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.

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