Last week, we told you about Christopher St. Cavish, the American chef who quit his job at the Shanghai Shangri-la and decided to ride a refurbished Chang Jiang sidecar motorcycle across China — for charity. He left Shanghai on Sunday. St. Cavish is looking for companies and individuals to sponsor the ride he is calling “Santo Chino.” Those interested in donating can do so via PayPal at St. Cavish’s website. All proceeds go to Hands on Shanghai‘s Rising Stars program:
The Rising Star program matches students from migrant and urban poor families with young professionals in Shanghai. Volunteers act as mentors to students, giving their time in activities and outings with their mentee. Bonds formed not only enhance the lives of the students, but also allow adults to give back to their community.
St. Cavish will be sending Shanghaiist periodic reports from the road. The following is the first installment. Feel free to post questions, suggestions or anything else you want to tell St. Cavish in the comments — he’ll be checking the site from the road (well, from the side of the road … we hope). You can view his photos from the trip here.
By the way, check out that bike! Nice logo, huh? (There are two more on the bike itself.) We’re expecting to see a spike in site traffic from China’s interior provinces in the coming weeks. You can’t tell it from the photo, but the metal cover for the sidecar is not painted black like the rest of the bike — it’s just unpainted metal. St. Cavish couldn’t find anyone willing to paint the cover black. Why? They all thought it would make the sidecar look too much like a coffin — and that would be a bad omen for the trip.
Here’s Chris’ first report:
The Santo Chino show is on the road. A couple days of riding (read: laziness) postponed the first update, and proof of my survival. The first day got me as far as Suzhou, dodging suicide commandos along the industrial potpourri belt of Bei Qing Highway. A quick pit stop turned into lunch turned into a protracted repair of the bike – I finally accepted the day was a washout when I saw half of the engine sitting next to the bike and receiving what I had always considered my personal trick to fixing anything – the old hit it with a hammer. Hard. And then Harder. I couldn’t complain – my nerves were shot from the stop, go, SWERVE!, stop, stop, go, BRAKE! traffic.
I spent the day eating spicy pig’s ears (not so bad. . .), shooting the shit with these guys, and planning my escape from Suzhou.
Wang and I roll out of his factory at six in the mo’ning. The convoluted path to what the map showed me as a clean, straight green line makes me a little nervous about how the hell I’m going to get all the way across the country. The PDA doubling as a GPS is quickly losing my trust. I’m thankful for the several road atlases I bought last-minute, and figure I will use it to keep track of all zero appointments I plan to make while I’m on the road. If I didn’t have Wang leading the way, I’d still be in Suzhou, asking for 227. My nerves settle once I get on the road and out of the town. The roads are empty, but the river parallel to the road is full of huge barges. A smart friend once told me that Shanghai is the Detroit of Asia. Up to this point, he’s right – it looks industrial, it smells industrial, it sounds industrial. Everything is gray, or in blue jumpsuits. I need some caffeine.
I stop for a rest in Huzhou, a small town on the southwest corner of Tai Hu, and am stoked to find a park on the first road I turn down. I stop the bike, and look up to a ring of curious faces pushing closer. I answer a couple of questions, grab my atlases and head to the park. It’s a perfect balance to the gray road landscape – old people are fighting trees, assorted poultry-themed boats of teenagers splash each other with water on the lake, people are scattered under the trees playing mahjong and cards. There’s a band playing classic instruments. It’s 9 AM. Damn, back home I’d still be fighting the alarm clock. . .
Unfortunately, for my ease of navigation, 227 does not go all the way to Qinghai. It, in fact, increases to 318, which in turn subtracts into 104, or Er Hao Something Lu, passes several highways and gets me lost. I pull over, take off my helmet, and ask for help in my best Mandarin. No dice. The five mechanics sitting in front of me are quiet. They give me the stink eye. I intentionally stay long enough to make it awkward. Finally, they yell at me ‘I don’t know! Leave and ask someone else, OK?!’
Some gas station attendants point out the way, and I continue. From this point, the scenery starts to dramatically improve. The highway turns into a two lane road, bordered by overhanging trees and flat rice fields extend out to the horizon. This year’s crop is being harvested, and the fields are speckled gold. The already-harvested fields are being burned, and smoke replaces the exhaust fumes of the bigger highway.
I spot a sign for the Chinese Alligator Breeding Grounds Park. I grew up in Florida, home of the alligator farm. I pray that they wrestle them here also. I take the detour through tiny villages to the completely empty park. They’re small, and lazy. I can’t find any kind of area where wrestling might take place. Disappointed, I spot the ‘Alligator Feeding Terrace’ – a concrete pier that juts out into their small brown pond. I have visions of live chickens, a la Shanghai Wild Animal Park. I ask a gardener where I can buy some food to feed them. She points to a building on the far side of the park – “They have chicken legs over there”, by which I hope she means that the legs are still attached to the entire chickens, and nervously pacing. When I get to the building, I’m surprised to find it packed full of middle school students. My arrival must be a nightmare for the teacher, calmly trying to educate the kids on these small, lazy chicken-eating animals. Once I’m spotted, “Laowai! Laowai!” runs through the crowd, the kids jump out of their seats, the teacher looks at me, dumbfounded, and the screams almost drown out my words to the cashier behind the desk
“Where can I buy a chicken?”
“What? A Chicken? No, we don’t have chickens.”
“I want to feed the alligators.”
I get the stink eye for the second time in one day. Shit. Then I spot some packaged duck legs. This must be what the gardener was telling me.
“How much for those?” I point at them.
“Oh, no. You can’t have. . . ”
“What? Why not?”
“No, no, no. . ”
“No, for me, I’m hungry. How much?”
They’re fed up with me, and sell me a couple duck legs. I break one open and take a bite, trying be convincing in my lie. I run back to the feeding terrace, and throw half the leg into the water. Nothing. The second half lands on the concrete beach. A sad gator with a juice box somehow attached to its neck investigates with his partner. They are not impressed. Not at all. I should’ve bought a live duck from the farmers on the way in.
While I was trying to work the beasts into a feeding frenzy, a couple students came over and pretended to be talking, and playing it cool, as if I wasn’t there. As I moved to leave, they all hushed, giggled and rushed over to me, shouting “Hello! Hello! What’s your name?”. They brought a wooden cobra out of a bag, and gave it to me as a present. They had bought it when I came into their hall, and were waiting the entire time. Sweet move. All previous stink eyes of the day erased.
I cruise on in a great mood, and cross into Anhui province on a wonderfully paved road. For the first time I can see mountains in the distance, and highway is completely mine. I stop for the night in Ning Guo, which, except for the incredible density of Pink Parlors, is rather unremarkable.