We stay three days aboard the ferry Su Zhou Hao which connects Japan to China, and we do not idle! Reading, napping, film, Bath, meal… In short we would have stayed a week longer!
As the port of Shanghai approaches, there is a clear change in the color of the water. From the deep blue of the sea, we now sail in a marronâtre water. In the distance, we barely distinguish the buildings through a dirty mist. It is also very hot and very humid, we are on May 1st, soon the rainy season will begin.
To our surprise, our boat lays us down… in the city center! Instead of landing at the industrial port as we expected, we borrowed the river running through the city.
Meng and Axel welcome us for the night. As in most Chinese homes, the bed consists of a wooden plank on which is stretched a thin quilt. “It’s good for the back” it seems…
We do not linger in Shanghai, we want to pedal in the countryside. We’re taking the south. We try to take small paths first. Problem? China is in full construction. Roads, buildings, rails, grow in every direction. Others no longer exist, and our map is not up to date. Often the road we want to borrow is stopped by a wall, and we are forced to turn around. We change strategy and we decide to take bigger axes. That is to say very often two times two lanes, plus a lane reserved for scooters and bicycles. We are therefore often separated from cars and we simply have to pay attention to scooters, mostly electric, so silent. The road is flat, but the roar of the dump truck engines and the dust released makes the experience much more stressful than expected.
And it’s just begun, because between Shanghai and Hangzhou, two hundred kilometers to the south, we are plunged into a continuous urban and industrial environment. When we are not in a crowded city, we cycle between factories, half rusty but miraculously functional, which spit smoke and tired machine noise. During these four days, whether we planted our tent in the city centre or in large parks, we are constantly awakened by the Chinese activity which obviously does not know the rest.
Unlike Japan, we have no difficulty in meeting locals. The presence of foreigners like us in these cities that do not attract any foreign tourists is an event. We are shown a finger, we take pictures, we approach as close as possible to observe us well. It is not uncommon that once the tent is planted, we become the actresses of a show that fascinates them. We sometimes manage to exchange a few words in English with the younger ones, but overall the communication remains succinct. We take little by little consciousness of the cultural abyss that separates us when we do not even manage to make us understand through some mimes.
Invariably, we come to speak in Chinese, and in front of our interrogative mines, speeches are punctuated by bursts of laughter and exclamations. “Tim Burton! “, they shout. And when a “Tim Burton! ” is started, any attempt to communicate will stop. We’re just being watched, as if we were some weird critters.
One evening we plant the tent in a tiny park in the middle of an industrial city. Once again, we feel like we are diving in the middle of a construction site. Huge trucks spray their dust across the city, so a cloud of fine particles seems to reign permanently there. In the park where we settle, we intrigue. Little by little, parents and children stop at a good distance and observe us. A family man, more reckless, comes to show the aliens that we are to his son. He puts it in front of us, a few centimeters. It didn’t take any more to motivate others, so everybody agglutinates and we’re surrounded. We are spoken in Chinese, some children can speak English to us. And once again, we hear “Tim Burton! ” Fuser on both sides. The atmosphere is fun, we share a little food and a bit of our adventures.
We finally arrive in Hangzhou, a small Chinese village, ten million inhabitants and in the fourteenth position of the largest cities in the country. We find Agathe, a French friend who has lived in China for a year. It will teach us many very useful things about the obscure world of China, and in particular that “Timbedon “, or “Tim Burton ” As we hear it, means “They do not understand anything!”.
We are housed at Alena and Russlan, a young couple of Russians, settled in the suburbs of Hangzhou for a few months. On the evening of our arrival, they offer to go for a drink with their friends. We meet Rémy, a Lithuanian pianist and opera singer now a music teacher in a private school in China, and Dremus, New Zealand in a flower shirt and a reptile’s leather boots. His blood alcohol level and his accent does not help, we have a crazy to understand what he tells… and he is very talkative! Like most of the young expatriates we meet, they are teachers, often English, reconverted to spend a few years abroad.