Tour de Taihu Day 6: A Day of Discoveries

Today was the last big kick–85 kilometers including a massive detour to trace the edge of the Lingshan peninsula. The last 20km were dicey as hell as I pedaled gingerly on a half busted chain. Next time I go flying out the door with my bike loaded with panniers, please someone remind me to bring magic links. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The northwest coast of Taihu is different than any I’ve ridden so far. First of all, there is no road that hugs the lake. S230, the closest thoroughfare, is set back from the lake maybe half a kilometer. The land between the S230 and the lake is all small farming communities. They are all called some variation of “du” 渎, a very unusual Chinese character which translates as ditch or, in this case, I think canal is more accurate.

Anyway, each of these farming communities is separated by a canal that runs perpendicular from the coast forming what from above will look like a web work of canals extending for many kilometers off the lake–an irrigation and transport system dating back hundreds of years. I turned off S230 and cycled to the lake. At the edge the lake is bordered by a very sturdy dyke. Then I got it in a flash: the land between the lake and the S230 is actually below lake-level. The dyke keeps these fields from flooding completely. And that brings us to the other big narrative of Taihu: flood control (pollution is the other).

I cycled along a dirt road next to the dyke. It was gorgeous. I met an old man sitting in a pillbox–I guess he watches for floods. He told me the dyke was built in the mid-’80s. And then the farmers started moving in.

Flood control is an ancient issue in China. King Yu, the mythical founder of it all, became king because he was the first chap to come along and do something about the flooding which was perpetually wiping out the livelihoods of the laobaixing. When I first came to China in 1998 China was hit by a huge tragic flood. The Three Gorges Dam was supposed to help control that. The Taihu basin has the highest ratio of water area to land area in all of China. Controlling flooding is a major priority for the government, probably a way bigger priority than pollution control. And there must be a very interesting relationship between controlling floods and pollution levels. I’m not an expert, but I’m guessing the greater flood control mechanisms, the more easy it is for pollution levels to build up, perhaps as dykes replace wetlands. Need more research here.

I pushed on to my next big destination, the Lingshan peninsula, famous for its Big Buddha. The west side of this peninsula was fantastic riding–great roads, no traffic, wonderful views. The first thing I saw though was this weird thing.

At first I thought it was the Big Buddha but as I got closer it looked more and more like a giant Gaudi-designed dildo. This was puzzling. I hit my Wechat feed with a photo of it and my friend came back to me with the right answer: it belongs to China’s only World of Warcraft theme park. Wild.

I kept riding and riding, finally the real Big Buddha came into view. I stopped at a restaurant for a lunch of famous Wuxi ribs. The restaurant was a family run business and I asked them about the Big Buddha. It was constructed in 1997 with government money. The liked it. They went to burn incense at its feet a couple times of month. “This place used to be really poor,” the lady told me. “Now things are getting better.” The implication is that the Buddha has something to do with that.

I crossed over to the other side of the peninsula, and cycled past the Doubletree Hilton which I stayed in back in 2010 during Expo when it opened. There’s a golf course being built and a fair amount of road work. Then I saw the algae. Remember this story about the big Taihu algae bloom near Wuxi? The problem hasn’t gone away. It’s just that media doesn’t  care anymore–so 2008 that story. The whole east side of the peninsula is still socked in by the algae. There is a faint taint of it in the air. I came across a few water quality research facilities looking rather empty. I cycled past an algae disposal plant in full swing.

It’s not so obvious here, but those pools are all contaminated with algae as is the entire coast

It’s worth clarifying as well that the stuff I was seeing offshore near Qibu in Zhejiang wasn’t algae, it was a kind of proliferating lake grass/weed–totally different than the algae. When you see the algae you know it. It stains the water a light luminescent green.

Around this time, my bike chain started making funny noises. One of the links was half broke. I checked the map–20 kilometers to go. Crap. I didn’t bring a magic link. My cycling friends are going to roast me. Rightly so. Never leave without a few magic links. I learned my lesson. Fortunately the Big Buddha took pity on me. I made it to Wuxi without incident, though a bit slow. Tomorrow is a rest day as I leisurely explore Lihu and Turtlehead Island–two of this part of Taihu’s most iconic sights.

What I learned today:

1. Large parts of the northwest side of the lake are actually under the lake water level

2. The algae problem is still a problem

3. Always bring a magic link

4. Buddha is kind to those who help themselves

Looking down one of the “canals” toward Taihu

Taking a break on the dyke

Staying at this youth hostel in Wuxi, more on this place in the next post

3 thoughts on “Tour de Taihu Day 6: A Day of Discoveries

  1. Congrats Lee! Finally got a chance to read your posts…the photos are gorgeous (except for the knucklehead in the helmet). It’s been interesting cruising along with you. Safe travels back. You are coming back, right?

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