Monday, December 21, 2009

Please bookmark the new Waffles & Steel!

Waffles & Steel has moved to:

Please check it out!


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Update: Waffles will be ready soon

I'm getting closer to launching the new Waffles & Steel. Thanks for bearing with me. It may be ready as soon as Friday (China time).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Work in Progress: Getting ready to move

All of my blog-writing energy is being directed to blog moving. I've decided to migrate Waffles & Steel to a server that's not blocked in China. It's silly to have a blog with so much China content that can't be read by people inside the country. Please bear with me as I sort this out. I'm definitely more of a writer than a tech guy, but I'll keep grinding away at the problem like it's a long climb. Be back soon. Meanwhile, go out and ride some more ... or do an extra five minutes on the rollers.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bike Traps: What kind of sick mind thought this one up?

How does this happen to a manhole? I guess a crack forms, years of corrosion work on it, relentless traffic wears it down more, battalions of Red Guards parade over it, wet seasons come and go, road crews pretend it's not there and partially cover it with asphalt (or bitumen, I love saying that word with a British accent) ... until it looks like this - a craggy, sinister bike trap.

This one couldn't be in a worse place. You come upon it after making a hard right turn between these two overpass pillars. You'll usually have a container truck on your tail or one of those pesky gray micro vans trying to squeeze by you on the left just as you're threading the pillars and trying to steer clear of the trap on the right.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Crash & Punch: The last chapter ... probably

It seems the crash-and-punch drama is finally over. I know I've said that before, but this time it appears to be true.

The expat met with the police to pay the rest of the money to the "victim." Originally, he was ordered to pay 20,000 RMB (about US$2,930). He paid half of that after the incident. When the expat went to the police station to fork over the rest, he was told that he would only have to pay 4,000 RMB (US$585) more. Really good news.

Part of this sum was compensation to the guy for a month's lost wages. Yes, the guy claimed he would need to take a month off from work to recover from his injuries and the trauma. He's a construction worker who claims his annual salary is 30,000 RMB (US$4,393).

The guy didn't show up at that police station to collect the money. He had his daughter represent him. He probably was afraid he wouldn't be able to repress the laugh he'll be laughing all the way to his bank.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Food: Eating up the road - literally?

I've written a lot about Chinese roads. I've ridden thousands of kilometers on them. Now I think I might have literally eaten a bit of them.

Somedays, I cook my own lunch in my office. One dish in my regular rotation is corn grits with red beans, green peppers and sweet garlic chili sauce dripped over it. It's a one-pot meal, all cooked up in a little rice cooker. I buy the coarsely ground corn grits - a bit like rough-cut polenta - in the bulk food bin section in a grocery store a couple blocks from my office. It costs less than 50 US cents for a kilo of the stuff. I've never had problems with it ... until today.

The grits cooked up nicely and I stirred in the beans and peppers. It was almost ready when I sampled a spoon full of it. As I was chewing, something went "crunch!" in my mouth. It felt like I was eating tiny fragments of glass. I carefully isolated the parts in my mouth, then spit them out on the palm of my hand. Fortunately, it didn't seem to be glass. The culprit appeared to be tiny black bits of asphault or rock from a road.

Now, why would I think the crunchy stuff might have come from a road? During my forays into rural China, especially the northern parts of the country, I've often seen farmers drying out their corn crop on the side of the road. They'll remove the kernals from the cob, and spread them out on the hot shoulder of the road, letting them bake in the sun for awhile. It's a beautiful scene - a long carpet of brilliant yellow stretching along the road. I've always wondered how they filter out the road dust and car exhaust contamination. Sheep, pigs and cows also use the road, so that's another concern.

But I never thought much more about it because I figured the road corn was most likely the farmer's private stash. Could it ever make its way into the bulk food bin at my local grocery store? Nah.

Today at lunch, I started wondering about it again, though. I was facing one of the most common dilemmas in China: Should I keep eating this stuff? I decided to continue and stop thinking about it. I had already invested too much time, effort and money (about US$1.50!) in the lunch to throw it away and head back out to forage for food. I cautiously chewed each bite, searching for hard bits with every first soft chomp. I found a couple more tiny suspicious pieces, but the rest of the meal seemed OK.

Has ingesting the road given me a better feel for it? Not yet.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ride Report: Used-car dudes and Mr. Cheng Guan

I set out on my Saturday ride about two hours later than I usually do. It's good to do this to get a fresh view of things. Chinese roads are filled with a new cast of characters every three hours. From 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., you'll see the peloton of bedraggled migrant workers on their squeaky bikes. You also encounter lots of car washers who sit on the side of major roads with a couple buckets of water and some sponges. They'll scrub down your vehicle for a small fee.

But by 9 a.m., the car washers are gone and their spots are taken over by the used- car dudes. They put up a little sign that says "Qiu che," or "Seeking car." They sit on a stool or stand up while gesturing to drivers to stop and negotiate the sale of their car. On one stretch of road - Guangzhou Da Dao - that I ride on frequently, you'll see used car dudes lined up 10 meters apart for about 3 kilometers.

Funny, I've never seen anyone actually stop to discuss a deal with them. I'm not sure how the business works. Getting them to explain it is difficult because I don't think they're supposed to be working the roads like this. They certainly weren't happy about me snapping photos of them.

a onblur="try {parent.deselectBloggerImageGracefully();} catch(e) {}" href="">

Everyone knows that I can't resist an overloaded bike. This bike was stacked high with plastic dish washing liquid jugs. I guess the guy goes from restaurant to restaurant collecting them. I hope they get refilled.

I was taking a picture of the dish washing liquid bike when my new best friend pulled up.

I met this guy a couple weekends ago. I was hammering down the road when I heard someone huffing and wheezing behind me. He pulled up alongside me and asked why I was wearing a blinking orb on the back of my jersey. He was talking about the clip-on blinky light that I attach to my back jersey pocket. I told him that it makes me more visible in traffic, and he thought that was clever but kind of weird. I think the Chinese think that I shouldn't worry about drivers approaching me from behind because it's their responsibility to avoid me. Why spend money on equipment to help them to do their job?

He also thought my interest in the overloaded bike was strange. When I told him I was riding to the university district about 16 kilometers away, he was blown away that anyone would ride that far. I love these types of guys. Curious, good natured, upbeat. Check out his shoes - the classic People's Liberation Army sneaker, in camo!

He works for the "cheng guan," a government agency in charge of policing commercial activity on roads and sidewalks, among other things. They're the ones who terrorize the Tibetan women who hawk jewelry on the sidewalks and pedestrian overpasses throughout the city. I noted the "cheng guan" patch on his shirt, and said, "Oh, you work for the scariest government agency!" He just rocked back and let out a loud maniacal laugh, "Heewwaaayyaaaaah!"

Friday, December 4, 2009

Bikes: Need to haul 12 water cooler bottles?

I see guys pedaling these water cooler bikes every day. I keep telling myself that one day, I'm going to ask if I can borrow one for a spin.

The water bike guys are usually in their 30s and 40s - too old for factory jobs. Factory bosses usually only hire workers in their 20s, and job ads usually specify that applicants should be female. Men are too hard to control on the factory floor.

Ahh, my favorite part - pedals made of rebar. I found a shop that sells them and bought a few of them for gag gifts.

This rig was made by Guangzhou's biggest bike builder, the "Wu Yang" or "Five Rams" company. The ram is the city's improbable mascot. Legend has it that five celestial beings descended from heaven on five rams and they gave the locals stems of rice that would keep the area free from famine.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Crash & Punch: A phone call

A follow up to last week's drama involving the expat who hit a local cyclist:

The expat said that for the first time since the incident, he wasn't in pain when he woke up this morning. He did visit the guy he punched in the hospital. When he walked into the guy's room, the guy was laughing and sitting up in bed smoking. But when the guy saw the expat, he suddenly started feeling unwell and had to lay down.

The guy's daughter called the expat's wife and said that after hearing the expat's side of the story, the family realizes that the scuffle wasn't entirely the expat's fault. She said that at the time, her father didn't know that the expat hit a guy who was going up the hill the wrong way. He only saw the expat smacking the idiot bike rider on the head while trying to leave the crash scene.

Does this mean the expat doesn't have to pay the hefty amount of compensation? Nope.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Concrete Blobs: A rare victory in the war (Part II)

I was riding along last Saturday when I discovered this newly born concrete blob. This is the first time I've found a fresh one. I couldn't help but whip out my camera and document the find.

It was shaped like a huge comet with a long tail. It also looked a bit like Australia. I was snapping away with my camera when, as expected, a small group of gawkers gathered. It never takes long for that to happen in China. They were three guys who worked in a nearby metal shop, welding together aluminum security doors and gates.

I asked them if they had a shovel and said it would be wonderful if someone could clear away the concrete pile before it dried. As soon as I mentioned labor, two of the guys walked away. I guess it's no fun gawking at a foreigner who's suggesting you should do some unpaid work.

The one guy who stayed told me that street cleaners would take care of the blob. But I told him I doubted that because I see millions of the damn things on Guangzhou's streets everyday. Then the guy said I shouldn't worry because he'll call the city and they'll send someone out to take care of it.

Beware: sweeping generalization coming up. Many Chinese are programmed by their Confucian Communist overlords not to get involved in civic matters. They're supposed to take care of their families, do their jobs well and let the government and Communist Party run everything else. Cleaning the street is something the regime must worry about. A citizen doesn't fuss with it unless ordered to by the state.

But I started working on the guy. I trotted out the old slogan, "Serve the people!" Then I invoked the spirit of Lei Feng, the legendary selfless soldier, a Communist Good Samaritan who liked to clean latrines in his spare time. These things work with taxi drivers when I'm trying to convince them that my broken bike will fit in the back of their cab if I take both wheels off. It worked with this guy, too. He went into his shop and came out with a pathetic-looking shovel head with a broken handle.

As he scooped up a bunch of concrete, he said to me, "Now, what do I do with it?" I noted that a section of the curb was crumbling and he could use the concrete to patch it up. That's what he did and it looked great.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bike Traps: The concrete blob (Part I)

The concrete blob. It's not the most dangerous bike trap. But it is by far the most pervasive one in Guangzhou. They are everywhere!

I'm not sure how exactly they get created. I'm guessing there's some leftover cement on the chute on the back of the millions of cement trucks that rumble around Guangzhou everyday. The stuff eventually slides down and plops on the street like a big pile of chunky peanut butter. Or it's dribbled, making a long bumpy line. It often just dries into a mound, or a car or truck will run over it, creating an extra dangerous obstacle with ruts, ridges and dodgy edges.

Concrete blobs usually aren't big enough to knock you off your bike, unless you hit one at high speed when riding with one hand while the other hand is holding a water bottle or fishing a snack out of your back jersey pocket. The biggest danger is that they throw you off your line and cause you to ride into traffic. They can also be hard to see because they often blend in with the road. I've never seen road crews removing them. Once they've been born, they're permanent fixtures, unless some righteous roadie takes a stand. To be continued ...

Monday, November 30, 2009

Folding Fetish: One of the weirdest cycling subcultures

Sometimes I'll be on a long solo ride laboring against a strong headwind. I'll see someone up ahead in a proper bike kit, and I'll start thinking, "Ahhh, maybe it'll be someone who can take turns pulling with me." But when I get closer, I realize that's another one of those folding bike dudes!

There's a big group of them in Guangzhou. I think the folding bike is the second most popular type of rig in the city, after the rusty, grimy dinged-up work bikes ridden by migrants. On some Sundays, many of the folding bike fans get all decked out in Euro team outfits, and they gather in the city's university district. They mostly seem to pose and prance around with their tricked-out, small-wheeled bikes. Some of them even bring their girlfriends with them to snap photos.

I got a kick out of this guy. He's a rebel all right.

I guess when I see these guys in their Euro team kits riding those miniature bikes, I kind of feel the same way a Harley rider probably feels when he sees a guy decked out in leather on a moped. Maybe I'm a bike snob.

The cool thing is that many Chinese - well, not that many actually - now have the leisure time and income to indulge themselves with such hobbies. Life isn't all about posting rip-roaring GDP numbers. It's about finding time to get out and do something fun and interesting. As more and more Chinese can do this, the country will be a much nicer place to live in.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Crash & Punch: Money solves everything

There was a happy but expensive ending to yesterday's bike crash, fight drama. A deal with police was cut close to midnight, and the expat cyclist had to fork over 20,0000 yuan (US$2,930). It was unclear who got what of this hefty sum. No doubt, the police took a cut. And some of it probably went to pay medical fees for the alleged victim. On the positive side, no one was seriously injured and charges weren't pressed against the expat cyclist. After the money was paid, the police left the hospital and the expat was able to go home this morning after the doctors determined his internal injuries weren't serious.

The expat was able to give me a few more details today. He said he was flying down the descent when the Chinese cyclist riding the wrong way plowed into him. The expat was able to break his fall with his arm and his shoulder hit the ground as he did a roll. After coming out of the natural momentary shock, he saw the other cyclist - who wasn't seriously hurt - and gave the knucklehead a smack on the head. OK, this wasn't the best reaction, but when someone does something stupid and causes a nasty spill, you definitely feel a need to express your anger. If you can't do it with the local language, you reach for the universal language - like an openhanded pop on the head. Again, not the best move but understandable - and certainly forgivable.

As the expat got on his bike and tried to ride away, a bystander grabbed him and wouldn't let him go. When he tried to pull away, the bystander hit his torso. The expat then punched the guy in the face and he went down, apparently hitting his head on the pavement. As they struggled, a large crowd of gawkers surrounded them. "It was like ants on honey," he said. The crowd held the expat there until the police arrived. In China, it doesn't take long for a mob to form, and most of the time, the crowd won't take the foreigner's side.

The expat never had a chance to assess the injuries of the violent bystander. He thinks the guy needed stitches and possibly broke his nose. It's unclear whether the guy had to pay any kind of a fine or was assigned any blame. I seriously doubt he was.

On China's roads, a foreigner has little or no leverage. I once heard (from a third-hand source) of an accident involving an expat who was cycling down a road when a jaywalking pedestrian jumped out in front of him. The pedestrian suffered some serious head injuries and the expat had to pay the guy's medical bills. In many cases, the police are under pressure to nail the foreigner because if they don't, word will get out that they kow towed to the expat, and this could spark a protest or riot, especially in a village.

In an authoritarian society like China's, everything looks orderly and stable on the surface. But a small incident can quickly explode into a big one. People are often walking around with a load of grievances that they feel they are not allowed to vent. But all it takes is a little spark (e.g. a rumor that a rich foreigner ran into an elderly man and got away without paying compensation), and you can have an inferno by the end of the afternoon.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tips: Never throw a punch in China

I got a text message today from another expat cyclist in Guangzhou. It said, "I crashed my bike against another cyclist going the wrong way and I slapped his head. A bystander intervened. He hit me and so I punched him. He went down. Now I am in police custody."

I called him and found out the situation was much more serious. He sent the text from a hospital, where he was being treated for possible injuries to internal organs. He wasn't able to talk long, but he said that he was still in police custody at the hospital. The details of the incident are still sketchy.

I'm completely sympathetic. I've been in the same situation many times before, and I struggled to maintain my cool. This rider said he was descending a small mountain when he hit the cyclist who was "salmoning" - one of the national pastimes of cyclists in China. I can't tell you how many times I've been climbing or descending and had to find my way around someone who was riding against traffic. You would think that it was the responsibility of the salmon to find safe passage around the person going the right way. But that's not how it works in China. It's one of the few times a Chinese cyclist will hold his line, i.e. when the line really belongs to you.

Anyway, I'm getting off topic. The point I want to make is that it is NEVER a good idea for a foreigner to hit a Chinese person - NO MATTER WHAT THEY HAVE DONE. It's dumb for two reasons:

1. Cyclists look ridiculous in a fistfight. We're wearing clippity cloppety cleated shoes and Spandex that looks cool on the bike but extremely dorky on the road in a fistfight. If you don't believe me, check this out.

2. In China, a Chinese person can rape your women, burn down your home and key the new paint job on your Colnago ... but if you hit him, oh man, you're in big trouble. I know a guy whose crazy Chinese neighbor threw his wife's bike off the top of the apartment complex. He confronted the Chinese guy, things quickly got heated, he punched the Chinese guy and pinned him to the ground. Before he knew it, the Chinese guy called the police and the foreign guy had to write a mea culpa "self criticism" letter and pay a small fine to his lunatic neighbor. The police weren't at all interested in hearing about how the neighbor tossed the guy's wife's bike off the roof. They just focused on the fisticuffs.

I have another friend - a pretty strong bike rider, actually - who was on a training ride when he got doored and hit the ground really hard. As he was picking himself up, he noticed that a Chinese passenger in the car was laughing at him. He went over to the passenger and clocked him. Well, the police showed up at his house later and threatened to expel him from the country if he didn't apologize in writing and pay a fine.

The Chinese take assault very seriously, especially when a foreigner is doing the punching. As soon as you strike out, it doesn't matter what triggered it, you're guilty.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Gear: The news is boring, the bikes are cool

Chinese newspapers are generally boring. But their bikes are cool.

Most of the papers have a fleet of their own customized delivery bikes. They're painted in the company's colors, and the publication's name is often on the frame's top and down tubes. Matching panniers are a must.

Here's a delivery bike for Guangzhou's most popular paper, the Southern Metropolis Daily:

This bike belongs to an entertainment tabloid. The delivery guy parked it outside a greasy noodle joint at lunchtime.

I love the rain cover on the seat below: a plastic bag. The Chinese rarely do any kind of maintenance on their rigs. They just ride them into the ground, then buy a new one. They let the dirt, rust and grime build up all over the bike. Doesn't matter as long as it still rides.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bike Traps: An instant endo?

I came across this wicked little bike trap during a ride over the weekend.

It's a crumbling drain cover reinforced with rebar. The sinister thing is that there's a series of these covers in a long line. So when you're riding along looking at the undamaged covers, you get lulled into complacency, stop paying attention to them, stray a little bit off your line, then "BAM!" you ride over this one and go over your handlebars. OK, this is unlikely because any fool knows that you should never ride over any kind of manhole or grate in China - and probably in most other countries. So many are ill fitted, unstable or just nonexistent.

This bike trap is along a narrow road that goes through a semi-rural area. On the right side of the road, there's a big banana field. But there's also a farmer's market nearby along with a university district and an industrial zone. So there are always trucks, buses and tractors and three-wheel carts that you need to avoid. It's easy to ride into a bike trap like this while doing an evasive maneuver to miss a swerving container truck.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes to fix this thing. The stretch of road has long been a disaster, but about four months ago, road crews patched up some of the roughest parts. I chalked it up to China's US$586 billion stimulus plan. But it didn't take long for the road to become a nightmare again. Maybe I should start riding a cross bike.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pics: It's the Tool Time Guys and the Yam Man

I saw a few interesting things on my 97-kilometer ride. I set out about two hours later than I usually do because I wanted to wait for the morning to get warmer, and I wanted to get a nice big hot bowl of oatmeal into me for fuel. I saw a group of interesting workers that I usually don't run into when I get an earlier start. They were about 20 guys who gather under an overpass about five kilometers from my home. They ride these battered black work bikes that are covered in mud, rust and grime. On a rack over the rear tire, they strap on all sorts of power tools.

Most of them have a power drill tied to the side of the rack and there's some sort of drill press tied down on the top of the rack.

I asked them what the tool was for and where do they work, but they spoke in a thick dialect that I couldn't understand (My usual explanation for not understanding folks because my Mandarin isn't fluent enough.).

They seem to be freelancers, hired drills just waiting for a job. For me, they really embody the spirit - maybe desperation is a better word - of the Chinese worker. There they were on a cold Sunday morning, hanging out under an overpass with their tools, hoping to get a little work. Sure, China is reporting sizzling economic growth again, but times are really tough for people like this.

After riding for 70 kilometers in a icey cruel, relentless headwind, I felt like the unforgiving conditions had really nailed me into the ground like a tent peg. I was fighting the bike and struggling just to turn the pedals over. I couldn't get rid of that cold and clammy feeling. Then I smelled something that made me feel all warm and fuzzy. It was the unmistakable scent of Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts. Slightly sweet with some nutty hints. It was coming from the three-wheel bike cart that I was closing in on fast. Ahhh, it was a Yam Man!

These guys are fixtures in every Chinese city when the weather gets cold. They have some kind of metal oven or big clay pot (Tandoori-like) contraption on the back of their bikes full of baked sweet potatoes. I could have spent the rest of day riding behind this guy, basking in the yam-scented heat trail. Only one problem: He was only going 9 kph.

I foolishly didn't buy a yam because about an hour earlier I had eaten half of a mashed-up peanut butter sandwich I stuffed in jersey pocket. I wasn't hungry but I was at the point where I should have taken on board some fuel. A baked sweet potato was exactly what I needed. A hot football of carbs in my stomach. I passed on it and started paying for the price five kilometers down the road when I started to bonk. I rode home the rest of the way on auto pilot set on slow survival mode.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pics: Turtles and tires!

I was at the end of a 100-kilometer ride this morning when I passed this guy selling turtles on the side of the road.

Last summer, I frequently saw migrant workers on the roadside near my apartment complex selling soft-shell water turtles. They did it just like this guy: punch a hole through the tailend of the shell, thread a piece of twine through it and either hold the turtles up to passing traffic or dangle them from a stick. I've never seen anyone buy them.

It's really hard to get a picture of these turtle dealers. They're not supposed to be hawking reptiles on the side of the road, so they'll usually turn their back to you as you try to snap a photo. This is the first time one of them let me shoot him. I played the be-nice-to-a-foreign-friend card and he went for it. First he wanted me to pay him, which I wouldn't do because I don't want to encourage people who mistreat animals.

The turtles were looking like they were having a VERY BAD DAY. It was really cold and they were barely moving.

Like all the other turtle peddlers, this guy wouldn't tell me where he got the creatures. The turtlemen usually wear hard hats and dress in work clothes. I assume they're construction workers who stumble upon a nest of turtles and try to make a little extra money.

The Cantonese are famous for being adventurous eaters - dogs, cats, snakes, frogs, civit cats - and they're maniacs when it comes to freshness. They usually like to buy their critters live and supervise the slaughter or do it themselves.

When I first came to China in 1990 as a language student, I went to Guangzhou's Qing Ping Market, well known for its head-spinning variety of creatures in cages. It was there where I saw the cruelest thing I've ever seen. There was a small wild deer-like animal stuffed into a cage. Because the cage was so small, they had to chop off all of the deer's legs at the knee to fit it into the container. It just peered out at me looking terrified, with its bloody stumps sticking out of the cage.

Today, I was able to photograph another character who has eluded me many times. Some migrant workers pedal around the city collecting old tires. I guess they sell it for scrap. I'm fascinated by the way they hang the tires on their bikes. This guy has a car tire and motorcycle tires as well as a bizillion bike tires.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Training: The morning schizoids

I'm going to stop setting myself up for failure with these morning rides. They're just not going to happen until the cold front moves away.

Last night, I laid out all my riding clothes on the kitchen table so that I could dress in the morning without waking up my wife. I put out my knee warmers, thermal booties, fleece vest, jersey, neck warmer hat thingy, arm warmers ... the whole works.

When the alarm went off at 5:15, I woke up and felt well rested. But I just couldn't get out of bed. Most homes in Guangzhou don't have central heating, so the mornings can be cruelly cold.

I stayed in bed as my mind started making a list of reasons why I should skip the ride. It said, "The wind is going to be brutal and you'll be miserable. You won't be able to ride that fast in the cold. Why practice riding slow? It'll be dark and there might be more of those broken bricks in the road that are so hard to see. When you rode Tuesday, a gust of wind almost blew you off your line and into traffic on the Pazhou Bridge. It could happen again." Then came the most persuasive argument: "The little Japanese girl next door just caught H1N1 and your daughters' schools have been closed to slow the illness from spreading. It's best not to push it now. Stay healthy and do everything possible to avoid sickness. Getting sick sets you farther back than skipping a workout."

So I didn't ride and stayed in bed until 6 a.m. - the point of no return for my morning workout. If I don't get out the door on the bike by 6 a.m., my workout plans are blown to hell. My narrow window of opportunity is between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m.

I just watched the seconds tick past 6 a.m. At 6:01 a.m., another voice started whispering in my ear. The first thing it said was: "Loser! It's not that cold out there. After about 10 minutes on the road, you would have felt fine. Embrocation! The tough, unpleasant workouts are the most memorable and meaningful ones. You would have felt so proud of yourself if you would have gone out. You're going to lose precious fitness. In Belgium, this is summer weather!"

What will happen now is that I'll move my workouts to the evening. I'll like it at first and wonder why I even tried to ride in the morning. But then the negatives will start building up. I'll have to work late and will miss a key workout or two. Or I'll just want to relax and unwind during the evening and will resent having ONE MORE THING to do in the evening. The workouts will cut into my precious reading time.

Then I'll shift back to the mornings and it will begin again...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Embrocation: The experiment goes awry

Following the success of my embrocation experiments on the road, I decided to try out the stuff on one of my roller workouts in the morning chill on my balcony. I squirted out a blob and rubbed it into my legs, and the wonderful warm feeling kicked in right away. I was riding bare legged when I usually have to wear tights. It felt great.

But 10 minutes into the workout, I discovered a problem. When I'm riding on the roads, I don't really smell the embrocation all that much because the wind whips it off my body. But when I'm riding in place on the rollers, the scent rises up from my legs and goes straight up into my nose. For the first few minutes of the workout, the sinus-clearing sensation was enjoyable. But after 10 minutes, I began feeling like I was riding in a cloud of embrocation. I got lightheaded and a bit dizzy. I couldn't focus on my workout. All I was doing was thinking about how overwhelming the smell was. I felt like I had rolls of wintergreen Lifesavers jammed up each nostril.

Note to self: Get unscented embrocation for the rollers.

It turned out to be the roller workout from hell. Apart from the embrocation overdose, there were a few other annoying things. As usual, I was on a tight schedule. I had just enough time to do a one-hour workout before showering, shoveling some oatmeal down my gullet, checking e-mails, cycling to school with my little daughter and then hopping the shuttle bus to work.

When I got on the rollers and started pedaling, I noticed my Trek bike computer wasn't working. I got off the bike and jiggled the sensor on the fork, but that didn't work. I didn't have time to mess with it, and there was no way I was going to spend an hour on the rollers without feedback. So I had to do a bike change and go back into the apartment to get my trusty steel Colossi.

I got on the bike again and tried to zone out while pedaling and listening to my iPod. Then I started to wonder, "Hmmm, since when has 'Kissing the Lipless' become an eight-minute song?" For some reason, my iPod was continuously repeating songs. The Shins were stuck in some kind of weird loop. I had to stop again and try to debug the iPod. I tried an Arcade Fire song and it started repeating, too. Resetting the device didn't work, and I couldn't waste time fussing with it. I went to a Podcast of a "Shout Out Louds" concert, downloaded from All Songs Considered, and that took care of the problem.

Once I passed the 10-minute warm-up mark, I tried to pick up the tempo and do intervals of three minutes hard followed by two minutes of recovery. But for some reason, my legs had no power. I was struggling to spin at a pathetic 30 kph, when I can usually easily ramp it up to 36-40 kph. I tried to shift up to my big ring, but my 8-year-old geriatric Dura Ace front derailleur just couldn't complete the task. It usually works fine on the road but falls short on the rollers. I'd greatly appreciate an explanation from all the mechanical engineers out there.

That's when I decided that some workouts just aren't meant to be and this was one of them. All the delays had eaten into my hectic morning timetable. To complete all the other essential tasks, I had to cut the ride short to 30 minutes.

As always, with lessons learned, I'll try again tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Embrocation: Better than melted butter on hot waffles

I just want to know why everyone has been keeping the marvels of embrocation a secret from me. Oh man, what a revelation. Slathering the stuff on my legs has solved a serious problem I’ve been having keeping them warm and limber on rides.

When I was an unspectacular-but-determined cross country runner in high school, I ran in shorts through most of the winter without any problem. All it took was a five-minute warm-up to get the blood flowing in the legs and they would be fine.

But now (I won't say how many years - or decades - later), I just can’t get rid of the chill. I’ve had to abandon a climbing workout because the legs weren’t warming up, and I was afraid I was going to pull something. I did a 130-kilometer ride over the weekend, and my quads felt like semi-unthawed hamburger meat throughout the workout. At the 100-kilometer mark, I felt an aching pain deep in my quads. It got so bad that I thought I might have to get off the bike and hail a taxi. When I got home, it was painful to walk. I’ve never felt that sensation before. I’m thinking now that my muscles were aching because they weren’t getting enough blood. The sensation went away as soon as my legs warmed up.

The other day I went out for a 30-kilometer morning ride before work. The temp was about 8 degrees Celsius, and I felt like I was riding in a wind tunnel set on “maximum Arctic blast.” Ordinarily, it would feel like ice crystals were forming on my quads and hams – even if I were wearing thick tights or leg warmers.

But before I went out, I rubbed some embrocation (cheap "Cool Heat" from Rite Aid) into my quads and calf muscles. This made a huge difference. My legs felt great. Warm and limber. They stayed that way for the entire ride. I think I’ve solved my problem and the solution was simple. I love it when that happens.

I don’t know why it took me so long to connect the dots with this embrocation thing. I’m embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t sure what the word meant until recently (It's derived from the Greek “embrokhe” or “lotion”). Sure, I’m an English major who has also completed coursework - but never finished the final paper, as my mother frequently points out - for a master’s in another language-related subject. But I just haven’t come across the word “embrocation” until lately. I’ve always called the stuff “liniment” or referred to it using a product name like “Ben Gay” or “Icy Hot” or “Heat.”

I’ve kind of known about the concept of embrocation for awhile. It’s been on the edge of my radar screen. I was well aware that Rule 20 of OREC (The Official Rules of the Euro Cyclist) says: “The Euro Cyclist shall ALWAYS have liniment applied to his legs before appearing in public.”

There's even a mighty fine cycling Web site and magazine that uses the term in its title:

Then there’s the brief scene with the embrocation junkie in my all-time favorite cycling movie “A Sunday in Hell.” The guy is getting ready to head to the starting line of the 1976 Paris-Roubaix and his trainer lifts up his woolen jersey and peels back a grungy gray undershirt and starts rubbing embrocation all over the guy’s chest. I doubt I’ll go that far.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ride Report: Yao wenge lu!!!!

He saw me in his rear-view mirror and his leathery moon face lit up. He threw open the door to the cab of his banged-up blue flatbed truck and scrambled down to the ground. "Yao wenge lu! Yao wenge lu!" ("I need to ask for directions!") he yelled in a frantic voice with a thick northern accent.

It was 6:30 a.m. and a freezing blustery wind was blowing off the Pearl River. I was halfway into my training ride on an empty frontage road near Guangzhou's sprawling convention center, which looks like a curled up lasagne noodle made of steel. I'm not sure how long the truck driver and his partner in the passenger seat were parked there waiting for help. He was hauling this massive hulk of steel - some sort of pylon - covered in brown rust. I imagine they had been driving all night.

They were so desperate that they were seeking help from a foreign devil reeking of wintergreen-scented embrocation and wearing red booties, white Belgian kneewarmers and a funky Ommegang Brewery jersey with black, gold and brown diagonal stripes. I must have looked like an extraterrestrial to them or some sort of crazy clown on a bike with ridiculously skinny tires. But it didn't seem to phase them. They didn't even bother to ask if I could speak Chinese. There they were in my face yelling, "Yao wenge lu! Yao wenge lu!"

The funny thing about this part of southern China is that it's harder than hell to get accurate directions from anyone on the street. That's because most of the people you run into are migrants who only know the way from their room in the factory dormitory to the assembly line. The locals who really know the city are the ones zooming past you in shiny new cars.

Like a typical migrant, I couldn't tell the truck driver where to go. His sidekick had a rumpled piece of paper with directions on it, and their destination was supposed to be the intersection of Binjiang Road and Yiyuan Road. "Wo bu qingchu," I said ("Duh, I dunno."). Then, a street sweeper walked by and they pounced on the guy, and he began giving them directions. I was quickly forgotten.

Another funny thing about China is that most people don't seem to use maps. I've hired so many drivers who don't have a single map in their glove compartment and show no interest in consulting the ones I often carry in my bag. They usually say, "Well, we'll drive to the general area, then we'll ask for directions."

It could be that most of the drivers are working-class folks who are semi-literate and aren't comfortable getting information from pieces of paper. They prefer word of mouth. Another theory I have is that China has been changing so rapidly in recent years that most maps are outdated as soon as they're printed. I've seen so many roads appear and disappear or get blocked or rerouted in the past couple years. With so much change, the best strategy is to ask around. Just deal with it when you get there. That's problably the best strategy for life in general in China.

People: James Lilley - spook, ambassador, cyclist - RIP

James Lilley recently died, and the New York Times published a nice obit. Lilley was the U.S. ambassador to China during the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests. The Times mentions early in the obituary how he got a sense of what was going on during the tumultuous period:

"Mr. Lilley was familiar with the students’ grievances: Only days after arriving in Beijing in 1989, he took to riding his bicycle on the streets to glean firsthand knowledge of what was going on."

Beijing is a radically different city from what it was during the late 80s. Like most major Chinese cities, it has become less bike friendly. I seriously doubt many diplomats now spend much time cycling around the Chinese capital. This will result in a different understanding of what's going on. It's easy to miss a lot while looking out from behind a car window.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Nutrition: It's the booze, man...

Cycling is a weird subculture, especially the male side of the community. Just look at how we shave our legs and obsess about our weight. I'm guilty of both things. I'm more fixated on my weight than a ninth-grade girl. I've got to be like this because I usually ride a steel frame in a peloton of carbon geeks. I can't afford to be carrying any unnecessary weight.

When surfing the net or flipping through magazines, I've never skipped over an article about diets or weight loss. The other day, the MSN portal, which somehow became my default browser at work, had a story about the best slimming foods to eat (almonds, cinnamon, berries, yams and a few others according to recent dubious studies). Then there was this one on the Bike Radar site.

I usually find that the Bike Radar articles promise a lot but deliver little. Often, the zippy headline leads you into a story that gets bogged down in scientific jargon or just poor writing. But this article was OK, though a bit thin. It confirmed something I've recently learned about myself. I'm like Bradley Wiggins. Cutting alcohol from my diet is essential. I've never been a big drinker. Maybe a beer after work one or two nights during the weekday, and perhaps a glass or two of wine at dinner the rest of the week. On the weekends, I'd drink moderately because I usually need to get up early for a ride.

I never thought the drinking had much of an effect on my weight. But in the past couple months, I've pretty much stopped drinking. The most I'll do is have a Belgian beer as a sundowner on Sunday (A Duvel really knocks me out now!). The rest of the week, I won't imbibe a drop. Oh man, what a difference it has made! I've dropped from 78 to 75 kilos (actually, I think I'm in the 73-74 kilo range). For so long, I was stuck at 78 kilos on my 1.83 meter frame, but knocking out the alcohol really helped me break that barrier. It's all about empty calories, and alcoholic drinks are full of them. A fellow rider with a scientific bent recently gave me a long, technical explanation about how alcohol slows down your metabolism. Maybe, possible, I guess.

Cutting out the alcohol wasn't the only change. I also stopped eating desert, which again wasn't a huge amount of calories in my household (maybe a few cookies, a chunk of chocolate or a small bowl of ice cream) but it adds up. I also stopped eating seconds at dinner (back to Bike Radar article: Lance Armstrong on calories). I used to do this because I'd come home from work ravenously hungry. I'd snarf down the first plate of food in minutes and wander into the kitchen like a bear looking for more. What I do now is take a snack break at 3 or 4 p.m. at work. I'll cut up a couple apples or eat a handful of nuts and that will take the edge off my hunger. So when I get home, I'm less likely to pig out.

The other day, I was digging through my files and found a copy of the medical exam I needed to take to get my visa when I arrived in Guangzhou 2.5 years ago. My weight was 83 kilos! To be fair, that was after a month of home leave in the U.S., where I binged on Tex-Mex food, drank beer every night and didn't exercise much (a daily morning run of 30 minutes). But losing about 10 kilos is absolutely huge for a bike rider, though it seems the hills are really killing me lately.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pics: My 'White Whale' finally captured on camera

I was thrilled to get this picture from my friend Sarah, a scientist and a helluva bike rider who spent the summer in Guangzhou doing research. There's a guy in my office neighborhood who stacks containers on his bike like this, but every time I see him, I don't have my camera with me. He's been my "White Whale." So I was so glad to see that Sarah has documented the crazy "Camper Top" or "Tall Rider" phenomenon. Now all I need is a picture of the guy who rides around with a tower of toilet paper rolls.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Douh!: This bike needs some rethinking

Old Zhang likes to tinker. Sometimes his designs are good. Other times, ... well, they don't seem to work. I'm sure he quickly discovered that bikes with ridiculously long top tubes are cool ..... until you try to ride them!

The funny thing is that I saw a similar frame on the Bikefag blog. Could Old Zhang be a Bikefag fan? Or are great minds thinking alike again?

I do love to see people being whimsical and wacky. It's really something I don't see enough here. I'm probably not looking in the right places. The government is pushing companies to be more creative and innovative. The wise "Marxist" mandarins believe the era of doing labor-intensive OEM processing (taking a bunch of parts designed by and made by foreigners and getting a bunch of migrant workers to snap them together in a sweatshop) is close to being over. It doesn't benefit China much either. Officials love to cite the infamous study about the Barbie doll, which sells for US$10 but the Chinese factory only makes 35 cents from that.

Anyway, it's great to see people tinkering, even though the design isn't completely practical. A few months ago, the local papers had a story about a young self-styled inventor in some village who made a one-man submarine. I love it. Really fantastic. Jia you!!!!!

Dump and Run: Oops, I spilled a few tons of muck on the road

I'm intrigued by the "Dump and Run" phenomenon on Chinese roads. Someone with a truck piled high with rubble, dirt, smashed up drywall, spintery plywood or a combination of all four, plus some more stuff, sets off on a midnight run to the landfill but decides to pocket the tipping fees and just dump the stuff on the road under the cover of darkness. It just typifies the popular attitude in China (and..ahem...on Wall Street): Screw everyone else! I'm making some extra cash while nobody's looking! This is how melamine ends up in baby formula and lead paint on toys.

Yesterday, the Southern Metropolis Daily, one of the region's most popular newspapers, had a story about how a few tons of dirt - mud, actually - ended up on a Guangzhou street in the middle of the night on Wednesday. The mud covered a one-kilometer stretch of the road, and it took a crew four hours to clean it up.

One of my nightmares is that I'm hammering down a road at 40 kph in the early morning darkness and suddenly I plough into a mud slide like this and do an endo into the muck.

A few weeks ago, I saw a spectacular D&R on a side road in a Guangzhou industrial park near the Pearl River Brewery. This one was mostly made up of chunks of pulverized concrete and took up about two city blocks. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me.

I've posted the below photo (credit: Simon Sandral) on this blog before, but I'm reposting it because this D&R was so brazen. Done on a highway! The amazing thing is that I've never seen these trash piles cause an accident.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Musings: Nighttime Coach v. Morning Coach

Jerry Seinfeld claims that within everyone there's a "nighttime guy" and a "morning guy." The nighttime guy always screws over the morning guy. The nighttime guy wants to stay up late, have a couple more beers, finish watching the next eight episodes on the "Sopranos" DVD. The nighttime guy always tries to eat into the morning guy's time. The morning guy can't do much about this. He just has to deal with the consequences. It sounds funnier and wittier coming from Seinfeld, of course.

Well, I've got a nighttime coach and a morning coach within me. The nighttime coach is a hard ass, a retired Green Beret drill sergeant. Last night, he told me - no, he ordered me ... barked at me, actually - that I had to jump out of bed at 5:30 this morning, eat a little something, then get on the bike for a hard one-hour ride before work. I was to do this regardless of the weather. Simple orders, just do the ride. Right, sir. I got it.

But the alarm went off, and the morning coach was on duty. He's more like my mother. The first I heard from him was: "Hmmmm, sounds like it's raining outside. Maybe going out isn't a good idea." I went to the balcony and checked the weather. Nothing was coming down but we obviously had showers during the night, and I could see big puddles on the streets. The wimpy morning coach said, "Streets will be slippery. Could be dangerous." Then, the wimpy morning coach said, "How ya feeling? You're looking kind of tired. Maybe you should take the day off. Ride tomorrow instead. You don't want to catch anything." Hmmmm, I said, maybe you're right. Before I knew it, I was back in bed, drifting off to sleep.

An hour later at breakfast, I was hating myself for skipping the workout. I felt fine and would have been finishing the ride just about then if I would have tuned out the morning coach. The morning coach is most effective during the first 10 minutes after the alarm goes off. That's when I'm most vulnerable. If I can just get out of bed and start doing my routine, the morning coach begins to fade away. It's best if I just tell myself that if I do the ride, I'll feel great. The whole day will be better. The real trick is to keep an empty Zen mind for those first 10 minutes of the day. Just be. Don't think. Don't assess. Then take it from there.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pics: Bikes at work

It's great to take a brief break in the afternoon to gawk at the Chinese workers and their bikes. This guy was pushing his bike up the steep ramp on the pedestrian bridge over Dong Feng Road.

If you need to transport 20 meters of PVC pipe through the streets of a crowded city, why not just strap it to your bike?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Firewall: Another battle lost but war will rage on

I've been trying to post a few interesting things the past two days without success because China's Great Firewall seems to be blocking me. I could go ahead and just post the text without photos. But I don't want to do that this time. I WILL think of a way to get around this, so please keep checking in.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Book Review: Byrne makes sense in "Bicycle Diaries"

David Byrne started using his bike for daily transport in New York in the late 70s and early 80s – long before it was cool. His ride of choice was a simple commuter bike, and he has never joined the Spandex-clad roadies, which he calls “sport cyclists.” Now, Byrne favors collapsible bikes, which he takes with him on his global travels. He has jotted down thoughts inspired by cycling through cities as diverse as Berlin, Manila, Sydney, Pittsburgh, Istanbul, London, Buenos Aires and New York. Those musings are in his new book, “Bicycle Diaries” – a wonderful volume written in simple, conversational, unpretentious prose.

I never knew about Byrne’s passion for cycling, but it didn’t surprise me. Something about his music seemed to fit the bike. When I was in college in the 80s, I used to blast the Talking Heads while riding my rollers in my room. Funny, I recently reconnected with one of my old colleges housemates. He noted my continued love for cycling and recalled my “Psycho Killer” roller sessions.

Byrne says that cycling an hour or two each day keeps him sane. He explains how he got hooked. “I felt more connected to the life on the streets than I would have inside a car or in some form of public transport. … The same exhilaration, as the air and street life whizzed by, happened again in each town. It was, for me, addictive,” he says. I know exactly what he means.

Naturally, Byrne writes a lot about music and art as well as politics, history and even the Stasi in the former East Germany. But for me, he’s at his best when he’s talking about urban planning, transportation and how the modern metropolis affects human beings. He seems to love bicycle-friendly Berlin. But, like me, he wonders if he prefers Berlin’s easy environment – safe bike lanes, respectful motorists – or the more challenging streets of New York, which make you feel more alive and offer more adventure. I have the same constant internal debate about China’s streets. I bitch a lot about the chaos and roughness or the roads, but I also admit it gives my life an interesting texture.

Byrne is happy that cycling is getting easier in New York. He notes that bike traffic increased by 35 percent between 2007 and 2008. Still, he says, the Big Apple can’t be compared with Copenhagen, where one-third of the workforce commutes by bike. I share Byrne’s hope that the ongoing economic downturn will be a great opportunity for people to rethink how they get around, and public transport and bike lanes won’t be scoffed at anymore.

He makes a good point when he says, “A place without sidewalks privileges the automobile, and therefore the richer people in cars have more rights; this is undemocratic.” This made me think of China and how the car is such a good symbol of the social imbalance, the widening gap between the rich and poor. Roads are increasing being reserved for the wealthy and their autos.

Byrne is also right when he notes that “building more roads doesn’t actually relieve congestion – ever. More cars simply appear to fill these new roads and more folks imagine that their errands and commutes might be accomplished more easily on these new expressways.”

Friday, November 6, 2009

Equipment: My new best friend - the sponge

I hate seat bags. They look dorky and distract from the beauty of the bike. Besides, most of the essential stuff you need can be carried in your jersey pockets. But lately, my pockets have been getting full. The latest addition: a sponge.

It occurred to me this morning that I really need something to wipe off the disgusting layer of mud that builds up on my morning rides and can't be simply washed away with a hose. Today, I had to use my hands to wipe it off my frame. As usual, the water truck that sprays down the roads got going earlier than I did. Also as usual, the truck was just soaking the dirt-encrusted streets without sweeping away the muck. There were two five-kilometer stretches of road that I had to ride on that were covered in what looked like chocolate milk. My shins were splotched with the stuff and my blue shoe covers quickly turned brown.

After my rides, I usually wash off my bike in the parking garage of my apartment complex, where there's a little car washing area with a hose. But the hose doesn't have any kind of a nozel so the water pressure is weak. It simply douses the bike with water, but doesn't really wash away any of the sticky filth. So, I'm going to have to start packing a sponge.

My pockets are already pretty full. I carry a small pump, two tubes, point-and-shoot camera and a zip lock bag with my mobile phone, hand wipes, tire irons, enough cash for a taxi ride home and laminated copies of my passport in case the cops want to stop me to do a routine ID check. But what can you do?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ride Report: Rolling too soon

I've been wanting to do a solid two-hour ride on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, but I can't set out at 5:30 a.m. anymore because it's too dark. My solution was to do a half hour on the rollers before hitting the road for about an hour or so when the sun came up.

I was well aware of the obvious downside: going outside into the cold a bit overheated and sweaty. But I thought that I could minimize this problem by changing my jersey and toweling off before I headed out the door.

It didn't work, though. Although I did my roller workout on the balcony in 12 degree Celsius weather, I was dripping with sweat after 15 minutes. I dried off after the 30-minute workout, changed my clothes and even put on a nylon vest.

But as soon as I started pedaling to my apartment complex's gate, the cold wind started torturing me. It didn't feel like chilly gusts were hitting my skin. The sensation was more like needle-thin icesicles plunging into every pore of my body and lodging themselves into my bones. It was unbearable.

I immediately turned back and got back on the rollers for another half hour. I felt silly as I watched the sun come up on what turned out to be a gorgeous morning. There I was on rollers when I should have been on the road.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Travel: The mountains call - Part II

Whenever I travel for my job, I try to bring my bike along. I always try to stay in race shape, so I can't afford to be off the bike during trips that can last as long as a month. I also hate working out in hotel gyms, pedaling in a pool of sweat on a squeaky stationary bike facing a wall. I would much rather explore a city by bike, and traveling with one is easy with the latest bike boxes and bags that are relatively light and protect your rig.

In Taipei, I can get in a tough two-hour ride in the mountains before work if I get out the door by 5:30 a.m. It's a fantastic ride that begins in the "Blade Runner"-like urban chaos of Taipei and within a few kilometers takes you into the lush green mountains that provide terrific views of the humming, sprawling city below.

Taiwan is undergoing a cycling renaissance. Bicycles were once the main form of transport for the masses before the leaf-shaped island evolved into a manufacturing juggernaut and the economy boomed. But the people who shifted to motor scooters and then cars are rediscovering the joys of cycling. On the weekends in Yangmingshan, the roads are filled with people pedaling everything from Colnagos and Pinarellos to tricked-out collapsable bikes.

My favorite ride is a 92-kilometer out-and-back route from the Feeling Hotel, over the mountains in Yangmingshan National Park and down to Jin Shan beach on the northeastern Pacific coast. The climbs can be steep, and in one five-kilometer section, I felt like the two greasy fried eggs and toast I had for breakfast were inching their way up my gullet with each pedal stroke.

But the payoff is huge as you speed down long descents into mountain valleys where farmers grow vegetables in small terraced plots on the hills. Elderly ladies set up rickety stands under umbrellas on the side of the road and sell cabbages, eggplants and greens. One itinerant butcher in a rusty red van throws a wooden chopping block on the roadside and hacks up cuts of meat for passers-by.

The park is full of hot sulfur vents that spew steamy clouds into the air that smell like rotten eggs. The tropical rainforest vegetation is loaded with bamboo groves and tall grasses, where locust-like insects make a strange metallic whirling noise that sound like a space ship is about to land.

A switchback-filled descent of about 20 kilometers ends at Jin Shan Beach. When I rode there on a recent Saturday, the beach was full of young Taiwanese surfers enjoying the higher waves being kicked up by a tropical storm.

I stopped at a roadside food wagon, and ordered a second breakfast of coffee and waffles with a generous dollop of whipped cream. I sat down at a small plastic cafe table and watched the people riding the waves.

When I turned around to go home, I could see dark rain clouds hanging over the mountain. Rather than wait out the storm, I decided to push through it.

A hard rain began to fall about 10 minutes into the climb back over the mountain. But as I pedaled higher, I climbed out of the storm and spent the rest of the way uphill in a fantastically refreshing mist that kept me cool. It was much like a dream.

I returned to the hotel absolutely exhausted but with a wonderful buzz from being in the spectacular outdoors. I lugged my bike up the steps of the Feeling Hotel and opened the door with a big smile on my sunburned face. As I stepped into the lobby, I saw the Taiwanese man in the black suit with his date. He was also grinning, also looking tired but happy.