Tuesday, August 30, 2005

29 August 2005 The Daily Dosage: Our cycling trip to Tian Chi (pronounced: ‘Tanchur’) PART I:

20 August – a Saturday… We crank up to a Chinese National Park called ‘Tian Chi’ (I didn’t know it was a National Park, although I should have as I did know access to the lake cost 60 Yuan / $7.50):

I’m up early as usual (0600)… I pack Ms. Fiets as much as I can, and move it out to Lee’s door (down the hallway). The two rear bags I wait until we’re outside to afix.

I’m living on the fourth floor of a six-story hotel, and thus four flights down and up. Additionally, the lobby is crowded with only a narrow passageway to get a bicycle through… It could hardly be a worse situation for getting the bike out or up to my room (although there’s a young Chinese guy who likes to show off and carry it up—which I let him.).

We carry all the gear down stairs, it barely light outside . We get everything loaded and lashed and I’m about to head out when Lee tells me he must have breakfast. O.K., we go a few doors down, where he gorges on dumplings and tea. I abstain, knowing better. He ties (in a plastic bag) what dumplings he doesn’t eat to the handle bars of his Chinese bicycle.

Off we go, me leading, as I know my way around Uremqui better than he actually (even though he’s been living here for several years). For one thing, I have researched the route to Tian Chi—I don’t leave such things to chance!

I get to know a new city quickly via a map and exploration. I don’t wait to find out, getting lost at the wrong time (like later when you’re on your way to Ti’an Chi)! Thus, many times I know how to get around better than others who have lived wherever longer.

We stop and rest at one place where some older Chinese men have gathered. They want to know all about our trip, which Lee conveys.

Onward to Miquan, one of the two fair-sized cities we will pass through on our way. Of course, ‘Miquan’ is the Pidyin (anglicized) way of spelling the Chinese characters (sounds/meaning) that mean whatever.

Here in Miquan (about 20 KM north of Uremqui) we have the first problem with Lee’s Chinese bicycle… The seat… He’s, at my suggestion, raised it, but it won’t stay even after tightening the bolt. Ah, it needs a new bolt, which costs all of 2 Yuan / .20 cents. A crowd gathers, as I always attract attention on ‘Ms. Fiets’ especially when fully loaded. I try to give the bicycle-stall owner a tip, but he won’t accept!

It’s amazing… It’s the poor, good people who won’t cheat you, won’t even accept a tip they’ve earned! These, the one’s who really need it! I love these people, not for saving me a pittance, but for their integrity; their loving kindnesses!

We’re about 20KM further, now between Miquan and Fukang (the second city of size), when his ‘piece of shit bike’ (excuse me) develops the second problem… The right pedal coming off. He has no tools, but I’m able to tighten with my bicycle tool (thank you Brian!). We crank on, now mid morning.

Suddenly I notice we’re among a group of touring cyclists, and older Chinese guys no less! I’m pleasantly surprised. Lee finds out they’re also cranking up to Tian Chi. I indicate to Lee that we should join them if possible. So, we kinda of tag along. They’re like me… Got the good bikes, the clothing/helmets/gear… Turns out they’ve done this trip many times before. I suddenly don’t feel so ‘alone,’ or unusual ‘out there.’

Up ahead they stop for a break and we join them. Lee introduces me and explains. Of course, they’re very curious about what I’m doing, about ‘Ms. Fiets,’ and how I carry my gear. I too, was curious about their bikes and gear: They all had geared mountain bikes, mostly of the ‘Giant’ variety (Taiwan). I didn’t see any ‘XLR’ quality Shimano, however.

We took a group photograph before taking off again (see in ‘Gallery’ at www.cyclingpeace.org)

The two oldest were 67 and 76 years old! The 67-year old was a Traditional Chinese Doctor. The 76-year old I stayed with at the rear of the pack as I wanted to be supportive. He was slow, but I wonder how fast I’ll be at 76 (Eric K.?) if I make it with this body that far? Later I lost him, as I think he stopped for the night much before Tian Chi. Actually I never knew what happened to any of them, because of Lee’s pedal problem!

Between Miquan and Fukang we’re out in a very desolate and barren desert—it reminds me for some reason of the Imperial Valley of southeastern California (that I grew up driving through). The highway here is great, however, plenty of good ‘shoulder’ to crank on (as good as anything in the U.S.). I’m impressed with the Chinese infrastructure… They’ve been constructing things, and constructing things, and constructing things in the last seven years (to catch up, I guess)!

So, far it’s been a ‘breeze’ for me… A 2-3% grade downhill to Fukang (the lowest point on the route).

However, Lee is struggling with his ‘No good’ one-speed bike. But, he’s a ‘game’ guy, and I always appreciate someone willing to try! We ‘fail’ our way to ‘success!’

Outside of Fukang the Chinese group stops for what I think is ‘lunch.’ So, I let Lee eat (I’d tried to explain to him about this… eating and then exerting). I have an apple. We’re only about five kilometers out of Fukang. I had made the assumption the group is frugal, but I should have know better with older guys and eating…

We crank on and it isn’t long until we’re in the throbbing, pulsating heart of Fukang. The highway has turned into a very broad boulevard, a city of some size it appears at first glance. Later I find out the population is 20,000.

Note, there’s no such thing as a ‘small’ Chinese settlement (town, city, etc.). Think about it… 1.2 billion people in a country only slightly larger in square ‘miles’ than the U.S.

I’m with the old guy and Lee, the pack way ahead. The old guy, his ‘mobile’ strapped to his wrist like a ‘Dick Tracy’ watch, makes a call to find out where they are…? They’ve gone ahead and are waiting for us at a restaurant. After the usual loud and long Chinese telephone conversation, he says ‘follow me!’ or I should say he indicates such in an international language (thank God, or I’d be even more ‘out to lunch’).

And lunch at a restaurant is just what we stop for (again). Here they gorge themselves on noodles, and ‘zhau fan’ (Uyghur ‘rice pilaf’), drinking liters of ‘flower tea!’ Lee has dumplings and liters of flower tea. Then he smokes ‘a pack’ of cigarettes!

They (Chinese men) all smoke like ‘chimneys’ (although I’m not sure I saw the doctor smoke…?).

While we’re at the restaurant, of all things but some local is making a ‘video.’ I mean what are the odds that I (a filmmaker) would stop at a restaurant in the middle of nowhere (far northwestern China) and have this happen…? The scene they’re ‘shooting’ is a wedding party getting off a bus to go inside for the ‘reception.’ Thus, there’s live music (drums and flutes). They ‘shoot’ this scene over and over! It does liven up our ‘lunch’ time, however! I also meet two Polish guys while going to the ‘W.C.’ They’re on their way to ‘Ti’an Chi,’ on a bus. 90% of Chinese people travel on public conveyance, although now’s there’s a fascination with the private motor vehicle (like America had in the 1950’s). ‘See the U.S.A., in your Chevrolet,’ Dina Shore used to sing!

My group of cyclists is shocked when I don’t eat, only drinking my coffee concoction (Nestles, soy powder and brown sugar). In the midst of slipping such, the doctor suddenly grabs and tests my leg—I take it that he’s curious as to my stamina, me not eating and such. He says something to Lee in Chinese, which I never quite understand… I think maybe it’s something like, ‘Oh, this guy is terminal, and won’t live out the afternoon!’ Later outside he beats hard on my back, and indicates some bobbing head movement I’m to do! Afterwards all I get out of Lee is that I’m ‘thin!’

We’ve been resting, stopping for lunch too long, and I’m wondering if Lee and I should just head out… Finally, however, we take off in a hotter afternoon, the Chinese group having to stop almost immediately for the usual reasons… Lee and I continue past, waving…

I’m feeling strong. But, poor Lee is falling further and further behind as the windy-hot minutes drag on, the group beginning to catch up with us. I’m now wondering if he can make it all the way to Ti;an Chi (roughly 100KM / 80 miles from Uremqui). It’s getting really hot too, the sun ‘raining down’ like a shower of arrows! Note: This is high desert country where they raise/use camels to haul loads. See photographs of some in the ‘Gallery’ at www.cyclingpeace.org

I had originally, and wisely I might add, thought this was a two-day cycling trip (‘The Lonely Planet’ says it 115 KM)—me not having been on ‘Ms. Fiets’ much in six weeks, and Lee with no experience at all (and a ‘shit’ bicycle besides). But, then we met up with the Chinese group and got all caught up in ‘their’ energy… Maybe it was the full moon! Anyway we keep going, until…

…Misfortune (or ‘fortune’) strikes! Lee’s rubber pedal falls off! He’s just ‘ground’ it off cranking—no repair possible! We have to walk/push. O.K., that’s fine with me, as the group passes, all except for the 76-year old (I wonder if he’s stopped for the night?). Lee and I continue to push/walk up the highway! Lee exhorts me to ride on, but I say no, ‘We started together, and we will finish together!’ (Him not understanding my English explanation, of course!) ‘Me, know little English!’ is his constant refrain.

Note: This is an old ‘rule’ with me… I don’t normally cycle with other people. But, I believe if you choose to do so, you should stick together, no matter what! I don’t abandon people! Concomitantly, I don’t expect to be abandoned either (if trouble).

We’ve now managed to get to higher ground with shade and trees, a cooler area (higher) where vendors are selling fresh peaches by the road side. The Chinese group stops to partake of… Lee and I push on…

We ride or push (I forget which) through two places where high/fast Spring water had washed out bridges (Note: We knew about this from information we had garnered at the cycle shops in Uremqui beforehand. It turned out to be no problem, however.).

I remember suggesting, after seeing Lee struggling along, that he might consider hailing a bus, and riding up to Ti’an Chi. He said that wasn’t possible! I wondered why at the time…? But, many times I’ve learned it’s just a communications problem—you’re not understanding one another…

‘What we have here is a failure to communicate!’ One of the greatest lines from a movie ever! Marty will know from which!

It wasn’t twenty minutes later, that a bus stops right in front of us! He is suddenly excited (maybe exhausted more likely) and exclaims such! I suggest he goes for it! There’s some tension, some deciding, some rushing, but suddenly he’s on and gone! I’m left alone on the road, but feeling confident! It’s actually a lovely afternoon, although getting late (about 1600 hours / 4 P.M.). I’m happy to be able to ride again. Pushing a loaded bicycle is no fun!

But, now the highway starts up! For the first 80KM it was downhill and/or flat, with only one hill I can remember… Easy riding basically. Now, however, I have to gear and slow down, way down! I’ve now been on the road something like nine or ten hours! Your ass goes first! I stop and rest near a rushing stream, glad to be in the mountains (wherever in the world)!

I make the entrance to the Park, thinking to ask ‘Where do I pay?’ I’m just gestured through, and I know to do as told! They ‘wave’ the fee for struggling, anglo cyclists with loaded bicycles (I guess?)! Lee is surprised about this later as he had to pay the fee on the bus.

I have to dodge a herds of sheep and cattle (being driven down the highway), this part of China is beginning to remind me of Big Bend, Texas. Turns out the Kazaks, which inhabit this area, are the ‘cowboys’ of China! ‘Honky meat breaths,’ an authentic Ninja once described meat eaters (this way back during my Army training, circa. 1964). They eat nothing but shiskabob (lamb/goat). And worse don’t treat the lambs and goats very well while they’re alive (I observed). Typical ‘cow’boys!

I have to keep going up, but I’m not really enjoying it at this point… I want to have something hot to drink, and sit and stare at the mountain stream. I do stop near a Kazak yurt, resting on a bridge ‘embuttment’ (interesting about words… I have no idea what you would call the cement thing I sat on, so I just ‘made up’ one… I think it’s ‘abutment,’ but what is that?).

I continue on up the good, but narrow, two-lane highway. I have no choice, I told Lee, ‘Wait for me!’ Thus, if I didn’t show, he’d not know what to do. It’s now about 7P.M., although no problem with daylight as it doesn’t get really dark until about 10P.M.

Up we continue up, relentlessly, I’m guessing the grade at this point to be something like 06% (not too bad)! But, I’m losing my humor! Something that did cheer me, however… a Chinese guy in a motor vehicle coming down… When he saw me he honked enthusiastically and gave me the ‘thumbs up!’ People who know (possibly have done it themselves) appreciate what you’re doing ‘out there.’ This guy was probably a cyclist himself!

So, we continue up relentlessly, somewhat encouraged (by the man appreciating us)… But, the words ‘Relentlessly up,’ reminded me of something…

I remember a backpacking trip up Yokum Ridge on Mt. Hood, Oregon, U.S.A. (my partner that day will too, Dick Hammerstrom). We were carrying too much of course, like cold beer! But, that was twenty years ago, and I was but 45-years old (more energy, fewer smarts).

Yokum Ridge, the trail up was a bitch, one of the harder one-day hikes on Mt. Hood (11K ft ASL). But, once there it was heaven-like, so we endured. But, the first day we ever did it, the trail seemed to be endless. So, wanting the trail to stop and the top to appear, we asked a couple coming down… ‘How much further to the top?’ His last words were, ‘…but it’s relentlessly up!’ And to this day both Dick and I remember these words, because he was right! By the time we got there we fell down exhausted! Of course, when we recovered we broke-out the beer and everything else—‘Miller Time!’

This day, I had no cold beer but probably was cranking too much weight. I have a tendency to carry too much whether on a bicycle or trekking. I had to have my coffee and/or tea hot drink, and fresh fruit on this trip. Some things I’m not willing to give up and leave behind… So you pay for it in many ways!

Life is a compromise, isn’t it…? You take what you can, but you also take what you can do without (fooling yourself at the time), but paying for it later! Sometimes I wonder why I do it…? The only answer, I’m a masochist! Of course. Stupid!

I also respect my fellow ‘masochists!’ I admire Lee, my new Chinese friend because he didn’t know what he was getting into that day with me… He just trusted me. That’s why I tried to forewarn him while still down in Uremqui. Then, on the other hand, the only way to find out is to do it yourself! He did, and I admire him for it! By the way, he never complained either—which I really appreciated!

And there he was when I finally arrived where the buses stop, I guess you would call it the ‘Bus Park.’ This is also where the headquarters to the National Park is located, an imposing building (we later investigate on a ‘Zhua Fan’ quest). This is where the cable car begins, for those who prefer to take the easy way out, up to where the lake is, yet another six-kilometers / 4-miles (up the highway).

When I found this out, I thought they were kidding… Another six kilometers? Will we ever get there…?

But, Lee had reserved a yurt for us (‘Up there!’ he kept gesturing), and ‘what to do?’ I knew I’d have to push, not ride, as the grade is something like 7-8%. It’s a switchback, curvy thing too, ‘snaking’ under the cable-car line. But, thank God for a good, hard-surface highway (yea, Chinese government!)! And the weather/light was still good at 2000 hours / 8P.M. Relentlessly up we push!

I think Lee, by now, was in somewhat of a trance, as he went way faster than me, and ended up way ahead of me! We’ve been on the road now for 12 hours, somewhere losing the Chinese group (they probably were smarter than us and rented a yurt down lower). I think he was like a horse nearing the end of a hard day, the ‘smell of the barn,’ in his mind. You get to a point where you’ll do just about anything to have it end. I’m sure 40-week pregnant women are the same way!

At about 3 KM (halfway), I see a car stop up where Lee is a man getting out. I can’t figure out what’s going on, but he turns out to be the yurt-keeper’s helper and he’s down searching for us with light running out. The vehicle continues down past me, the man pushing Lee’s bike up the highway. I finally get up to where they’ve stopped for a cigarette!

The man, Lee explains, is a part of the Kazak-yurt community where we’ll be staying and has come to show us the way. Great! He, thank God, grabs my bike and starts pushing it up the highway! I don’t normally allow this, being a purist, but you also get to the point where you’ll allow anything! I can barely walk myself!

On up, and up, the day no longer so much fun! By now we’re up in fir and pine trees, and view of the desert to the north (where Fukang is located) a stunning view in the setting sun. I keep thinking to myself… This was a two-day deal, just like I thought… Crank to a yurt below, spend the night, and then fresh, do the hard up the following morning. Next time, as we’re already ‘here!’

Finally, in the distance some buildings… I think the ‘hotel!’ No sorry, ‘another ten minutes walking,’ I’m told. This is just a commercial area (shops and restaurants that we frequent later)—where the cable car line ends. Another fifteen minutes and the lake (Tian Chi) appears somewhat anticlimatic. I’m too exhausted to appreciate it! Actually it’s quite stunning, Bogeda (Ti’an Shan) as a backdrop in the declining twilight.

I appreciated the view more and more as the days went on (we ended up staying a total of four).

‘O.K., where’s our yurt?’ I can barely gasp, Mr. Young and Strong Kazak man, who wants to ride my bicycle? I say, ‘No, maybe tomorrow!’ Suddenly I’m pushing it myself, following him pushing Lee’s! ‘O.K., not tomorrow you fucker!’ We’re now winding up another hard-surface road (thank God) off the main one. This can’t last forever, I keep telling myself! Plus, it’s cool, and I’m in ‘my mountains’ (after two years). You get to a point where you’ll do almost anything to get where you want to be!

And behold we’re suddenly in a ‘yangle’ of yurts, a veritable ‘community’ of them with some permanent structure as ‘office.’ We have turned off the road and are now on a wooden-planked path. I don’t care, about to fall over! I know I can’t go much further on any surface. Around us kids are playing ‘football,’ women cooking dinners, and men drinking and talking.

We’re suddenly the ‘hit of the show’ too, as they gather around to welcome us! We’re finally at our yurt, the little gnome-looking Kazak yurt keeper there to greet us. The young and strong Kazak man carries ‘Ms. Fiets’ inside, which surprises me! I thought I’d have to lock outside, but I wasn’t thinking too well at that point—not knowing much about yurts! There comes a point, as most mountain climbers know, where you stop thinking very well! This is dangerous when high on some a mountain!

We sit down on the yurt floor, me barely having the energy to make my coffee concoction. I know if I don’t, however, I’ll pass out on the floor (scaring everyone)! “Mr. Hutch,’ as Lee has taken to calling me, ‘Can I help you?’ He must be concerned, with the look on my face. I can barely say, ‘No thank you.’

The interior of the yurt (one of the first I’ve ever been in) is a variegated pastiche of quilts or rugs covering the walls. The rich red colors of so many flowers (printed on these ‘rugs?’) is shocking me awake (what a contrast to the green outside). Note: See photographs in the ‘Gallery’ at www.cyclingpeace.org I’m even more shocked that our yurt has its own TV set and DVD player! Where am I? I stumble out a 100-Yuan note to pay in advance, but I’m told not until we ‘check out’ (which turns out to be a big mistake).

I unload what I have to, roll out my pad, decide to use their quilts, rather than my sleeping, bag, and filled with hot coffee try to fall asleep! When I notice Lee turning out the one bare bulb, I observe my watch to discover it’s 2230 hours / 10:30 P.M. We were on the road for 13 hours! I’ve been up for almost 18 hours!

I stare up and out the hole in the top of the yurt, being able to see the stars in the clear night sky. Suddenly I feel O.K.

Around 12 midnight someone knocks on our yurt door, and persistently. In fact, this happens a second time, but I don’t answer, hoping they’ll, whomever they are, will just go away. They do finally. I think, who could this be…? I fantasize a comely Kazak woman wanting to give me a ‘massage!’

I doze in and out of consciousness all night long, bothered by music someone is playing in the community. It’s Saturday night, however, and they must be having a party! We’re not exactly secluded even though 100KM from Uremqui and up in the mountains. This is a National Park during the summer (money-making) season!

21 August, Sunday

I don’t sleep very well—I have leg cramps (‘Charlie horses’ we used to call them) which send me standing up and falling over in the dark. Additionally, there’s too much noise (partying), and maybe I drank too much coffee! Lee, on the other hand, sleeps like a baby hardly moving at all during the night. But, by the grace of God, he’s a Chinese smoker that doesn’t snore (I was concerned sleeping in the same space). I have ‘fond’ memories of sleeping in the same room/tent with Dick Hammerstrom!

We lie in our quilted cocoons until the sun comes over the hill at 0900. I’m amazed I’m not that sore!

We have coffee and tea without saying much, me trying to shake the cobwebs from my over-taxed brain.

The Kazak yurt-keeper comes and informs Lee we have to vacant between 11A.M. and 3P.M. –they’re having some kind of function in ‘our yurt.’ What is this? I’m thinking, and express dismay to Lee. He acts likes it’s usual and we shouldn’t get upset. I try to explain how westerners are, but have little success. ‘I know little English,’ he informs me (his week-long lament).

Lee and I go off to investigate ‘the Lake,’ in Chinese ‘Ti’an Chi,’ or ‘Heavenly Pool.’ It is, green in color (see photographs in the ‘Gallery’ at www.cyclingpeace.org ). It is a stunning mountain lake, but with too much traffic on it (tour boats).

I’m become aware that I’m a part of a large crowd of people (thousands actually). I forget this is a Sunday in a National Park. They’ve come in buses in droves to partake of some of China’s most stunning scenery—which it is Colorado like! The Kazaks know how to deal with this, dressing up in their native costumes, and selling everything ‘which way but loose!’

I get hustled by a Kazak kid who says I should have my picture taken with him for only 3 Yuan. We sit as Lee photographs us, my arm around the kid (in ‘Gallery’). I give the kid 1 Yuan for the ‘trouble.’ He departs unhappy about the amount, but Lee says something admonishing him. Ah, another stingy white face, the kid must have thought! I don’t do aggressive hustlers (kids in particular) very well.

I hardly gave the street kids in Kathmandu much. In fact, I would tell them, ‘If you come and work for me for one hour, I’ll pay you 50 rupees!’ They never took me up on such. Mind you, I’m the ‘King of the Beggars,’ in Kathmandu!

I rent a ride around the lake in a ‘speed boat.’ It costs 25 Yuan each, or $3 U.S. for what turns out to be ‘once around in a hurry.’ I’m made to put on a life-vest! I ask Lee if he knows how to swim? He tells me, ‘Yes!’ I’m beginning to think like a ‘father,’ when it comes to him… Interesting…

In the crowd afterwards I meet a Chinese woman from Beijing who speaks English. She’s there with her husband on a short vacation. She works for an American law firm in Beijing. We exchange email addresses.

I ‘collect’ people! You never know…

Lee and I walk to the Taoist Monastery 2KM around the far (eastern) side of the lake. But, the constructed path, a marvel really, what the Chinese have done… I’m impressed! They’ve thought of everything!

END PART I (to be continued)

Monday, August 29, 2005

19 August 2005 The Daily Dosage: Life in Uremqui (pronounced, ‘Wulumuchi’)

I have an idea to produce a TV series entitled, ‘Wulumuchi,’ about a city where they operate on their own time, not the ‘official.’ This makes for many funny situations, especially when government officials arrive and have to wait two hours for their limousines! This would be spoken in Chinese with English subtitles… A great way to learn language.

I’ve discovered ‘by chance,’ a new ‘Net Bar,’ in an alley way. This is much closer, as a three-block walk compared to a bicycle ride across town (maybe 3 kilometers). It’s dark and smokey, like an old pool hall, but the machines work (fast) and the seats comfortable although cramped (a clerk comes by and asks that you push your huge over-stuffed chair closer), and the price/rate (5 Yuan / .60 cents) per hour incredibly low (for me).

There’s got to be at least 100 machines in this place, all the Chinese men smoking and playing violent games or watching pornographic movies! I hear the moaning and groaning of faked orgasms, intermixed with the sounds of machine guns and people dying! Is there a connection, a metaphor here…?

Speaking of dying, I have been having dreams (during this rising moon) where I commit suicide or die in some way. This is a natural phenomenon for someone my age… It’s the psyche preparing for such… I actually enjoy them! In one, I sacrifice myself for someone, or some cause!

Out of the blue comes a message from some NBC Television executives in New York City… Talk about contrasts… ‘Bingo!’ They want to meet me in Shanghai in September, this to discuss supplying production assistants for the Beijing Olympics in 08. I immediately start figuring about getting to Shanghai… I wish I had the time to cycle there! But, it would take one month! I think I will have to take a commercial airline to and fro, not wanting to stay in eastern China very long!

Back at the hotel James Zhu (pronounced ‘Ju’) pays a surprise visit… He’s in my room when I return from the ‘Net Bar.’

This is one phenomenon I don’t like about Asian culture… Not, James Zhu visiting, but them letting him in my room. They enter my room unannounced all the time, surprising me! This is where East and West are different!

They think nothing of entering a bedroom where a couple is in the throes of sexual intercourse. They leave the stall doors open while defecating. They don’t know of ‘privacy,’ as they’ve never had any, probably growing up in one room shared by an extended family. They don’t realize westerners grow up differently and like privacy (or at least I do). It isn’t so much that James Zhu waits in my room, it’s that I don’t want anyone, including my ‘wife,’ in my space! Period!

I remember years ago when I was married to my second wife Gail. I had ‘my room,’ where I worked, a ‘den,’ or office. She used to go in an ‘clean,’ rearranging all my things. I tried to explain to her to leave things where they lay, as that’s the way I wanted them. She never learned! We are no longer married!

James is departing for his home in Gansu Province and wants to say goodbye (I’m touched as I’ve grown fond of him). First I buy him and Lee (who I introduce him to) lunch. They eat noodles of course. I abstain. Afterwards we get the young woman at the desk to take our photograph together (see in the ‘Gallery’ at www.cyclingpeace.org)

Later Lee and I crank to visit the ‘new’ bicycle shop, the one I couldn’t locate the first time I tried. This time we go via Merida Bicycle Shop, as I want him to try (in Chinese) to convey he’s going on his first long-distance bicycle trip, and what should he know…? I don’t think I was ever successful in conveying this to him, as at Merida, I can tell he’s not asking the right questions. Or, maybe he did, and I didn’t realize. I do mention, at least in English, that Lee and I are ‘going to Tian Chi.’ They laughed when they saw the bicycle that Lee has borrowed for the trip. ‘No good bicycle!’ it becomes!

We find the ‘Giant Bicycle Shop,’ in the exact location the Chinese man (at the outdoor store) had said it was (the second time queried). Of course, had I been more diligent the first time, I might have located it. Then again, as Ganai and I know, there’s ‘Spiritual Time,’ when you are supposed to…

It’s interesting about people in all cultures (not just a Chinese phenomena)… They generally are not good at giving directions! You have to be very careful when asking directions, knowing something in advance, like having looked at a map. And it’s always wise to ask more than one person too!

People, generally speaking, don’t know things like, ‘directions,’ elevation, and the population of their own town/city. I guess it’s that people just aren’t interested in the things I am! I guess too that I know these kinds of things as I’m both curious and live on a bicycle (where elevation and grade make a difference).

Now, people buy expensive motor vehicles that have computer screens and GPS’ that display the route (with other information). Gad, not for me! Someone gave me a computer for my bicycle that I ultimately gave away. I want to develop my innate skills at such things as estimating distance and elevation, predicting the weather, etc. ‘Red sky at night, sailors’ delight! Red sky in the morning, sailors’ warning!’ I always think… What it the battery fails, or the technology doesn’t work… ? If I know clouds and the sky I can guess about the weather!

Every read the Carlos Castaneda series of books? I’ve learned how to, ‘Stop the world!’ Read, ‘Journey to Ixtlan!’

I’m impressed with the Giant Bicycle Shop, as we see young Chinese cyclists in helmets and cycling attire (Giant racing ‘uniforms’). I’m not entirely alone in China! There is a cycling culture in China that understands sophisticated bicycles beyond the one-speed, iron-framed street bikes that most of the uninitiated ride. I’m heartened! I see cartons with new bicycles, and this means I’ll be able to acquire a new shipping container for ‘Ms. Fiets,’ if I need!

While I’m there looking around I also meet a Chinese ‘media’ guy who speaks some English. He tells me not to ride alone to Kashi around the 1st of October, as it’s the Fiftieth Anniversary of the founding of Xinjiang Province, and they are expecting some violence! This is typical of people in the media in any country! They are always fomenting such (secretly hoping for a story).

Cycling back to the hotel I notice two things that make me feel ‘at home!’ I see two young people roller blade-ing (you can’t do this in Kathmandu because of the poor streets), and secondly, I see a guy carrying a tuba! Can a place be all bad where a guy is carrying a tuba on the street?

Uremqui… My kind of Chinese city! In the distance, the snow-capped peak of Tian Shan (Bogeda) reminds me of ‘Tawa-ah-geth’ (Pike’s Peak) in Colorado!

I’m home here!

Zai jian!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Daily Dosage 28 August 2005

Ah… I have my Tos. Baby back, thanks to a guy named Gordon Black in Uremqui, Xinjiang Province, China (Note, I always elaborate as hardly any of my friends at least have ever heard of Uremqui, a city of five million in northwest China). That means Gordon got it working again, after I’d inadvertently corrupted a ‘conctr32.dll’ file (it wouldn’t even start up).

The ‘Uremqui,’ the provencial capitol where we live, is pronounced ‘Wulumuchi!’ I have no idea how the Chinese get this pronunciation out of ‘Uremqui,’ but such is said. Also, Uyghur, the local indigenous (Turkic) group is pronounced ‘Weghur,’ so… ‘U’ must be ‘W’ in Chinese…? Gordon would know, as he speaks both Chinese and Uyghur, having studied both—additionally has a Uyghur wife. He’s also quite facile with computers, less I wouldn’t be writing this at this very moment! Thank you, Gordon!

I would have those interested, like Marty and Aryeh contact Gordon directly so he can explain, as I’m not facile at such. But, it involved bypassing the ‘BIOS,’ and booting from a CD as I have no floppy diskette drive anymore (the external one crashed). And W98 doesn’t support booting from a removable drive… Thus, there were a series of challenges that Gordon overcame creatively, in the nearly six hours he worked on making everything right again. Ultimately, he had to reinstall W98, as just replacing the corrupted file didn’t work. It was grueling work! Luckily he had his Sony laptop online and could access (download) the files needed.

Getting, and being online in China is much easier than in the States/Canada (Gordon is from Ontario, Canada), I found out. If you have a modem and the cable all you do is connect, and ‘dial up.’ That number getting charged (at a very reasonable rate). Additionally, ADSL (asynchronous digital service line) is available at $13 U.S. per month. And it’s fast enough to support moving media.

Note… I don’t know what kind of capacity these ‘Net Bars’ (here in U.) have but if you consider 100 ‘machines’ all watching real-time audio and video simultaneously, it must be huge! And por cheap no less… I have been paying 5 Yuan / .60 cents per hour for this service.

Gordon, after loading all that was necessary on my machine to correct the start up problem, fixed all to facilitate reading, writing and learning Chinese (how the problem started). Additionally, he updated all the Windows ‘fixes,’ and brought Norton Anti Virus up to snuff. So, I can once again use ‘Tos.’ Here online. I also learned about Outlook Express, so I’ll be using this machine for email again. I may even be able to do such from my hotel room here in U. (‘W.’). Wouldn’t that be amazing…? Right here in ‘Hotel California,’ where the philistines yell, scream, and bang doors all night long, and they haven’t leaned to flush the squat toilet after using!

Amazing… You come to city which is basically a name on a map, only to discover it has a population equal to that of the entire State of Colorado, and much better Internet service. The Chinese, and I have to hand it to them, have developed (in only the last seven years) quite an elaborate and well-functioning infrastructure. The trains run on time! The streets are clean!

Concomitantly, the ‘rip off’ is on here in China, and pre-packaged food safety an issue!

The ethos here in China, in 2005, reminds me so much of the U.S. in the 1950s! Additionally, the traffic is complete insanity!

The street traffic here is an aggressive version of Kathmandu’s (Nepal)--absolute madness! So, if you hear about me being killed on the streets of Uremqui (‘Wulumuchi,’ Xinjiang Province, China), don’t lament… ‘I did it my way!’)

Thus, you have to be doubly careful here when purchasing things here in China, as in our situation up in Tian Chi (read all about our bicycle trip to a Chinese National Park in pending TDD’s)—this having to do with renting our yurt (‘hotel’ Lee called it). In the beginning it was 60 Yuan per night (for two people, or $8 U.S.), but that changed to 100 when it came time to pay. Red Bull, is sold here as a ‘vitamin drink,’ and in difference to my friend Melvin who works for R.B. in The Netherlands, it definitely isn’t! Red Bull is basically, sugar water with a heavy dose of caffeine, which shocks your adrenals into functioning—like drinking four cups of strong coffee! I just bought a pair of sunglasses from a street vendor for 40Y / $ 5 U.S. that lasted only one week! Thus, it’s ‘Caveat Emptor’ here in China X10!

Additionally, public safely has to do with being careful. Here in Asia you take responsibility for your own (and your families’) well being, and not suing for every tiny little thing (thus all the disclaimers in the U.S.).

My favorite ‘disclaimer’ of all time: On the literature of some bicycle gloves I bought in Colorado: ‘Don’t eat these gloves!’ If you ate your bicycle gloves here in China, it would be, ‘tough shit,’ if you’re that stupid! This is how it was in the U.S. in the 1940s – 1950s, as Trueman (Turnipseed), possibly Jim Speer, and I can attest to! The U.S., the last forty years has become a ‘wimpy ass,’ litigious society, lulled into a false sense of security by a relentless government (taking control of y/our lives).

Of course, the Chinese government is no slouch at this either! Ke garne? Be smarter than the governments where you live! Governments are all about ‘control!’

My idea of ‘utopia’ (‘no place’) is a ‘place’ where government is not needed! Maybe someday if humanity gets its ‘act’ together!

In the meantime, life, love, and the pursuit of happiness… Right?

Soon, I’ll have composed all the ‘Dosages’ of the past week, and hopefully they’ll be available via ‘Hutch’s BLOG’ (www.cyclingpeace.org). At least for those not living in China! Speaking of trying to control the masses…

‘The price of freedom is eternal vigilance!’ sayeth Thomas Jefferson!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

18 August 2005 The Daily Dosage

I realize what I’m dealing with here on the streets in China is simply ‘stupidity,’ or lack of consciousness, whatever word or expression explains it best for you. It’s not a cultural thing, outside of the flavor, it’s universal! I saw this, the same thing, in Kathmandu, and Dallas, Texas! Colorado Springs in fact, where I had people throwing things out their car window at me on a bicycle!

Here in China the particular ‘flavor’ is a lack of patience, and a certain aggressiveness, that comes from living with too many people (all wanting the same thing).

Unfortunately, this brings the worst out in me! I almost got killed a couple of times yesterday, because I lost my patience! One time I played ‘chicken’ with a taxi cab driver,` him yielding and then smiling at me, that dumb kind of smile of unconsciousness (Gee, I admire your balls, but are you stupid!). The other time a car, not seeing me, almost pulled out and hit me. Another time, not particularly life threatening I did what Melvin de Vries used to do in Lhasa, Tibet (which I thought was pretty stupid at the time), bang on buses with his fist. This I did on the hood of the trunk of a passenger vehicle. I wanted the driver to get the message! ‘You fucker!’ I yelled, after he pulled right out in front of me! There’s absolutely no courtesy on the streets here, yet very much courtesy in social situations…

It’s the situation…! So many people in a hurry, nobody paying any attention to the traffic laws. The lights here only a general indication of what you’re supposed to do. For example there’s a left turn arrow, but the line waiting, is so long they will keep turning left on red until someone ‘chickens out’ and stops! The streets of China… Your worst nightmare! It’s the fore of ‘Blade Runner!’ I watched a vehicle make a U-turn from the outside (right) lane against the light. This used to happen in N.Y.C., so you can see what causes it… The situation!

But, I better calm down, slow down, or get out of town before I get killed (on ‘Ms. Fiets’).

We did about forty kilometers today, north to Miquan and back, taking the long way. Now, just back, I’m not completely blown out, but pretty tired, like cranking up to Pharping (from Kathmandu. But this was actually easier as no big grade and I didn’t have much weight. You go down hill all the way to Miquan (from Uremqui), then back up a slight grade all the way back. But, it’s the motor traffic that gets to you, the incessant honking (Chinese flavor), the aggressiveness, as I mentioned earlier.

Chinese people, other than on the streets, can be very kind. But, put them in an automobile and they become animals… It’s the syndrome first dramatized by Disney years ago… I forget the characters, but the situation is the same… You take a Casper Milk toast (normally a nice guy), put him behind the wheel of an automobile and he becomes Godzilla! Human unnatural! Just like me today… Normally, I’m all loving kindness, but today after four hours of dealing with traffic, a veritable ‘killer!’

But, whatever… China is ‘cooking’ (hot with commerce)! I can tell you that! There’s an energy here you can feel… Maybe that’s part of the street traffic syndrome… Big, fast, and aggressive!

So, yesterday, after being online at ‘Cyber Club,’ and going to see about some Chinese software, I went to the Bicycle shop (we would call it). I’ve met some interesting people there, and today was no exception… I ran into a great ‘find,’ a Canadian man named Gordon who lives and works in Uremqui. Additionally, he has the solution for adding Chinese to Mr. Tos., here… And we’re going to get together. It’s these kinds of resources that makes staying possible. He will explain Uremqui to me, and have solutions for whatever comes up. With him were two women, one anglo (maybe Russian) and the other Chinese. Actually, I don’t know what they were doing at the cycle shop except to meet me! They had to go, he said he was very busy.

I departed shortly thereafter waving to them on the street. I headed up hill, as all I wanted for the day was a work out. And boy did I get it!

I followed the Chinese man of two days ago, his right turn up to Miquan, as I’m still checking out the route to Tian Chi. It turned out to be the easy way north, but against a dusty wind, and I kept getting dirt in my eyes (need a new pair of glasses).

I got a ways up (five kilometers) and stopped to sit on a wall. Tour cycling isn’t just a cardiovascular challenge, it’s a posture challenge. Your ass gets tired, goes numb. You have to get off, take your backpack off and sit, or walk, depending on the need. I sat on this wall, partaking of the light. I saw some of the structures I’ve just mentioned, adobe like, with the same kind of trees of past memories. Also, the light, the sun light so interesting to me, as it reminded me of years ago…I’ve been in such light before…

Light to me is a sense memory ‘cue.’ I can feel a certain sun light, the angle, intensity, color, and be wherever instantly. Like today it was, Arizona/Colorado, of the 1940s! Of course, it has to do with the terrain too… This is desert like here in Northwestern China… A certain latitude. A certain time of the year (mid summer’s night dreams). I looked at the barrenness, observed the adobe-like (brick) structures, and it just felt like Arizona/Colorado to me, but Arizona/Colorado a long time ago. I’m feeling ‘at home’ in this place with this light!

In the distance, I see two people coming toward me on the road (Lu in Chinese), one on a tricycle (common method of hauling stuff), and a man walking. It’s the man walking I was drawn too, as I immediately thought he needed help from his dress and demeanor. And here’s a great example of a ‘Random Act of Kindness.’ I pulled out a one-Yuan note, got on my bicycle and handed it to him as we passed. He wasn’t a beggar, nor asking, but he was so surprised, I’m sure he’s still telling people! And what did it cost me? .12 cents to make someone happy. He probably was then able to get a bus (as they’re very inexpensive), or buy a cup of lu cha, or whatever a cigarette. But, spreading this kind of joy is what the ‘Loving Kindness Fund,’ is all about! It doesn’t have to be $100 dollars or Euros, just the gesture in itself is enough sometimes, to convey to people that you care!

Recently, Rotraut Bo yens, the German woman responsible for this, started helping Ujwal Nepal in Kathmandu. He’s so appreciative, he wrote me a message, ‘thanking me from the bottom of his heart!’ I told him no need to thank me, just do the same for someone, somewhere, sometime, that needs it like you! That’s all!

With the Plafond (group), now all over the world, we don’t have an organization, nor the bureaucracy that goes with such, nor employees, nor an office, nor anything… It’s just the idea of helping people that we have… It lives in the hearts of people, and doesn’t cost one administrative cent (nor will it ever while I’m alive). Just give when you can, when you see the need! And trust me, there is a need, and right there wherever you live! You don’t have to live in a Third World country, nor China to see it! I’ll bet there’s a need in Beverly Hills and Palo Alto, California, in Connecticut, in the Maldives, in Iceland, everywhere. It doesn’t always have to do with giving money also, you might think of devoting some of your ‘time’ to…? I don’t know to what, but I do know one thing for sure… It will give you a ‘lift,’ make you feel better, make your happier!

Happiness, at my age is a good bowel movement, trust me.! And I’m not so happy right now… I’m waiting to ‘give birth’… I know what women go through after forty weeks of waiting… So, if you think you have problems, can eat a big meal, digest your food, and eliminate it, I suggest you fall on your knees and thank God! Because many of us can’t (do the former)! I fall on my knees all the time and thank God, for many things!

But, I’ve had grave (chronic) problems every since leaving Kathmandu because I got way off my diet, especially in terms of volume.

Why is it that many think that food solves every problem, ‘Eat! Darling! Eat!’ It doesn’t, in fact it causes most of them! But, particularly, Third World people think if you eat everything will be fixed! It’s only hurt me, as I didn’t have the sense to ‘put my foot down’ and be rude. Note, when you go to a Third World family’s house for a meal, to refuse is to insult. So, not to insult, I’ve sacrificed myself. But, they wouldn’t understand… They just want you to eat more, and more, and more… Ask Eric Kaldor about eating…

The road to longevity is ‘systematic under eating!’ Overweight people don’t live long! Listen up, P.B.!

I continue cranking further north, beginning to get out of Uremqui, and happier for it. On the left I spy something very interesting, a facility, probably an educational facility with a very unusual head sculpture (see photograph in Gallery). Also, it has an observatory (a domed building) I’m guessed. Thus, I think this facility must be devoted to science, etc. I will check my map!

The wind is now blowing dust into my eyes, and making cycling uncomfortable. When am I going to wise up and purchase some glasses, I reprimand myself silently! At the same time, the buildings, the communities are looking (through watering eyes) pretty bleak (another syndrome of the lower classes: too focused on survival to decorate, or be concerned with esthetics… At least the ones in Asia).

I see a town, and a road splitting off the highway to it. I decided to take it, as I need something to drink. I gave my ‘walnut/licorice’ milk to my new Chinese friend on my floor of the hotel.

I crank along a wide boulevard with stores and buildings on one side. When I see what looks like a food market (from 25 meters) I turn in to check out. Sure enough it’s one, but very small serving just the neighborhood, but run by a friendly woman and son. A Chinese customer checking out starts asking me questions in Chinese. Of course, I try to explain. I buy 3 liters of juice (orange and apple) for 14 Yuan / $1.85 cents. I open the bottle of orange just and start chugging. ‘Oh, take off your thirsty boots, and stay for a while!’ (Marty if you can guess the author of this one, I’ll be amazed! Obscure). She brings me a chair, to sit outside in the shade. It’s the small, rural people that are generally so kind and generous (of course I just bought something in her store). She can speak a little English. She asks my age (a popular question). Like… What is an old man like you doing out here on a bicycle?

The Chinese, like so many cultures (including Nepal and American) are so conforming.

All the Chinese look the same, dress the same, do the same, get married the same, drive the same, work the same, live the same, eat the same (noodles), gamble the same (the men play games while the women work), everyone doing the same (regimentation that much be left over from the stricter Communist days).

The Chinese business men all wear long slacks and black loafers (we call them), and short sleeve (golf sometimes) shirts, all carrying ‘purses,’ and have mobile telephones in little ‘holsters’ on their belts. All pretty much looking and doing the same things (safe)! The women fan themselves, all wearing the big wide straw ‘coolie’ hat (at least in eastern China). They all ride the same kind of bicycle, usually un-maintained (chain rusty, greasy, the tires wobbling) . At the same time, the rich are into fancy, shiny, new SUV’s—status, of course! Note: You see American made automobiles here… They other day I noticed a ‘Buick’ SUV!

And all the, at least lower class Chinese men, spit, a most disconcerting habit to me (the sound). I think it’s the low-quality tobacco cigarettes they all smoke! I must be a prissy kind of guy!

So, when they see an older white face in shorts and a backpack, wearing a helmet and riding a mountain bicycle it’s, ‘Whoa, what is this…?’ He doesn’t smoke and he doesn’t spit! I’ve taken to smiling or winking, or a big ‘Ni Hao!’ when they stare! Or, I’ll start talking in English, which only confounds them (my way of getting a little humor out of the situation)!

I head back, stopping a couple of times to rest, both times offering my bottled juice to some walkers, and both refusing (too weird probably).

I try a different route back which makes the total distance longer, but it’s the only way you explore and get to know the area. I end up at a familiar intersection, the one near James’ new hotel.

Tired, I stop to rest in the shade, as it’s about 1630 hours (430 P.M.) and the hottest part of the day!

I’m thinking the most difficult part cycling to Kashgar is going to be dealing with the hot sun, out in a desert where there are not many trees for shade. Ke garne? It may be a case where I get up very early and start off at 0600, and only go until about 1400 hours (2PM.) But, the situation always dictates, and that changes everyday… If it’s cloudy, so much the better! I’m waiting now to hear from Tony and Tim (from the U.K.) that have cycled this route before.

I get back to the hotel and am near exhausted, waiting to catch my breath at the door before carrying Ms. Fiets up three flights (a job). Heavy breathing…

My new Chinese friend is there smoking a cigarette. I can’t convey that I want to take a shower to him and the young Chinese girl who works there (no doubt the daughter, as every business in Asia is a family affair). I try to act it out. They think I want to wash my clothes… I get frustrated! And when I get frustrated I get angry, but I hold off being too flippant. Careful, when you’re in a foreign country!

But, again, sometimes I don’t think it’s so much a language thing, as an I.Q. thing… Some just can’t get it! But, this is true in the U.S., too!

After recovering, I go to my Chinese friend’s room, just down the hallway from me in #407. I’m feeling guilty as I was so short with him outside. He such a nice guy!

He now tells me he wants to cycle with me to Tian Chi, on Saturday or Sunday. I say ‘O.K.,’ not expecting it to actually happen. This guy is about 35-years of age, but smokes, and where’s the bicycle? He thinks this is a ‘walk in the park!’ I’m going to have to convey, somehow, that this takes planning, gear, conditioning, and a reasonably good bicycle, a sleeping bag for one. In addition, the 5-7 days to devote to such.

This guy sells heavy machinery all over Xinjiang out of his company’s headquarters in Hebei and Beijing (and his hotel room here). But, spontaneity seems to be the shibboleth of the Chinese! We’ll see… I’m going to try to get him to my Chinese bicycle shop, so the guy can explain in Chinese… ‘Hey, dude…’

Afterwards, and accomplishing a ‘PTA’ shower (‘pussy, tits and armpits,’) we used to call such in high school (pretty stupid)… Basically, some warm water in places you need to clean, a quick toweling off, etc.

Then I fall on the bed at 1900 hours / 7 P.M. I doze in and out of consciousness for the next seven hours, as there’s so much noise in the hallway, the last group of noisy men getting in at 0300! They just have to make noise (probably have been drinking), and they wouldn’t understand why this is ‘not cool!’ They’d laugh, if you tried to explain… This is what I mean about being ‘unconscious,’ Jim… They don’t know, that they don’t know!

I’m up, however, at 0500 feeling none the worse for wear! Note: I’m constantly testing my 65-year old body, as I don’t want to go if I can’t… I don’t just assume I will be able to make it… When you’re 21-years of age, you just go… You just fuck up! You just fall! You just learn, you hope!

By the time you’re 65-years of age, you should know, and if you do, you’re more careful!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

16 August 2005 The Daily Dosage

How would you like to be the only American in a city of five million people? That’s what I am! And like Brad Pitt in L.A., or Tom Cruise in Des Moines, I get stared at, smiled at by women, and followed by children. How do I know I’m such, well I only can guess, as I haven’t met any other Americans here, although there are other white faces, European travellers and Russian residents. How do I know, five million, I don’t I’m only guessing, but if you’re in China long, and know if there are 17+ million in Shanghai, 14+ million in Beijing, 7+ million in Chengdu, you can make a good estimate, getting around the streets, and observing! There may be another American, in maybe three million, but it’s still the same feeling… I’m a ‘celebrity’ wherever I go… And now I know what it feels like to be Paul Newman in N.Y.C. now, and there’s both good and the not-so good with it.

The not-so good is that I attract attention wherever I go, and I would prefer not to. The good is that you can go anywhere, I’ll be I can walk right into the Provencial (Communist) Office and get an audience with the ‘big guy!’ They’re curious more than anything!

And wearing my JBF bicycle helmet and cycling around on ‘Ms. Fiets,’ well it’s like you seeing a Ferrari for the first time… What is it?

I’m a stranger in a strange land…

The ‘lower’ (unsophisticated) classes anywhere… They are not my ‘cup of tea,’ spitting, yelling, uncouth basically (like Roy Ashton), throwing trash right on the ground! You should the bath rooms here when they get done with… No flushing of the toilet, and ‘smutz’ everywhere (Dick!)! They basically live like animals!

To me throwing refuse on the ground is tantamount (look it up) to despoiling your own mother. Would you throw trash on your mother? To me the earth is Mother! Yes, Jim it does all have to do with consciousness, and this is a good example. They just don’t realize what they’re doing, as that’s the way it is without thinking! The last two words ‘key!’ Without thinking! Without consciousness… It just never occurs to them what they are doing… And the lack of consciousness is when, ‘you don’t know that you don’t know!’ The latter courtesy of my friend Dick Hammerstrom in Vancouver, Washington, dear ole U.S. of ‘L,’ for lack of consciousness! Of course, it’s here to, and in Nepal, and in every country of the world! Ke garne? Help try to raise it!

I’ve talked about the trains, my train ride here from Chengdu, three days and two nights chugging along, with no whistle! It’s where the term ‘whistle stop’ comes from, the train just slowing down and whistling! It means ‘fast!’

I have lamented that the Chinese trains seem to have no whistle or horn, but now I’m not so sure. I hear something in the mornings at ‘Hotel California,’ which isn’t that far from the tracks/station. It sounds like a diesel horn, although there’s all this vehicle honking going on too, and I can’t confirm! But, I’ve never heard what I thought was a train horn way out there…?

What the Chinese have, the Nepalese don’t… An infrastructure that works! Additionally, they don’t let their dogs go wild, like the Nepalese do. They have them as pets, and treat them better (thus they don’t bark all night like they do in Nepal). They clean the sidewalks and the streets, which I appreciate. The have broad, paved boulevards, and bus stops, and a lane for bicycles and pedestrians. Interestingly they have an area in front of the buildings where people can park their motor vehicle—a parking lot if you will. This I don’t like, as there’s always too many vehicles departing, arriving, clogging the sidewalk, and making it more dangerous!

What’s not so good is the street traffic, similar to Kathmandu… It’s more organized with traffic lights, but drivers are more aggressive here in China, than they are in Kathmandu! They will run over you, or act like they’re going to (I’ve tested some, and almost gotten hit!)! Everyone seems so desperate to go faster, or quicker without stopping.

What is the mad rush everyone in the world seems to be caught up in…? Modernity, Jim! And it’s ugly! ‘We’re late, we’re late, for an very important date!’

Another thing not so good here, people look at their mobile screens while walking or riding a bicycle, and certainly while driving a motor vehicles. Puppets on strings, without realizing… Again, lack of consciousness! It’s just what everyone does without thinking!

Certainly the Chinese (Asians in general) love to make noise, talk loudly, yell, etc! Banging, clapping, children crying, TV on, radios blaring, and the incessant honking of vehicle horns. The latter, out of defense against pedestrians that walk (or cross) the streets at the wrong time, and/or in the wrong way! The latter is just like Kathmandu. It’s like there’s this huge ‘competition’ for the streets! The pedestrians ‘fight back,’ by daring drivers to hit them (they don’t look, just go).

I don’t mind firecrackers (cycled past some associated with a wedding there other day), but this penchant for loud talking and yelling is unpleasant to me… I think because no one cares to ‘give them a voice,’ to listen to them (as they’re poor), so they make sure you do hear them! I’m heading to some distance, remote place in the hills, that will be difficult to get too… My solution! Get away from them!

Yesterday, I did the drill: morning ritual, up before anyone in the hotel, walking to the nearby Chinese restaurant for kai shue (hot water), and then departing to cycle to Internet, lunch and wherever.

Before I departed, however, I went to my new Chinese friend (whose name I don’t even know) and tried to get him to understand I needed some help with getting information about the train to Kashi (Kashgar). What a time we had, me almost getting frustrated! He knows some English, about as much Chinese as I do. You get very inventive, however. You act it out! The point I couldn’t convey was that I’m in the process of deciding whether the train or to cycle, depending on the fare. Thus, I only wanted information, not to book! This was ‘tough sledding!’ He’s such a nice guy, however, in one room of the hotel where he sleeps, and selling his companies ‘machinery’ from…

Later in the day, after I’d returned about 1800 hours, he came to me with the information. He’d actually gone to the train station to get this for me… It cost 345 RMB (Yuan) for a ‘hard sleeper!’ For his effort I told him I wanted to take him for a meal, but he never understood. So, I went and got the 35MM camera and photographed him sitting in his room. This I’ll have enlarged and framed. For this he gave me a large melon. I immediately gave him a liter of ‘walnut/licorice milk’ or whatever it is I’ve been carrying around (for more weight) on Ms. Fiets. I’ll take him to lunch yet!

A crying child in the room across the hall! A machine outside making noise! There’s pounding! There’s noise… There’s honking on the streets, there’s yelling… Some people like it, I don’t. You wait… I’m going to live far, far from the madding crowd! I know what’s coming, and woe be to us! We didn’t heed the warnings! So, future generations will suffer incredibly, until they’re gone!

Why have children? Because you lack consciousness… That can be the only reason, or what I call ‘Nature’s Joke!’ on us! Hormones when we’re young… We just copulate like animals, not realizing what we’re doing!

Why do you think we want, pray for, hope for, write about, a ‘savior’ coming to save us! Because we sense what we’re doing unconsciously is wrong! We know we can’t save ourselves, when in fact we can! We can!

And this is what I write poems about, that no one understands… As it’s too visionary. So, why write such? Because it’s what I do, I can’t help myself, at least I’m trying to help raise consciousness by deconstructing language (the English language in my case). But, it maybe too late!

I just sent to my Christian friends a parabolic statement, ‘Be still, and know I am God!’ (Psalms, vi.vi., #10), but I know they don’t understand!

You are ‘God,’ you can save yourself (our message)! You can help save humanity, by ‘saving’ yourself. How? By waking up! By becoming conscious, and not so manipulated by commercial forces like TV, movies, and mobile telephones. But, I’m afraid, knowing history like I do, that, ‘There is infinite hope, but not for us!’ I don’t have much hope for the human species! I know because we had a ‘beginning’ (we live in Duality) that there will be an ‘ending.’ But, isn’t the ‘drama’ in between, or ‘Act II,’ the ‘conflict,’ pretty interesting…? What do you think drama, movies, TV, etc., is a ‘metawhor for’…? The reason we crave such? We crave simplistic solutions and happy endings! Where the good guy always wins with violent means (gets the pretty girl), and everyone lives ‘happily ever after,’ which isn’t true in ‘real life!’

Thus, you can sell a product by articulating the unconscious fantasies of the demographic. If you have the buyer identifying with the symbol, you can get them to purchase something they don’t need (just want it). This is the madness of marketing! This is the madness of capitalism. This is just plan madness, as you can see where it’s gotten us!

I look around Uremqui, this ‘modern’ Chinese city out in the middle of a desert, where people are glued to their little screens (like puppets) and wearing blue jeans! There are huge banners hung on buildings, depicting unclad white women in some repose selling whatever. This is Xinjiang Province, 2005! This is modernity, where you wouldn’t think it would be… Yet, it’s everywhere! Everywhere there are human beings. We can no longer escape it. Well, maybe those who ‘drop out,’ like me, living in a cave somewhere! But, if you participate at all in whatever culture, you’re quickly exposed to it, and most likely caught up in (for men) getting the unclad woman. For women, getting the security you want to beget children! It’s human nature! It’s unconscious human nature, and not so good I think!

But, I’m too old to change the world, my job is perfecting myself in the short time I have left in this body! The only thing I do is write about it, so future generations (if preserved) will realize that someone understood way back when…). Not that it helped or mattered… Again, I’m not ‘in charge,’ of the world!

This I found out in the afternoon, yesterday. I had met a Chinese cyclist (after the Cyber Club and pilaf), him at the cycling shop I’ve discovered. When he understood what I’m trying to do: get to Tian Chi first, then Kashgar, he got the idea to show me the way, or so I thought. We were to rendezvous back there at 1700 hours and then depart north…

I returned to ‘Hotel California’ to rest, as I knew what was coming… It appeared from the map he had drawn we would be trying to do 120 KM up and back (in one evening no less).

I returned to the Merida Cycle Shop early, as I wanted the guy/owner/mechanic to look at my bicycle. But, he had to depart saying ‘tomorrow!’ So I had to wait in the hot sun. I waited for thirty minutes, until 1730, but the guy never showed. So, I pushed off and rode north, east, south and west, ironically ending up near the cycle shop and running into the guy on the street (as I was returning to the hotel). Turns out what he was suggesting was that we go to Futang (town where you turn off for Tian Chi) some 60KM north, and spend the night. Turns out what had made him late was his front tire, he’d bought a new one for the trip. But, there on the street I explained, or tried to (this guy speaks hardly any English) that I couldn’t to that. He went anyway, but I followed long enough to now know the route north… What I wanted in the first place… It’s amazing what happens to me… What are the odds I would meet up with this guy on the street, him departing without me to Futang? Very high!

I cranked home, and did my usual ‘drill,’ which involves going to bed early after getting ‘laid!’ Spiritually ‘laid,’ that is!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

14 August 2005 The Daily Dose

Ah, the word was ‘Chamber!’ I would never have thought of it! The ‘Windsor Castle Spa Chamber!’ I now have photographs to prove, although I’m still not sure what it is, except a 30-story tall building. I asked the guard, but he didn’t even know the word ‘hotel!’ so ke garne! I’m thinking it’s either a hotel or an office building. But, wait until you see the photographs… Gosh, I wish I could talk to the owners, or architects, or the building management to understand the ‘thinking’ that went into the name…? It would be like if we called a golf course in Fort Worth, Texas, the ‘Mao Zedong Gracious Chamberpot!’ or something as non-sensical. This is Chinglish at it’s finest: Windsor Castle Spa Chamber. What would you guess it is…?

I’m ready to go off on my Ms. Fiets this morning when there’s a knock at the door. I have a call downstairs. I slip down the three flights only to be told that a man will be calling back, I’m to wait. So, I go upstairs and get my bucket of coffee and notebook. As soon as I’m back down James is on the telephone! He’s coming over in one hour, says nothing else. I tell him I want to take him and his wife, his entire family out for a meal.

At 0945 there’s a knock at my #407 door, and it’s James. He comes into my room with an idea… He’s found me a ‘better’ hotel at the same rate (50Y), but it’s cleaner, and every way nicer! He and his wife just stayed there… Well, O.K., I’m always open to options, but he wants me to move right then, he’s brought a busy businessman friend with a van. I go, ‘Oh, me or my!’ remember Robert What’s his name, Dick at OPB—Mr. Hand Wringing himself?

First of all, as I tried to explain to James, I never move that quickly, I need time to think to pack, to whatever. Maybe it’s better, and maybe not… Let’s go see. James doesn’t understand me! I don’t understand James. I quickly give him some quotes I’ve printed out for him.

‘Where is it?’ I ask, pulling out a map. He only knows generally. What is the name of the hotel? He doesn’t remember.

I try to explain it will take me one hour to pack up… I have laundry drying besides. He can’t understand me, why I won’t just move right then and there. I suppose this is a cultural thing… I try to explain, try to mitigate the situation as he seems so disappointed.

What saves me is the fact I’ve paid this hotel for tonight, and Mr. Businessman is busy tomorrow. Money, James (like everyone) understands. ‘This is a problem!’ he admits. I see my out! I tell him I’ll crank out there (Mr. Businessman knows and has put a dot on my map.) to check it out… I can always move tomorrow myself! Mr. Businessman has to go, so I thank them profusely (over-using this word)! I’m saved!

I have no plans to move, as I don’t like moving, I’m moving all the time and finally when I ‘light,’ I like to stay put for as long as it’s good. Additionally, in spite of the noise at night, and a few other drawbacks, I like the place. It’s fine for the moment. Maybe if I stay. Or, when I return, Or, etc. But, Hotel California’ turns out to be fairly convenient to other things I’ve discovered like the ‘Net Club,’ and my restaurant stall with the rice ‘pilaf’ I like (near Computer City). They’re an easy ‘crank’ from this hotel (in the old-new section of Zentrum)!

Like this morning… I get up and out looking for a way to put ‘feet’ on my metal legs to this chair, and kai shui (hot water). By the time they get going here, it’s lunch time for me. So, I walk a bit and find a restaurant that has hot water, when the three previous didn’t. Then they won’t accept any money! Finally, I foist 1 Yuan on them or .12 cents. This is the inexpensive part of town. I don’t want to live near Ho Tak, as everything will cost more!

I brought home, in addition, to my thermos full of hot water, an old stick which I promptly rammed up the hollow leg of my chair. It broke off too short, and I still have the problem… Un-evenness (is that a word?)! I like chair legs, all four of them to touch the floor and support the chair, not just three and then the rocking! What’s with the rocking?

Ah, I could have moved into a ‘nicer’ hotel, but then again sometimes a negative ‘known’ is worth two positive ‘unknowns!’ James’ idea of ‘good,’ may not be mine.

In fact, later I did crank up (north is always ‘up’ to me) there and it’s too far, plus if it’s where Mr. Businessman marked on the map, it doesn’t look much better than Hotel California!

Additionally, I figured it out the tough going yesterday on the way back… It is uphill heading south back into the city (Hotel California). Not much, maybe 1-2% grade, but enough to make me think yesterday that there’s something rubbing, or the bearings are going out. Or, could it be that I’m out of shape? The most likely! Of course, that’s it! It’s just harder, and I don’t have my cycling legs back yet! And it’s slightly uphill all the way.

Now I understand the speed of the water in the canal… I think… Could a 1-2% grade cause water to move at that speed? Interesting… Maybe there’s more of a grade than I think!

After James and Mr. Businessman depart, I take on fixing my front rack. One of the struts is too close to the tire… I’m a perfectionist and like things balanced (the tire exactly in the middle of both struts). But, I can’t get it how I want and have to accept imperfection! I have learned in my lifetime that ‘perfection’ is really the acceptance of imperfection! We live in Duality!

I head off to have an early lunch at my Urygar (the Turkish ethic group of Xinjiang) Restaurant. I’m going to invite my Chinese friend from the computer stall—the one that took me to the ‘Net Bar’ yesterday.

On the way I decide to find the ‘mountain bicycle’ shop the Chinese man at the outdoor store directed me to the other day (when I didn’t go). On the way I pass the ‘Cyber Club’ and they want me to join. I make a note to check this place out after lunch!

Going to the ‘mountain bicycle’ shop turns out to be a good thing. The owner can speak a little English, and I get videotaped (by a customer). Additionally, the owner will put up my ‘flyer’ about Tian Chi. He tells me it’s a problem getting there right now because of ‘high water.’ Maybe by Wednesday it will be passable. He says he will call me on my mobile with news. I will return and let him adjust the brakes. He has a rack and it his little shop and it looks like he knows what he’s doing. A good find, although the sun glasses are too expensive (200 Yuan / $25 U.S.).

It’s taken one week, but I’m beginning to find what I need in Uremqui!

I head to my little restaurant adjacent Computer City.

I have been undecided about what to do with ‘Ms. Fiets’ when I have to go inside, or can’t take it with me…? It’s so exotic compared to their (although the mountain bike is here). Thus, it gets attention. It’s like seeing a Ferrari for the first time in Des Moines, Iowa, I’m sure people stared, ‘What is that?’ That’s why I want nothing new or shiny out here in these faraway places as they only attract attention. You learn this the first time you go to Tibet!

I decided, however, to park it in view of where I sit to eat Pilaf, at the Urygar Restaurant. I trust the owner, a middle-aged man. I’m there early and he’s at his post preparing the Shiskabab he cooks everyday…

These people, generally Third World-type people, do the same things everyday for their entire lives! I observed this in places like Nepal.

They take all the merchandise out and put on display (or prepare the food). They sit there, waiting for customers. They eat, drink, whatever. They sit there. And then at night, after maybe one sale, they put everything back inside, put down the levered doors (which are ubiquitous), go upstairs, eat, watch TV, whatever, play with baby, and/or fuck the Mrs., go to sleep, and repeat the process Ad infinitum. I’d go out of my mind, and do something stupid!

I’m no good at roteness, or sameness, or waking up to the same face for the rest of my life, ‘unto death due us a parthid!’ I get bored very quickly looking, seeing, talking to, and participating in the same thing every day. That’s why I’m ‘out here’ doing what I do best, confronting the unknown (which would scare most people to death).

I park my bicycle next to the man, explaining in gestures, him nodding, then I go inside Computer City to invite my young Chinese friend for lunch. He’s there and happy to see me. He follows my gestures, but when we’re inside the restaurant and he realizes what I’m suggesting he begs off as ‘He’s sorry, but very busy!’ I try to explain I want to buy him lunch.

It’s difficult to convey buying a meal for Asians, as there’s something about it they just don’t do… Almost impossible to buy lunch for someone in Nepal as THEY ALWAYS EAT AT HOME WITH FAMILY! Cultural differences.

I eat my pilaf, and 3 cloves of garlic, as they have a bowl on this table. I’m beginning to like Urygar culture which is Middle Eastern. I read that originally they’re from Turkey. Also, that they were in this region before the Chinese, so they’re unhappy under Chinese rule (there’s been some violence).

I watch one of the daughters (I assume, these are always family businesses) fold napkins. She takes a large stack of the plastic package, and rotates the top in such a way as to make like a spiral tree. But, that’s only the first step. Then she folds the napkins from this spiral stack like a machine. Her hand movements are hypnotic to me and I stare, falling into a state of relaxation. I’m happy there alone, and from now on will be there early (1130) as the rice is freshly cooked and very hot! Later it has sat and whatever…

Staring at napkin folding… How many of you do that once a week…? Oh, you say you’re so busy making money, and missing life, real life… You take existing as living, always distracted by something like TV! But, oh do I have news for you! You’re missing everything, happening right there in front of you! Turn off your TV, your ‘mobile’ telephone, you whatever, and stare at some young girl folding napkins. You’ll learn a great deal more!

Now, I have to go, speaking of modernity, as it’s time now for me to be ‘distracted,’ by a computer screen. I’ve discovered the ‘Cyber Club,’ and I want to check out! But, I’m concerned about Ms. Fiets! What to do with it, while I’m online for possibly two hours. I decide I’ll test the owner, gesturing again that I’m going, would he watch my bicycle for me while I’m gone. He points to the rear bags bulging with property. I’ll bet he knows there’s something inside I don’t want to lose. I have Tembab’s camera in one.

I go off to check out where the Cyber Club is, but when I decide it’s too far I return and collect ‘Ms. Fiets.’ Additionally, it may be unfair to make this man responsible for such valuable items as my camera. I will have to be, as the camera is not mine, but Tembab’s.

And I find the perfect place to park and lock her, to a window grating (bars). This off the street and out of the way! Actually, for all the talk about theft I feel safe in Uremqui. It’s people making you paranoid, you have to be concerned about.

The cute, young Chinese women check me in… And this involves paying 10Yuan in advance, for which you get a plastic card (which activates, records, and probably watches you all at the same time). I’m supposed to sign in too with some number, but I don’t know what number, so I just put my name down. Maybe this is for members only?

I’m directed by someone to a machine which he starts up for me, and I notice whereas the other place had only W98, this is Windows Professional XP. It also, like the other, has a USB port on the front. I’m sitting in a comfortable chair with fifty other people playing games (the Chinese guy to my right playing ‘Quake’ just like Mark Meyers (in Dallas, Texas). ‘Oh, those memories I left behind!’ He exclaims, and grunts, and chortles, making me unhappy, but ke garne? The guy on my left is watching an animated movie with headsets. I’m there for over one hour and it costs me 4 Yuan / .50 cents U.S. I will return here everyday speaking for routine.

There’s a baby crying in the room across the hall (this morning at 0830), and I’m reminded of how happy I am not to have ever had children. You go right ahead and have 37 for me! They fun for moments, but when you have to deal with wiping shit out of their little butts, or dealing with a cranky one like this, no thank you! I know… you love the little darling! I love yours too!

I’m off now on Ms. Fiets to check out James’ hotel and get some exercise. I need to crank progressively longer distances! But, it’s sunny hot, and so much traffic!

I’m guessing Uremqui has a population of five million, rather than one (you can’t fool me), quite a city in the middle of nowhere! I mean there are peacocks made out of flowers (even though plastic) as sidewalk decorations, and a pyramid in a park (see the photographs in the Gallery at www.cyclingpeace.org). This is not Kathmandu, thank God! It’s clean for one thing!

Kathmandu, where the ‘wildest dreams, are’… Is no longer ‘my town.’ Too dirty, too chaotic, and too controlled by a King who doesn’t seem to know what to do except curtail the media.

Poor Nepal… I lament for friends there… If only my Nepalese friends could see Uremqui that would know what’s possible. And without excuses as, ‘Oh, we’re only a Third World country!’ Please… It’s time for another excuse! Ask yourselves why everyone, I mean everyone wants out of Nepal…? At some point everyone there has to take responsibility for what s/he has wrought (allowed to happen), rather than objectifying it: blaming the King, or the politicians, or the Maoists, or the whomever!

It’s we the people that ‘allow!’ Thomas Jefferson’s great quote applies, ‘The price of freedom is eternal vigilance!’

And why is this…? Because the people who crave power and money are, by in large, unconscious (evil) and will do anything to get… Like enslave the populous, or at least ‘keep them down,’ in some way. I can cite historical or contemporary evidence! Thus, ultimately, it’s fight (violence) for freedom, or be enslaved. Better, pray (and lead) people to greater consciousness! Yes, Jim it does have to do with consciousness!

I mean the Chinese men here all smoke and spit… This has to do with the lack of consciousness… They simply don’t know that this is not good, or possibly unpleasant for others… They just do, as that’s the way it’s been for the last one hundred years… My grandfather smoked and spit. So, I will…

Speaking of consciousness… I realize now, I didn’t participate enough in the democratic process in America… I didn’t even vote some elections. So, I got what I deserved! Now, I can’t even live there!

No wonder we’re exploring ‘Space!’ We’re hoping we’ll discover ‘Utopia!’ For, we have certainly ‘fucked up’ the Earth!

I ride out and out, easy going downhill heading north to check out James’ (recommended) hotel!

I’ve finally figured it out… Why the water rushing so fast to the north… It’s going down hill dummy, it’s called gravity!

At some point I have to stop and check the map for the name of the street. I’m on West Karamay (how Chinese is this) and they’ve marked Suzhou Road.

I go further finally getting to the large east-west ‘Lu’ (street) I believe it is, but it’s unmarked (I can never find a street sign identifying in English). I turn left and head west, following my intuition. And sure enough at the place Mr. Businessman (James’ friend) marked on the map is somewhere I think might be a hotel (a strip of buildings). But, I never find the hotel, as their name is in Chinese characters, and nothing is so obvious to me. Generally speaking, people (in any culture) can’t read maps.

I had two years of map reading in ROTC (the military). Trust me, they teach you how to read a map. Of course, this is vital in war! What they didn’t teach me was how to read a map in Chinese!

But, I’m in an interesting area, a northwest ‘suburb,’ with more large stores, some guarded by elephants (see photograph in the Gallery). I head back and up hill.

On the way back I stop and check out the, ‘Windsor Castle Spa Chamber!’ (see beginning). Amazing to me, the name and knight statues!

Back at ‘Hotel California’ it’s a night of more noise. At 2300 hours / 11P.M. the second ‘knock’ at my door. The first just went away (maybe I was dreaming)… Angry, as I’ve been in bed and dozing for two hours I get up yelling, ‘What?’ I open it to discover my smiling Chinese friend who lives/has an office at the beginning of the hallway (near the stairwell). I quickly change my demeanor and say, ‘Ni hao,’ and say that I will see him in the morning.

They’re (at least here in Uremqui) on much later clock time than me, and that’s probably because of this Beijing/far west time discrepancy. They aren’t up much past 0830, and they don’t go to bed until 12 midnight. I’m on a different schedule (clock)!

‘Good night, Gracie! Good night, Chet!’ Marty will know, but I wonder how many others of you will know what American broadcast programs I’m referring to…?

Saturday, August 13, 2005

13 August 2005 The Daily Dose

Well, I finally got ‘Ms. Fiets’ together and took her out for a spin! This not after some amount of messing with the front rack and brake! Brian was right… These cantilever brakes are difficult to work with (adjust). If there’s one thing I would change on ‘Miss Fiets,’ it would be this!

We’ve been on Chinese soil before, so this was no big deal! On the other hand, this was the first time in Uremqui (watch out they’ll kill you)! Everything seemed to work, including me. In fact, in the beginning maybe too easy… We just ‘zoomed out,’ my pre-planned route (the one we’ll take to Tian Chi). And I’m guessing we went between 15 and 20 kilometers out, the same returning, but seemed so much harder... No way of knowing exactly as I gave my computer away (sorry Melvin, but I’m not into the hi-tech stuff, plus it only attracts attention when I don’t want to). But, I can figure it out, if need be.

We only stopped a couple of times, once to check the map, the other to urinate at a PetroChina station. It said ‘W.C.’ with both the signs for male and female, but Lord… Pretty primitive! Certainly no privacy, which is no big deal for Asians. They grow up in the same bed where mom and dad are doing ‘it!’

Men here at ‘Hotel California,’ don’t bother to even close the stall door! Nor are they particularly tidy! The former I don’t mind, but the latter… Oh well, the price is right! I suppose at the five-star there’s no such problem! I think you can call ‘Hotel California’ a ‘no-star’ hotel! But, the people are friendly, for the most part!

I wanted to get out in the country today, a little, at least, but… I hardly did! I’m thinking Uremqui is more populated than I think, something like five million people. It goes on and on… At 15 kilometers I was still ‘in town!’

It’s so interesting to me to cycle and partake of a completely new scene, road, etc. This was a cross between China, Nepal and Turkey in terms of what I saw. Amazing the contrasts, modern culture has set on ancient soil.

I get so bored seeing the same things over and over. Boredom finally got to me in CS, and I had to leave or go crazy! Some people can wake up to the same face for fifty years, not me! That’s why mine has changed so much! I’m not even close to being the same person I was way back when!

We go to the end, a dead-end in fact, and we’ve obviously made a mistake or the map is incorrect (which is entirely possible). That’s why I stopped to look at the map, not because we were lost, but I wanted to figure out what went wrong. It’s tricky in China, as the traffic signs, by in large, are not in English! I’m not sure what I did wrong, or where I should have turned. But, we’ll keep trying until I get it right!

On the way back (same exact road/route), I felt like I was going up hill, or was against the wind. But, actually I had the wind at my back! I thought, maybe the bearings are going out, or something is rubbing/dragging? But, maybe I’m just getting old, and am out of shape! Damn if that’s the case… Tian Chi, cycling there at least may be in jeopardy! If I can barely go this far without weight, it’s going to be a bitch doing 115KM with weight, and up hill no less!

I started reordering my plans, at least thinking about options. Maybe I’ll forego Tian Chi and go directly to Kashgar… This will save money too! Or, I could stay here, I like the living situation for the most part, and then get back in shape in two weeks, rather than days, and then cycle up to Tian Chi much later than planned. I would then wait until next month to take the train it to Kashgar. Another option is cycling the 1+K kilometers to Kashgar! That’ll get me in shape! Options are good!

I see some interesting things, now going much slower on the way back. First a statue of a woman (women workers are venerated in the Communist world at least as care givers). But, this was a woman standing proud with a very large admiring frog next to her! What could this be about? Maybe she took care of the frogs in this dry area (where there are hardly any)…?

Later I see another statue… This of three women in triangular shape, all with breasts thrust up and out with arms stretched upwards and hands holding a palette of something over their heads, a mound of dirt maybe…? It was nondescript. Maybe it was ice cream? What could this be about? These kinds of things (signs and symbols) intrigue me!

Then further near ‘Zentrum,’ some Chinglish as a sign on a building… The Windsor Castle Spa…_____? Now, the last word escapes me (there are four to the name of this facility), but I’ll get it, as it made the phrase, like all Chinglish, non-sensical. In addition, on each side of the door are two knights of old on horseback guarding the place! This building looks so interesting to me, I’m going to have to return and check it out! At least get the last word of the name!

What does Windsor Castle have to do in far northwest China? I mean is it a restaurant where we can order roast beef with Yorkshire pudding? Are there any places in London that are named for some Chinese mythology…?

Nearing ‘home,’ I’m glad, as I don’t have much energy left! I’ve expended more than I wanted to, after having written ‘Don’t overdo it today!’ on my notes this morning. I’m hopeless!

It’s been almost two months since I did much on ‘Ms. Fiets,’ so it could be that I have no muscle endurance (yet). I remember cycling up to Pharping from Kathmandu with a full load … 17 kilometers (up 500 meters)! I could no more do that today than fly to the moon… And that was only three months ago!

What a difference ten years makes! I can’t wait to be 75, with the same delusions of grandeur… How crazy of me to think I can just get on a bicycle and go so far (30 kilometers)! Originally, I was just going over to a cycle shop, maybe have lunch, and return after a few kilometers. My mind is 40, but my body is 65, and an old 65, not a ‘new’ one! I’ve been hard on it!

People are just too kind to me! I get back, but this time I am only the second most interesting thing at the front door (of the hotel). The first, some hookers are making their rounds on a Saturday night, getting all the men’s attention.

Two men from next door walk up and say ‘hello’ to me. One indicates the hookers and gestures. I anticipate, and shake my head ‘no!’ ‘I’m too old!’ I tell them! What I don’t tell them is that on my horniest day of my life (probably around 26-years of age) I wouldn’t partake of these two trollops, as they’re ugly besides! But, even the physically ugly hookers have to earn a living!

I wait until the narrow hallway-like ‘lobby’ is cleared (packed with all kinds of things to sell) and then hump my bicycle up to the first landing. Suddenly someone has picked up the rear and is helping me. It’s the young uniformed man from behind the front desk. Then he gestures he’ll carry it! The next thing I know it’s above his head and he’s climbing every second stair… Gosh, to be young and strong again! I’m impressed as he seems to glide up three flights, me following. When he sets it down, I gesture not to leave and fish into my wallet, I’m going to pay him something. But, he won’t accept, grabbing and closing my wallet! I think, how nice! How kind! I’m so blessed! I could have gotten it up the three flights, but it would have been a job, the two rear bags are loaded, plus I have a liter of walnut/licorice milk on board. I always carry weight as it makes you stronger!

Right now, however, I’m not feeling very strong, but I’ll get that way! Don’t worry! In the meantime, I partake of tea and raisons.

It felt good to ride today! I don’t want to forget that! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Grateful! Grateful! Grateful! I love riding ‘Ms. Fiets!’

If only I could digest food! Oh well, you can’t have everything!

Later I’m in bed reading, ‘Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines,’ when I hear a key opening the door. In walk the young boy and the manager, who hardly acknowledge me… They’re still after something having to do with the TV set (this has happened before with others). They gesture to a TV cable threaded through the heating vent. Ah, but it’s not what they need or want so out they go, with hardly an explanation (couldn’t anyway as I wouldn’t understand).

I’m slightly peeved, as I do value my privacy. I could have been having sexual intercourse (hardly as I’m celibate) and in they would walk right in on us. But, to make a point I get up and make sure they’ve relocked the door. Back to reading…

I go to bed at 2100 hours / 9P.M. even though it’s still light outside. Of course, the people in the hallway are just getting ‘warmed up!’ I drift off anyway…

I’m asleep when I hear a knock at the door. When I don’t respond, a pause and the key unlocks, in walking the young boy again. This time I’m angry and yell, ‘What?’ He gestures to the TV set on the floor next to my bed (I’ve disconnected and am using as a night stand.). Again, he’s after something having to do with the cable or television set. He ends up taking a short cable from the TV set itself. He departs happier! I’m unhappy! Will they every leave me alone?

Even later I’ve dozed off again when there’s still another knock at the door. This time I ignore, and this time whomever just walks away… They probably were inviting me to one of their parties!

I drift off into wherever I go when I go to sleep!

‘Be still, and know I am God!’ (Psalms, vivi, #10)
People get these confused all the time… A sign points to the mundane. A symbol points to the spiritual!
‘Chinglish’ are Chinese thoughts in Roman letters, generally speaking a unique way to express a Chinese thought in English. They normally are funny or interesting to native-born English speakers like me, as many are non-sequiturs.

Friday, August 12, 2005

08.08.05 (can’t wait for 08.08.08)

My 3-day train trip from Chengdu, Sichuan Province, to Uremqui, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region… 52-hours on a ‘hard seat!’ exquisite torture! Actually, I only last nine hours , as I couldn’t take the children’s energy (uncontrolled by a spitting mom, who went immediately asleep).

I like children, but I’m strange… I want them to behave! It wasn’t the ‘hard seat,’ but unkempt children that got me!

I’m up at 0530 at Sim’s Cozy Guest House, and another ‘textbook departure’ which means ‘no hassle!’ or the way I like it.

In the Army it was ‘PPPO!’ or ‘prior planning pays off!’ I’m a product of military and ‘live-live’ broadcast (time) discipline! I’m lucky! If you wait until the last minute, like some people like, you’re in for some drama, and probably it’s not a ‘comedy,’ but a ‘comedy of errors!’

I remember helping a friend move once… It was only one room out of a house, but it turned into a nightmare… At least for me… I remember him telling me it would only take one day! I remember looking around the house, as it turned out to be not just one room, but an entire house he had to deal with… I thought to myself, having moved many times, ‘This is more likely one week’s work!’ And it turned out to be just that… I also remember him telling me that ‘I like to do it all at once!’ Which means to those who can read people’s minds… I don’t want to think about it until I have to—in fact, I don’t want to think about it period! Luckily the guy had many friends! But, oh… I bowed out after one day’s help as I just couldn’t take the disorganization!

I plan ahead, and it pays off for me! Others, if they’re not involved with me, can do it any way they’d like… It’s your life, body, and soul—maybe you like the ‘comedy of errors!

I take a taxi to the Chengdu Railway Station, and get to the proper waiting room in plenty of time—of course… In China, if you wait to the last minute it’s 10X worse! Figure it out… There are 10X as many people!

I’m courteous, generally speaking, but in China if you’re courteous you’re just not going to get to the trough! And it’s a shame it’s come to that, but if you want to see a preview of what’s coming to your ‘local theatre’… Come to China you’ll get a preview… ‘Too many rats in a cage!’ is the title of this horror ‘film!’

Did you know that the U.S. is the third most populous country in the world, behind China and India… Hard to believe! So, I would estimate this ‘horror’ film is coming for your grandchildren, entitled ‘Too many cages in a rat!’ This courtesy of all of you who begeted too many children. I tried to keep the average down with none!

About 45-minutes prior to opening the gate people start getting in line, pushing and shoving. And I know why… It’s not like they’re not going to get a seat (assigned by number on the ticket)… It’s that they won’t have the luggage space, and they carry everything but the ‘kitchen sink’ as hand luggage, because it doesn’t cost anything extra. So, the ‘hard-seat’ people, the poor people, of course have to act this way to survive—like animals! They actually run to their cars laden like mules to be the first ones to load up the luggage rack!

I get to my seat #83 (100 in each) in car number #16 (there were 18 on this train) in good order (not carrying as much). It’s an aisle seat, and the worst situation, as you have no where to lean to sleep. It’s not that these seats are so hard, just straight backed and uncomfortable.

But, I’m blessed (or so I thought) as no one shows for #82 (the window seat). So, when we start moving, I move over and occupy #82, thinking I’ve got it made. Unfortunately, in my little configuration, there’s a mother with three young children (and an older boy or husband I couldn’t figure it out which). I thought to myself… I may be able to last and not upgrade (trying to save money). This hard-backed seat only cost 233Yuan / less than $30 U.S. all the way (3,500KM) to Uremqui. My two pieces of luggage cost more, 267Yuan / $35 U.S. So, I was going to get me and all my stuff all the way to Uremqui for just $65U.S.

Note in the U.S. I’m thinking a train trip across the country (with heavy baggage) would cost at least $300U.S.

The train heads back up north, taking the same exact route my train took from Shanghai coming down into Chengdu (through Bao ji near Xi’ian which you’ve heard of because of the terra cotta soldiers). This on another foggy and sagging morning/day I’m happy to get out of ‘Dodge!’ better known as Chengdu.

I’ve been in Chengdu eight humid, sultry, icky days and dying to get to some drier and lighter air! I like ‘brown,’ versus the green when it comes to the terrain!

We’re talking ‘tropical’ in eastern China (I’ve discovered in the last five weeks). Tropical means: Lotus flowers growing on water, banana trees, stagnant water with mosquitoes, cockroaches, and festering diseases… No wonder S.E. Asia is prone to disease… Easy to figure out why they’ve had : SARS, the ‘Bird Flu,’ the ‘Pig disease,’ etc. in recent years! There’s more to come!

Pulled by the similar electric-powered engine we cross the same many rivers and go through hundreds of the same tunnels through a Shan (mountain range)—chugging along (I’m guessing an average speed of 40KM)!

China has a ‘whale’ of an infrastructure (as good as the U.S.). Things work in China, in comparison to Nepal, where things… Oh, well, the dhal bhat is better there!

I notice my car is packed as in ‘cattle car,’ we used to call such in my prior life at ABC Sports—I’m the only white face in car #16! 99 loud Chinese, one quiet white face… I reassure myself I can do this!

I notice cycles of energy with the Chinese train crowds. There’s the loud and boisterous cycle, and the quiet cycle, the eating/talking cycle, and the sleeping cycle. It’s interested to observe this, these group dynamics, these ‘cycles of energy’ (probably similar in any culture).

I start out O.K. with the kids, the attractive-young, but spitting-on-the-floor mother. Soon, however, my extra seat has been devoured somehow. In addition, the kids are getting too crazy… I’m beginning to think I can’t do it… But, then I have limited resources, and the further you go to your destination, the less you pay for the ‘upgrade,’ as it’s from that very point where you pay, not from the point of departure (Chengdu in this case).

I last until 5P.M. / 1700 hours in car #16! When I spy a passing ‘uniform’ I show my pre-translated (by Wu Hui) request. On it he writes something in Chinese characters (of course, it’s their language). But, I figure it out, but he’s also written in numbers, ’11.’ Peter Snow Cao/Bike China had told me in Chengdu that there’s a ticket desk somewhere in the middle of the train, and since this is an 18-car train, that would be #9… Although I figure they’re not always perfectly in the center.

I take my backpack with all my valuables and head for car #11… This is through seven cars on a moving train with narrow aisles and 100 people in each car… That’s dodging roughly 700 people from start to finish, a neat trick.

You see, people in China they won’t necessarily get out of your way (little courtesy on the street)! Sometimes you push! Sometimes you yell at them! ‘Get the fuck outta my way!’ Luckily, they only ‘get’ the meaning from the tone of voice!

After going through the ‘Restaurant Car,’ I discover ‘the ticket desk’ in car #11 (the place where you pay for things like ‘upgrades’).

Here I hand over my pre-translated request written on paper… ‘I would like to upgrade to a hard-sleeping berth!’ She (the ‘uniform’) understands this, but then something happens I have not anticipated… The woman in the uniform (they like uniforms in China) explains something in Chinese. Of course, I don’t understand. I shake my head, and act out my stupidity (easy), mumbling ‘Wo bu ming bai!’ which is the ‘Pidyin’ (anglicized version of the spoken Chinese) of, ‘I don’t understand!.’ Of course, they don’t understand either! Ke garne?

They finally find a Chinese passenger who can speak a little English, and he translates for me… There are only ‘soft-beds’ available! How much?’ I ask the man, who in turn asked the uniform. It’s something like 450 Yuan, way too much for me. I simply shake my head and say, ‘Too much.’ I think they were amazed as they thought of course, no problem for the white man. I return to my ‘cattle car!’ resigned to my fate! But, I cheer myself by how much money I’m saving!

Additionally, I get to observe Chinese life in its ‘rawest’ (a word?) form… These Chinese are of the working, and/or lower classes, as barely able to afford a ‘hard seat’ I would imagine.

In addition, they watch every move the white man makes… Like what am I doing here with them? They probably can’t believe it! Note, all while faces are rich to them, thus they can’t figure it out… So, we’re a walking-talking sociology class together… One white face, and 99 Chinese (of which many are noisy children). I’m like my grandmother ‘Hutchie,’ who said and believed, ‘Children should be seen but not heard!’ Yea, Hutchie! Like grandson, like grandmother!

The sell everything on Chinese trains, push or carried up and down the aisle on carts! I would imagine even Chinese hookers apply their trade in the ‘soft berth’ compartments, no pun intended! In car #16, a man across from me buys some nail clippers! You can buy a hand fan, or some panty hose (should you suddenly need). I can understand a hand fan in this stultifying heat, but panty hose…? Maybe for the hookers? But, I can’t imagine what it’s like to wear such in such heat!

After two hours of torture we’re still in the low, wet, and green part of China. But, chugging north tunnel by tunnel, bridge by bridge (hundreds), river by river.

I try to read the book I’ve brought along, ‘Tibetan Yoga, and Divine Secrets!’ You can believe I’m the only person in the whole of China (1.2 billion people) with this book! I read about the ‘doctrine of voidness!’—wanting to create it in the middle of car #16! I’m also reminded of Hsuan Tsang who brought Buddhism to China in the 7th Century! I figure Padmasambhava is the mythologized version of the historical Hsuan Tsang. I find it ironic that they both took Buddhism to ‘China,’ (Padmasambhava to Tibet) in the same century—yet no one ever mentions this.

Then it’s feeding time at the ‘trough!’ I notice the Chinese diet is pretty poor… They slurp noodles out of paper buckets (by the millions), and eat things like canned pork, and pre-packaged sausage (that latter with cancer-causing Sodium Nitrate). I think they’re possibly fascinated with all such foods, since the old days of being deprived.

They all:
Eat noodles!
Don’t like wearing shoes (as in Nepal)!
Drink lu cha in special containers (green tea)
Smoke cigarettes!
Dote on children!
Talk too loudly!
Stare at little screens (and me)!
Slurp and spit (at least the lower classes)
Gamble (play games, mostly cards)

I look around, trying to deal with the three children, just being children trapped on the train (I should be benevolent)! I wonder how long I can take it… the slurping sounds, the woman spitting on the floor, the children crawling on me?

Suddenly divine providence, my guardian angels answer my question! I’m sitting there after having made the ‘father’ angry (requested that he trade places with the children) when another uniform gestures to come, return, they have found a ‘hard-sleeping’ berth for me (I figure this out.)! By now, I’m the ‘star of car #16,’ the white-face that can’t stand Chinese children. I pull my bags off the overhead rack, load up and run the gauntlet, following the uniform. I hear them talking about me. ‘Ah, the white face couldn’t take it, good riddance!’

This time the seven-car walk is even more daunting, dodging the 700 people, as I’m carrying everything this time: in one hand my thermos and plastic bags of food, in the other my laden duffel bag, and of course I’m wearing my backpack with heavy Toshiba inside!

When I finally get back to ‘the ticket desk’ (in car #11) , I discover another ‘uniform,’ wrestling with opening the drawer to get the calculator out. He’s actually embarrassed about this, having to wrench it open with his pocket knife as I watch.

At this point I begin to enjoy myself a bit, and make sure he knows, ‘no problem’ I understand. After some wait, maybe ten minutes, good news comes belching out of the machine… this ‘hard’ upgrade costs only 207 Yuan / $25 U.S.! I’m thrilled and whip out 3, 100-note Yuan bills! But, they have no change and ask if I have the exact amount (some things it’s possible to communicate, particularly when it comes to money)! I’m even more accommodating at this point, as I’ve learned when to be gracious (and this was the time). I fish through all possibilities, but don’t have the exact change. Ke garne? Their problem!

The uniforms (now there are several) scurry to get change from some passengers! But after all this I’m finally ushered and with some respect (having been such an accommodating fellow) to car #7 (ah, lucky!). I’m expecting to be happy with any old berth, possibly the highest and least desirable (a ladder climb with no window), but ‘low’ and behold; the female ‘uniform’ gestures me to the lower (most desirable) berth (with table). I’m now silently chanting (to my guardian angels): ‘Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Grateful! Grateful! Grateful!’

It’s now 6P.M. / 1800 hours, and I will get a good night’s rest! More chanting! Next to me a smiling female peeks out from under her blanket (berths are only separated by maybe a 24-inch-wide space). I’ve suddenly gone from cattle car to ‘sleeping’ with an young, attractive Chinese female (turns out she’s just a girl). My life, and what happens to me is too amazing!

Lying comfortably in my lower ‘hard berth’ I figure it out… Ah, these clever Chinese uniforms… The had a ‘hard berth,’ available all along, but were trying to get the white face to pay the most! This is capitalism at it’s finest (this in a ‘Communist’ controlled country)! But, they hadn’t anticipated me turning the ‘soft berth’ down as ‘too expensive!’ So, ultimately I called their bluff (unknowingly) and it worked. Or, better said my guardian angels, who never fail to come through for me, dictated!

What a day! ‘What a life!’ as Marina would say!

I love travelling via train, always have… I sleep better on a train than anywhere else, as it reminds the old body of getting ‘rocked’ to sleep! It’s also very romantic, the lights of strange cities flashing past out the window, hushed voices, pretty girls smiling from beneath blankets, uniforms pushing trolleys full of food, drink and other goodies to buy! Most of all, the interesting people you meet!

While dozing in and out of consciousness, my Chinese friends in Chengdu, Helen (and Crystal) come to fore…

Helen such a sweet, delicate Chinese woman driving an automobile. She showed up in my dormitory room (at Sim’s) the night prior to my departure with a going-away gift! An authentic Chinese hand fan from her hometown (she said). I don’t really even know this woman (Crystal’s friend), but she’s always been there for me (via email)—another ‘guardian angel!’ I’m so happy I went to Chengdu, if for no other reason than to meet, Crystal, Helen and Peter Snow Cao/Bike China (the latter two for the first time).

07 August

At 12 midnight we arrive in Boa ji, a, I’m guessing, an important RR ‘division point.’ It’s taken 14 hours to get here from Chengdu. This not far from the terra cotta soldiers (Jan).

I arise before dawn (0300), the car snoring asleep as it ‘rocks’ along—it still dark save for walking lights. A uniform is dosing awake on one of the retractable/spring loaded (off the wall) seats.

I have stumbled to the ‘W.C.’ several times in the night… Try using a squat toilet on a moving train while half asleep! Hold on baby! Try being constipated on a squat toilet on a moving train while half asleep! I would have given anything to ‘shake, rattle, and roll’ with the train!

At 0400 (Ping Liang) the countryside opens a bit, and is turning ‘browner!’ I’m suddenly happier! A Chinese man is added to the bunk above me.

At 0600 (Gu Yuan) the countryside is now open and not quite as humid as Chengdu and further east! But, the same dreary, tearful, hazy sky (as all of the China I’ve seen so far)!

People are beginning to awaken and go to the W.C. and adjacent ‘wash basin closet.’ They pull out their buckets of noodles, and depart for the ‘Kai Shue!’ Interesting and gratefully appreciated (by me) is the boiling-hot water tank/heater in every car! I mean we’re talking boiling and 24-hours a day, the temperature I like (for the water I drink that is).

If you come to China, take the train… You get to partake of real Chinese culture. They love, like the Nepalese, to splash water about—the water-basin closets like swamps! There’s much clearing of throats and the men (sometimes women) spit on the floor, the street, wherever they are. They’re not abashed about making bodily sounds! Of course, travelling in these ‘hard-berths’ the passengers sleep in their street clothing. Thus, they spend some time, particularly the woman, adjusting and smoothing up such—washing themselves like cats! No one dresses very formally riding the trains.

I notice the little ‘girl,’ in the adjacent berth had a ‘mother!’ sleeping above. Or, so I thought this woman was her mother…

Actually I couldn’t figure out the relationship between these two as they were so demonstrably and overtly physical! I thought possibly they might be a lesbian couple, and unashamed of showing their love to the world! I’ve never seen a mother and daughter play with each other like lovers! This must be a cultural thing, as would never happen in the U.S. (west), at least at this age… I guessed the daughter at 14-years of age, the mother maybe 35! But, they would entwine in bed, feeding each other, tickling each other, kissing each other in a way I’ve never seen before… Thus, my confusion. I found out later they were, in fact, mother and daughter.

They had a small white rabbit in a cage they kept in a shopping bag. The little girl fed it spinach leaves. At stops, where we would get off to walk on solid ground, they would let it out of the cage to hop around. Note: at cities/stations where the train stops for ten minutes or more, everyone gets off to smoke a cigarette and/or partake of the local fruit and vegetables. All of this sold from carts that come rolling to the doors upon the train arriving!

At 0730, I begin to see sunflowers growing… Guess what this means?

At 0930, I actually see the sun, I think… It’s that big bright thing up in the sky…? But, it’s been so long since I saw it last!

I think we cross the Yangste River…? Or is it the Yellow? Some river that begins with an ‘Y!’ I think we actually crossed both.

At 1000 the train stops at some small town (village). I get off and buy 1 kilogram (2.2 lbs.) of fresh apples for 3 Yuan / .35 cents (or roughly .17 cents per pound). Later I’m told I got ripped off! My new Chinese friend (James) explains all foreigners get ripped off, it’s just the way it is in China. Note: Historically China has been abused by foreign powers, particularly the English, so I can understand in a way (karma).

Back rolling again (we never stop for long) I meet the new addition to our ‘stall,’ a Chinese man who speaks English. He’s the man who got on at Ping Liang and is sleeping directly above me. Turns out he’s a professor of English at a Chinese University… For this he makes 1,500 Yuan / $175U.S. per month!

Note, Why are teachers under paid everywhere in the world? He tells me we’ve taken the ‘slow,’ (52 hours) versus the ‘fast’ train that takes a more direct route!

Another hour and I look out the window to discover, desert! I’m thrilled! It’s been a long time… Actually since January of 04, when I departed Colorado on the bus for Minneapolis!

At 1130 we stop at Gantang and I get out to partake of the desert air, and I come alive for the first time in a long stretch! Gosh, I’ve been missing this feeling, the air cooler and drier! It’s been a long haul for me, five weeks in the kind of weather I detest! Oh, they will have to pay me a large sum of money to get me back in eastern China in the summer!

I lived in Colorado (in the U.S.) versus Georgia, or Florida, or southern Texas for a reason… Guess, what a large part of the reason was…?

At 1430 hours, Wu Wei Nan. I get off the train to partake of the air, the day, life! They let the rabbit out of it’s cage. It hops around wildly happy! I do a little hopping of my own, as I feel the same way! So, there really is a part of China I might enjoy living in!

This is Gansu Province (I think…?) As I can’t always tell from my English map of China). It borders the south and west side of Inner Mongolia. At this point I’m within striking distance of Ulan Batar, where my friend Lutta lives! I hope to cycle there eventually! Just north from where we’re travelling northwest is the ‘Badan Jaran Shamo,’ or the southern part of the Gobi Desert.

Back on the train I hear a loud thump, and the instantaneous crying of a child who has just fallen off the ladder. This is the third time a different child has fallen off the ladder (to the upper berths)! My new Chinese friend is instantly helpful, then a uniform comes takes over, as the mother is in the W.C. The boy, seven-years old is in hysterics, having had the wind knocked out of him! But, he’s in good hands as all Chinese adults seem to know how to take care of children.

Much to ado about nothing in my opinion, but I come from a different, older American school, the ‘When the going it’s touch, the tough get going!’ school… The Jack Favor School! Sure, you want to comfort, but not make too big a deal out of this lest the boy be feminized! But, what do I know… I’m not a parent!

The mother returns, the boy clinging to her! It’s interesting to see the inter-reaction between mothers and children! Children just can’t survive without ‘mother!’ And nothing else will suffice! Nothing! The head uniform is called for, as someone has suggested to report this accident (versus the other two who fell, where the parents just grabbed their child and there was little ado). Ultimately, ice cream solves the problem (distraction).

Speaking of mothers and children… I’m fascinated with the mother and 14-year old girl right next to me (the opposite lower berth). They seem to me to be lovers! I wonder if this is typical, and if not how healthy can it be…? The little girl will be seeking this kind of adoration in her adult relationships (like with a husband). And how disappointed she will be! They fondle each other, rolling about in on the narrow berth… This in broad daylight, in front of me… In a way, it’s touching actually to see this kind of tenderness, this kind of love… I don’t believe in my life time I’ve ever partaken of a closer mother-daughter ‘thing.’ I wonder if this is typical of Chinese culture…?

I know one thing for sure, something for sociologists (Jim S.?)… In twenty years China‘s adults are all going to be from ‘only-children’ (children without siblings) families! I wonder about this and how it will affect Chinese culture. I remember my parents and family always thinking how spoiled these children were and how undesirable this was, not having to share/compete with any siblings. Now, it’s going to be an entire nation made up of ‘only children,’ this because of the ‘One Child’ policy of the Chinese government (to curb the birth rate).

Think about couples, husbands and wives who never had to deal with sibling rivalry…? I think this will play out in much drama! Writers, artists will have a ‘hay day,’ analyzing such in various media. I think China would be wise to prepare (in advance) for this phenomenon.

Suddenly, we get a flute concert from the young boy who fell off the ladder, his mother conducting! I have immediate negative (shame on me) thoughts about this… More ‘noise,’ foisted upon (me) the public! But, I end up being taken with this boy and his talent! At seven-years old he can play a wooden flute (more difficult) and well! I applaud along with others each time he finishes a song! The boy is serious. In fact, when my new Chinese friend and I converse during one of the selections, the boy scolds us! ‘Don’t talk while I’m playing, just listen!’ he says emphatically to us (which James translates into English for me). I think to myself, here is a budding impressario!

My Chinese friend conveys to his mother that the boy will always remember this moment, playing for an American (as if I’m important) on a train. I think to myself… I will always remember hearing this ‘genius’ play the flute on this train trip! He won’t remember as unimportant! Like a dummy I never get this young boy’s name!

After the ‘concert’ the boy and I become friends… He can speak a little English! He’s into origami (the Japanese art of paper folding) and gives me a crane he’s constructed (out of the notebook paper I gave him)!

Much later he runs into me between cars where I’ve taken to stand gazing out at a very barren landscape. He says ‘goodbye,’ (in English) and I don’t understand, as at the next stop I just happen to glance out the window to see him and his mother being greeted by relatives. I shall always remember this young boy, the one I thought had over-acted after having fallen. It was just that, like me, he is more sensitive than other children (being an artist). Jack Favor wouldn’t have even cried!

It’s always so stupid (of me and others) to judge so quickly because of our built-in prejudices! When will I ever learn…? No doubt in another life time, as already I’m 65-stupid years old! I now wish I’d gotten the kid’s name and address, as I’m in the talent seeking business! Wake up, Hutch!

I teach my new Chinese friend (his English name, James Zhu the latter pronounced ‘Ju’) some new English words. First, the word ‘barren’ and then ‘desert,’ as that’s what we’re passing through.

I think to invite him to the ‘Restaurant Car’ for dinner (which he tells me is expensive). Besides wanting to treat him, I’m interested in having the experience. Instead of 10 Yuan for a standard meal (passed out from carts), it’s something like 15 Yuan or basically $2U.S. I insist! Actually, he’s doing me a favor accompanying me, as I certainly couldn’t get what I need/want (rice and a vegetable) without my pre-translated/written Chinese characters (which I don’t have).

But, we have to wait until 1830 hours. Then at 1830 hours we have to wait until after the next station. Of course, I want to be first in line, but he wants to wait until he hears such ‘broadcast’ over the speakers (that the ‘Restaurant Car’ is open). Of course, I’m right about this, as by the time we get there it’s jammed packed and we have to wait for a dirty table (they never clean)! This is when people should listen to me, as even though there are cultural customs, I’m good at being at the head of the line in any country!

I’m, of course, the only white face in the ‘Restaurant Car,’ everyone asking ‘James,’ where I’m from. This is the most asked question of a ‘foreigner!’ And when they hear ‘America,’ most Chinese get excited… Gee, a real-live ‘Americano.’ Of course, I always feel funny when this happens as I’m not as thrilled about America as they are! Additionally, I’m not a typical American… So, they’re not getting the ‘true, blue’ version!

I explain to James about my diet, ‘A simple eater,’ I’ve taken to using as an explanation. All I want is a bowl of rice and a vegetable. Most Chinese can’t grasp this… How can this be, an American with money…? He should want and eat eel, congealed duck blood, chicken feet and one-thousand year-old eggs! No meat? They can hardly believe a vegetarian besides (Chinese are big on meat!). Luckily James, an English professor understands. He even quotes an Englishman writer, ‘My taste is simple! The best is good enough!’ He then orders rice and scrambled eggs with tomatoes (it turns out to be delicious)! But, the price… Outrageous at 37 Yuan or $4.25 U.S. for both of us! And they don’t accept tips!

The local beer bottle sitting on the table costs… 10 Yuan / $2.25 per. The two bottles of wine, one made from berries, and the other the standard grapes, 5 Yuan for the entire bottle. 5 Yuan, folks is .75 cents!!! Outrageous! You can’t purchase a bad bottle of wine in the U.S. for less than $5 dollars or 40 Yuan. China is, generally speaking, 5 to 10X less expensive than the U.S.

Come to China if you like to eat and drink, particularly if you enjoy Chinese food, but not the American version, the real version—in the winter you can get ‘Yellow Dog!’ (warms you up they say, although I’m a vegetarian)! Unfortunately, not being very health conscious, they use MSG in most dishes. In fact, I’ve seen it for sale in food markets. Mono-Sodium Glutamate… it’s not particularly good for the body dear Chinese friends!

Back in car #7, berth number 17, I ask James what I’ve bought in terms of food (that I had brought with me), as I’ve only been able to guess (labels in Chinese). I show him the products, the labels. Turns out what I thought was soy milk is some kind of nut ‘milk’ with licorice (a popular drink in China). He describes the nut, and later I guess ‘walnuts’ as they seem popular in China (my little neighbor girl offered me some). I’ve been having trouble digesting this ‘milk,’ what I thought was soy milk, and now I think I know why… I (my liver) can’t deal digesting much fat, and walnuts, of course all nuts,’ are fatty (because of their oil content).

I think to myself I’ve got to be more careful. Luckily, I’m finding there’s some products in food markets whose label is partially in English. This is wise, as English speakers have money!

The sun never sets on the English language! Note! They’ve been teaching English in Chinese schools since 1979! I find this interesting… Why 1979…? Must have been Deng Xiaoping, he was the first of the reformers!

This is why China’s going to eventually ‘absorb’ the U.S.—you watch! The Unocal bid was just the tip of the iceberg, as Americans don’t know what’s happening in the world economically. ‘Hell, just give me my wife and kids, my pickup truck, a six-pack of Lone Star, my gun, and ‘bring ‘em on!’ Y’all come back now, you hear!’ (Texas stupidity!)

Americans, the masses at least… So, stupid about what’s happening in the world! So, ethnocentric, not even knowing what the word means!

A quick explanation of world economics… America has become the consuming ‘engine’ of the world, basically ‘devouring’ it! Of course, because we’re rich we can pay for this ‘binge!’ China, being the greatest producer of products, is only happy to oblige us! And what are they doing with all the money they’re making selling us everything we think we can’t do without? They’re loaning it back to us, ‘investing’ in America! We’re going to wake up one day (maybe?) only to find they ‘own’ us! This is what the hue and cry was about having to do with the Chinese purchasing Unocal, the oil company!

This is also about the Chinese revaluing the Yuan, under U.S. pressure. Their money has been undervalued compared to the dollar (which they ‘peg’ to). Of course, this has hurt me living in the China now, as I get ‘paid’ in U.S. dollars…

I’ve been unlucky about currencies everywhere I’ve been recently… Europe example because of the falling dollar! Had I been paid in Euros then, and Yuan now, I would be much better off financially! But, thank God for some of my benefactors like Eric Kaldor and Jim Speer who have helped me when desperate! They’ve ‘made up the difference!’ Thanks, James and Eric!

Maybe China devouring the U.S. is a good thing, since the U.S. is devouring the earth…? Ke garne? I’m going to be living and dying elsewhere anyway!

08 August, Monday

I wake up in the middle of the night and realize I’m on a moving train. I had been dreaming about something I can’t remember, but a feeling of shock and surprise! I’m on a moving train! It’s that feeling, from one reality to another than is so interesting… In the movie business we call it a ‘jump cut!’

Later I’m awakened at 0200 by the loving mother and daughter departing (at some remote place). People come and people go like ships passing in the night!

There’s a time to go, and
A time to stay!
A time to learn, and
A time to teach!
There’s a time to sow, and
A time to reap!
A time to give, and
A time to take!
There’s a time to ride, and
A time to walk!
There’s a time to think, and
A time not to,
As we create our world
From our minds,
Our hearts,
Our being,
Our non-being!

Aspire to nothing,
Be nothing,
Know nothing, and
Do nothing!
And you will achieve great happiness!
As you will have the ‘hole’ world
In ‘the psalm of your hand!’

I arise at 0430 and make a ‘bucket’ (my large metal camping cup that ‘Erik the Dutch’ so named) of Africafe coffee (a gift from Stephanie). I meditate; some breathing exercises. This is the best time to do such, matching the ‘snoring’ with OM! Note: Everyone seems to snore in China!

Later I peek out the window to discover a sky full of stars, with the constellation Orion on its left side (never seen it like this). I’m thrilled seeing the night sky… It’s been a long time, too long, as there’s no night sky in Kathmandu nor eastern China. The last place I partook of the night sky was Pharping, Nepal.

I don’t want to live in a place where I can’t see the night sky and see it well!

Out here in Xinjiang Province you can see the stars similar to Big Bend, Texas… From horizon to horizon! Oh, I bequeath you modernity, your ‘mobile!’ I’ll take the night sky! Hell, I’m going to be ‘living’ there soon!

The dawn is faint in the east as we arrive in Hami, the first sign of Moslem influence (in Xinjiang). The signs are in Arabic as well as Mandarin. I get off the train and partake of the desert essence.

Today we arrive in ‘Ouuulumuuchi’ so pronounced ( spelled Uremqui) by 1400 hours (2P.M.). First in order will be finding a reasonably-priced hotel room. Then a shower, then washing my clothes, then sleeping on a bed alone! All those basic desires I have. I used to desire sleeping with women, but no longer! All they do is keep you ‘up!’

Northwest of Hami it’s completely barren, the most barren I land I’ve ever seen (moon like). Not a plant grows on this wind/water swept ground, it descending in shallow slope from the mountains to the north. But, oh am I enjoying seeing such terrain! Strange that such enlivens me so, this vast barren desert mountain landscape! I stand at my train window gazing out, thinking… Nobody ‘owns’ the land, not the Chinese, not the Uyghars, not the Russians, not any human being… Ownership is an illusion! Do you ‘own’ your mother?

While I’m standing there enraptured with the view, the Chinese radio (piped to the speakers all over the train) I suddenly am aware of the most lovely rendition of ‘Auld Lang Sang!’ This sung by a female vocalist… all the verses which are unusual to hear.

Remember I talk about incongruities… Think about it… It’s August in China… I’m on a moving train gazing out at a moon landscape in a remote part of China. Suddenly on the radio a pretty female voice is singing, ‘Should old acquaintances, be forgot, in days of Auld Lang Sang?’ Trust me, the metaphor isn’t lost on me… It’s moments like this that are ‘scenes from my movie!’ I feel like I’m ‘home,’ although this isn’t Scotland (where Robert Burns wrote this song!). To me, ‘Auld Lang Sang,’ is the most poignant song I know of… It brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it! Such a lament… Such memories it calls up… Such…

The Chinese countryside blurs past…’…We’ll drink a cup of kindness yet, in days of Auld Lang Sang!’

‘Am I a man dreaming I’m a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I’m a man!’ One of the greatest of all Taoist sayings!

Postscript:

James Zhu (pronounced ‘Ju’) and I become friends on the train. We discuss starting a school to teach English in China. I tell him about HYPERLINK "http://www.MakeMagicTogether.com" www.MakeMagicTogether.com I want to raise his salary to 5K Yuan even before the company is started! He invites me to lunch after we arrive in Uremqui. I tell him I will introduce him to Mr. Ding!

Suddenly we are in a green valley reminding me of near Whitecliff, Colorado, this on the outskirts of Uremqui! There are poplar trees and grape arbors, rushing water, and a salt lake (James informs me). I see what looks like an Interstate Highway in the distance. We are in a valley surrounded by mountains!

We all rush to pack up our belongings, everyone eager to ‘get there!’ I stretch to glimpse Uremqui out the window, wanting to see what’s in store for me! Then a mass of high-rise buildings greets me in the distance, looking like any modern city. Yet, there’s something about the ambiance that I resonate with, the desert-like feel (drier air)! Thank you, God!

We disembark and walk the usual kilometer to the main entrance. James insists on carrying my heavy duffel bag. But, no Mr. Ding’ anywhere (no ‘Hutch’ sign of welcome held up!). Ke garne?

Lucky for me James is met by his sister-in-law and husband who just happens to drive his own taxi. When I see no ‘Hutch’ sign, James says to come with them. He is one of my ‘guardian angels.’ He insists on buying my lunch before we part! I am so blessed! We repair to a nearby restaurant, where he orders for me.

I eat a bowl of rice and green beans, while he and his sister get caught up with family news (I’m assuming as I can’t understand Chinese). They’re not eating with me here, but at home with all the relatives! Can you imagine…? They’re delaying getting home and eating their own meal, to make sure I get mine and to find me a hotel first! When I discover this, I’m abashed as to hold them up. Thus, I finish as quickly as I can, taking half of the green beans in a plastic bag (no cardboard ‘doggy’ boxes in China) for later.

We have already checked out one hotel, but the low rate (60 Yuan) is for military only! Ke Garne? I inform James I’ll wait for Mr. Ding.

In the meantime, his sister-in-law has run off to discover a nearby hotel that will accommodate me. And guess what…? A single private room for just what I can afford, 50 Yuan / $4 U.S. per. At the desk James gets angry (in Chinese) at the clerk for trying to cheat me! I pay only 50 Yuan. Better… The hotel management now knows I have local Chinese friends and won’t risk such again! Note... This is very important when travelling, having local connections. My friends are always curious why I ‘collect people!’ Need I explain?

I thank James and bus driving sister-in-law, with taxi-driving husband profusely! Xie, xie! Without their help I would have been ‘up the creek without a paddle.’

My room, on the 4th floor, (#407) turns out to be ‘perfect,’ or as ‘perfect’ as I can get in Uremqui on short notice for 50 Yuan per night. The bed is hard, but I’m on the quiet side (away from the highway). The lock works. The W.C. stinks (25 meters down the polished hallway) with no toilet paper, but you can’t get away from such in Asia! There’s a desk in the room where I can set up my computer/printer. I unpack in need of a shower. I go downstairs and purchase soap for me and my clothing, a bottle of milk for tea. Another 6.5 Yuan / .80 cents U.S.

I celebrate with a cup of lu cha (with milk and sugar)! The Chinese woman who’s floor this is, has filled my thermos with ‘kai shui!’ (hot water).

Suddenly, I’m all ‘alone’ in my room, the sun bright outside my open windows. I’m in Uremqui, Xinjiang, China, after three days of rocking and rolling on a Chinese train… Uremqui is the furthest city from an ocean of any city in one country in the world (2,250 kilometers according to the ‘Lonely Planet’ guidebook)! What a claim!

It’s been a good trip, with a challenging hard-seat start, but a happy ‘hard-sleeping- birth’ ending! This, thanks to my new Chinese friend, James Zhu!

I have no immediate ‘family,’ yet I’m a member of the largest family on earth, the family of wo/man!

You’re all a part of my family… You just forget sometimes!


Note… I’ve learned how to communicate in a language/culture I can’t speak (and where they don’t know any English). I anticipate the situation and have someone translate the English into Chinese characters. It’s no good for me to learn the ‘Pidyin,’ (the speaking version) as the pronunciation is beyond, at least my untutored, capacity. They can read and understand the characters (no pronunciation required), however.
Note: A soft bed is one of four in an enclosed compartment (with a door.)—for the people with the most money. A hard-berth is one of six in an open stall (but good enough for me). Note: Subodh, Mira, Nisha and I, back and forth to Beijing, had a ‘hard-sleeping’ berth (not a compartment).
Actually I love Asian children and generally play with them.
This is more than a simple calculator, but a machine connected to some computer, than can figure out how many kilometers left to the destination (as ticket prices are based on such).
Many of the smaller Chinese women are ‘doll like’ to me in that, they look so exquisitely delicate (so femininely dressed in silk many times). In addition, being ‘white’ (pale) is desirous for women in Chinese culture. So, many Chinese women look like porcelain dolls to me.
Is it me, or am I prejudiced against… But, it seems like everyone in China snores! And it may be because everyone in China (even some women) some cigarettes (I’m constantly offered)? I endured this in a ‘dormitory’ room at Sim’s in Chengdu. But, I’ve learned a secret way of overcoming, that I will share with you later…
A chronic problem for me with a fatty liver, nee poor functioning colon! Please send enema system! Sorry to be so graphic, but… Part of the reason I ride a bicycle!
Isn’t it interesting how spoiled modern man is! I can’t stand hot water in the air (humidity). But, I demand it for tea and coffee!