Thursday, November 30, 2006

291106 (Wednesday)

We're in Luan, Anhui Province, now only 300KM from Nanjing, and 500KM from Shanghai. We might even make my goal of reaching Shanghai by December 5th.

The last couple of cycling days, we've hurried... 122KM yesterday, and 112KM today, this to make up for the deficit days (not making 100KM per, our everyday goal).

Yesterday from 'Strange Lu Town,' don't know real name (we met a lovely young Chinese woman Lu, who guided us out of town) to Gushi, Henan Province.

We had stayed in the 'Post Hotel' (a 'chain' owned by China Post). We'd looked at a couple hotels, but the first, inviting from the outside, had no hot water. Then the second, KTV (a no, no, because of the noise). We were going on 'to the best,' when Tom spotted the 'Post Hotel.'

They say had 'heat, and hot water,' for 80RMB (they lied). And the room on the first floor was an easy deal with our bicycles parked right outside our door. It turned out, however, to be a 'dump,' with nothing working, except the heater (although not very warm). The bathroom plumbing, well... I always want to ask... Why can't plumbing work? Additionally, they lost electricity, so I had to use the battery to get online. Amazing, the China Unicom service in this town fairly fast.

In the morning, we were off to breakfast, ending up in another hotel's dining room. This Tom's idea, and a good one, as turned out we were they only customers (unusual in China). Here they were decorating for a wedding reception.

I had discovered on the way, that my rear tire had worn through (the sidewall), and I was about to blow the tube! Gosh, to have 20 flats in 11 weeks, now losing a tire.... This, an example, of why you must purchase the most expensive European tires and tubes)! I was cursing the tire manufacturer (Taiwan), when I discovered the reason (not their fault). The 'mechanic' in Xining, who had adjusted my brakes, had made a mistake, and part of the brake had been rubbing on the sidewall of the tire (all the way from Xining, the last 1,000KM). I'd noticed the 'scoring,' on the sidewall but for some reason didn't pursue the cause (stupid, and another lesson). Now, what to do... ?

Certainly, Mercury, in retrograde, and a rising moon hasn't helped. It's been an arduous and challenging week, between slogging through the rain/mud and flat tires (five with this tire problem)!

My plan was to go to 'the best hotel,' and wait for Tom to see if this town had a bicycle shop that sold 26-inch (most old Chinese bicycles are 28-inches) tires. Additionally, if none in town, I thought we should have one sent from Xi'an (no doubt taking atleast 2 days, and costing us hundreds more RMB).

But, Tom had a better idea. He suggested we find a bicycle shop together (me not waiting in the hotel we didn't know where). Additionally, we hadn't gone 300 meters when Tom spotted a sidewalk 'mechanic' right on the main street. I was dubious, but I said 'ask!' And guess what? The man said he could repair the tire! And for 10 Yuan / $1.25U.S.! Better, Tom suggested that we exchange his front tire (unworn with no weight), with my about-to-be repaired rear. I thought, brilliant--just the thing to do (as much weight on the back of my bicycle)!

While the 'mechanic,' was working a crowd formed around us, full of the usual quesitons! This is where and how we met 'Lu,' a smiling Chinese woman! She wanted her picture taken with me (most Chinese do, making you feel like a celebrity).

After all the work was completed (1000 hours), the Chinese 'mechanic' re-adjusting my brakes, we paid him 50RMB (left him happy), waved to the crowd and followed Lu to highway #312. We found out she works for 'electricity,' is Tom's way of explaining. I asked, 'For the Government?' and yes came the answer. I would like to hire this woman!

On we cranked, everything O.K., the repaired tire working for Tom.

I forget where we had lunch, but I remember the tofu was not the kind I like (soft with no 'skin').

The afternoon fell into darkness before we knew it, and we put on our lights. This time of year it 'falls,' at an ever increasing rate, and suddenly we were having to deal with the oncoming 'high beams' from trucks and buses! I curse them! Bur, I's put new batteries in my headlamp, and Tom's rear was flashing, so more safe than usual. Additionally, the highway was good here (wide shoulder with white line still evident).

But, at one place we came upon a huge truck unloading, parked right on the highway. It had no reflectors nor lights, and loomed as a 'monster,' that they are! I cursed them as I passed on the left yelling, 'Stupid!' But, later thought maybe there was something 'illegal,' going on and they were unloading in the dark not to be seen! Even more stupid!

The insanity of Asian streets and highways you have to experience from a bicycle! 'Chaos' in one word, 'dangerous,' another!

We arrived in the town of Gushi, about 1900 hours / 7 P.M. But, the last 4KM into town maddening, as dark with no white lines! I cursed continually, dodging everything from pedestrians who walk on the street in dark clothing to huge trucks (the real 'monsters') as best I could, bouncing up and down through pot holes I couldn't dodge (as couldn't see). I say my prayer over and over, 'Protect us from harm and evil, master, Lord, and God!'

We got lucky and found a hotel on the second attempt. They were very friendly here, although wanted to see my passport. We've now stayed in 75 different hotels, and they only ask for such when new dealing with 'lowei' (foreigners).

We put our bicycles in the security men's room, and I gave the man 10RMB for safe keeping. He refused then accepted (they usually refuse).

The following morning, the buffet breakfast was the best ever (I had Tom compliment the manager). This included sweet potatoes, hot milk, rice porridge, fruit, and 'chao mi fan' (fried rice).

After cleaning, and loading our bicycles, we asked for help finding highway #312. A nice man (like Ms. Lu in preceeding town) led us on his motor scooter to show us the way. It was sheer madness getting out of town, however! Normal chaos to the Chinese, sheer 'honking madness' to Haqi!

The morning version of our highway 312 wasn't so good, but we managed 50KM in 3.5 hours. This was lined with duck pond, after duck pond!

Then lunch at one of those non-descript, yet surprising places, where the woman proprietor, was so nice I wanted to hug her--such a sweet woman! Also, she brought all her friends (with babies) to see the 'lowei!' Her food was great too.

After our usual group photograph (Haqi with mothers and babies), we were off on a wonderful concrete version of 312 (I thought the expressway at first--made Tom ask), with a wide bicycle lane. I thought it was strange as there was little traffic too! So, we 'zipped' along, now the terrain rolling hills, as we drop down into the Yangtze River valley.

We've returned to the land of bamboo and palm trees, the weather cool, but certainly not cold (like where we've been). This is about 33 degrees north latitude, or equivalent to Austin, Texas (in the U.S.0.

But, darkness caught up with us about 20KM from Luan. We stopped and rigged for 'night battle!' I hate cycling at night on these Chinese highways for many reasons. One, they know not to dim their headlights, making it dangerous (as you're blinded).

In Luan, another large city, we had to 'shop' four different places for a good hotel, but finally our luck held! Tom's 'instinct' good about such, and we ended up in a very large room, with good bathroom, heat, hotwater, and the second shower stall I've partaken of in China (after roughly 100 hotels). All this for 136RMB, or roughly $15 U.S.

I thought it perfect until the man next door turned up the TV so loudly I thought we'd made a mistake and had ended up where there was KTV (karioke bar). Tom, however, went next door and asked the man if he would lower the volume. Amazingly, he did, and we had a good night's rest.

Tomorrow, on to Hefei, the Provincial Capito of Anhui Province. This only 73KM distance.

After day we get closer to Shanghai!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

261106 in Xinyang, Hebei Province.

More rain... More wet socks and cold feet! Plus, my boots are soaked through and through. I will have to buy better!

We only did a mere 80KM today, this after spending time cleaning our bicycles, oiling our chains. Are bicycles are not working all that well, even Ms. Fiets', the derailleurs not so precise. But, what to expect, after slogging through rain and mud for four days. Additionally, it feels like Mercury is in retrograde... Little things, you can tell (like flat tires).

Today (the 26th), more of the same, although by afternoon the rain had slackened.

We stopped for respite in a town, and found a restaurant with 'mi,' (or rice). The people there were wonderful, but with an unhappy baby! We tried to dry out near a coal stove. This after tofu, rice, eggs and tomatos, and nicely hot.

No matter what little dumpy eatery you end up end, generally the food is good (and hot). They can't do enough for a 'lowei,' even in poor hotels (training).

I've noticed too in the last two days (Saturday and Sunday) less trucks and buses. I finally figured out that they (at least the trucks) take days off. Good! I wish they'd all take a permanent vacation.

Now, we snug in a not-very-good hotel1 room, as it comes down outside. But, I got soaked through and through, and have to buy some new rain gear, or suffer more. 'Cause the rain is here to stay in eastern China, at least for the winter. This is the China I don't like: low, green, and wet! And sooooo congested.

My lament to Tom, 'Too many people!' And everyone has a baby! What are they all going to do in 20 years?

We're now only 846KM / 500 miles from Shanghai, the highway sign said. But, because of the weather and so many flats (five in the last three days) our total kilometers per day have been below 100 (75 today).

On the otherhand, nothing stops us!

Friday, November 24, 2006

241106

It's been cycling 'hell,' the last two days!

Eastern China is 'hell' to me! I think we're in China's version of Arkansas, or Henan Province. It doesn't seem to like us much, and vice versa!

Yesterday we made something like 85KM, today only 45KM. Today with 'da feng,' in our face in the morning, and then the wind with rain in the afternoon.

The highway littered with the debris from trucks, and even though a wide bicycle lane, many times we have to get out in the traffic to avoid 'shit.' Thus, more honking!

The noise! Deafening! The 'honking madness' of China's 'mean' highways! I don't think I would cycle highway #312 again, except at night. Better to find an alternative route, however. Too many trucks and buses racing each other! It's insanity 'out there!' I was reminded of 'Mad Max,' here 'Mad Ming,' maybe!

I think I've figured it out, however, why Chinese people talk so loudly? They have hearing problems. I think Tom has proven this to me.

Recently, I cut my earplugs in half so he could use two (he requested). He's been wearing them the last two days. But, he can't hear me when he has them in his ears. I suppose that's the objective! But, when I have mine in my ears I can hear all too well. In fact, they don't prevent enough for me! For Tom to have a conversation he has to take his out. I don't. Thus, my conclusion... Tom and Chinese people have less hearing capacity. This is the reason they 'yell' at each other, talk so loudly. Tom denies this, but it's becoming more and more evident to me, the reason there's so much yelling (loud talking) in China! They crank up the volume on the TV too high, also.

In addition to the noise, are the people on the streets, never looking, treating the highway like it's their living room. I get so angy I want to run into one to make a point. I've taken to touching them (when I pass), or saying 'Wake up, stupid!'

Actually, the fault for the honking isn't the driver's but people on the street. I think the drivers have taken to using their horns in defense. Otherwise, they couldn't make their schedules. People just wander about on major highways, as if drunk or lost. The don't seem to care whether they get hit or not. Now, this attitude is totally different from the West (where we're very careful).

In the last two days besides dealing with the wind and rain, the noise, we've now had four flat tires1 (with no spares) in two days. Yesterday, first me, before lunch, and then Tom after lunch. Today, the very same thing, me before lunch, and Tom after lunch! And both the rear tires (more difficult to deal with, as you have to unload). What are the odds?

And poor Tom today... Since we don't have a spare (stupid), and we were near a 'City,' we just stopped and pumped it up every 500 meters (rather than change). We must have stopped (in the rain) a dozen times to pump us, before finding a hotel. This through maddering traffic, millions of people, and a driving rain! Some days are just not fun!


We'd planned to make at least 86KM today, going to the next 'City.' But, it became evident with Tom's flat, we better get some good tubes. Luckily, Tom's happened just outside (10KM) from 'Nanyang,' (I remember the name as so easy. Plus, in eastern China, the highway signs are both in Chinese and English. But, sloshing through mud, and pumping up, no fun!

The first hotel was 'full,' until I appeared at the front desk, then we could get a 'suite' for 200RMB, but they didn't know when the occupant was checking out. Tom didn't much like their attitude besides, so we slogged on.

Now, we're safe and snug in a hotel, whose name I don't know (says, 'Huanyingguanglin' on the information portfolio), nor much where we are (except about 1,100KM northwest of Shanghai). Ever heard of Nanyang, Henan Province, China? I hadn't.).

Once we unloaded and were in our room, Tom went off to the Giant Bicycle Shop to get us some new tubes. Unfortunately, he returned with just the 'normal,' tubes (no good quality, Giant stuff!).

I'm afraid I can't recommend Giant Bicycles, certainly not the tires, tubes and accessories (two pairs of glasses fell apart). Giant, a Taiwanese outfit is too big to care about quality! They're into quanity! Gotta make that money! No serious cyclist buys Giant.

Anyway, many good days, and a few bad ones! As I've told Tom 'No bad days, no good days! No pain, no pleasure! No rain, no sunshine! No wind, no calm. No cold, no warmth!' Plus, days like today make us stronger!

Now, we're in deficit in terms of the 100KM per day average I've been trying to maintain. So, we're going to have to make it up with a couple of 130+KM days! Or, forego any rest days to reach Shanghai by December the 5th (our goal).

God willing and the creeks don't rise too high, nor 'da feng' too strong in our faces!

231106 Thanksgiving in the U.S.

Yesterday, a 'strange day,' Tom commented at one point.

We were up earlier than usual, out earlier than usual (on the highway by 0830), but in a cold rain. Luckily, the rain didn't last all day. Additionally, highway #312 is good with a wide shoulder (for bicycles).

Worse, the 'honking madness' of #312 seems to get worse and worse, the nearer we get to Shanghai. I'm now screaming at trucks and buses that lay on their horns! I've developed a 'thumbs down,' gesture to all those kinds of idiots! Tom probably thinks I've gone insane!

I stop at a fruit stand where they're selling 'kiwi' fruit. As I think I've mentioned, I have been enlightened about such. I thought this fruit was native to Australia, but turns out native to China. I remember Tom telling me his dad grew such in their village, and I thought (How strange!). Now, I know the truth and not so strange for his dad to do such.

We were entering our 'lunch town,' (?) when I noticed my rear tire going flat. We walked to a restaurant, and delayed dealing with the flat. Sometimes hot tea or coffee goes a long way, after being in the rain all morning. We had a nice lunch of mi fan (steamed rice) with egg/tomato dish. If you're going to have a flat tire, have it where it's convenient!

After lunch, I changed tubes, always carrying a new one with me.

The owner of the restaurant, a one-armed man offered to help, but I declined. Later, however, thinking he needed the money I told Tom to tell him he could help me pump up the tire (Schrader valve-tubes are difficult to pump up with my little hand pump). But, it turned out they had a pump themselves that worked much better. Additionally, the man, like most Chinese, helped every way he could, then wouldn't take ten RMB / $1.25U.S. for it. So, I hid it under my dish on our lunch table (as tip)!

Again, and I've said this before, I find the Chinese people wonderfully kind, generous, and helpful. I remember his wife pouring me some water, making sure it was warm (knowing I'm 'lowei')--they don't even use towels for themselves! They can't do enough for you! 'Wo ai Zhonguo!'

About to depart, they thrust a baby in my arms for a 'photo opp.!'

We organize one of the group. Then were off for #312, the 'one-armed' man leading us on his bicycle (to make sure we got on the highway)!

Eastward we cranked to the 'tune' of buses and trucks in too great a hurry (thus honking madly!). Again, I'm driven 'slightly' mad! The people on the street annoy me too, treating the highway as if it was their living rooms. Actually, the truck and bus drivers are not to blame! It's all of us that have created this crazy situation!

We hadn't gone another 20KM when Tom, discovered his back tire had gone flat (while we were shopping in a food market). So, a record is set! One flat tire for each of us in the same day! I think Tom's total is 12 (cheap Giant tires and tubes), and I've had three!

So, now it's Tom's turn, and I record the event (he doing the same when I was changing mine back at the restaurant town). Here the honking almost causes me to 'lose it!'

Tom's bicycle back together we head east again, a long way to go to our 'sleeping City.' But, by now it's 1600 hours. What to do? Some days we cover many kilometers, some days not.

Here, the countryside reminds me of Pennsylvania for some reason (we're in some kind of (National Park').

With the fading light, I stop and get out our lamps. One, for Tom in the rear, a 'clip on,' flashing red (bought in Colorado Springs years ago). And me with my headlamp for illumination in the front. But, the one for the rear of Tom's isn't flashing. Plus, it appears we need new batteries. We can't find ours!

I think it was at this point I said, 'The moon is rising!' Tom concurs, 'It's a strange day!'

In the next 'town,' I suggest we stop for the night, even though we've only covered 80KM (trying to make at least 100KM every day). But, nothing is forthcoming. Note, this can be a challenging process, as Tom has to stop and ask several times. It's surprising that people don't know more about their own communities.

Up ahead, a few more kilometers,' we're in luck. Here a courtyard (reminding me of Mexico), where we can park our bicycles. The price for two rooms, 35RMB / $4.00U.S. I tell Tom to give him 50RMB / $6.00U.S. The 'innkeeper,' is beside himself with gratitude wanting to carry every of our bags up the stairs.

All I want/need is 'kai shui,' (hot water in thermos), to wash and for tea (I boil using my butane camping stove).

Up in my room, the electricity goes out! Yes Tom, 'tis a strange one! But, it isn't long before the 'innkeeper,' brings a lit candle! I like candle light, and can get online using the battery. I actually prefer these kinds of 'sleeping situations' to hotels. The owners so grateful you've stopped and will be with them.

I have my tea. Tom goes for noodles!

I go to bed, to the sound of the highway madness. I take out the contact lens, leave the ear plugs in!

Another day cycling across China with Haqi and Tom!

We're not 1,100KM east of Shanghai. Two weeks to go!

221106 (anniversary of JFK's assassignation, 43 years ago)

We cycle 132 KM, ending the day in the dark and the rain. Nothing like cycling on highway #312 at night in China, where people walk on the in dark clothing (no light of course)! Thus, I didn't enjoy the last 90 minutes (1730-1900 hours).

The 132KM was in 10.5 hours, or about 12KMPH average. Considering it was up and down (hilly), not bad.

There were two long (over 1KM in length) and dark tunnels, both of which we walked through (on a very narrow 'sidewalk').

Lunch was in a town (?) where we surrounded by the curious (this seems to happen everywhere). A nice Chinese man took our picture and printed it out on his printer (delivered to our table in the adjacent restaurant).

We ended up on the outskirts of a city (?), still in Shanxi Province, and in a nice hotel. A good situation where we park our bicycles in the 'store,' and our room is on the first floor. The bathroom was good, with a hot-water shower, but my bed kinda strange.

Breakfast (the following morning) was good too, rice porridge with fruit, scrambled eggs, and hot milk!

As we go further east, amenities in hotels increase.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

211106

Where are we? 200KM east of Xi'an in Shanxi Province. On our 'old friend,' highway #312. 'Our old friend,' is sometimes good, and sometimes not so good as it's been beat to hell by heavy trucks going too fast.

They're building a new 312, thus not repairing the older one.

We had an interestingly unpleasant cycling day, yesterday.

First we had to deal with getting through the heart of Xi'an. This during the morning rush hour. I think I 'impressed' a crowd rushing across the street (against the light) by screaming loudly, 'Get out of the way! Get out of the fucking way!' No one hardly moves or notices (they're so inured to such).

The previous day, I'd actually bumped into one woman, and slapped another (man this time) on the shoulder when passing.

Asians (this includes my experience in Nepal as well) don't look when crossing the street, they just walk hoping you don't kill them! It's crazy! I get so irritated, I curse them, call them 'stupid,' and sometimes slap them on the shoulder as I pass! This, and the noise, will be what drives me out of China.

They love noise--they fire off the fireworks they invented at every opportunity)! They 'scream' at each other and into their mobiles. Tom calls this 'competing for attention,' and I agree. Too many people are competing for time and space (the traffic insanity: 'the honking madness').

All the large human problems in the world today are caused by too many people, but few understand. Thus, my frequent quote, 'There is infinite hope but not for mankind!' He dosn't learn!

Yesterday, Tom was 'asleep,' most of the day. I'm sure it was his parents (he'd made contact with) that was on his mind. At point he led us on the 'high-speed' Expressway, only to be turned back. Later, he just stopped and was walking (first time ever). He explained his legs were hurting, but that didn't make sense after cycling (up and down mountains) for 3,500KM. He doesn't know himself well yet. For example, I'll ask him if he's hungry. He will say no. Five minutes later he's eating something.

Your task in life... Find out who you really are, not the named person your parents have created! Few understand this. People live in 'the dark,' all their lives. They never use this opportunity of consciousness to discover who they really are.

'The purpose of life is to achieve union with your fundamental enlightened nature, and to realize and embody your true being!' Sogyal Rinpoche I have done this, few others have!

About 1500 hours / 3P.M. we stopped at a group of food 'stores' (more like 'stands' we'll call them in English). I needed to buy some bottled tea. Tom asked about the distance to our planned 'sleeping town.' Bad news... 35KM, and we have to go over the mountain range in front of us.

By now I'd been cursing the honking trucks, now I turned my anger toward poor Tom. 'Why, hadn't we known?'

Tom is a very good 'assistant,' but much slips through the 'cracks' with him. It may be the cultural/language difference, but more likely his age, twenty-three. He's really still a boy. I expect too much.

I decided to go on... We went up. It became increasingly darker, as now near ing Winter Solstice (dark about 1730 hours). They're were tunnels, most of which we walked through (thank God for the sidewalks they included, although narrow pushing bicycle).

At one point we put on our lights. Tom gets the flashing red light for the rear of his bicycle (behind). I wear the headlamp for illumination. It became increasingly dangerous even with lights. Sometimes you lose the shoulder white line (obliterated with age); sometimes the oncoming headlights blind you).

At 1830 hours we happen upon a village. I have Tom find out if there's a 'room.' There is and it turns out to be a good situation, except no heat (a rarity in village/town rooms--they explain still not cold enough to fight up the boilers).

We'd gone 109KM and enough for one day! I'm frustrated and angry, and best to stop, have some hot tea, eat, wash, and rest. Me in one room and Tom in the other (since he snores and I awaken him, I get him a room in which he can sleep the night).

My room across the hall is 'cold,' so I fire up my butane stove. I've found this comes in very handy, as light and can carry on a bicycle. Also, and strange to me there are electric blankets in these rooms. I turn mine on to warm the bed.

I'm amazed, as I can get online here also! Note, in the morning I notice two towers on hills across the highway. And, the Internet speed here (in the middle of nowhere) is faster than in Xi'anyang (huge city)!

But, it isn't long before I turn the overhead florescent light off, and get into a warm be

Saturday, November 18, 2006

191106 'It's a wonderful life!'

I'm sad tonight, but why...? I think tired is a better description, as emotionally drained!

Physical exertion is nothing compared to emotional 'exertion!' Thus, tonight I felt very tired. The moon is dark, I know, pulling 'feelings' down. The day was filled with emotion.

We had bought Xu Gang (Tom's brother) a bicycle, and all three of us rode into Xi'an, the City (22KM from our hotel in neighboring 'Xianyang'). He and Tom wanted to visit their parents!

At lunch I explained that I shouldn't go with them the first time (Tom hadn't seen their parents for two years). My plan... they should go alone and set something up for the following day, Sunday. But, it didn't work out that way!

Xu Gang, didn't exactly know where he visited them five months ago, so I wasn't hopeful they'd find the place (his parents don't have a telephone). But, amazingly, we were there before we knew it!

I'll never forget Tom's mother's face, so alive, so happy to see her boys!

A Chinese face1;

So much grace,

I fell in love with yesterday!

They wanted to give me money! They wanted to feed me! They wanted to thank me! They don't have enough themselves! I slipped 100RMB under the covers of the bed we sat on, knowing they'd never accept anything directly. The unmade bed taking up half the room. There was maybe a coal for the stove, maybe enough to eat, maybe enough clothes to wear, maybe! She sat on a low stool, hardly taking her eyes off Tom. Their prized 'possessions' their sons!

Mr. Xu had been reprimanded for lighting up a cigarette inside, as Tom knows I don't like smoking. Can you imagine being 'thrown out' of your own 'house?' He sat on his honches smoking his cigarette in the door jam, listening. This guy a farmer of sorts, grows, of all things, the Australian fruit, 'Kiwi!' I think maybe they're 'migrant workers' (150 million of these in China).

It was Tom's mother's face, however, that captured my attention, so charged with finding out about her eldest (Tom) boy's life. So appreciative she gave me their only orange, a big fat one!

My heart ached for the situation! Oh, mother's (parent's) love, what pain it must bear for having children!

Chinese families are close, but in a different way than western families. For example, Tom hadn't seen his mother in two years, but didn't hug her when they first met (a little one on parting).

I hugged her upon parting, but I felt her withdraw as slightly embarassed. I couldn't help myself!

I 'captured an image of the family, and will have it printed and framed. A gift, I'm sure they will hang on the wall.

Tom's father started cleaning our bicycles, when we were about to 'push off!' 'Love has no pride, when it calls out your name,' goes the song! He didn't have to do that! I should have fallen on my knees and washed his feet, like Jesus did! I am no better than any living soul! And just because I have a little money, the least reason to love me (Americans)! Damn!

Riding home, Xu Gang said something that turned the 'sad' day (remembering my own mother), into bright sunshine! He said, 'I've had a wonderful day! I've learned so much from you!'

I told him, 'Every day is a wonderful day!'

If you have two eyes and can see, two ears and can hear, can enjoy food (have enough to eat), can pay the bills, go to the toliet alone, feel the warmth of the sun, can walk, or best, ride a bicycle! Trust me, every day is a wonderful day!

My mother was right, 'Count your blessings!'

'It's a wonderful life!'2

Friday, November 17, 2006

181106

Yesterday was a 'breeze!' Gosh, how fast we came down into Xi'an Yang (Xi'an's 'sister City)--on a section of #312, that is good (except for the mud and the rock 'speed bumps'). At the same time very dusty (dirt in unprotected eyes), mud mixed with oil, air pollution, and the 'honking madness of China,' all making it stressfully 'fast.' I've taken to wearing earplugs for the noise and they help. But, I can tell you cycling in eastern China, not a joyful thing!

The first hour we cranked an average of 20KMPH (without stopping). Of course, this was downhill and a wide/smooth 'shoulder.' We were in the wide 'Non-transformable' lane and went through many 'Toll Gatas!'1

We cranked 76KM to our destination in four hours, including a hour's lunch break. This is about 19KMPH average (definitely the fastest average ever for me on a heavy bicycle).

We stopped in a village to have lunch (just a break to get out of the madness), but not for long...

In Xi'an Yang, we found a good hotel on the second attempt: the 'Dukepu.' This an interesting situation, as part of a clothing company, complete with store on the ground floor. But, the 4th floor room is heated and a bath with hot-water shower. Plus, a 'free continental2' breakfast. What a difference a day makes! What a difference a larger city in China makes so far as sophistication goes.

Later we went out to accomplish some 'city' tasks: money/bank, China Mobile, laundry 'shop,' food supplies (sugar, dry milk powder, yoghurt, etc.) shopping and tried to find a 'high-pressure' hose to wash our very dirty bicycles. But, as I suspected none in 'city center' (zentrum in German towns).

At a Bank of China branch I withdrew money from a window (no ATMs in this city, at least readily available--we'd gone to two). Next door, I had my hair cut, to rock 'n' roll music (very 'hip' China is becoming)!

While Tom took care of China Mobile business I waited outside on the sidewalk attracting a crowd of nearly thirty curious Chinese! No, I didn't take my clothes off--just an older anglo on such a bicycle draws attention in China. I felt like some kind of movie star!

The Chinese are fascinated with 'lowei' (foreigners). But, they were all kind, and generous with phrase! 'Wo ai Zhonguo!' I repeated, and I mean it, 'I love China!' One Chinese man yelled, 'Wo ai Meaguo!' Or, 'I love America! How kind they all are, with their curious, yet shy, children.

Finally, Tom appeared and was able to explain what we're doing. I had passed out some material, even signed a few autographs (in Chinese, no less), but I wasn't able to answer their questions.

I'm getting to the point where I'd really like to be able to speak Chinese, as try to enlighten!

If you feel unsafe in cities in the U.S. (the West), come to China! There's none of that paranoia, or tension on the street here! I feel absolutely safe anywhere. Now, there are thieves for sure, con artists for sure, but such is the nature of a culture 'exploding' with capitalism!

I had to part a crowd to get away, as we needed to return to the hotel. Tom was expecting his younger brother Xu Gang.

Xu Gang is studying Traditional Chinese Medicine at a local college.

Back at the Dukepu Hotel (so happy I can remember the name) Tom found a laundry in the neighborhood and we dumped much! Note, you can't carry much clothing on a bicycle, so have to do the laundry regularly. But, ironically, the Chinese only do 'hot water' laundry at home. There are 'cleaning shops,' for 'dry cleaning,' but no laundramats as we know them in the West. Thus, challenging to locate a shop that will do 'hot water' laundry. Sometimes I just do it myself in my room, but the drying, where to hang?

On the way back to the hotel, I stopped and purchased some food items.

Back in my room I met Xu Gang (with Xu Tan), and we discussed the next day's plan cycling over (25KM) to Xi'an (on Saturday). Tom wants to visit his parents. We need to visit the Giant Bicycle Shop to give them a flag ('Bicycle China Olympics'), and the usual shopping. I need some cycling glasses, as #312 very dusty/dirty in this part of China.

After the boys departed for dinner, I too a good hot-water shower, and bed by 2100 hours. Here we're cleaning everthing: body, clothing, bicycles, and boots!

Such is the nature of life on the 'road!'

Thursday, November 16, 2006

171106 about 100KM to Xi'an

Some cycling days are pleasant, others are not. Yesterday, was pleasant until the last hour. We ended up slogging through a muddy mess, and I lost my glasses. On the otherhand, we had heat in our hotel room. Today, not so pleasant from the very start: wet, muddy madness, and the traffic insanity (an army of trucks)!

At one point we had to walk through a 1,283M tunnel on a 30-inch wide walk way, this inches from trucks going 80KMPH. And the noise... Deafening! I thought I might make a mis-step, and fall into the traffic lane, killed instantly by some passing bus or truck!

And then going through the construction detours... Fighting the traffic. At one point I contemplated taking the train from Xi'an to Shanghai (some 1,600KM / 1,000 miles). When it ceases to be fun, then why do it? And today was not fun!

Except there are the little things that make up for all the 'shit.' We stopped in some village to have lunch, and I got to play with a 9-year old Chinese girl. So cute, they are! This one with braids, so shy.

Then up and up, again for the third time! James Zhu was entirely wrong about what we faced going south from Pingliang. He said at 73KM there were some mountains, then down all the way to Xi'an. So far we've been over three ranges of hills, and still have 100KM to Xi'an.

People just don't know! It's amazing how little people know about their surroundings, and I'm not talking just about Chinese people, but all people everywhere.

I generally ask two questions when first in a new community: One, what is the population, and secondly, what is the elevation? Invaribly, local citizens don't know.

In China, information about distances is wrong most of the time. Today, the highway kilometer markers were wrong (amazing)! Only drivers have any idea.

Elevation...? Forget it, 'What's that?'

And the maps you can buy in China are generally inaccurate. So, the most challenging thing about cycling in China, besides dealing with the 'honking madness,' is getting good information and finding your way.

After an arduous day today, compared with yesterday, we stop in a town (name?) at 84KM. It was 1700 hours / 5P.M., and I'd had enough. It was a stressful day, and I was looking for a nice warm hotel room. Sorry, 'this is a poor town!'

We ended up checking 7 hotels (a new record), before giving up, and checking into a 'fleabag,' for 30RMB per. No heat! But, atleast no KTV! Worse, the big, fancy hotel, had both KTV (a karioke bar) and no heat for 90RMB. I mean are people that stupid? Yes!

I finally figured it out... You can't assume your room will be heated in most of the hotels (as not frigid enough)--it hasn't dawned on me until now. If there's not enough guests to warrant the expense they don't fire up the boiler (as all are on radiated steam). It costs too much.

'Yes, Virginia,' there's go(0)d news and bad news about capitalism!

I'm wondering now what I'm going to do in the smaller communities (on the way to Shanghai), as I like a heated hotel room (besides a hot shower). Maybe buy an electric heater and travel it on my bicycle!

I don't mind being cold outside, but I don't like it inside! Thus, I burn my little butane camping stove in my room. Don't worry, there are few smoke alarms in Chinese hotels. The 'Fire Department' will not becoming.

Which reminds me... I don't think I've ever seen a Chinese fire truck...?

For those lowei planning to visit China. If you like the amenities, best not to venture down further than a four-star hotel, especially if you like a heated hotel room, or a hot shower.

We gotta make that money!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

161106 in some town 120KM southeast of Pingliang on #312

We're 1,753KM from Shanghai, the sign read coming into this town(?). This on a rain-soaked and muddy highway, the honking madness of Chinese streets and highways making it less than pleasant. This will ultimately drive me from China.

But, we set three 'records' yesterday:

1) Fastest morning (before stopping for lunch): 71KM in four hours! And I don't how? It was downhill and the highway smooth with a nice wide bicycle lane. I'm not sure about the wind, as seemed negligible. It might have been our day of rest in Pingliang (feeling strong). But, the 'record,' 18KMPH average, and stopping the usual number of times.

2) 50KM without stopping (after lunch), in 3 hours (the last hour in the rain).

3) 15KMPH average for the 8-hour day. We covered 120KM in just 8 hours (this including some hills and up for one hour).

In the morning in Pingliang, it looked like rain, so I got out my gaiters (leggings that keep the water from getting down into your shoes; boots in my case). I didn't put them on, however. A week ago I put them on, and it didn't rain. Yesterday, I didn't put them on, and it did rain! Such is the nature of my stupidity... Sometimes you can't win for losing! Thus, my cycling 'tights,' got muddy from the knees down!

We were a muddy mess by the time we arrived in our 'sleeping town,' (name?) and found a hotel. Mud splattered on everything, mostly Ms. Fiets! But, such is the nature of tour cycling. You have to be prepared for anything kind of weather. If only I could get it right, and wear the right thing at the right time.

We had a nice lunch in the 'Wangmu Palace' town. A Chinese woman bought our lunch, as unusual. She's selling long underwear... I didn't understand, but she seemed slightly different than most Chinese women. For one thing her hair was short (all Chinese women wear their hair the same, roughly: long, in a 'ponytail'). When I asked her (through Tom) about the prominent building on the hill (I could see out the restaurant window), she had an excuse about not living in this town very long, and a that 'this was a place where a famous woman from the sky had lived.' Thus, I became curious. But, it turned out, upon later investigation, this is the Wangmu Castle (of the Han Dynasty). See images in the Gallery.

Later Tom described this woman as 'strange,' as her story kept changing!

We went onward, and up over a 'pass,' not very high, but for some reason difficult (20KM of up). Then on top we stayed on a 'plateau' (it didn't go down).

On the windward side of these hills came the rain, and then the muddy highway.

Today, onward to Xi'an, now only 185KM.

We are now in Shanxi Province, Tom's home Province!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

131106, Tuesday and only three days from Xi'an, Shanxi Province. Westerners know this city as it's near the 'Terocatta Soldier' exhibit.

Where are we? What day is it? You lose 'track out here!'

We're in Pingliang, a city in northeastern Gansu Province, on highway#312. This city, the home of our good friend James Zhu (Zhu Zhizuda), his wife and son. He teaches English in a middle school. We met on the train, going from Langzhou to Urumqi, more than one year ago. When he found out we were cycling east on highway #312, he said we must stop and visit him!

After a cold, windy morning, up hill we were 'blessed' when a 'bay-feng machine' carried us along in the afternoon (ah, so easy gliding along at 30KMPH)--thus, the day half challenging, and half a pleasure.

The preceding day we had cranked some 107KM to a village for the night. We ended up in one of those 10KM rooms with chicken bones and cigarette butts on the floor. But, I was snug in my sleeping bag. Tom a had room all to himself upstairs. The advantage of this kind of overnight sleeping is they're usually on the ground floor, and you just wheel your loaded bicycle right into the room. Then in the morning you can clean your bicycle on a dirty cement floor without feeling guilty!

Most times in hotels, you have to lug it all up three flights of stairs. Of course, in the larger cities, like Langzhou, Shanghai, etc., they have 'elevators.'

Here in Pingliang, we're allowed to have our bicycles in the room, but had to 'hump up' all up one flight of stairs, Ms. Fiets on my shoulder.

We arrived yesterday afternoon, having cranked 75KM, / 45 miles, a short distance, but an arduous morning. We had to climb over 'Mao's Mountain,' (2.900M ASL) and through a 2+KM long tunnel! This against a cold wind and treacherous traffic!

The tunnel, an old one on this old highway, was poorly lite and dangerous. We'd been told by one of the 'clerks,' we couldn't cycle through. But, when I had Tom explain (lights and experience), he said he would ask his 'leader' (boss). The word came back that we could go on our bicycles (they probably didn't have an alternative). I almost wish they'd said 'no,' as at one point, where there was little light, nor discernable white line painted on the surface, I though I might hit the side wall and crash! I had to stop, and luckily, as a large truck decided to pass (coming into the opposite lane), and we had to hug the wall as it passed maybe one meter away, honking as it went! Even Tom got angry at this driver!

I've complained about Asian traffic before, but here's another example of the 'madness!' Now, money (time) 'God,' thus we have to rush in order to keep our job (making the deadline) and make more money (for the family)! Always 'more,' in Capitalism, which ultimately will destroy civilization as we know it (thank God!).

In the meantime, I'm privy to many truck and bus accidents where people are killed. Maybe this is 'good,' as it helps to keep the population down! You just hope you're not one of them!

Chinese people wonder why I refuse to take buses. To explain always I describe the accident we witnessed outside of Kashigar one day, where 31 people were killed (when it careened off a bridge and into a river). You could see bodies dangling limp out of the windows as a crane pulled the bus up from the river.

Just two days back we cranked past a large truck on its side, another scene of death and destruction. I didn't even stop to capture an image of, and I don't know why. Later Tom wondered why not? I actually should stop and 'capture,' as a reminder to those that think these highways are less than 'mean!' Trust me, they're deadly! Note, 3,000 people (average) die EVERYDAY on Chinese steets and highways.

I worry about Tom more than me (as I've lived a life), but he's 23-years old!

The Chinese don't seemed concerned, as life to them is different than to us Westerners. If you get killed, you were just unlucky and nothing to do to prevent such. Thus, Tom rides unconcerned in the traffic lane all the time, causing the drivers to honk! This is the Chinese 'style,' the lowly claiming the highway and streets as it they were their living rooms.

To give you an idea as to the Chinese mentality... When I mention this idea of 'the highway like their living room' they laugh... No other response!

I don't know how close we were to getting killed in 'Mao's Tunnel,' but close enough for me!

On the north side of the tunnel we stopped and rested (with two of the Swiss riders who'd passed us inside). On this side of the mountain a colder wind, plus the added chill from the speed of going down hill so fast. This penetrated my worthless gloves, freezing my hands. But, we always continue, as what to do. You can stop and warm up, but it seems to get warmer the lower you go, so always we continue.

At the 'bottom,' we stop in a village and have lunch. There's nothing like hot food and drink when cold (and stressed). They have a coal-burning (all do) stove, and we move our table next to it.

Here's we're beseiged with curious childen, me remarking to Tom, 'They must not get many 'lowei' (foreigners) here. The children peek through the window and crowd at the door to glimpe, making me feel like Paul Newman! At one point I go outside and shake hands with those who aren't afraid. Most retreat, as too shy.

Tom, a young Chinese man, and me (an older American man) must present a very unusual spectacle to the rural Chinese. Two people in bicycle helmets and strange clothing, riding loaded exotic bicycles (they've never seen before).

Always, like children, they must touch (the tires, squeezing the brakes, lifting to see how heavy). Me always having to say, 'No, no!' and having Tom explain, that Ms. Fiets is no ordinary bicycle, but more like my 'wife,' and thus please... 'Don't touch!' Of course, they probably can't fathom such. But, I love to confuse, or otherwise befuddle people with different ideas (the only way they can 'grow').

Wake up, world!

If there's one thing I notice about Chinese people is their inability to try new things. To try eating differently, or even to think differently. They've been indoctrinated too long! They do everything the same way, everyday. They dress the same, the men, the women all wear their hair the same. They all eat noodles everyday. The men smoke cigarettes and fuck prostitutes. They gamble while their wives work and have babies!

Wake up, Chinese women!

Interesting I have such respect for all women, and only for a few men!

I've certainly 'invaded' Tom's mind with new ideas, unknown to him before we met. He certainly will turn out differently than his Chinese contemporaries having met me! Not that I'm so great, just because I'm outspoken about 'my truth!' I speak about the world, and how he must open his mind to it! 'It's a big, wide, and wonderful world out there!' I tell him.

China may be the 'middle of the world,' ('Middle Kingdom'), but there's so much to see, hear, and learn 'out there!' China has actually been 'hurt' by its insular nature (there's nothing beyond worth knowing).

I always illustrate by drawing a Chinese person's life on a piece of paper. A small 'box,' representing the Chinese person's life, and then a larger circle surrounding it, representing Haqi's world! I tell them, 'Come out into my world!'

Once in Pingliang we stop to call James Zhu (the plan). He's teaching one of his classes and we have to wait sitting on a wall at what I thought was 'People's Square' ('triangle' in this case). Soon his wife appears.

While we wait for James we tell her we'll check into a hotel, and call them when settled (I like time alone.). But, she has different ideas accompanying us. We try two hotels, but both less than ideal. I suggest the one I saw riding into town and we're about to depart when James appears. His 'Headmaster,' a woman, has allowed him to greet the 'important visitor' from America.

Again, we explain, and crank off to the hotel (name?), but we aren't in our rooms long when James appears.

We have a reunion of sorts, as it's been a long time since we have been together (in Urumqi). After we departed one year ago there's been only email. We get 'caught up,' and discuss a 'plan,' as we're staying two nights, before departing for Xi'an. He also has a chance to get to know 'Tom,' as he can speak Chinese (even their local dialect). James says 'they're neighbors,' as Shanxi Province and this area of Gansu has a common dialect.

I mention our three Swiss cyclists are also staying the day in Pingliang. This is superfluous information, as it doesn't 'compute.'

So many times, when I think I'm revealing something useful, there's no response, as the Chinese think slightly differently than us. I had thought, here's an opportunity for him to invite English speakers to his English classes, and for the Swiss boys to partake of a Chinese family (which they've mentioned they would enjoy). But, I think it too much having Tom and me here.

One of my 'jobs,' in life is connecting people... I'm always trying, especially when they are of different cultures. The idea behind... Let them partake of their similarities, not their differences!

I'm always telling Tom, the difference isn't that I'm American and he's Chinese, but that I'm 66-years old, and he 23-years young! I also say, 'There are good Americans and bad Americans, good Chinese, and bad Chinese. The difference isn't political boundaries/cultures, but 'good and bad,' 'yin and yang!'

James escorts us to his flat for dinner. Here we meet his 14-year old son (name?). He speaks a little English. We sit at a round table and partake of his wife's cooking. Tom has told them (on my behalf) rice and simple food. I particularly enjoyed the garlic 'stems,' as thought they were some other kind of vegetable. When Tom mentioned he loves noodles (like all the Chinese) she got up and cooked him (and them) some noodles (I think they weren't eating out of respect to my rice).

I've tried to teach Tom about food and nutrition, something completely new to him. How, processed noodles aren't as 'powerful' as unprocessed rice! That we feed our minds and not our bodies, and this is the reason we become ill!

After dinner they want to take us on a tour of Pingliang. I suggest a taxi. They suggest we walk. I'm into walking, but I had no idea the size of Pingliang and I was cold and tired. It's huge, probably 2 million people (they never know such things).

We walk, and we walk, and the city gets bigger and more sophisticated every 100 meters until I'm impressed. It's quite a City. I've been fooled again! Ever heard of Pingliang? Of course, not! You're maybe heard of Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, but Pingliang, I doubt it. Even Tom, who grew up 400KM away didn't know much about it. The Chinese, 90% of them, very local minded.

Once a factory city, Pingliang is now agriculture supports it. But, there must be something else, as too 'cool,' too 'hip,' to be just a bunch of farmers.

We find a really good youghurt, there's dry milk powder, and hydrogen peroxide. All of which I replenish my supply with. When travelling in China (especially on a bicycle), you buy when you see it! And I can tell you, you won't find these things in a Chinese village, or town.

Before coming to Pingliang, I had said to James in a email message, 'Book us at a hotel near your flat!' He and his wife didn't book any hotel for us, as they probably don't understand staying in hotels (our needs). But, look what happenned--we ended up practically 'next door' to where they live. James B. Feeney at work again!

After tea, I manage to crawl into a nice bed and sleep (maybe)!

Monday, November 13, 2006

121106 Ah, what a difference a day makes!

The night in the 'trucker's motel,' was O.K., except for the noise of course. The day before, impossible!

The Chinese love noise, whether it be a loud human voice, or firecrackers going off. They scream at each other. I think they all have a hearing problem. They even snore loudly to irritate you!

And 'courtesy,' not a word in the Chinese dictionary, except in terms of the Confucian philosophy. There is a 'private,' courtesy (once they know you're important). But, public courtesy is non-existent! You're 'shit' on the street~! The traffic an example!

They've 'sold their souls to the devil,' like the rest of the world! Now, money (thus time) is God! And thus, they rush around like on fire! That means competing for space, as the country is grossly over-populated (they think normal--Tom laughs when I mention it).

Thus, I'll either have to locate a remote place in China to 'hide,' or move to another country (the latter more likely).

We had a very good day cycling yesterday, some 95KM, this to a large town ('Huining' where 'Mao came 70 years ago,' to confer with two other Communist leaders, his brother for one.)

We stopped at a little store, and engage the proprietor in some conversation (or Tom does). We take his 'picture' with Tom. I 'capture' one of a young girl with baby inside. More than a 'snapshot,' I like the lighting (from the door).

This part of Southeast Gansu reminds me so much of Northern Mexico! Check out some of the images at www.cyclingpeace.org/gallery

We also met Yannik, a young (36-years of age) cyclist from Switzerland. He and his two 'buddies' have cycled all the way (7,000KM in six months) from Europe.

We had stopped for an early lunch in a village, this after coming down from the first 'pass,' or hill (can't call these mountains, as not that high). I was cold for some reason (hadn't eaten breakfast). I was also hungry.

We looked for rice, but none, until the last one, and they had 'mi fan.' If no rice, I don't eat.

Here there was a shy little (maybe 8-years old) Chinese girl, I played 'peek-a-boo' with. So cute, Chinese children!

We had finished and were sitting sipping our tea when in walked Yannik, a husky guy with shaved head (and no headgear). He had seen our bicycles out front. He said he had separated from his 'partners' as they wanted to take the Expressway (bicycles not allowed). He would meet up with them in the same 'town' (Note: There's village, town, city and capitol designation in China depending on the population. A 'town,' is pretty large, Langzhou, a P.C. huge, and Shanghai beyond dealing with!).

After interviewing him for our video, we all set out together.

He has a Swiss bicycle, with a professional-looking travelling 'set-up.' Ortlieb bags, front and rear, and a removable 'handy box' riding on the 'headset,' complete with map 'window.' On the otherhand, he never cleans his chain/gears.

We're, both Tom and I, look more like the 'Grapes of Wrath,' on the road. Yet, I clean 'Ms. Fiets' chain every morning!

I had explained to Yannik, as I know younger men, 'we're 'slow.'' But, he was very thoughtful, and stopped for us all along the way.

Tom kept us on #312, and up another 'hill range' we went, stopping to 'capture images,' along the way.

Yannik turns out to be a nice guy! He's always checking to see where we are, as he's much faster than we (atleast me).

At one point I tried to 'capture' an image of him way up ahead having stopped. Tom yelled (to 'pose'0, but instead of realizing what we were doing he came down 500M to see if we needed something. So, he got to 'do' the hill twice!

Later in the afternoon I stopped at #312's '2007KM' marker. These are manmade 'stones,' set next to the highway, and every KM on most Chinese highways. I had Tom 'capture' several images of me and Ms. Fiets at the marker, as I want to send a 'Happy New Year' greetings to people. Of course, the Chinese Government had something else in mind... They measure all distances from Beijing. So, at this point we were 2007KM from Beijing! Who ever thought it might be a '2007 Happy New Year card?'

We arrive at the 'town,' ('Where Mao Zedong came 70 years ago!' according to Tom). This our preplanned goal for the day around 1700 hours (with light to spare). This some 100KM distance from last night's village, the last 10KM or so struggling against some 'nan' (south) feng (wind).

Yannik had stopped ahead of us and tried to call his two cycling partners, but they're weren't answering. So, he decided to follow us, Tom now in quest of the night's hotel. But, amazingly, who are waiting at the entrance to the town, but Yannik's cycling buddies ('Jerome' and brother?).

So, we all follow them to a hotel where they'd checked in earlier. Turns out they got off the 'high-speed' expressway, and joined #312 ahead of us all. Note, Yannik didn't want to take the Expressway (wisely). He ended up meeting us!

Tom and I get a room next to theirs on the 4th floor (100RMB / $12U.S.). Tom went for an early dinner, but I waited to meet 'the boys,' at 1930 hours (Europeans like to eat dinner later). I'm usually heading for bed at this time, but made an exception for these three Swiss cyclists--I wanted to hear their stories. They seem like interesting people, and oh... To have a sophisticated English conversation is needed every once in a while (living in Asia).

I find out that one of the brothers, Jerome is starting a shipping business in Shanghai (his girlfriend already living there). We exchange 'contact' information, as they want some help from us (travelling to Shanghai)! We' re all going down the same highway #312 to end up in Shanghai-town in December. They after cycling some 10,000KM from Europe (in six months), Tom and I a mere 6,000KM (in three months).

Back in Tom's and my room I get online and check my email!

Afterwards, I take a hot-water bath! Oh, glorious until I hear the whailing of a male voice trying to sing a popular song. I know immediately what and where (KTV on the floor above!)! I'm... I'm angry, I didn't think we'd be stupid enough to make this mistake again! I shout to Tom already in bed! He opens the bathroom door and hands me a fresh towel. He calls the front desk and threatens to call the police! Amazingly, it works, and the 'noise,' lessens!

I'm actually able to go to sleep, even with the 'honking madness' wafting up from the busy street below!

Chinese hotels... They can't get the plumbing right to save their souls (the water won't drain from the tub)! The hot water machine leaks all over the floor/rug.

KTV franchises (karioke bars) are in many Chinese hotels! Prostitutes call your room, to check and see... Chinese hotels... I should write a novel!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

101106 First day out of Langzhou, and near disaster!

Might as well been Friday the 13th, as what happened to us! This probably the worst cycling day we've had in two months. The previous day , wonderful in comparison. Such is the nature of travelling, one good day, the next day, near disaster--you never know! I always say one and the same prayer before going, 'Please Master, Lord, and God, protect us from harm and evil!'

Langzhou was maddening to me, as huge (overpopulated), congested, and the traffic insane (the Chinese just take the madness as normal. I want out of it!)!

After breakfast in the 'Banquet Hall,' (at this very good hotel, if you're ever in Langzhou, the ) we departed to accomplish 'tasks,' including banks, money, and finding the Giant Bicycle store. Since Langzhou is a Provencial Capitol (of Gansu), I wanted to drop off a flag and promote, 'Bicycle China Olympics.'

But, finding things in a new city... Even the 'Band' of Agriculture difficult (on an advertisment that made us laugh) Note, I'm told by 'Tom,' the same things over and over again: 'That this 'Band' is everywhere, in every city, town, and village, and that Langzhou is very old!.' But, after asking, and asking, guess what? We can't find, as nobody knows. Finally, after I have Tom ask at the Bank of China, we find one! Here I wait outside while Tom transfered money into Jainghai's account in Shanghai so he can pay China Unicom.

The telephone number for the Giant Bicycle store is incorrect, so what to do? With the help of a store proprietor, Tom gets the number and calls, getting directions. But, since we're new he must stop and ask several times for help (always a long conversaton--guessing Chinese an inefficient language?). At least the Giant store was in the direction we were going, to highway #312 (our highway to Pingliang and Xi'an). Otherwise, I would have 'blown it off!' Langzhou way too large, to start searching all over the city!

What is frustrating tour cycling (unfamiliar countries and cities) is getting good information (directions, distances) from local people. In China, it's even more so, for me in a country where I don't speack the language. Thus, I must operate through 'Tom,' who is inexperienced, although learning about such. But, he had gotten the number and street so we pursued. Crazy, but the numbers decrease going away from the city center, rather than increase (as we assume in the west). Arryyyh!

But, finally we get there and make friends with the woman (on duty?) and a good mechanic. Additionally, we purchase a new 'saddle,' and 'horns' (extensions to the handlebars) for Tom's Giant bicycle. Total cost, 130RMB, or $15U.S. I record the installations on video! We depart having made many friends (mission accomplished).

By now, however it's 1130A.M., and we have (I thought) 90KM to get to a town for the night (as planned). I'm big on plans.

But, trying to find highway #312, from the center of the City... Maddening! We must have stopped and asked ten people. No signs either! And the street, so narrow, with so much traffic! I'm amazed we weren't killed actually, as it was complete chaos (normal to the Chinese)! But, I follow Tom, as this is his job (getting us out of towns, and to hotels)--I 'lead' once on our highway.

But, poor Tom, wasn't having his best day. I suspect Mars is in retrograde?

At one point I have to stop him from getting us on the Expressway (no bicycles allowed). Then instead of turning to go out of town, he heads back into Langzhou!

Then the worst of it! Detours and because of construction, and worse, on a bicycle, all going up hill! Detours, dust, dirt, mud, bumps, traffic like in a pingball machine!... I must be insane travelling on a bicycle in China!

By now, our nerves are on edge, as we've argued several times (had before but never so intense)!

Up a hill there's a detour to the left, a cloud of 'pingball' dust!

Always looking for a better way, avoiding dangerous detours, I decide to go straight and see if the regular highway (under contruction) is passable. Note, we've done this many times in the past, and it's worked out, as bicycles, versus motor vehicles, can negotiate the barriers and ride atop new pavement with no traffic. But, not today. In fact, this is like bouncing up and down on a trampoline! I think of my MacBook in my backpack behind me.

Worst, when I stop Tom informs me our Panasonic camcorder has fallen out of his backpack (which, like me, straps ontop of other 'luggage' on bicycle! What? Where? Somewhere on this dirt path, I'm relieved as no traffic? No, he says down a hole! A hole? I'm stuplified, as there are none that I can see!

Now, the next you're not hardly going to be able to believe! It had fallen down a manhole! What are the odds? Well, I thought it was gone, lost forever, a $1,000U.S. camcorder.

We quickly lay our bicycles down and walk back to the open manhole. Looking down some, 2 meters (roughly 7 feet) we see lying on the ground in the hole below! I'm stunned! But, to his credit, Tom crawls down into the hole and retrives it, this little silver device with its intricate electronics, dirty, and slightly brusied. I thought to myself, it's won't work! But, Lord almighty, our guardian angels were with us (conteracting the evil ones), as not only does it work, but nothing much seems damaged. I think it fell (hit) right on the battery (as the dirtiest)--but atleast two meters, and onto rocks...?

I can tell you at this point, my bicycle helmet is off to Panasonic, and this is a hardy little camcorder (that I'm now going to advertise to the world!)! Can you image a sensitive electronic device falling into a manhole at a construction site, and surviving? The fact we could retrieve it from the hole (no water)! I'm still amazed!

What a crazy incident, maybe the most bizarre of the trip so far!

We retreat to the detour, as it's the only way to get on the highway. But, what a mess, this detour, a cloud of dust, rocks, not wide enough to accomodate bicycles! Not only do with have to ride through dust like powder one moment, rocks the next, mud the next, we have to dodge an 'army' of vehicles that won't budge or defer to you (on a bicycle no less) for a moment! I'm so angry at the drivers I start screaming! 'Fucking bastards!!!'

Additionally, when I tell Tom to walk, he says no he's going to ride. Well, that was the wrong thing to say at the wrong time, as I stop and read him 'the riot act!' I screamed, 'Then you can ride right back to Urumqi!' and not with me! He decides to walk. Things went from bad, to worst, to unpleasant!

The detour, uphill, one of the worst situations I've ever been through on a bicycle! But, somehow we keep going and make it up the hill and onto pavement. Once on pavement, things improve, until we reach a place where we can safely stop.

Here I have a 'heart to heart' chat with Tom, holding our bicycles, standing next to the highway (truck-honking madness). I told him (nicely) he had two choices... I explained the situation, as I feel responsible for his life ('out here'). He can cycle with me, only if he does what I tell him. Or, he can ride alone! I made sure he understood! He didn't say much, except that 'he understood' and then followed me.

Interesting about young people (including me when I was young), they always know best! It's a form of rebellion! Tell, recommend, or suggest something to Tom, and he does just the opposite, takes another route, rides when I walk, walks when I ride... This is interesting to witness, as I don't think he does it to spite, but just unconsciously rebels (as I did)! On the otherhand, he also has picked up and adopted some of my better habits too. Anyway, we got things straight between us and went on down the highway!

We cranked to the top of a hill where we stopped for lunch (now 1330 hours). We'd only gone maybe 20KM since departing the hotel at 0900--that's something like 4KMPH!). But, I was hungry, and I thought wise to stop, rest, and clear the air (of more than dust).

After 'chao mi fan' (fried rice) we departed an hour later. It's now 1430 hours and I know we're going to have to ride like crazy to make our '90KM village' even in the dark (don't like being 'out there' after dark).

Somewhat rested and calmer, we start out again, now on a highway atleast pavement (although #312, very old, also lumpy). We buy some things at an adjacent store, Tom a new bottle, as his was lost in the 'detour,' me some 'hua son,' (sounds like, or in English 'peanuts'). I know how to say 'peanuts,' and 'garlic' in Chinese Pinyin (of course, the Chinese never recognize, as all pronounciation).

I also know how to say, 'I love, China!' too (Wo ai Zhongua!') which Chinese also don't recognize, until Tom says! I'm going to learn how to say, 'I don't love Chinese traffic!'

On we go and over the first range of hills, the sun now on the wane. It's up and up (slow), and down, and down (fast). For some reason this are of Gansu reminds me of Nepal...?

At one point, another indication that Mars or Mercury is in retrograde, an overloaded tractor/trailer (the small Chinese kind) passes me, a too-long branch on the trailer whacked me on the back of my head! This has never happenned before!

Finally, about 1630 hours we reach a junction at a village. I stop to discuss with Tom. Well, guess what? The town I am aiming for, isn't 90KM from Langzhou, but 116KM. Pingliang, our initial goal (to meet friend James Zhu) isn't 312KM (as he's told Tom), but 364KM! So much for people knowing distances.

I learn about our '90KM Town,' as Tom has seen a sign. This came up as at 51KM I'm thinking only 39KM more, but no, Tom tells me it's 68KM more. How can this be? Again, we argue! Why didn't he tell me about the sign? We're not having a good day! Damn both Mars and Mercury!

I have him ask about the next 'sleeping village!' There's one in 20KM. I have him ask which is the best one, the answer... the one up the highway, so off we go! 'This is the kind of information I like!' I tell Tom.

Additionally, it's mostly down hill. So, we cover 20KM in 90 minutes, which is 15KMPH.

We arrive, with just enough sunlight and find a rooms (not a hotel) for the night. Two rooms with two beds each cost 80RMB, or $10U.S. And for all the times we've stayed in villages, these rooms are the nicest!

On the otherhand, they're always up floors, without elevators. What to do with our laden, and dirty, bicycles. We can have them in our rooms. So, we carry them upstairs, me Ms. Fiets on my shoulder. 'No thank you, I'll do it myself,' like a mother carrying her baby to bed!

We don't waste much time with amenities, just having enough energy to discuss the 'morrow, and what time to depart.

Then boiling water on my little stove I have hot tea (my 'comfort food'). Once this accomplished, I do the 'drill,' of unpacking what is necessary and setting up this MacBook, which I'm pounding away on now (Tom has said 'not so hard!').

I'm happy that this computer is still working, for all the bouncing up and down on bumpy #312 (speaking of, 'not so hard!'. I'm thankful to God that we were able to retrive our camcorder from the manhole, and it still works--amazing! I had Tom clean it before he went to dinner!

Praise be to God, that we weren't killed 'out there!' as always just inches from trauma! I can deal with my own death, as I've lived a life, but it would be impossible to deal with Tom's as I tried to explain to him standing next to the 'honking madness!'

As I said, 'It's more dangerous than you realize!'

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

081106 departing Xining; heading east and down...

I'm up at 0530, doing the usual: First hot Haqi's tea (green tea, red berries, (Chinese name?) milk powder, and sugar). Then I take a luke-warm-water shower. Boy, this will wake you up on a cold morning!

I get online, have something to eat, pack, and knock on Tom's door. He informs me we've been invited to eat breakfast with Li Jian's friend. I tell him not this morning, one of departing.

Interesting about Asians (not just the Chinese), they're completely 'spontaneous,' without regard to your time. They'll just show up, or want you to drop what you're doing and meet them. I tried to explain to Tom, I don't deviate from my planned schedule, that people who want to spend time with me, have to make an appointment. What people don't understand is that I value my time over money, which younger people can't fathom.

But, they (husband and wife) come anyway and we meet in the lobby. He works for the Qinghai Government. We made big mistake, however, not capturing an image of them! Ah, when we I be perfect?

Of course, the hotel wanted more money. I told Tom to give them an additional 100RMB, the for bicycle room and electricity (my electric heater).

But, they lose a customer in the process. People are so stupid! They trade little (now) for much (later, we were going to stay there when we return).

Tom goes to have his 'Chinese breakfast,' while I pack Ms. Fiets (after cleaning the chain). We are cranking by 0930, a little earlier than planned. I had thought, incorrectly, that it was 180KM to Longzhou, thus the lplanned 1000 (later start).

It's difficult getting good information from people (not just in China), especially distances in KM, but they rarely say, 'I don't know!' Only bus and truck drivers seem to know (although one confused me about the three passes in the Qilian Shan). And Chinese maps not very accurate.

I explain to Tom you can't make good decisons without good information.

It's easy getting out of Xining and on to highway 109. We 'turned left and then right, and then followed the Yellow (?, as brown not yellow) River (canyon). This is basically a 'transportation corridor' east and west (age old route). This including the 'Expressway' (high-speed, no bicycles), the river and the RR. Note, we're able to video passing trains for the first time.

But, before the canyon, one village after another.

We notice this is the mat-making area. The locals take something growing and turn it into insulating (for warmth) mats, which they put on the roofs of the 'greenhouses' (actually brown huts). We stop and 'shoot' video of such.

But, the congestion in this area... Too many people, vehicles, children, animals, tractors, people parking right on the highway. There's incredible congestion along highway #109 (Tom says is a very old highway). Traffic in China is insanity!

Going through one 'town,' I almost collide with a 'stream' of vehicles turning left (at an intersection) in front of me! I curse them all, and loudly!

There is no courtesy on the streets/highways in Asia! Everyone is in a hurry, and all competing for 'space' ('time')--thus, the danger! It's maddening for me, and will be what ultimately 'drives' me from living in Asia. But, where...?

We stop at a 'town,' at some non-descript 'restaurant,' and have a better than usual lunch (in the sun) for 'nothing.' Chinese restaurants, most of the time, are good! Can't say the same about Chinese hotels.

After lunch, we went down (some up) the Yellow River canyon, the highway here even more dangerous, as narrow. The shoulder, full of debris, so even more dangerous as you have to ride on the edge of the traffic lane. There are sheer 500M drop offs to the river below with no guard railing.

The last 20KM is filled with factories, most making cement or coal.

We're beginning to experience an industrial part of China, thus congestion and pollution. Good bye clean air, bright sunlight, and blue skies. People wonder why I prefer western China...

We ended up in 'second town' (?) at 1730, 115KM in eight hours. This is an average of 14.4 KMPH, and a good average. Our fastest, something like 16KM with the 'si feng engine.'

But, off a loaded bicycle for one week, hadn't done my legs any good. Sometimes I felt like I was struggling.

And then there's the 'shit' you have to deal with...

I remember a piercing sound, a man pounding on a wheel rim.

I remember being doused with coal dust when passing a 'FIL' dumps a load of coal into a truck. I cycle through the black 'cloud.' Later, looking in the bathroom mirror, I discover a black line above my eyes. Welcome to eastern China.

We check into the first hotel, in the second town (recommended by Li Jian's friend) we see, and this turns out to be a big mistake (the hotel). Only, 50RMB per room, as there's a reason (they don't us about). After we unload and get into our rooms, we discover no water. Tom complains. No action.

Because there are so many people (customers) in China, the customer isn't much concerned with... You don't like, 'tough!'

Then the worst of all! A KTV (Karioke Bar) right above us on the 4th floor--people who can't sing, trying! We're on the 3rd floor, right below. What to do? I put in my ear plugs, Rucha gave me. Tom has to suffer.

We have to get better about asking questions before 'leaping' into rooms. I just wanted out of the 'honking madness!'

Hotels in China, on the lower end, pretty bad. But, we've stayed in some good ones too!

Tomorrow, 110KM to Longzhou, the Provencial Capitol of Gansu.

We're now back in Gansu Province, for the second time!

P.S. Turns out Wong Qing He, our new friend in X. was right. Xining to Longzhou 220KM. Not 180! Had I known, I would have left one hour earlier. But, again, getting good information, a real challenge for those who travel on bicycles.

'Which way?/ we ask many times a day? 'How far to...?'

Monday, November 06, 2006

061106

The days fall like leaves,

Such bitter pleasure,

Life!

F.A. Hutchison

Sunday, November 05, 2006

051106 from Xining

Ah, if only my hotel room was warmer, everything would be perfect in Xining! But, I've learned you can't have everything. We have a hot-water shower, and they lock our bicycles in a regular guest room. So, as I was explaining to Tom, who's tried to get me an electric heater (without success), we don't get everything we want.

Not, that it's that cold here. It's about 4C. in the A.M., getting up to about 18C. in the afternoon. It's just that my hotel room, isn't heated, and I get cold when sitting.

We're trying to accomplish much while in a big city. Yesterday, we went to the computer mart, and bought Mini DV tapes. We're buying movies to watch on the road, vitamins, doing cleaning and laundry, the kinds of things impossible 'out there.' We're also enjoying good food at clean restaurants. We're transferring video to MP4 format to upload to www.youtube.com (so you can watch some of what we've been doing). We're cycling around Xining, trying to learn about it, make friends, promote 'Bicycle China Olympics.'

But, the traffic and aggressiveness of taxis and buses, has me yelling epithets again. The honking madness of Asian traffic will be the thing that drives me out of here, if not insane before!

It has to do with competing for space, a simple concept, not yet a problem in the west (but coming). There are so many 'things,' competing to 'get there' in a hurry (as time is money) on the streets of Chinese cities.

So, let me describe what happens when you get the green light and you start to cross an intersection. All the people turning left (coming from the opposite direction) cut across in front of you, so close together, and so many, you must stop and wait (they 'bully' there way through). Sometimes there are ten vehicles sneaking left turns (shallowest of arcs, almost up on the sidewalk), anything to turn left without having to wait! There's absolutely no courtesy on Asian streets, simply because drivers can't afford it! And they're very aggressive! Sometimes I 'play 'chicken' with them just to see, and if I didn't stop I'd get hit!

Today, we crank up a hill, a view point/restaurant/TV tower to get a 'lay of the land.' This with our new Chinese friend, Mr. Wong (avid cyclist).

Tomorrow, I have plans to cycle out to Qinghai University. I want to try to meet some people there, hand out my resume. You never know they may need an 'acting teacher' (just kidding)? Of course, I can always teach English! Although my eighth-grade English teacher, Ms. Rollins (still remember her name) would be aghasted, as I think I got a 'C' in English. Now, here I might be teaching it, as they don't know about 'teaching acting' in Xining (maybe in Shanghai).

Speaking of 'cranking up a hill for a view,' we just returned from 'North Mountain ('Bay Shan' in Chinese). Mr. Wong, our new friend was our guide, and thanks be, as we would have never found the road up to, a labrinth through the city, and then an imposible 'maze,' just before the concrete road they've made up the 'hill.' From the concrete road it was 7 KM distance and up 600M / 1,800 ft. to the top, an arduous climb considering we've been laying around for five days. Mr. Wong, at 33-years of age, and just out of the Army (meaning in physical condition) zoomed up and had to wait for us. We had stopped to 'make magic' (video) at the Buddhist Stupa (half-way up). Plus, I'm in no hurry--have to look the first time anywhere.

Qinghai is reminding me more and more of Nepal (you see crimson-robed monks on the streets of Xining, Buddhist stupas on hills surrounding, just like in Kathmandu)!

I was surprised but what we found at the top of 'North mountain!' Now, wouldn't you think there might be a Buddhist Monastery here, but no, a Roman-designed Garden, complete with statues and relief scultures. In addition, at the very top (you have to walk one hundred meters), there are colonades, and one square-built structure, decorated on the four outside walls with Dragons (of course). But, what I found unusual, there were 'khatas,' (blessing scarfs, and Buddhist 'money' prayers) hanging all over the dragons. This I have never seen before, this 'clashing' of two cultures.

Wonder why I wander around the world...? It's so interesting to me! I felt like I was in a 'movie' this afternoon, wandering around some 'set!'

In the distance (maybe two hundred meters), I beheld a very large, but 'rundown,' building, I immediately get the idea to 'house' www.haaqi.com It would be perfect, up and away from the city. It seemed to invite us to fill it with warmth, creativity, and laughter.

Then again 'Qinghai Hu' beckons also (as a place to live), some 150KM west of here, China's largest lake!

In the meantime, we gazed at Xining below in a valley, unfortunately filled with industrial air pollution. I would have tried to 'capture,' with our little Panasonic, but backlit by the sun (wrong time of day).

By now we had been joined by two of Mr. Wong's 'students,' two young cyclists full of 'vim and vigor,' my mother described it. While Mr. Wong and Tom, checked out the garden, they did stunts on their bicycles. I thought to myself, this is the difference between the older and the younger. They played jumping games on the steps. They would love skateboards! I was happy to sit in the sun!

At about 1700 hours I thought best to start back. They said to follow them, and Tom and I did, the road down a slightly different route. So fast they went! Me, the old man, bringing up the rear (never in a hurry when on a bicycle).

At the bottom we stopped and gave them each a 'Bicycle China Olympics' flag. The boys, took off for home.

Back in the morass, the honking madness of a large Chinese city, we followed Mr. Wong back to the hotel where we parted. What a nice guy! So many nice people in Xining, in China!

Earlier in the day Tom had gone to the 'KU' video place and had made MP4 files of our videos ('Ling, Ling,' and 'Hello, Rucha!') to upload to youtube.com But, we won't be returning to this 'business' again... As I told Tom later... You meet some good people, and you meet some not-so-good people.

There's something about the type of person, in any country of the world, that goes into the film, video, TV, movie, and/or entertainment business. 99% of them are assholes (me being one of course).

JRP in CS/USA, a prime example! What a nasty couple (Marsha and John) running it (into the ground). They ripped off most of the clients, and several employees. Luckily, they needed me (taught basic acting for four years), and they never bothered me much. Or, I'd been outta there fast! But, in the four years there I saw the same ole insanity I had in L.A. and N.Y.C. years earlier! What is it about the entertainment industry?

This question based on some 48-years in the industry (all over the world). Why is this? 'Show biz' attracts the unconscious, the 'monster ego,' people who need constant reassurance that they have 'value!' Beyond that, I'm not sure. There are many 'hustlers' in the industry, as it's a 'gold-rush' business (meaning you can get rich overnight)! Most are arrogant! And I have mixed emotions about getting involved with it again (in China with www.haaqi.com)! I'm the one that's insane (to try yet again)!

We're doing our little video about our cycling adventures. That's fun enough!

Two more days in Xining, and then we 'hit the highway' again east. On to Longzhou, the Provencial Capitol of Gansu Provence. The Xi'an, then...

Every day, every crank of the bicycle wheel brings us closer to Shanghai! Talk about 'honking madness!' Returning there, a city of 22-million people, proves I'm insane! But, I must to extend my visa! Otherwise...

Saturday, November 04, 2006

021106 in Xining, Qinghai Province, China

As I have so much,

Some will have something!

As I eat so well,

Some will not starve!

As I am clothed and warm,

Some will not be cold!

As I am loved,

Some will feel mine!

As I am touched,

Some, I will touch!

In Xining, waiting for Tom to come out of the bank, I wrote the above poem.

I had just given 10 Yuan / $1.25U.S. each, to two 'native' (maybe Tibetan) women, who couldn't thank me enough--it's as if they'd won the 'lottery!'

Later, according to Tom I overpaid for some video work (we made some VCDs). It is my nature, I would tell Tom. I am generous to a fault, for sure! But, others are generous with me, thus I cannot help myself! Such is the 'raison d'tre' of the 'Loving Kindness Fund' Group (which Rotraut Boyens and I started).

In the same 'vein,' as the about poem, a quote from Eurgene V. Debs, a social activist in the U.S. in the early 20th. Century. I'm sure Marty knows the name, as he was a Union organizer:

'While there is a lower class,

I am in it, while

There is a Socialist movement,

I am of it, While

There is one soul still in prison,

I am not free!'

We have been in Xining for two days, and already I'm sure this is the city for me/us in China. It's big, and too many people, but we need the infrastructure to start www.haaqi.com Additionally, it has the 'feel' I like (terrain and weather): much like Colorado Springs, U.S.A.

I will ultimately live out on Qinhai Hu, the largest lake in China. This huge lake, about 100KM west of Xining. I'm eager to get out there and see it, but that will have to wait until we return in February.

I figured it out the 'meaning' of both 'Xi-ning,' and 'Qing-hai,' these Pinyin words, have to do with being in the 'west' something...?

I keep asking the same questions of people when I travel. What the the name of your city mean? Invariably, they don't know. 'What is the population of your city?' 'What is the elevation?' More times as not they fake it. But, I've come close to the truth here, I think about Xining, it's size and elevation at least. A taxi driver said 'two million people' (I think four million more likely). Someone said the elevation is 2,300M / about 6500ft. I'm guessing this is close to accurate!

The weather here in Xining, just like I like, dry and cool, not unlike CS at 6K ft ASL. But, that's where the similarity ends (better Chinese food here! Less noise in CS!)!

We're doing all those things we must, when taking a break from cycling long distances. These, the things that can only be accomplished in a city of the size of Xining (Provencial Capitol of Xinghai). For one, dealing with our video.

Today, we went to transfer some video onto VCDs. One where I say 'Hello to Rucha!' (we recorded on the highway in Gansu Provine). The other our discovery of 'Ling Ling,' a six-year old Han girl in some village, two day's ride back (name?) in Qinghai Province.

We went to a store front place first advertised on the back of the Xining City map, but then we were introduced to a man who turned out to have a relationship with a 'post-production' house. All kinda strange as we really didn't understand at first, but quickly we were following him to his office on the tenth floor of some highrise. Turns out he's an ex phys. Ed. teacher turned photographer/video maker.

Here we were introduced to a bank of computers, and all looked professional (you can be fooled). Besides two guys playing a computer game, there was the owner, and a Tibetan man working on his sister's music video. What was nice, was the view of Xining from this high perch.

If you think getting what you want is difficult in this technical situation (computers/video editing), in English, try getting what you need in a situation where they only understand Chinese.

When I mentioned 'Linux,' and how 'Windows' and Bill Gates is 'N.G.,' all they could do is laugh (after Tom translated). They've never heard of Linux!

It's amazing how roboticized Chinese are! Independent thought has never been fostered in China, and it's obvious the results...

If there's any 'real strenth' left in the U.S. it's cultural, where independent thinking has been allowed (freedom of speech!)!

I watched an American movie last night, one Tom had picked out for me, as his first choices had been 'Tidal Wave,' and other stupidity. I sent him back and he returned with 'Sister Act, #32,' which I'd seen, and 'Princess Diaries,' by Gary Marshall (director).

'Princess Diaries,' which I enjoyed as for seeing any 'movie,' in such a long time was a great example of the 'pap' that 'Hollywood' churns out! A 'romantic comedy' with a happy ending (their favorite genre). But, it was cleverly written, except for one sequence. Formulaic, of course, as this is what sells, another 'tell me again, Daddy story' (fairy tale). The only redeeming quality, was the text of a letter the protagonist/princess reads (from her deceased father) about the challenges of living! I'd actually like to get this text, as instructive to youth. Bravo to the writers (Meg Cabot?) for coming up with this:

'Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement it's more important! The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all!'

I had recommended to Tom to check out a nearby 'video store,' as it might serve two needs. One, I'd get to watch a movie and secondly, we'd have the package/'sleeve,' in which to send our own VCD to friends in other countries.

We learned yesterday that we can't send VCDs to foreign countries (the Government has such a 'strangle hold' on the people here--just like in the U.S!). But, Tom said if we purchased something and have the receipt we can send somehow (has to do with taxes not censureship! Of course, it always has to do with money! Anyway, I thought we could purchase a DVD/movie in this store, but turned out you can only rent.

Thus, I ended up veiwing 'Princess Diaries,' a W.D. production, something I'd never care to see in the U.S. I must confess, however, I did enjoy seeing San Francisco, and partaking of some clever writing! So, all was not lost!

The TV set sits on the floor in my hotel room unplugged. What does that tell you about me? I worked in the medium for years, and now don't watch it! Of course, Tom has it on all the time in his room! I try to educate Tom as to its evils! But, I don't think I've succeeded yet!

We've figured out the solution, however, 'youtube' the videos for those in foreign countries (the Chinese Gov. hasn't figured this out yet). I hadn't looked at www.youtube.com but now have joined (for this reason). We're going to turn our two little video segments into MP4 files, and then will upload to youtube.com Thus, all the world (if hip) will get to see 'Hello, Rucha,' and 'Ling, Ling!'

Ah, the positive nature of simple people, the evil of Governments (the 'monsters' in the world)!

Recently, David A. my writer friend in Tapai (I met in Lhasa, Tibet in '99) sent me the following, as disgusted with what's happening in the world in 2006:

'The blindness of man is his fear to live anew! To be creative requires us to develop new talents and rethink so many conventional patterns of behavior. I myeself feel but a cog in the engine of my crotch-rocket, a la Charlie Chapin, in 'Modern Times!'

Of course, most of you much less seen 'Modern Times,' as know it's about the evils of industrialization (the assembly line). I think David's comment hits it right on the head! 'rethink so many conventional patterns of behavior!' But, we are afraid to 'live anew!'

His thoughts inspired the following poem:

The terrible tragedy of the human race,

Fallen from grace,

Into outer space!

The once was

And for what now?

Existence known

What is to be sown?

The folly of human life

All following the fife;

The drum

Most beaten!

The secret...

To 'no' the 'yes,'

Out 'guess' the rest,

The body not 'hear' for long!

Oh, what a sad song!'

And Shakepeare knew, 400 years ago:

'Out, out brief candle,

Life's but a walking shadow,

A poor player who struts and frets

His hour upon the stage!'

In another million years, timeless to nature, we'll be the mud that keeps the rain out of the 'house,' (if humanity survives that long).

My question, 'When the last homo sapien expires, will we have been here at all?'

So, what's it all about Alfie? It is for each of you to 'no!'

I 'know' for me!

F.A. Hutchison

'Fred' to some,

'Hutch' to some,

'Alexander' to one,

'Haqi' to some,

the 'magic dragon' to some,

in Xining, China

www.haaqi.com