Monday, October 31, 2005

31 October 2005 The Daily Dosage

It’s Halloween in the U.S., ‘so trick or treat!’

Ironically, here in Kashgar, I saw some pumpkin-like looking melons or gourds at a stall, walking back to Semans Hotel (where I’m currently staying). This after having ‘cha,’ (Pakistani style) with Toby and Elvis.

Elvis, who’s mentioned in ‘The Lonely Planet Guide Book’ (for Kashgar) is interesting: A Uyghur guy who speaks fluent English. He was a tour operator until 9/11, but since tourists are hard to come by these days he now sells carpets.

I will probably buy a carpet from Elvis for Mr. And Mrs. Speer (their wedding in November). But, it’s the shipping that gets you from Asia! So, don’t expect a huge one, Jim and Donna!

In the meantime, both Toby and I have been faced with daunting challenges, and I thought I’d jump ahead to today, 31 October 05 (been writing about cycling). Who knows I end up on the street! My ‘challenge’ is withdrawing money from my U.S. bank in Texas.

This is a very strange problem to me, particularly so here in the fabled city of Kashgar, Xinjiang Province, but also in China at large. Of all the countries I’ve been in ATMs seem to befuddle the Chinese. Or, more likely they aren’t interested in serving ‘foreigners.’ I’m sure an ATM card for a local, on a local bank works fine. But, for us ‘foreigners,’ it’s a problem—maybe having to do with English (which the Chinese would prefer not to deal with).

You would think that China would cater to foreign travellers, this now only becoming the case (with the 08 Beijing Olympics on the horizon). But, China, like the U.S., is ‘ethnocentric.’ They’re not so interested in other cultures, nor the people that come from them.

Now, I’ve been blessed as I know Stephanie Zhao in Hangzhou, and she and her boyfriend (Samuel) came through for me the other day, as they transferred 1K Yuan into an account I opened at the Bank of China here in Kashgar (had to, the only way they would do it). So, I was saved temporarily from the street. I paid Murat (in Uremqi) 100Yuan, and had to buy a mobile card (new number) for 150. So, paying the hotel 50Yuan per, again, my resources are rapidly dwindling again!

The solution, which I’m working on via an old Dallas friend named Fred Garner (and Ganai in Prescott, Arizona), is to have my bank transfer funds into this new account at the Bank of China. Of course, this is expensive. But, what else to do?

Of course, I lost my ‘emergency cash,’ when I left my Rotrauat Boyens (my German guarding angel) given ‘necklace’ (something she made with a 50-Euro note cleverly concealed in it), in a hotel room between U. and K (talk about stupid, or fate, or whatever). Ironically, Mamat left something similar in the same hotel the same night—what are the odds? Amazingly, he knew someone and supposedly they collected all three of the items (I left two, he left one), and has them with him in Uremqi. If Mamat does, all I can say is, wow! The odds of getting these back, are more than astronomical.

But, the 50 Euro note is worth 500 Yuan and will stave the ‘wolf from my hotel door!’ temporarily! That is if Murat communicates with Mamat, and everything works out so they can deposit in my (15-digit) account in the BOC in Uremqi. Gosh, life can be complicated!

I wonder sometimes how I get myself into these ‘fixes!’ Of course, hindsight is brilliant, and now I know what I should have done… Withdraw the maximum in Uremqi and brought traveller’s checks (to carry with me). Why didn’t I do this…?

It seems to me that you learn from your mistakes (hopefully) and next time I will have with me multiple types of resources available. I think I was lulled into a false sense of security as I’ve been lucky enough to be able to access my account (via my debit bank card) practically everywhere I’ve been, including Nepal!

But, for the long term I have to figure out how to access funds regularly (and inexpensively), or I simply can’t stay in Kashgar.

In Uremqi it was no problem as China Merchant’s Bank had an ATM (Pulse and/or Cirrus) that worked with my card. Not only that it was convenient to ‘Hotel California.’ So, accessing cash in Uremqi was not a problem for me.

Toby’s ‘challenge,’ is entirely different. His has to do with extending his Chinese visa. Unfortunately, they turned it down here in Kashgar today, not only a big disappointment, but possibly expensive as they fine you so much per day if you don’t renew (extend) on time.

We have been trying to figure out what his best course of action is, from flying to Beijing or Uremqi to going to Pakistan. He has to extend his Chinese visa as soon as possible, as the fine may be as much as 500 Yuan per day! Additionally, he left his equipment on a mountain (part of a Snow Leopard expedition), and has to retrieve it! Again, life (on the road) can get complicated.

But, Elvis had the solution for Toby! Yeah for Elvis! He suggested that he go to Hotan, a city east of Kashgar, in another district, and renew there. This Toby is going to do tomorrow!

So, the upshot is that two Americans are running around trying to solve the kinds of problems you might not understand there in America, or have much sympathy for, you never having to deal with such.

Luckily, it’s not lack of funds that is my problem but accessing them in a foreign country. Additionally, I live in the era when I can get ‘online’ in Kashgar and check my bank balance in Texas, U.S.A.! My problem would be even more daunting without email/Internet!

Today, I printed our a page showing my bank balance (this took much doing), and included a letter I wrote to Lei Zhang, my English-speaking contact at the BOChina. But, as with all employees in such situations, she, even thought helpful, can’t really solve the problem. In fact, she really wasn’t interested in reading the letter.

Also, there’s a reciprocal ‘thing’ that goes on between countries. If it’s difficult for Chinese tourists to get U.S. visas, guess what? It’s vice versa for American tourists. So, maybe the Chinese have difficulty accessing funds with their bank cards while they’re in the U.S.? And maybe one of them is a Chinese banking official…? Suddenly, it becomes difficult for American tourists to access funds in China. Kind of a ‘game’ is played internationally. And who gets caught in the middle? People like Toby and me!

On the other hand, we choose to be ‘out here,’ and to risk such things happening. Such ‘drama’ certainly makes life interesting! Additionally, there is some benefit from being in this ‘drama!’ You get very good at anticipating (travelling situations), and ultimately a ‘genus’ at problem solving.

Experience, is by far, the greatest of all teachers; the fodder for many stories too! And I just happen to be a writer!

But, thank God for friends (our ‘guardian angels’) near and far! As they’ve saved my ass more than once (I assume Toby’s too)! Of course, I try to reciprocate! Where would we all be without the loving kindness of others?

Stay tuned!

Hutch
In Kashgar, Xinjiang Province, China (where debit bank cards don’t work! )

11 October 2005 The Daily Dosage

Day #9, ‘The First Annual Xinjiang Province Bicycle Rally (Uremqi to Kashi, 05)’

‘On Mamat’s knee,’ an appropriate title for this day.

‘Kaqu!
How do you do?
Eddie Murphy on Pluto,
‘Hear’ in record time!
Bob Dylan in review!
No ‘kakak su,’
Snoring through the walls,
Welcome to the zoo!

Spitting on the floors,
Banging on the doors,
Yelling like no
‘Kachoo,’
How do you do?

Gambling for money,
Their lives
The buses go,
When eating,
Only then fast!

‘No meat, xie, xie!’
Hey!
Something new for you!
How do you do,
Kaqu?

God bless you!’

This day turns out unusual, as Mamat opts to ride the bus (to Kaqu), his knee now a problem (swollen).

So, I go alone, and end up cranking 102KM / 61 miles in six hours (a record for me). That’s 17KM / 11 MPH, and with weight that’s moving along pretty fast. But, it was a perfect day and situation, as you need such for (at least me) to accomplish that kind of average speed per hour.

First of all it was slightly downhill (90% of the way). Secondly, I had ‘da feng’ at my back! Thirdly, the highway surface was perfect; the weather was ideal (sunny and cool)! I had everything going for me! And alone, I just kept going without too many rest stops! Ultimately with tour (long distance) cycling is your average distance per hour / day that’s important. I think we ended up averaging something like 80KM per day for the entire trip.

But, to describe this day of ‘sailing with the wind:’

I’m up at 0430, as it’s quiet and I can think/meditate. I’m suddenly remembering being in Kathmandu one year (middle of October) ago during ‘Daisain,’ their big Hindu Festival (like our Christian Christmas). But, I’m also worried about dinero. I’m down to 350Y, with many days to go getting to Kashgar. We’ll see about withdrawing in Aksu.

At 0730, I go looking for Mamat to discover him hobbling, barely able to walk. He’s having a big problem with his knee (we really created this cycling too far/hard that first day out of Uremqi).

We walk (he shouldn’t have) what must have been 3KM to a Uyghur restaurant, me discovering what a large city we’re in (I had thought small).

I’m constantly amazed at the size of Chinese cities, but I guess I shouldn’t be considering the countries’ population of 1+ billion people.

At the restaurant we discuss options. He decides he will take the bus, thus giving his knee some much needed rest. I will cycle alone to Kaqu.

I’m off without Mamat for the first time on this trip, this at 0815.

It’s that lovely morning, the Fall light déjà vu. I feel my parents and my friend James B. Feeney’s presence! The wind is from the N.E., and thus helping me on my southwestern course.

The highway rolls up and down over hills, but it all feels like ‘down’ to me! Thus, I chug in the highest gear, able to make 70KM / 42 miles in just three hours (that’s 14 miles per hour average). It feels like I’m riding a motorcycle!

Needing a break after three hours, I stop to rest my feet in the mud at a pond. I’m enjoying the sunny afternoon, when a Chinese motorcyclist stops to inquire. I take his picture and he writes his name (in Chinese) and gives me his mobile number in case I need help. He’s on his way to Aksu (as we are).

I stop and ask a truck driver which way at a highway intersection. This would be the daunting part without Mamat to navigate. I’d constantly be trying to figure out the directions, trying to communicate with the locals (who speak no or little English).
They point to the highway straight on to the left, while #314 turns right and north. This concerns me.

Near Kaqu I stop at a village and buy some bottled fruit drinks at a ‘dukan.’ Here a man speaks a little English and confirms I’m on the right road to Kaqu. It’s another 20KM.

Again, I discover Kaqu is much larger than expected. Seems like I crank kilometers before getting to the center. I happen to notice a bus terminal/square to my right and note for some reason, only to be revealed later.

I’m in quest of polo, and it isn’t far until I see the familiar signs, the large wok as part of a mobile outdoor coal-burning stove (all metal). When you see this, you know it’s a Uyghur ‘osh hanna,’ and most likely they have polo (the Uyghur ‘dhal bhat’).

Inside it’s full of curious Uyghurs and some Chinese, as I’m sure I’m the only white man to eat here, maybe ever.

After eating, I use my mobile to see if Mamat has arrived. I had a fantasy, something that drove me to crank at the speed accomplished, to beat the bus which he had said arrives about 1400 hours / 2P.M. Silly business at my age, but sometimes my old competitive spirit rears its ugly head! But, since I did arrive at 1415, I probably ‘tied’ the buses’ arrival.

Now, a bit about mobile telephones, which I’m not a great fan of… But, this day it came in mighty handy (thank you Stephanie). The one I have Stephanie Zhao, my ex-acting student (in CS) and Chinese friend in Hangzhou gave me. But, it’s not a good way to reach me, as usually I have it off, and only activate for ‘emergencies.’ Today, it’s not an emergency just a convenience, as I know Mamat will hear and respond. Sure enough, he answers and has arrived in Kaqu, and I quickly hand the telephone to the Uyghur ‘owner,’ to explain how to get there.

Turns out ‘I’d’ selected a restaurant only a short walk from the hotel where he’s checked in. This turns out to be the ‘Traffic Hotel,’ next to the bus terminal I mentioned earlier.

Within minutes Mamat is there, and taking me back to the hotel to check in (this is a 60-Yuan-per-night hotel without carpeting). Worse, no advertised ‘kai shui’ shower! Otherwise, this was another one of those days that went like ‘clock work!’

Mamat is off to a doctor’s office to see about this knee which is swollen. I walk around taking photographs. Mamat returns with a bunch of medicine, and we’ll decide what to do in the morning.

Later in my room I watch a Eddie Murphy movie in English on a Chinese channel. This, of course, with Chinese sub titles! I think, how weird!

Even stranger, I go to bed with Bob Dylan in my ear, nee the opening poem.

What a day! What a trip! What a life!

10 October 2005 The Daily Dosage

Day #8 ‘The First Annual Xinjiang Bicycle Rally (Uremqi to Kashgar, 05)’

One week on the road now…

The rising moon…

‘Ay’ am the moon,
The Uyghur says,
‘Sun’ of
‘Ay’ rise
Becoming full,
And then the wane,
The twain; my life
Of Arab speak,
Lamb,
Polo,
Mosques, and
The five pillars of Isalm!

‘Ay’ am the moon!
Says the Uyghur!
Living in nature,
Herding his hoy,
Oh boy!

I’m up at 0500, and get to see the starry sky in the desert. Ursula Major (The Big Dipper) now upside down, as the earth has rotated around it. But, it still indicates north (Polaris) no matter what!

The wind is blowing hard, this before dawn. I’m outside doing the ‘W.C. number,’ this somewhere outside our minus-3 stars hotel! There’s nothing like squatting in a starry sky!

I’ve been too hot in my down bag sleeping inside. Thus, more sexual dreams!

I make Nescafe coffee, observe the drab surroundings in this so-called hotel room (squalor). You get what you pay for, right? I would have rather camped in a tent.

I’m outside loading at 0600 to discover Mamat has another soft rear tire (problem). This the second time with this tire/tube. He replaces the tube (with one he had patched in Korla ), but now there’s a problem with the V-brake. He’s now beginning to berate his Giant bicycle, but I reassure him it’s good!

We’re off for a restaurant at 0800. Of all things we find polo and I partake (I can’t seem to resist the stuff!). Again, it’s a mistake and for the umpteenth time I scold myself later! If only I can get control of this orifice!

On our way we witness the morning light on the Ti’an Shan (mountain range) to the north, snow capped many of the peaks. It’s a lovely morning, and I sing the same lyrics rain or shine:

‘Oh, what a beautiful morning,
Oh, what a beautiful day!
I’ve got a beautiful feeling,
Everything’s going our way!’

A good bowel movement makes my morning perfect! When you’re 65-years old, it’s the little things, not the big things that you appreciate! For so many years I took so much for granted! You just wait… If you’re lucky!

We’re in no hurry today, as it’s an easy 60KM day to the next ‘sleeping town.’

Mid-morning we’re in poplar-tree groves. Poplars… These are only trees that can survive this terrain and climate! They are related to my favorite Aspen tree, however. So, I’m reminded of Colorado here. In fact, when in the Ti’an Shan, it’s very similar, the mountains, the sky, the feel!

We arrive in a village of fruit stands, one after another, all the same (so typical in Asia). There must have been thirty fruits stands side by side and all identical… How does one choose?

When we stop at one of the fruit stands we create a stir, and are surrounded by curious Uyghurs. I give the children candy, and pass out my flyer (explaining our trip) in Arabic. Everyone wants to touch (even ride) my bicycle.

This is one thing that annoys me in Asia. So, I scold the children when they start fiddling with Ms. Fiets! ‘No, no!’ I say, shooing them away, which they can’t understand why… It’s only a bicycle! Well, not to me, which they’ll never understand!

Note: In Uremqi, after the ‘English Corner,’ one night I had a kid jump on her, and ride down the street before I could stop him. I want to ask these curious ‘children’ a question that they won’t be able to answer… What if, when you’re riding my bicycle you have an accident? Ah, they never even consider this (the western versus the eastern mind).

Asians (the lower, uneducated ‘classes’) they’re all like children to me, so curious! They have to touch, feel, and play with. I always know Ms. Fiets has been tapered with when the gears are screwed up. You can’t shift gears (with this kind of shifting system) while the bicycle is stationary. But, they have to squeeze the brake levers, move the gear levers, crank the pedals… It’s amazing, as people in the West wouldn’t have the temerity (good word) to do such (coming from a different orientation).

Mamat buys a large bag of almonds. Although these almonds, smaller and not exactly like ours (the ones I’m familiar with). They don’t taste quite the same either, thus I’m wondering if they really are almonds. But, I can’t ask, as too complicated a question for Mamat. When communicating I have to keep it simple, and many times even that doesn’t work. ‘Bil, ma dim!’ Uyghur for, ‘I don’t understand,’ I hear from him often.

An hour later Mamat is worried as his rear wheel appears off line, possibly wobbling. I look at it and think it’s O.K., at least to get us to the town where we’re going to spend the night. The more, I learn about Mamat’s bicycle, however, the more I appreciate Ms. Fiets! On the other hand, I know there’s tremendous stress on his rear wheel , as together with his packed bags, tent, and pad (as well as bottles of water), it must be supporting 130 kilograms, or something near 275lbs.

Mamat weighs 95 kilograms, or almost 200 lbs. This is way too heavy for his height (same as mine). Note, I weigh only 60 kilograms or about 130lbs. fully dressed.

It’s slow going into our ‘sleeping village,’ now fighting some ‘da feng’ (wind) from the southwest. But, even with the wind against us we’re at our hotel by 1300 hours, or 1 P.M.

This hotel, cost only 70Y each, and had a hot-water shower no less! But, I’m spending too much per day, and getting low on dinero (or Yuan in China).

I join Mamat to take his bicycle to a ‘mechanic,’ to deal with the rear tube. The ‘mechanic,’ he finds is one of the Asia-on-ground types with a cart; whose primary business is patching tubes, and simple repairs. While this is going on I take photographs.

This is an oil/gas town (not unlike Midland/Odessa in west Texas). Across the street an interesting new building, the headquarter of the oil company (we’re told). I think… How strange… How out of place! But, such is the nature of ‘Chinized’ version Xinjiang… All this modernity in an ancient desert!

Later I have polo (alone) for the second time in one day! Who said there was no polo on the way to Kashgar? Mamat goes off to find his kind of food: meat and bread.

Afterwards I do some shopping in a food market, always looking for milk powder and sugar. In China they have the old-fashion version of brown sugar, so crude as to remind me of the 1940’s in the U.S. It comes all bound up in knots and ‘rocks,’ and you have to break it apart. But, I like this, not into the perfect fruit wrapped in plastic you find in American supermarkets.

I’m in my room early and check out the TV. No CCTV9, the English channel, but on CCTV8 I find out it’s ‘Fashion week in Paris!’ Talk about incongruities!

I pull up the comforter by 2000 hours and go to sleep. An easy day!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

09 October 2005 The Daily Dosage

Day #7, 09 October 2005 ‘The First Annual Xinjiang Bicycle Rally (Uremqi to Kashgar 2005)’

‘Winter cometh!’

I wake up to overcast skies and drizzle. This is the first rain I’ve seen since being in Xinjiang for almost three months. Granted it’s a very dry (why I like) part of China. It sprinkled a little up at Ti’an Chi one morning, and I’ve felt a little ‘desert rain’ (that hardly touches the ground), but this is the first of this kind, a sign of winter to me.

Uremqi, something like 40 degrees north latitude is comparable to northern Colorado or California in the U.S. Although, you really can’t compare beyond that as Uremqi’s weather (temperature) is not influenced by an ocean (just like Colorado). Kashgar, at something like 35 degrees north latitude is warmer of course.

I put on my cycling ‘tights’ (long and tight) for the first time and go downstairs (at 0600) to clean (and load) Ms. Fiets (this outside on the sidewalk). Of course, people stop and stare, watch my every move!

n the beginning, this (staring) used to bother me, now I enjoy it, as I often become the ‘actor’ that I am, and end up ‘entertaining’ them with a wink at the end of the performance. I’m basically ‘playing’ with them (to get a little ‘even’). I ‘fuck’ with their minds (as I might say in the West). ‘You are curious about me… I’m going to give you something to be curious about, but not what you expect!’ But, I’m not vicious or unkind about this, I try to make them laugh, or engage them in conversation. I want them to feel good about me and this bicycle event, and to welcome us back (next time).

Mamat appears and we’re off looking for a place to have breakfast. We end up at a truck stop on the old highway leading out of town, but amazingly they have ‘polo’ (in the morning no less). I break one of my rules and partake, only to suffer late.

Here we are definitely the ‘stars of the show,’ as they’ve never seen anything like this… An old, thin American man with a fat Uyghur, both on exotic bicycles. A crowd forms. I slip away to do the ‘W.C.,’ this is the rear like always, several hundred meters from the eating ‘stall’ (these are just shacks with a roof and tables on the ground).

By 0830 we’re cranking again, but on a lumpy part of the old highway. But, there’s something I like about Korla reminding me more of Nepal than China. Mamat who I think is going to be fresh and fast today, is slower than usual.

We stop at a junction, where the old highway meets the new, a large Petro China station with many attendants in uniforms and they play music (all the same of course) .

To the west a black and dry desert, mountains (‘shan’ ‘tagh’) to the right (as in most of the way to Kashgar). Along with the overcast day, a dull kind of scenery.

We crank four hours to a small village near a huge Uyghur cemetery. Here we stop to eat, but are ‘driven’ outside by loud and raucous Chinese. Some quite rude! I make friends by passing out the flyer to the adults and candy to the children (always there are children ).

But, the ‘low-end’ Chinese anywhere (for me to avoid) … I guess I would compare them to Texas ‘rednecks’ in the U.S. ‘You’all come back now, you hear! Bring the wife and the kids!’ And make sure you come in a pickup truck! On a bicycle…? Too different! ‘You say you don’t eat beef? How do you stay strong?’ I’m suddenly reminded of my ‘pappy Jack’ (Favor), his birthday, November 30th is tomorrow! But, he died in Arlington, Texas, around 1988.

Additionally, the Bank of Texas (in Dallas) has been very good to me! But, I hope never to return to Texas, much less the U.S.! To me Texas is one big ‘penitentiary!’

The country here in Xinjiang Province, China, that we’re cycling through… It reminds me much of the Big Bend part of far west Texas (about 150 miles southeast of El Paso). I lived in the region next to the Park for two years! I feel very at home in a desert, having grown up in one in southern Arizona.

After lunch Mamat hard starting now, which I’m happy for as I like to take my time after eating. In fact, I didn’t eat here, still trying to digest the breakfast polo.

Onward we go through some interesting country now, some trees (all of the poplar family as the only thing that will grown in this climate) with yellow leaves reminding me of Fall. I love Fall, my birth season!

A Chinese man in a 4-wheel drive vehicle stops in front us and gets out to have a chat. He’s curious, of course (we’ve had several of these along the way). He’s a nice young man all the way from Beijing (4k KM) on his way to Aksu (up ahead about 300 KM).

This kind of interest (people stopping and inquiring) really does inspire you when you’re out in the middle of nowhere. Thus, I want to thank all these people who did, for being so kind. I’m lucky, as I find these kind of people all over the world! They make up for the less than ‘good!’

Onward all afternoon we go… Note… this turns out to be one of our longer days (because of so many rest stops), but we ultimately manage 135 KM or some 80 miles to get to any hotel. I would have camped out earlier.

I remember arriving in an ‘oasis’ area (populated) only to be told by Mamat, after conversing with a local, that any hotel is another 15KM. O.K., what to do but to crank ahead?

We’re on our way again, when suddenly a boy appears next to me on a bicycle. With a smile he offers me a ‘Nespit,’ the Asian pear! I return the smile, thank him ‘Rackmet!’ but decline. I don’t know why… I should have taken it! These random acts of kindness so appreciated! A young boy just hands me some life sustaining food… It’s a scene out of a ‘movie!’

We pass a scene of death up ahead (life’s contrasts)! A van all knarled up, destroyed, crushed in an accident. I stop and take a photograph, wanting to remind people that if you go too fast this can happen to you. I’m sure people died in this vehicle… On the mean streets and highways of China!

Up ahead in the dark now, we find what one might loosely call a ‘hotel’ (this the most primitive one we stay in overnight on our trip!). It costs all of 10 Yuan (per room) or about $1.25U.S. The rooms are a mess, the beds the metal military bunk kind. I roll out my pad and sleeping bag for the night. Tonight I sleep with ‘Ms. Fiets!’ next to me!

We go to a local ‘restaurant’ for dinner ( ‘ osh hanna’ in Uyghur). But, no rice period. I sip the juice of Mamat’s (and most Chinese) favorite dish: noodles, meat and vegetables (something hot is good). It has a name, but…?

‘Mi fan,’ (steamed rice) is my desire, but in rural areas hard to come by.

Interesting about Mamat and I eating together… He eats meat, but doesn’t like tomatoes. So we trade. I give him my meat, and he gives me his tomatoes (and other vegetables). So typical of an unhealthy eater. He eats the meat, but avoids the vegetables! And thus, he’s way overweight (much fat in Uyghur ‘hoy’ (lamb).

I’m in my sleeping bag for the first and only time by 0900. But, have a good night’s rest in it!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

07 October 2005 The Daily Dosage

Day #5 ‘The First Annual Xinjiang Bicycle Rally (Uremqi to Kashi, 2005)

I sleep better than I have for weeks, exhausted of course. But, this because I’m alone in my own room without snoring!

I remember in my younger years how exciting it was to sleep with a woman! Notwithstanding sexual intercourse, it’s just nice to cuddle with a female body, especially warm ones! But, when you’re young the stimulation of it all prevents much in the way of good sleep. So, later I understood twin beds, and even different bedrooms. I go so far now as to suggest to married couples that they live in different cities! Most don’t understand!

My youngest sister, Betsy and her husband Lane have a very good marriage (30+ years now) for one reason! They spend most of their time a part (because of careers). Thus, they’re always desiring to be together. He’s an airline pilot flying the Pacific Ocean out of Los Angeles. She tends the children and runs their farm in White Salmon, Washington (1,000 miles north of L.A.). When he returns they rendezvous in a hotel in Portland, Oregon (away from the children), and have a recurring honeymoon! ‘Absent makes the heart grow fonder!’

When you live and sleep with someone day in, week out, month in, and year out, you drain all the sexual desire out of the marriage (‘familiarity breeds contempt’ at least for me). Marriage, generally speaking, ‘kills’ sexual desire!

I notice in Asia this is solved somewhat by doing what I have long suggested to western married couples… Stay a part as much as possible! In Asia, it seems that once there are children many times the husband and wife live a part. I think this is a good idea! But, most in the west won’t understand. On the other hand, all I have to do is cite the divorce rate in the U.S., something over 50%! In Asia, the divorce rate is very low in comparison. On the other hand, there are many more prostitutes!

Asian marriage is a different kind of thing, however… More for culture, nature, and family than for intimate relational sharing. I notice that Asian husbands rarely talk about their wives, children yes, but wives no. Is it because they don’t really know and understand them? Husbands and wives in Asia have clearly defined roles and never the twain shall meet. The husband is the breadwinner, and ‘seed,’ The wife is caretaker and ‘womb,’ of the house.

Both have been brainwashed to worship the male (children). Thus, most male children are spoiled!

Women have their own ‘domain,’ and seem happy in it (a part from males). I’ll never forget Sabita, a Nepali wife saying to me, ‘We have our customs and I’m happy with them!’ I can only imagine what sexual intercourse is like for these ‘wives.’ ‘Slam, bang, and thank you maam!’ I’m sure! But all they want is the ‘seed,’ then get out of here!

I was married and divorced twice in the U.S. This always surprises Asians… How is it possible that I can survive without a wife and children (they want to know?). Very well thank you, I tell them acting out a bird flying free through the air (this always makes them laugh)! Some people are the marrying kind. I am not! Freedom to me is ‘nothing left to lose!’ You go right ahead and marry as much as you want! I wish you nothing but happiness!

On our 4th night on the road, this ‘modern’ hotel seems out of place in such desolation. But, we have enjoyed our restful stay and glad to have it. Mamat, on the other hand, is not happy with the included (with the room price) breakfast buffet , so we go off to find other. I, just to show you our different eating desires, have enjoyed the hot rice cereal-like soup (which I added sugar to).

Not finding anything to suit him Mamat loads up on nan, and then we’re off on the highway heading west. This by around 0830. It’s not yet very cold in the morning, and I’m still wearing cycling shorts (this shocking Chinese—many ask me if I don’t get cold?).

Having departed we haven’t yet noticed we’ve each left something valuable behind in our rooms (my room #205) at the hotel. Completely pissed off at myself for being so stupid I think to myself later in Korla (the next night’s stop). Oh well, to be human is to error (especially me)! ‘Freedom’s just another word, for nothing left to lose!’

Not far out of town we have some delay trying to figure out how to get onto the newly constructed #314 highway (Mamat’s idea). But, it’s all fences and guard rails, seemingly inaccessible from where we are. We crank over a highway bridge thinking there might be access on the other side, but no. We have to double back and take the old road for a time until we decide to breach the guard rails again, by lifting our bikes over. However, this is not possible until we discover a hole in the fence which we push through. I would never have done this kind of thing without Mamat, as I wouldn’t have known such was possible (or legal).

But, because of it we spend the morning on a brand new highway, two of the lanes, all to ourselves. This is an amazing experience for me, as it’s as smooth and new as a baby’s behind! Additionally, there’s only an occasional construction vehicle, with the regular traffic on the other side. We have two lanes all to ourselves, kings of our own road! This is a pure delight on a bicycle, not having to watch for traffic!

For some reason, however, Mamat seems without energy, and he’s complaining about his knee… I’m thinking the days have taken a toll on him, going so far as we have each day. He seems to need to stop often, but I’m glad as I’m in no hurry! He’s also interested in ‘shooting’ video of various things that strike his fancy, landmarks and all. I remember we stopped adjacent a new mosque, and he ‘shot’ video while I took photographs (our usual ‘drill,’ besides ‘W.C’ing, drinking fluids and resting).

Here the highway is like a ‘viaduct,’ (one long bridge) as we are crossing a marshy area. In fact, I take a photograph of a highway sign, the first I’ve seen in China that indicates there’s wildlife (deer) ‘out there.’

The one thing you notice in Asia, particularly China, there’s no evidence of wildlife. I think, besides birds, the only wild life I saw on this entire trip were rabbits! All of this adds up to the fact they’ve been hunted (eaten) to extinction! I did see ducks on ponds in this marsh, but nothing more. If there are still some, they’re ‘up there,’ in the wilderness areas (where I long to trek!).

Today we cross rivers, that flow south out of the Ti’an Shan, creating this marsh, and much in the way of agriculture (commerce) in the area. All of southern Xinjiang seems to be cotton (‘pack-tha’ in Uyghur) country!

On one bridge, an automobile pulls past and stops in front of us a Chinese couple getting out and approaching us. They’re very interested in our bicycle sojourn, the young man working for Petro China. We take photographs of each other and exchange email addresses (I promise the photograph). Additionally, he’s useful as he tells us we must go back to the village a kilometer before if we want lunch… There’s nothing ahead for many kilometers/hours (Korla actually).

So we turn around, cross to the active side (dodging the usual traffic), go down an access road the wrong way, through an unopened (newly constructed) toll booth and to a village where, lo and behold they have polo !

Here we are the ‘stars of the show,’ of course! Afterwards I have to walk 200 meters to a ‘W.C.,’ only to piss (‘seman’ in Uyghur) into the bushes (I can’t stand the out houses!)!

After lunch we’re on our way again (now 1230), back through the toll booth, across the active highway onto our own ‘yellow brick road!’ where we’re constantly waving (me ringing my bell) to all the construction workers! From time to time I even offer fruit or juice. But, most decline.

It isn’t long until the marsh, and the ducks disappear and the desert takes over again.

Note, I’m guessing that Xinjiang Province, the largest in China, making up one-sixth of the total land area, is 85% desert (it’s their ‘Nevada desert’ where they tested their nuclear bombs).

Everywhere I’ve been so far, from 100KM north of Uremqi to where we are now (200KM south) is desert. I’ve heard that the far northwestern part on the borders of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Russia there’s more green! But, this is why I like it compared to eastern China which reminds me of Louisiana in the U.S. or Holland in Europe. I’m not a low, green, and wet/hot kind of guy! Give me snow and elevation any day (Tibet is my ideal)!

In fact, here you can see the snow-capped peaks of the Ti’an Shan (‘tagh’ in Uyghur). Somewhere up there is ‘Tiger Pass,’ (called by my U.K. cycling friend, Tim) a 4K meter pass that we had to go around in order to avoid snow in October. You ‘do’ Tiger pass in July or August, but not October on a bicycle. But, taking ‘Tiger Pass,’ does cut off 200KM off the route between Uremqi and Kashgar.

Resting on a bridge, and hypnotized by the river, the sun setting in the ripples, we’re drawn to something strange going on the highway up ahead. It looks like some kind of road block with trucks stopped parallel to traffic as if in accident. What draws my attention, however, is the fact that vehicles are turning around and now driving back and against traffic (to an off ramp to get to the old highway)! This could never happen in the West, but to Mamat, not a big deal! Note: You should try to follow him through a city on a bicycle (breaking all the laws, if they have them).

As we pass on our bicycles I was never able to figure out what was going on… There were no police or evidence of an accident, yet this new highway was blocked by large trucks. A crowd of people appeared to be discussing such, even arguing, but we continued around, me unable to ask Mamat about the situation. This is when you really want an common-language companion! ‘What’s going on here?’

We continue up and over some hills, more work to do before arriving in Korla (the largest city on our route)! Mamat slows way down, and again, as on all hills, I am now the one ahead. But, always as we both do, wait for the other . At one rest stop we can see the masses of vehicles all on the old road now heading for a tunnel that goes through the hills and then down to Korla. The new toll (#314) highway goes over the same hills.

But, we are alone on this virgin highway, quite possibly the first to have cycled it! We share it only with construction workers and their vehicles. A unique experience in my cycling ‘career!’

Over the top and down, Korla now visible, and much larger than I expected! In the distance there are high-rise buildings like Uremqi. Before we get there, however, we descend through a gorge over which they’ve built a suspension bridge reminding me of the ‘Golden Gate’ bridge in San Francisco. We stop and ‘capture’ images of such, while construction works hang on the sides of the cliffs in ‘boson chairs’ (doing what I’m not sure).

Down further it gets confusing when we want to get back into the flow of traffic (the old road) so as to get into to Korla proper.

Mamat stops to ask a Chinese man, a construction ‘foreman,’ (I’m guessing) talking on his mobile. But the man isn’t very helpful and directs us to continue, which turns out to be a dead end (at a bridge). But, we find the way after talking to others. Later Mamat says, referring to earlier, ‘No good Chinese man!’

Now, in Korla proper we stop at a bridge and partake of the river that must be the life blood of Korla. Here Chinese people sit on the banks fishing. There’s also the honking madness of Chinese streets going home (as it’s about 1700 hours).

Our usual quest for a hotel begins… Interesting enough in the larger cities (Korla and Aksu) this turns out to be a chore, more for Mamat than me, as all I do is wait and while he goes in to inquire. Usually, it’s too much Yuan, or the only vacancies are on the 4th floor, or they don’t want bicycles, or they’re full.

In Korla, I think we had to inquire a half-dozen before finding a suitable one. This the China Post and Telecom Hotel, turning out to be very nice (two stars). But this ‘luxury’ costing 110Y each per (for a private room with hot-water bath). Note, I’m complaining about $14 U.S., when you couldn’t find such in the U.S. for less than $75U.S., or 4x as expensive. But, I’m on my meager pension budget, and having been alone, would have found something for less, or done the ‘common room.’

After a hot shower, Mamat takes me in a taxi to a Uyghur Restaurant where I can eat more polo! Then he pays for it all! What to do? I’m always trying to pay, and we argue, but he won’t accept (this Uyghur game the culture has). But, I will find a way to repay him, slipping money into his bags or something…

Korla turns out to have a population of 300,000 people, one of the ‘smaller villages’ in China! It’s also the home of the best ‘Nespit(s),’ or ‘Asian pear’ we call them (combination apple and pear). Other than that I only know it to be where the PSB gave Tim and Tony so much trouble in 1997. All of this at first glance.

After dinner Mamat informs me he wants to stay in Korla an extra night as he wants to rest his knee. I’m more than happy to comply. When cycling alone, I always take one rest day out of seven. We’ll stay off our bikes tomorrow and walk around Korla! But, that wasn’t to be the case! I’m to learn more about Korla on Ms. Fiets, and like what I discover.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Daily Dosage 24 October 2005

I’m in Kashgar, the fabled 2,000-year old city on Marco Polo’s ‘Silk Road.’ This is far western China near Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

We (my Uyghur cycling partner Mamat Asat) arrived last Thursday, October 20th, after a 1420KM / 850-mile trip from Uremqi. An amazing cycling journey for us, as neither one of us speaks the other’s language. Nor did we know each other beforehand. I met Mamat, who turns out to be a great guy, via the Giant Bicycle Shop in Uremqi and a woman who works there, Wei Yuan Yuan. And this just three days before departing on October 3rd.

But, I couldn’t have ended up with a better travelling/cycling partner, for many reasons. One, we were heading to Uyghur country (Kashgar and southern Xinjiang Province), but he also speaks Chinese too. I could go on and on about this guy, my Uyghur ‘guardian angel,’ for one thing he actually became a sponsor, for he’d hardly let me pay for anything (except the hotels). I came to love this overweight, 35-year old tax collector from Uremqi (originally Hami where his mother is a famous teacher, writer, and poet). We will do more cycling together, Mamat and I!

Note: I took close to 500 photographs during this 18-day trip, and will be processing them, uploading them as I can. Ultimately, I hope to produce a video as Mamat had a digital camcorder along, and he shot video. Marty…? If I send you the elements…?

We had planned to go on to Hotan, a Uyghur city about 500KM east of Kashgar (near Tibet), but after 18-days on the road, we decided better for it. He has a family with young son, and his wife wanted him back! I wanted to get settled in Kashgar where I’m spending the winter before doing another long trip (this would have taken two weeks).

My first impressions of Kashgar, a city I’ve always wanted to visit is positive. Yet, it’s not the romantic, old city it must have been a hundred years ago. The Chinese, like all their cities (Lhasa for one) have been ‘modernized.’ I haven’t been to the ‘Old City,’ yet, but Kashgar looks like a smaller version of Uremqi. Of course, there’s much building going on!

Another observation, the Uyghur people here, much worse of than Uremqi, as many more street beggars. I’m giving away as much as possible but something needs to be done.

Yesterday, a horrible occurrence, one I’m not exactly proud of, but what to do, when you don’t speak the language. Crossing a street I noticed a physically (possibly mentally) handicapped Uyghur man, crawling across the street (in the crosswalk). As I passed be fell over and bloodied his head. All I could do is stuff some money in his pocket and leave him a bottled drink. I didn’t know what else to do. But, I’ll see about organizing some kind of relief Mission here for Uyghur people.

In the meantime, I send great greetings of joy to all my friends, all over the world! Life is good! Life is wonderful! Life is exhilarating, if you’ll ‘just get out there and do it!’ Live! Just don’t exist! There’s a huge difference!

At 65-years of age I (we) cycled 180KM / 108 miles in 14 hours. And one day I cycled (Mamet took the bus because of a knee problem) 102KM or 61 miles in 6 hours. But, for the latter I had everything going for me, as it was slightly downhill, the wind (‘da feng’ in Chinese) at my back, the weather (sunny and cool), and the highway (perfect surface)—I felt like I had an ‘engine.’ But, I can tell you, for a 65-year old cranking weight, a 17KM /10 MPH average is an accomplishment!

Another tough day was going up through the Tian Shan mountain range for 70KM! We labeled that day, ‘Up! Up!, Up!’

‘Life is a daring adventure, or nothing at all!’ Helen Keller

From Kashgar, southern Xinjiang Province, China
Hutch
Loving all of you!

P.S. Finally, some more good news… My digestive system is working again! Ah, it’s the small things in life! This after treating it for three months! Trust me, you don’t need a doctor, just a bicycle or some way to exercise (strenuously) everyday! And some traditional Chinese herbs. All illness begins in the colon.

05 October 05 (051005)

Day #3 of ‘The First Annual Xinjiang Bicycle Rally’ (Uremqi to Kashgar, 2005)

This day we called, ‘It goes up forever!’ Of course, what goes down so easily on a bicycle must go up again, and with some effort!

This is a thriving agricultural town, whatever the name (have in Chinese characters). At our hotel a party of screaming, spitting, and banging Chinese! There’s a sitting area outside our room on the second floor, so I sit there, have tea and write poetry.

THEIR CHINESE BOX!

Trapped in a box of
Dirty sox,
They cough, and spit,
Nicotine, they drip!
All the same dress,
Group thinking;
Excess!

Their little screen,
The streets so mean,
Not knowing,
The Tao,
Oh, but Mao!
Puppets on a string,
Waiting for it to ring!

Bending over
They work,
They yell, bang, and scream
To get free,
Themselves
Un-con-scious-ly!

Trapped in a box,
Driving the ox,
‘Cough, cough,’
Trying to spit up,
Their Chinese box!

Of course, Mamat can’t tell me, but today we’re to go over part of the Ti’an Shan mountain range. Nothing like Tiger Pass at 4K meters, but nonetheless a long day of going up.

After Mamat gets his nan (bread) we head out, always with many stops for W.C. and adjustments before getting it right and warming up. This is typical of cycling. It’s not like sitting in an automobile. It’s an athletic endeavor and there are many factors to efficient cycling, especially long distances with weight. You keep adjusting the bicycle, your clothing, etc., until it feels right. If you have to uri/defi-cate, you stop and seek ‘relief!’ You can’t exert if uncomfortable, at least for any length of time.

Tour cycling with a loaded bicycle makes everything harder too. I’m sure Mamat and I are pushing at least 100KG through the air, Mamat probably more than me (he’s brought along as much as me including a tent). When fully loaded Ms. Fiets is even hard to hold erect and/or pick up. This if for some reason I lose control of it (or lay it prone on the ground). And I can tell you… When riding a bicycle it’s easy to control. When stationary, it’s challenging and always frustrating me when I’m trying to clean ‘her’—especially with front loaded bags!

Additionally, people don’t understand my tour cycling. I’m not travelling to return to a home, but moving. I live where my bicycle is parked. I’m homeless, never returning to the U.S. This shocks non-anglo people so tied to family! ‘What you’re not married?’ ‘What you have no children?’ To explain I mimic a bird in flight… free! This makes them laugh!

How many people taking a trip would carry things like a replacement ink cartridge for their computer printer (I travel an HP color printer shipped by train), a collection of music CD with Sony player, boots, a heavy locking chain, writing paper? But, the craziest extra weight, are my ingredients for ‘Hutch’s Tea:’ dry milk powder, sugar (very heavy), and lu cha (water) in a bottle.

Of all things water is the heaviest, and I carry a 1.5 liter thermos full of hot water (‘kai shui,’ in Chinese, ‘kakak su,’ in Uyghur). All this adds up! But, there’s some things I won’t do without.

I remember Brian Gravestock (one of my bicycle gurus) in Colorado Springs telling me to just ‘purchase it along the way!’ Well, Brian, where I cycle it’s not available. If you don’t bring it, you won’t have it!

Finally, ‘adjusted,’ or so we head up a straight section of highway, and into the mountains (an easy gradual grade). We aren’t that far when Mamat wants to stop and rest (I never stop to rest going up a hill… bad idea!). Here he changes into his shorts, while nearby a Uyghur man repairs a truck tire. Back on the highway, up and up we go, me now in front for the first time, leading the way.

It’s slow and painful going for Mamat, however, and has to rest many times. I always stop and wait, however, as he for me.

One advantage for us both is the highway, smooth as glass with a wide ‘shoulder’ lane for bicycles! Thus, I must speak on behalf of the Chinese and their road-building prowess.

This new highway (#314) is one of the best highways I’ve ever been on anywhere in the world! Granted they’re turning it into a toll road (money maker), but gosh, what an effort (through mountains, deserts, and cities)! Even the retaining walls are works of art, many out in the middle of nowhere where hardly anyone will see (but people like me on bicycles). However, I appreciated every kilometer. Certainly, this made our cycling easier.

Further up we meet a Chinese man riding a motorcycle. He’s stopped to encourage us, impressed by our efforts. We exchange information, and take photographs.

Up and up we go, me thinking around each turn, or up the next hill is the summit! Wrong! I don’t know how long we went up, but it was all day, something like eight hours. This through some of the most barren hills I’ve ever encountered. Not a ‘stitch’ of greenery anywhere!

But, the day! The weather! The temperature! The vistas! The experience, perfect for me (at least in the mountains)! Even the effort, exhilarating (at least for me)!

But, poor Mamat is beginning to suffer! We have started out too fast and too hard from Uremqi, he obviously not in great physical condition ! So, we stop and rest often, me now becoming a ‘cheer leader!’

So, up and up and up we continue, mind you not a steep grade (2-3%); it, the distance, daunting, as the going up seeming never to end, the summit in the clouds somewhere! ‘Lucy in the sky with diamonds!’

At one rest stop I spy a man walking along collecting plastic bottles and I give him my empties. We enlist the Chinese man to take a photograph of us together. I give him two yuan for his efforts.

One thing I start educating Mamat about, is discarding refuge on the ground (which all the people in China do)! I tried to explain that the earth is ‘mother,’ and ‘no good’ to do this (just throw ‘shit’ on the ground)! Thus, after a time he got the idea, but I’m sure ‘foreign’ to him.

At one rest stop, where Mamat lies down to nap, I suggest we camp there for the night. But, he’s not for it, so we continue cranking up.

And, up and up, and up we go! This all afternoon, me beginning to wonder if there is a pass or summit. The trucks roll by, the buses, the traffic never ceasing even in this very remote part of China. It’s the incessant sound of the motor vehicle that I don’t like.

At one spot a truck has rolled over on its side, and there is a group of men recovering the cargo, boxes of apples (‘alma’ in Uyghur). The driver was unhurt, but some of the apples damaged from the accident. We’re given many to stuff into our bags, good in some respects, but more weight to crank up.

Along about 1600 hours, as the sun is fading over western hills we arrive at a large paved area which could be called ‘the pass,’ although no signs indicating. Here, however, we stop and take photographs, congratulating each other for being able to make it! But, now the sun is setting, and it’s getting colder. So, we put on more clothing for the ride down (more wind chill with speed).

So now down and down we go, and faster and faster, Mamat now motivated and leading (sometimes way ahead).

I’m thinking the town we’re to spend the night in is near (wishful thinking), but I’m wrong. We end up going down and down something like 30 more kilometers (total for the day at least 110KM).

At one point I stop to put on my lights, one flashing for the rear, and my headlamp which I wear on my helmet (not to see, but to be seen). Mamat in front in black, with no lights I can barely make out, especially when oncoming headlights blind me.

It begins to become dangerous as darkness overtakes us while we’re still some 15 kilometers from the village. Worse, we hit some road construction, and it becomes not dangerous but insanity! I’m now angry, as Mamat is hell bent for noodles and a soft bed, somehow negotiating the situation up ahead. I almost crash several times, not seeing the road (where I’m supposed to be) or Mamat! I’m now cursing (praying more like it) and very loudly!

But, my guarding angels come through once again, and there in the distance are the lights of the village! Seeing your goal is always a motivating factor. You can be dead tired, but once you actually see the goal energy surges through you (the thought of tea, food, rest, etc.)!

Mamat stops at a ‘restaurant’ (the rural Chinese version) and as fast as we were near ‘death,’ we’re sipping hot tea, and him ordering ‘mi fan’ (steamed rice). I’m so exhausted I don’t even mind the Chinese who have surrounded us so curious (happened everywhere we went). I’m too busy trying to recover from our arduous and dangerous day!

Next door is a cheap (20 Yuan each) hotel, and we don’t waste much time heading for the pillows. Unfortunately for me, Mamat is so exhausted he starts snoring immediately! This is torture for me, whose sleep can be disturbed by the faintest wind! Yet, a hilarious thing comes out of this situation…

At one point I get up with the idea of renting another room (cheap enough)—to sleep of course. From our door I see a Chinese woman sitting out in the ‘lobby,’ I mistake for one of the operators. I gesture her to come as I need something (you get creative when you don’t speak the language). She comes of course, approaches me curious as to what this old white face could want, him standing out in the hall in his underwear.

I gesture to her that I want to rent the room across the hall and mimic sleeping. But, she mistakes my request and gestures two people fucking (one fist pounding into the other palm) . A smile lights up her face! She’s a prostitute who I’ve mistaken for one of the owners! Of course, I should have known, this is a truck stop and there are many hookers about! She’s excited now with the thought of a white ‘trick,’ but immediately disappointed when I indicate, ‘no!’. But, all this does is confuse her. So, she calls for a friend to help. This woman will figure it out, checking me out in my underwear, pointing to her friend, the room, and then the indication of two people fucking… Pounding her fist into her palm (and smiling)! And a smile lights up her face!

At this point, I begin to smile too, taken with the situation. But, they’re totally confused by my actions, and my emphatic, ‘Nos!’ ‘Thank you!’ (xie, xie!) I repeat several times to placate, but they’re still confused when I disappear back into our room! ‘What….?’ I hear them discussing it in Chinese as I close the door.

And I’m sure they still talking about it, telling this story to their friends… The night the crazy (stupid) American couldn’t make up his mind! First he wants to fuck, then he doesn’t! We didn’t even get to negotiating the ‘fee!’

(Note… Maybe I’ve might have partaken, if thirty years younger. I’ve had some interesting experiences in my life with prostitutes.)

Mamat, in a deep (and no doubt profound sleep) is sawing logs too near, and too loudly! What to do? I chant OM to match simultaneously the snoring sound (I’ve found this to work in other similar situations.). So exhausted I manage to fall asleep, along about 10P.M. I think I dreamt about getting laid…

What a day! What a night! What a life!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

04 October 05 The Daily Dosage

Day #2 of ‘The First Annual Xinjiang Bicycle Rally’ (2005, Uremqi to Kashgar)

I’m up at 0600, but try not to disturb Mamat next to me in bed.

Eventually he indicates he needs to rest longer. Ah, what a good idea, as my knee is better after rest, but I can tell it could be a problem for me today if I don’t deal with it. I want to rub my homeopathic cream on it, but can’t find it (such is the nature of my lifestyle always travelling)! But, not finding/using it won’t prevent me from going! ‘Onward, always onward in spite of,’ my personal slogan/school (until I can’t go any further). ‘That’ll be the day that I die!’

I meet two other Chinese cyclists via packing up my bicycle in the storage room. One, in his room with a 10-speed, and obviously just out for a short ride. The other is a young Chinese cyclist with a loaded mountain bike I recognize from Silver Birches or the Giant Bicycle Shop. He’s on his way to Turpan, a desert oasis, and much warmer than Uremqi (south about 200KM). I give both my ‘flyer,’ explaining and a ‘Bike China’ patch. But, the latter, I’ve already given to, as he reminds. ‘Sell, sell, sell, everything you stand for!’

Mamat finally arises at 0930. I’m already packed and ready to go, but without having taken a shower .

I’m not very physically clean in my older age, but guess what? I don’t care! If I offend you with body odor, you best remove yourself from my physical resence. I’m not necessarily seeking the company of woman either. I’m a ‘mountain man’ and with that comes some primitiveness! Additionally, I eat much ‘samesuck’ (‘garlic’ in Uyghur, ‘da suan ’ in Chinese) and no doubt my breath indicates… So, Marty… Best we not get too physically close!

I look out my window in room #213, (in this Chinese town 95KM southeast of Uremqi) and ‘see’ Mexico (the adobe squalor, chickens running around in the junked yard).

Xinjiang Province, outside of the larger cities, reminds me so much of northern Mexico! Xinjiang, as in northern Mexico (Monterey, etc.). Nepal reminds me of southern Mexico (Guadalajara, etc.).

We go to breakfast… Mamat always eats before setting out, this usually noodles (with meat), and bread (nan), sometimes the fried bread (like donuts) or dumplings. I eat little before exerting, this having more experience …

We set out on the old highway (that runs next to the RR tracks). But, we’re not far before we join a major highway (maybe the one we set out on from Uremqi?), and a decision… Mamat indicates the old highway is not the best (up and down), but how to join the highway going south east. The access road only allows a north western lane to the right (returning to U.).

I get the idea and indicate we should try the off ramp, this going against the traffic (would be highly illegal in the West ). Mamat agrees and I lead the way.

In 200 meters we’re on the highway proper, but on the wrong side going west—I thought there would be easier access to the far lanes, but no. There’s a daunting double guard rail in the meridian (don’t know how else to describe the middle of the highway). Mamat indicates we’ll lift the bikes over! This is something I’ve never done before and couldn’t alone. But with Mamat, 95KG (in weight) and 35-years of age, no problem. Additionally, we learn the best way to do this (as we end up doing it several times). We lift one bike at a time, me going first to receive and park, then the other. So, without too much trouble we’re now on the right (side) traffic lane heading southeast.

And lo and behold, what a difference a day makes! Suddenly it’s all downhill with no (or a tail) wind! I would have never thought of this, taking this highway, or done it without Mamat. I would have taken the old highway. Then again, I’m not that much in a hurry and enjoy camping out.

However, even going downhill my tendon (my left knee) is ‘screaming’ at me, even though there’s hardly any effort pedaling 20KM per hour. I think, how fortunate is this, as if we were going up hill, I couldn’t manage, or I would damage my knee to the point of requiring several days rest. Still the pain is great enough to cause me to stop and take two ibuprophin (always carry painkillers, you never know).

I’m not much on using pharmaceuticals, but sometimes such pain requires (like with a tooth ache). The ‘ibu,’ works wonders and I was able to crank without too much trouble (pain) . And downhill and downhill we glided, must have been at least 20KM. This through desert hills, a rushing river beyond the highway to our left. To our right, Atlas/Moroccan-like hills. I don’t think I’ve ever cycled so far, so fast, so effortlessly… Maybe coming down from Independence Pass into Aspen, Colorado …

At the bottom, where highway #314 meets ours from the west, we stop at a toll booth/rest (‘W.C.’) stop. Here we meet many Chinese going somewhere on vacation—in their motor vehicles, of course. Many are interested is us, however, these two very much different looking men on exotic bicycles.

Whenever I have the chance I pass out my ‘flyer,’ (Sully called this an ‘advertisement’), in Chinese or Uyghur depending on whom. Then, many times, they wanted to take photographs and video of us. Of course, we always cheerfully compiled!

My whole ‘raison de terre,’ at this point in my life, is to ‘get people together!’ Additionally, I’m ‘out there,’ to demonstrate that Americans are not necessarily all like George W. (the ‘w’ for whippy of course) Bush (pugh, and ugh!).

Most of the people we met (along the way) were very encouraging (impressed with my age, etc.). I shall always be grateful for this, for it means a lot when you’re out there and someone stops to encourage you, or waves (‘thumbs up’) with a big smile.

I hear the Chinese word for ‘America’ (sounds like ‘May Goa’) many times during our 18-day trip. For Mamat is forever explaining about me. I’m sure he got tired of it… Yet, it did give him some ‘cache.’

Then we head south on highway #314, this highway to take us all the way to Kashgar. This is effortless also, as slightly downhill (we are to pay for all this ‘effortlessness’ the next day). A rocky alluvial plain stretches for miles on each side of the highway. It reminds me of what the Mars must be like. This highway without a turn for 20KM.

Nearing our second overnight city (again, I have this in Chinese characters), we start seeing adobe haciendas, cotton (‘packtha’ in Uyghur) fields, and fruit stands. Of course, this means water; this means ‘civilization!’

In the town Mamat finds a Chinese hotel for us, albeit expensive at 100 Yuan each for one room.

But, I couldn’t have picked a better companion and guide, as he knows how to get things done (which I appreciate)! Mamat made the entire trip very easy for me… All I had to do is follow and this is new to me cycling distance, as I usually do such alone.

Mamat finds a polo restaurant for me too, via a taxi (he doesn’t like polo, but prefers, like most Chinese, noodles). Here we meet a lovely Uyghur family with young girl I buy candy for (later).


ALL THE CHILDREN ARE MINE!

All the children are mine!
The white ones!
The black ones!
The brown ones!
The red ones!
The yellow ones!
The green ones!
The blue ones!
The stripped ones!
The dotted ones!
All the children are mine!

All the children are mine!
The ones that laugh!
The ones that smile!
The ones that frown!
The ones that cry!
The ones that sigh,
The ones that say ‘hi!’
All the children are mine!

All the children are mine!
The ones that are tall!
The ones that are short!
The ones that are fat!
The ones that are thin!
The ones that walk!
The ones that talk!
The ones that crawl!
The ones that swim!
The ones that can’t!
All the children are mine!

All the children are mine!
The ones in the north!
The ones in the south!
The ones in the west!
The ones in the east!
All the children are mine!

Let them sing!
Let them dance!
Give them a chance!
Let them love;
Follow the dove!
Let them grow up
To be free!

All the children are mine!

03 October 2005 – The Daily Dosage

Day #1 of our ‘First Annual Xinjiang Bicycle Rally (2005, Uremqi to Kashi/Kashgar)’

I’m up at 0500 at the Silver Birches Hostel, having packed the night before.

Downstairs I have to deal with the alcohol Chinese janitor, who smokes like a chimney, yet has a good heart! What to do? He tries to communicate something to me about Yuan, which I don’t understand, but the upshot is that he reminds me of my 100 Yuan deposit (I’m thankful!). He can’t fetch it, however, and has to wake the manager (another Chinese guy I can do without). But, I get a much needed 100 Yuan I’d forgotten about—the ‘lesson,’ be kind of everyone! I think I start off with something like 1,100 Yuan or about $130 U.S. for a 1,400KM, two-week trip.

Of course $130U.S. is much better prepared than the $50 or so I started off from Rannelanda, Sweden to cycle down to Utrecht, TN, roughly the same distance and time. That was insanity! Thank God for Jim Speer, or I’d still be in Denmark somewhere!

Additionally, at the Hostel this morning, there’s another Chinese ‘chimney,’ a young cyclist who has annoyed me (with his incessant smoking), yet is there up early videotaping my departure. So, how can I get angry? Additionally, he loves cycling in Tibet and we may do some of this together.

I’m off in the dark (with lights on) at 0700. I’m on my way through the city to meet Mamet at ‘Bridge #5), near where he lives I’m guessing. I’ve been disappointed so many times by Asians who say one thing, but then don’t perform, I’m prepared if he doesn’t show. I’ll be going anyway!

I’m the first at the bridge of course, some ten minutes early. Mamet shows up about 0815 (we had set 0800 as the time to meet), but has come only to tell me he has to dash off again, but will return shortly. In the meantime, I get a call from another Uyghur , Sully, who can’t find the bridge. He’s been waiting one hour at the wrong one! This so typical, I have to laugh! But, all these people so kind (like the Nepalese) it’s difficult to get too angry at them (they make up in kindness what they lack in efficiency)! Sully has come to see us off!

Mamet returns, and we wait for Sully, the early morning traffic building, and of course, everyone curious as to us (with loaded mountain bicycles).

Sully finally arrives, and it’s good as I can have some English translated to Mamat. I hardly know Mamat, and here we are about to set off on this cycling trip through the ‘wilds’ of far western China.

Mamet has come to me late (only one week before departing), via a Uyghur-Chinese woman who works at the Giant Bicycle Shop. For some reason, she seems to ‘worship’ me, never able to do enough. But, she can’t speak any English either, so what a relationship this is! We gesture a lot. Luckily my good mechanic there, Liu Hau Feng, speaks a little English and translates.

I liked Mamat the first time I met him as older and serious—he also has a good mountain bicycle and cycling experience. I knew he’d probably come with me, but how and why I didn’t know in the beginning. Turns out he’s to be my Uyghur ‘guarding angel!’ Sully takes our a photograph of us together, about to departure. And then we’re off on our adventure, me following Mamat.

Mamat has insisted we take the major highway, as the old one is too slow (he gestures ‘bumpy’). I follow somewhat hesitantly, as alone I would never have done this. I think the ‘authorities,’ via ‘my law firm’ in Beijing (courtesy of Kathy Zhao) had said to stay off. But, Mamat assures me he has ‘connections’ and it’s ‘O.K.’ (I get the impression). Little did I know at the time.

The major highway is wonderful in terms of surface and shoulder (wide), and I’m now glad we are on it. But, the traffic, like a ‘machine gun,’ in terms of noise as the big trucks and buses honk past! Soon we’re out of Uremqi proper and heading east into a strong wind (‘da feng’ in Chinese).

Mamat with a new Giant mountain bicycle and the freshness of youthful escape (from his everyday life) ends up way ahead, having to wait for me at various rest stops. But, we’re getting to know each other’s cycling style. He seems to crank wildly, only to slow down and rest, what I call the ‘hare’ style. This compared to my ‘tortoise’ style. I’m slow and steady, generally ‘winning’ the race.

One of the stops is a windmill farm (‘W.C.’ stop for vehicles or ‘Rest Area’ in the West), similar to the two in California: hundreds of commercial windmills churning to produce electricity. Obviously, this is a windy corridor (or they wouldn’t be here). And we’re directly into it today! Mamat calls it the ‘Chamal’ in Uyghur.

Nothing is so daunting for a touring cyclist as a head wind. I’d much rather climb a steep hill, than fight the wind!

At 44 KM we exit the major highway to stop for lunch in a village on the old highway (several kilometers to the south). This having punched into the wind for 4.5 hours. I make a mental note that one of the ligaments (maybe tendon?) in my left leg is beginning to ‘talk to me!’ I have very strong legs for a 65-five year old, but there’s a limit to everything.

After a lunch of ‘mi fan’ (steamed rice, no ‘polo’) we’re off on the old highway (more bumps but less traffic). This after a photograph with the restaurant group. We’re the biggest news wherever we go… One fat Uyghur man, and one old (and thin) American man!

The pain in my left leg is beginning to become a factor. I have to rest it regularly. And at this point Mamat is way ahead of me (at least a kilometer). I struggle onward, beginning to worry, as this is our first day, and many, many kilometers to go.

Now, however, Mamat seems to be slowing too, and I find out with the same problem… he indicates his right knee, while I indicate my left knee. You have to have good knees to ride a bicycle any distance.

I realize Mamat has brought a camcorder along, as he records me on a RR bridge. In the background, the stunning beauty of the snow-capped Tian Shan mountain range. I take photographs of him.

Up ahead he stops to pump up his rear tire. This allows me to catch up. He gestures ‘no good,’ but presses on. Another five kilometers or so and he stops again, this time we ‘discuss’ the situation. Since we’re adjacent a culvert with a cement floor (how convenient I think), I suggest he change the tube. This takes about twenty minutes, but then we’re off and with no other tire problem. Now, it’s exhaustion we’re dealing with!

I’m surprised at the next stop, how long we stay while Mamat rests… Obviously, our pace has been too fast for the head wind and his condition (I’m not that tired, just the pain in my knee). But, he’s my guide and I’ve been following his lead. Of course, much later, I figure out this is youthful inexperience… To go so fast, so far on the first day, is not wise. Slow and short in the beginning, the best plan. I would have stopped about halfway and camped out. But, I discover, even though he’s brought a tent with him, he’s not so much into camping out.

We finally arrive in our first overnight town (whose name I have in Chinese characters but not Pidyin), and glad of it. We’ve managed 95 KM in 10.5 hours, and this mostly directly into a strong head wind. Our legs are aching, but the hotel room is good for 50 Yuan each. Mamat has some of the Chinese ‘help’ carry our bicycles up to the second floor, where we store them for the night.

Unfortunately, it turns out that Mamat snores (a smoker like them all), and I have a fitful night (can’t sleep with a snorer). ‘Ke garne?’ He’s turned out to be such a nice, thoughtful guy, buying lunch, deferring to me at every turn. I don’t want to hurt his feelings. But, I will need my rest every night if I’m to make it all of the 1,400 KM…