the house.
Charles’ father is drinking some sort of wine and looks funny. Bryon jumps and with startled voice proclaims:
“We don’t have a name for you!” Turning to Charles: “We don’t have a name for your dad!”
I look at Charles’ father with his squinting eyes, distorted face from wide, honest grin and burned skin all tanned and weathered from hanging in the bamboo forest for decades. He is wearing a sweater and drinking his booze.
“Abe!” I say.
“Aaaabe..., that’s iiiit!” Bryon agrees.
We toast and get our tiny little beer glasses refilled. We have no idea what certain things are but I can spot a chicken foot which I steer clear of. Many, many tastes from the fondue pot with vegetables, meat and fish which I am hoping is not out of the river suffocated with trash behind the house. Any food gets dipped in a self-mixed sauce in front of me and by myself, containing raw egg, soy sauce, wasabi and some special sauce I can’t make out.
Something gets dropped in the fondue and we are told it’s the bladder that fish have inside of them to control their diving. Bryon’s mouth and eyes are wide open and he’s looking at me in disbelief.
“I’ll pass on that!” he proclaims but gets forced into trying it a few minutes later. I try a bit too and it tastes like calamari, really. Taste ain’t bad - it’s the knowledge of the origin of the fish that scares me. Swimming in plastic, shit, dead critters, tires and styrofoam with all the little things breaking off it and tiny bits swallowed by a small fish, then eaten by bigger fish, then eaten by me!
With dinner finished and hot food in our stomachs we set out to find a massage in the nearby town. It’s already around ten and I am surprised when Charles’ wife climbs in the little van together with Angel and the grandma. Bryon and I sit all the way in the back of the tiny little van and Charles’ wife tells me that they are going to walk around the town a bit. I ask about Angel and she doesn’t seem to think it’s very unusual to take your baby for a stroll in town at 10pm while your husband is getting a foot massage with some beatniks. The van is an awesome little vehicle and I can only see what’s right in front of it on the dark mountain road. It’s sooo dark out - no moon and sometimes a car zooms by and I can see a little bit more but it’s so brief and I am all distracted being afraid that this foot massage is going to become awkward for some odd reason with stories of Thai massages in my head and it actually starts to work me hard to the point where I am all out of ease when we finally get to the Massage parlour after dropping the girls on some street. We are told that it’ll be twenty minutes to wait which is fine with us. We go into a room with four oversized chairs and I have to take a piss right away. I’m cold and a bit weirded out but sitting in the chair and getting some snack food and tea gets me relaxed. The TV is annoying and I can’t believe that a place for rest and relaxation would have one in there but I get over it.
I must emit awkward energy or something because the masseuse is not into me, laughing and chatting away in Chinese and it’s a bit uncomfortable but overall feels good and I’m starting to relax (until she massages my thighs).
It’s late when we walk out of there and I’m tired. We grab Charles’ wife, Angel and grandma and head home to go to bed.
Bryon is booking a flight from Guangzhou to Hong Kong in the morning and I walk downstairs with the intention of going for a walk. Abe pulls me in and brings me breakfast and I can only eat about half of it. A little embarrassed I leave the half-full cup on the table since I have no idea what to do with it and nobody’s around to ask, not that it would help.
I walk towards the town and take photos of buildings on stilts and the big gap in the mountain with its concrete artery sticking out. Kids walking by and others on motorcycles and scooters all look at me. I walk up towards the construction site and take photographs for a while. I also collect some stones to bring home. It’s damp and somewhat chilly outside. My boots are caked with mud.
When I return to the house I see Bryon walking down the street in the distance and I walk towards him. We meet right in front of a storage building that belongs to Abe and he shows us around. Bamboo everywhere. One room is filled about 4-5 feet high in scraps and that’s all that’s in the room. Walking up the staircase I look out the window and snap a picture of a couple of folks cutting up a pig on a balcony.
The upstairs is a work area and Abe in his witty way is pointing at things and laughs and points more and lights a cigarette and laughs again. Behind the building, across the little dirty river, bamboo is piled up in teepee type shapes and a big metal box is spinning, washing the bamboo inside it. Bryon and I walk over there and inspect what’s happening. It’s a quiet morning, no signs of chaos or rush in the last couple of days, seeming very distant. That train bridge is hovering over all this peaceful setting, not built but in everybody’s minds.
On the way back to the house some guy is yelling around and as we get closer we find the pigs’ head, feet and some other pieces on a little truck, bed-like deal on the back of a motorcycle. He must be selling fresh meat.
Back at the house we get served some tea and sit out in front on little chairs drinking it. All the kids from the neighborhood come over and look all shy and when we return the stare they shyly run off whereas some come over and take pictures with their cell phones. We are tripped out by the fact that we are sitting in the middle of China, somewhere in a tiny little village and instead of us taking digital pictures of the locals the locals are taking pictures of us with their smart phones?!?
While Bryon spends about 2 hours in business negotiations with Charles (which Bryon did not look forward to) I doze around and don’t really do anything. The room is cold, I am tired but not enough to sleep and eventually I take the stairs up to the roof and look around. Bamboo everywhere. Lots of bikes parked on the road below and a grand view of the school which is across the street from Charles’ house. Kids are playing and exercising - must be PE class. I hear them chat in little cluster groups. Behind them a large building and that again dwarfed by a hillside covered in bamboo as far as I can see. Bryon joins me on the roof and we stare at the kids and the school and the mountain and the bamboo in silence for a while.
After another fondue-style lunch with the whole family, beer and Abe drinking his booze, Charles wants to take us around and show us the farm. I had pointed at a motorcycle in the house earlier and Charles wants to go by bike now. I have driven a motorcycle maybe 3-4 times in my life, never on a public road and especially not in a foreign country where there seem to be very dubious rules to driving (and the lack of abiding to them). Not to mention that I hadn’t seen a helmet anywhere. But the adventure of it is calling too strong and so I climb on the bike. Bryon gets on behind me carrying my backpack and a tripod and off we go on a piece of machinery that seems to be falling apart, no helmet and not much of an idea of how to ride.
Charles is leading on a scooter and we get on the main highway. I‘m thinking: “Fuck, is this being stupid or what?” But all is good, I’m getting used to the bike and pretty soon feel rather comfortable on it. We pull into a small country road that takes us along the river and stop relatively quickly to hike into the forest and inspect the bamboo. Strong stems and tiny ones wherever we look. Bamboooo… It’s overwhelmingly beautiful. We notice some marks on certain stems and Charles explains that these marks indicate buyers. We hike for a while and eventually decide to turn around and keep looking since nothing much is going to change on the trail. A woman is sitting on a pile of bamboo by the bikes when we get back and she looks very pretty with her shy smile and humble attitude.
We keep on zooming down this narrow, wonderful, little road and eventually I feel so good on the bike I race past Charles and take off for a little bit. Bryon is loudly approving of the increase in speed and we do some GoPro video of us racing around. We drive by little houses and shacks and bamboo piled everywhere. When I see a house with Chinese New Year decorations I stop and take a picture to show my son, since I had been reading about the Nian Monster and Chinese New Year to him. All this natural beauty we are encountering is contrasted by trash piled wherever: in the river, on the side of the road, at the foot of trees. It’s sad.
Eventually we turn around after driving for about a half hour. On the way back I give it even more and when Charles catches up after we stop to wait for him, he just says: “Crazy driver.”
We stop at his Aunts’ house on this little road and we get served some tea and climb up the stairs to the roof where we drink and look and talk. It’s quiet and peaceful. Across the road a couple is doing work on the roof of their house and they contribute a large percentage to the overall noises. It sounds harmonious. The toilet is in a little outhouse across the road and close to the river. Stepping out of it I actually land right on the road. Charles Aunt is chatting and doesn’t pay a whole lot of attention to us but is very polite in offering tea and food.
The little road takes us back to the highway and there we have to wait a long time for Charles, I guess I was going quite good since Charles again says: “Crazy driver”. We drive on the highway for a while with large trucks shooting by us and other motorcycles and us two westerners with beards and all funny looking on the bike. Everyone is looking at us.
We stop at Charles’ grandmothers house and she comes out, dressed all in black and looking like she could be a fashionable New Yorker with her clothes (or more like fashionable New Yorkers are trying to look like her). Her house is a mixture of an open-air farmhouse and enclosed rooms. Solidly built, the kitchen looks very rustic with open fire stove and almost no window light. The walls are black and any working surface is just stone like from another century. Chickens running through the house and hallways between rooms remind me of a castle from the dark ages a little. We sit in the kitchen and drink some more tea. I take a portrait of Charles and his grandma and then take some more pictures around the house. There are two little kids in the large room which must be a communal living room of sorts and they are both intrigued and shy, checking me out. I take a portrait of Grandma in her doorway with Chinese New Year decorations all around her.
She walks into her little village with us and shows us around. We enter the village up an ancient-looking stone stairway and see people around working and saying hello to Grandma who seems like a village elder. We walk up the road to a large house and get shown around even though it’s a private property. With a similar castle-type feel it reminds me of ancient European sites.
The trash outside baffles our mind. Right out front?! Wouldn’t you at least put it somewhere you can’t see it right away? We tour the property for a while and it is fascinating. Time is progressing though and since we have to catch a flight in the evening in Guangzhou we head back to Grandmas’ house and get on our motorcycle. Charles stays behind for a little and we make our way back ourselves. It’s starting to rain and I can’t see shit driving so Bryon hands me his glasses and it’s a little better. It feels like Motorcycle Diaries. Misty, gloomy and rainy it is with us two beats on this old bike and our beards, going and passing little scooters with no helmets. Feels free, feels ridiculous, feels right.
We are welcomed back at the house by Abe and his warm, welcoming laugh. We get some tea and start packing our stuff. After all the hospitality and a personal relationship we have been building, and just simply the vibe we have gotten from Charles and his family, Bryon decides to give his business to him even though it will cost significantly more than other farms we have visited. It feels right though. This is the place to do business with.
Charles drives us to the airport in Guangzhou and we don’t have a whole lot of time. Can’t get the tickets at the counter because we need to go to another place first, running across the airport. The lady is preoccupied with something and we get anxious. I ask her to attend our issue since our flight will leave in less than an hour and we don’t even have our tickets yet. Ok ok, zack zack, here you go, running running, back to the check-in and we are all good. Flight is short and it’s late and we are both wasted. We just get a room at the airport hotel in Hong Kong and then fly out the next morning. <>