Well folks, some of you may know from my other posts that living in rural China is no picnic at times. There is a lack of basic imported goods that I’d become accustomed to having in my other Chinese home. I like to keep it Chinese, and I’d prefer to see less Foreign faces, but when the only white face is your man or the mirror and you can’t buy CHEESE in any supermarket, you begin to wonder what life is all about.
The new semester has just started at school and after a nice Winter break of travelling and indulging in far too many Western delicacies in Hong Kong, it’s time to get running. The dress maker is expecting a little less of me to arrive for my first fitting in April. Our boarding school has a pretty nice campus and once there’s no over-sugared children about to chase me, it can be quite the peaceful experience. A lap and a half of campus is one kilometre, and the surface is nice and even. We do have a running track, but I feel like those things have a built in time-warp and the boredom of running around that hamster wheel makes my sand feet set in, where I feel I’m sinking too much into the ground and I slow down to something that no longer qualifies as running.
This week some sunny weather greeted us, so it was jumpers off (for me), while all my students were still well wrapped up asking me “Hannah, aren’t you cold?” . Lads it’s 20 degrees and I’m Irish. I should be in shorts.
My midweek campus runs take place after dark, when all the kids are stuck in their classrooms once again doing their homework, but this weather was too good not to get out in. I looked out my window. The place was crawling with nippers playing chasing, hunting for snails and generally have pre-dinner frolicks. No place for a run. I’d have to take to the streets. I’d never run on the streets of our home in rural Wanzai- today was the day.
However, it was not the relaxing sun-prance I’d had in mind.
- The road surface
Let’s start with the basics, a nice even surface is pretty essential, unless you’re a trail runner- which I am not. Right now I’ve just started back to running after a long hiatus, and I need things to be as simple as possible. On my rural road run I found myself trying to delicately pit-patter over random patches of gravel, potholes, broken concrete and loose tiling. That nice steady pace was nowhere to be found as I tried to prevent myself falling face down into a puddle or down a manhole (which are often just left wide open in China, with no warning nearby).
2. The smells
It’s no secret the air in China sucks. Well it sucks. Even in the countryside. I often hear the locals “we don’t have smog here, that’s only in Beijing”. While this place isn’t too effected by the big S, the mounds of construction underway means it’s often in a cloud of dust instead. While on the open road, there’s nothing like treating yourself to a niiiiice deep breath, to freshen up. In Ireland this might mean getting a lovely whiff of freshly cut grass or some sea air (my running time in Dublin and Wexford may have become a little rose tinted in my absence). In China I’m gulping in fumes, dust and the less than refreshing scent of something deep fried.
3. The local eyes
It goes with the territory of living somewhere people have never seen a white person, you will be stared at. Fair enough. Hideouts are few and far between. If you pair that with the shock of the fact that this white girl is running IN THE STREET, the local mind boggles. Road running is something that’s only really caught on in some of the bigger cities. Late last year I did a measly thirty minute run on the treadmill at the gym and when I’d finished, the woman in her ballet pumps strolling on the treadmill next to me told me she’d never seen anyone run for such a long time in her life.
In my old city I’d see a handful of Chinese runners, but here there are none. Some light jogging is saved for playing fields and running tracks, not the streets. As I was mooching along trying to settle into pace on the first kilometre, I caught a glimpse of something in the corner of my eye. I looked up to find a black Audi keeping pace with me, with two young fellas in the front, eyes on me and big grins to match. Move along there chaps. As people passed me on their scooters, heads were turned, fingers were pointed. However noticeable I am at a walking pace, it seems I was quite a few times more noticeable at a (terribly slow) running pace.
4. No one has right of way in China
Now this is the biscuit. Due to the running craze in Ireland and many Western countries, runners rule the road. People are too considerate. People stop at green lights just to avoid getting in the way of some martyr who has taken to the streets for their exercise. No worries of having to slow down or speed up too much too often, just keep a nice steady pace and everyone else will go around me. Everyone else will go around me.
Not in China. In a country where any person in any kind of vehicle believes they have right of way, driving is no easy feat. Running… forget it. I was scraping the bottom of the food chain- dodging cars, wheelbarrows, motorbikes, ebikes, chickens, three wheelers and cars on the wrong side of the road (a regular occurrence).
In traffic, people will do anything to get ahead of the chap in front by a few feet. There’s also the unwritten rule of honk your horn if you see anything.
One of my greatest pet peeves, drivers will honk to the let the oncoming car on the other side of the road know that they are present. No matter how wide the road, or distance between cars, people will honk, just in case. It baffles me. It’s actually a great contributor to traffic accidents because as a result, it means people have become completely deaf to the horn. Sadly I have not, and as I feebly kept going on the very inside of the road, in nobody’s way, every single passing vehicle beeped me. And they aren’t gently beeps of encouragement. They are long, get the fu** out of my way, beeps.
While this photo wasn’t quite “the moment of tranquillity” it looks (if it looks like that), it was nice to take to my local streets. After dodging the nightmarish traffic, wayward hoses at the nearby car wash and a shuttlecock that I’m sure was purposefully pounded at my head by some youngsters playing badminton on the street, I considered myself somewhat of a running Ninja as I arrived home with far too much sweat for the small amount I’d done and another tale to tell.