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China Road 3: A Country Market

China Road 3: A Country Market

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Published by Carla King
A draft of the 3rd story in The China Road Motorcycle Diaries.
A draft of the 3rd story in The China Road Motorcycle Diaries.

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Published by: Carla King on Apr 17, 2010
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved


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This is a draft of my third story from the upcoming nonfiction travelogue The China Road Motorcycle Diaries.
The China Road Motorcycle Diaries
3 ~ A Country Market
 The China Road Motorcycle Diaries
Carla King
3A Country Market
Cool air leaks into my sleeves and neck as I ride for mile after sunny mile. Mountain peaks bite into the skyline with jagged bare rock teeth and valleys fall open to revealnewly-green spring grasses. The sun has burned away the satiny morning haze to revealthe details of the country’s geography.I pass a man going my direction holding onto a wheelbarrow loaded behind him with twolong tree trunks balanced precariously on top of a bed of straw. He is barely able to keepthe load from running him over on this long downhill stretch. I always wonder wherethey’ve from and where they’re going, these people walking in the seeming middle of nowhere. The last sign of civilization was about 20 kilometers back. Ten kilometers later I’ve gone up and down another set of switchbacks and there’s still no sign of a village.The man stays on my mind for a long time. Every time I reach the bottom or the top of ahill I wonder how he’s going to manage. Does he have water? Has he packed lunch? I’dfeel that I’d traveled back a century or two in time but for telephone poles strung alongthe road, always there to remind me of modern civilization, switchback after switchback.Suddenly I come to a huge wide concrete bridge that funnels the road over an alarminglywide dry riverbed, but now it serves as a parking lot for a farmer’s market. I putter acrossthe bridge to gawk at the rows and rows of tables full of fruits and vegetables, I can smellsweet dough sizzling in boiling oil, and animal manure. Once over the bridge I find aspace to park under a tree between a dilapidated three-wheeled diesel truck and a donkeycart. As I remove my helmet the donkey honks and bucks, stepping backwards so the cart bumps into a tree. I am surrounded by people and more people surging like waves,trapping me within just a foot of the motorcycle all around.Alarmed but not frightened, I remove the key and step away, and the crowd parts for me.I expect to be followed but it’s the bike that’s the curiosity, even though it’s Chinese itattracts attention because it’s an old “big” bike, a powerful 750cc with a sidecar,
 The China Road Motorcycle Diaries
Carla King
enormous in comparison to the little 125cc models you commonly see puttering along theedges of the roads.I leave them to explore the bike, to squeeze the brake and clutch levers, to stare into theodometer and to peek under the sidecar cover. I’ve learned that theft is not a problem, butin a communist society there is little concept or respect for private property, and amtrying to learn to live with it.The marketplace is a fantastic mess of produce stands, food stalls, smells, people andanimals. People stare but they are busy, this market is the main event and its likely thatmost have traveled very far on foot or bicycle to buy supplies. Using sign language I buyoranges, pears and bananas. I ask for a column of sweet fried dough. It tastes of cinnamon, and when I smile in appreciation the man’s face lights up and he calls outloudly something that makes everyone laugh. An old woman sits under a tarp tied to the branches of a tree that’s just starting to bud. She presides over a massive wok, lifting thecover to spoon a dark liquid over a hundred boiling eggs. Their shells are cracked and thewhites are stained. I eat two right there—I’d expected soy sauce but I think it’s black tea,the flavor is mild and not salty. I throw the shells in the pile of trash next to the tree trunk,and stand there watching, and being watched. I know these people have never seen aforeigner, but they’re staying cool about it. I buy some more eggs, letting the woman takecoins from my open palm. I don’t think she’s marked up the price like they do in Beijing.Where there are no tourists, there is no tourist price. Everything cost just pennies.I follow the scent of almonds and find a stack of freshly-baked cookies yellow with fooddye and glistening with a coating of egg whites. I buy a dozen, thinking they’ll be goodwith coffee the next couple of mornings, as I haven’t adopted the Chinese habit of  breakfasting on noodle soup. I’m glad to have all these supplies to carry with me for thenext few days.Walking to the river, I stumble over the large white rocks to a spot where I can see 360degrees to scan the landscape, trying to imagine where all these people have come from.
 The China Road Motorcycle Diaries
Carla King

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