As I head into the final two months of the Southwest China part of this tour, life on the road is shifting. Seasons, climate, gears and landscapes change, and into the mountains we go.
These last months of pedaling have been through a bright droning heat. I had to go south first for visa reasons, so that was the lot I drew: South China in the middle of summer. The first signs of a waning season came in Hanoi. I sat at the low outdoor seating of a cafe talking with members of the local 350 group (pictured above). The winds picked up and brought cool delta air through the city. We drank custardy egg coffee and tugged the conversation back and forth between politics and lighter social novelties.
Groups like 350 Vietnam are stuck in an odd place in the world. Globally, 350.org is unabashedly activist in nature. But in Vietnam, people are quick to correct you if you attribute the word to them or theirs. “This isn’t activism,” they’ll say, “We’re advocates.”
For some individuals, the difference is important. A group of us who had stopped to talk outside of Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum were shooed away, told we couldn’t gather there on the sidewalk. Activism and any other work that the government perceives as threatening can carry jail sentences, and people are understandably hesitant to stick their necks out. Most rely on more benign ways of trying for a better future. They work in social enterprise, they go into schools to give lessons on the environment or they talk to their peers.
For others the denial of activism seems semantic, a way to keep toeing the line. Protests are outlawed in Vietnam, but consequences depend on enforcement and enforcement on interpretation. So, what is a protest? If 3 or 4 people dress up like lumps of coal and dance around holding signs informing passersby about the health hazards of coal, is that a protest? Holding a funeral for coal (as many have already done in cities around the world) might offend the wrong people, but what about a baby shower for clean energy? How can you be protesting if all you’re doing is celebrating?
From Hanoi, I rode north through the hills and crossed the border back into China. Following the border up the gorge of the Hong (Red) River, I had my last few days of tropical heat before cutting into the hills.
And here’s what’s next:
Mountains. Big tall ones. For an elevation plot and other metrics alongside the map, click here. I’ll be heading up into the more Tibetan part of Yunnan and then up and over one of the easternmost fingers of the Himalaya (Topping out at 4,790 m/ 15,715 ft and doing more than 28 km of total climbing!)
I’m trying to work up a few more stories that I collected from environmental advocates and a social enterprise in Guangzhou, but know that for the next few months my posts may thin out considerably. I don’t know what the internet situation will be like and villages are few and far between up there so I may be camping anyway. Either way, I’ll come back with pictures and stories, and when I get to Chengdu there’ll be more to be said on climate and environmental work in this part of the world.