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135 full-color pages of photos, stories, anecdotes, illustrations, journal pages maps and more!In addition to the four major sections on Yunnan, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand I have included some back story on both my first (and unsuccessful) attempt to motorcycle through China as well as how the planning for the trip came together.I have chosen the very best of the more than 4,000 photos from the trip as well as the most humorous, moving and fascinating of the several hundred anecdotes for Southeast Asia on 2 Wheels.

Monday, 26 July 2010

A Dusty ol' Piece of Writing - Gangjin, Summer of 2008 - Enjoy

By now it had stopped raining all across Korea except for an area of a sole square meter which happened to be right in front of me.

No matter how fast I drove or which direction I turned, a fountain of filthy road water bloomed before me.

Flashback. One month ago, on my way to work a car pulls out in front of me and I jam the bike’s front end squarely into its passenger door. Removing the cosmetic front fender seemed reasonable to me—and why not? Doing this fits squarely into my personal philosophy of logical minimalism and reductionism. I have no place for excess fiberglass.

Now as I drive through a watery curtain of misery, I realize that this ‘cosmetic’ fender serves a very real function—to prevent water and debris from being picked up by the wheel and then flung up into the air in front of the rider. The more you know.

The misery is as ironic and poetic as it is tangible. I wipe the cold road water from my foggy visor (thank god I sprung for the $3 face guard!) A blurry green metal sign whizzes by in the inky night. Damn, missed it. “WONK!!” a huge tanker truck blasts its horn to warn me that I’m crowding his lane. This is getting ugly and fast. Goddamn this cold and dark. Up ahead, I see another flash of highway green: “Gangjin 14km.” If it’s big enough to warrant a sign, it’s big enough to have a motel.

I pull into the parking lot of the “Garfield (love) Motel” looking like a drowned rat. I cringe at the feeling of sopping shoes and muddy jeans clinging to my feet and ankles. I’m not all motorcycle adventure just yet. Misery.

Gangjin is a pound-sign of a town—just a tic-tac-toe board of sleepy streets with a sprinkling of the usual pubs and shops. The kind of places that are open or closed subject to the owner’s mood for that day. The neon lights of the motels are all that puncture the dark, wet sky.

An old maid appears behind the child-sized check-in window. The lobby is clean and modern. A lot of fake black marble and stainless steel d├ęcor. There’s something very well-maintained and new about the place.

“35,000 won please.” She says before inquiring about something else I can’t understand. “Room for two?” she asks from rote.

“No, just one,” I answer.

For a moment, she just looked up into space and pondered the implications of this response. Then she hands over a welcome bag filled containing some condoms, lubes and other sundries along with a key.

If I could only say in Korean “No, no lady, it’s not what you think.” But let’s face it—there’s porn on the TV and I’ve had a long day—so it probably is going to be like that.

I lay out my socks and shoes to dry by the door, but I don’t count on them being dry by morning. I open the window but it’s of little use with 90% humidity and a cold draft.

The room itself proves to be the best I’ve encountered yet. Immaculately clean and decorated like a 1980’s junk bond trader’s Miami sex pad. It’s like they knew I was coming. As if this wasn’t delightful enough, there’s a 40” plasma TV and a computer with internet access. Not bad for 35,000.

After a quick walk to the family mart down the street, I return with all I need to remove the misery of the day’s ride: Pringles, a tall HITE beer, and some Beef Jerky. With the buzz slowly sweeping over me, I gazed out the window to the world outside. A sleepless pink sky laid like a heavy burlap blanket over a chicken-scratch city. City lights like pin-pricks screaming, muffled through the madness. Water-logged, insomniac misery. “Fuck tonight,” I think.

. . . . . .

Sharp white light bounces off every surface in the room. A razor crisp mountain air slices through the room. The comforter over my thighs is warm and glowing white a blinding white. Am I dreaming about a fabric softener commercial? The shoes and pants—they look dry! The air is crystal clear and the room is ablaze with morning sun.

There is a peace, a resolution in the air. What was unfinished last night is now resolved. All is settled, all is right. Outside the open window, two stories down, I hear an old man clapping his hands behind him and chatting with a passing delivery biker. Birds chirp and flutter about. The window with its sighing curtains frames deep sapphire skies and glistening mountains. I can see for miles.

I’m smiling harder than I have in a very long time. I sing an old favorite song in the shower.

If you find yourself caught in love,
say a prayer to the man above..

The cool mountain air dances with the hot mist while I think about the dangers of forgetting times like these. How many times did I nearly give up when the sky was pink and sleepless. There’s a present danger in not waiting until the morning. Enough of that—it’s only 8:30 in the morning and I can see that today is a day made for riding. Time to saddle up!

Gangjin is already alive and going when I hit the narrow streets outside the motel. On this corner two old men’s gold teeth flash while they shoot the breeze in front of a truck, pregnant with sun-rimmed melons. 5,000 Won each. Two red delivery bikes buzz past me and amble through the market like scared fawns. Everywhere, there is an expectation in the air—a message written between the atoms: Today is the day!

The ride out of the hamlet was like a summer morning’s breakfast where all is outlined with white. Like so many paintings I tried to paint back in school, only to find that titanium oxide white just can’t do what the sun can. How can you paint air that feels like sweet butter? Or mountains that look like cantaloupe tastes? With my never ceasing mind, I muse about art as recreation. We must do it—yet we are doomed to fail at it. There are no words, or brushes—no musical instrument that can love and burn you the way the sun can, or chill and thrill you the way the wind can. But we have to try.

I passed the edge of town and rolled like a dime on its edge through the glittering fields and craggy mountains that held Gangjin in the palms.