Of Bicycles and Buffalo (A Morning on Qiao Island)

This morning, we decided to get outdoors early in an attempt to beat the heat.  We had a lovely morning on Qiao Island, but if the truth must be told, I think the heat beat us.  The high today was 92*F and the heat index got up to 115*F.  Good thing we went out early.

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We took the #85 bus from Tangjia onto Qiao Island and hopped off by a roadside bike rental stand.  The sign by the road says bikes are 10 yuan for a day.  The woman at the shop insisted they were 15.  Perhaps they cost extra because Joel’s was a mountain bike (multiple gears, oooh) and mine had a child seat.  Or maybe they were extra because we’re foreigners.  Whatever the case, we made our payment and were pedaling by 9:00.

Qiao Island is still quite undeveloped.  There are lots of wetlands, fish farms, and patchy little farms with shacks nearby.  Are the shacks living quarters?  Or just a shady spot for workers to hide from the heat?  I don’t know.

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Typical roadside attractions.

Our path started out paved but turned to a dirt road soon enough.  Dirt.  Mud.  Whatever.

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The path we chose went up a steep hill.  We gamely tried to pedal it, but it was no use.  We wound up pushing our bikes most of the way up, only to ride down the other side at white-knuckled speed with brakes that don’t really work.  Oh yeah, and I’ve got a kidster with no helmet on the back of my bike.  No biggie.

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After a while, we came upon a big pasture with water buffalo in it.  I confess, these are the first water buffalo I’ve seen in China.  On previous visits to Qiao, we’d noticed other signs of their presence, but this was the first I’d caught glimpse of them.

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They’re big and their horns are quite impressive.  I remarked to Joel that I was quite happy to have a tall barbed wire fence between me and them.  We paused for a photo break and to let Simon “oooh” and “wow” at the hoofstock.

“Pup-py!”

“Nope, Simon, they’re not puppies.”

pause

“Kit-tee!”

“No, sorry, kiddo…”

We started pedaling again.  The buffalo were walking at the same pace as us, just on the other side of the fence.  And then, all of a sudden, they stepped through a hole in the fence and wandered right into our path.  Oops.  So much for the security of barbed wire!

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Fortunately, they weren’t interested in us.  The lead buffalo had his sight set on a pond on the opposite side of the road.

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Pool party!

In they climbed, one by one, until nothing was visible but a bunch of heads and horns.

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They don’t call us “water buffalo” for nothing.

Had we bicycled by just ten minutes later, we might have crossed right by that pool without ever even noticing the dozen buffalo chilling within!

We turned back, as I was still a little nervous about the general proximity.  Perhaps if I didn’t have Simon, or the roads were solid enough that I could have pedaled faster, I’d have felt more comfortable.  We biked back into Qiao Village.  A lot of the homes here are in rough shape.  Actually, to be blunt, they look like they’ve been bombed out.  I wish I knew what was going on.

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Realtor says, “Panoramic views! Natural air conditioning!”

And yet despite the generally dilapidated, abandoned feel of the neighborhoods, there are tidy, healthy vegetable gardens in many of the courtyards.  Somebody still lives here, and they have green thumbs.

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Peas, corn, bananas, and more.

We were hot and tired.  Simon wasn’t the only one who needed a nap.  We returned our bikes and hopped on a bus home; back by noon.  We were thirsty, hungry, and very, very sweaty–and we’d earned our right to laze about in the air conditioning for the rest of the hot afternoon.

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