Yesterday, Sunday, Ujwal and I cranked up to Datong, a town some 35KM north of XiNing. I've been there many times now having lived in XiNing seven months. Wow, time does fly like an albatross around our necks! In fact, Xu Tanda and spent one night there last November on our way to XiNing and Shanghai--seems like only yesterday! We ended up in the Datong Hotel, now a common place to rendezvous.
Yesterday, Rucha came too, but in a car ('mit' our driver). Not knowing Datong very well, the only place we knew to meet was the Datong Hotel. So, understanding it would take us roughly two+ hours we headed out long before her.
It was overcast and rainy, but not cold. It's still summer, although you can feel Fall in the air! I love it, the change sensed in the light as well as the temperature. Yesterday on the way reminded me of cycling in The Netherlands where the sun rarely shines (wet and green)--the 'flat' (diffused) lighting saturated colors to the max (see images at www.cyclingpeace.org/gallery/)! The Cosmos flowers (originally from California) are all along the roadways, their shades of violet hues seeming to vibrate.
I had to stop for a toilet break at a service station. Here I taught Ujwal the Chinese characters for male (男) and female (女). Important, as I once made a mistake of surprising of some Chinese women! Whereas there's more 'unisex' in the West the East still highly segregated.
Note, in order to get the correct characters (for 'male' and 'female') you need the 'Pinyin' equivalent, typing 'male' and 'female' doesn't work (you have to know the Pinyin, 'nan' and 'nv'). This is what makes Chinese so daunting for English writers, as there's an intermediary language.
'Pinyin,' the intermediary 'language' between English and Chinese (characters), was created by the French. Once I understood it was the French, I understood why it's so difficult for an English person to figure out--as if the French were trying to get even with us! Somehow most 'Pinyin' names (for Chinese people) begin with 'l,' 'x, y or z.'
Interesting about the Chinese language, names… There are four basic family names (Li, Zhang, Zhou, and Wong). 90% of the Han Chinese population has these names. In fact, 300,000 people in China have the same Chinese name (Zhang Wei)--they should start a club! I joke… 'So many people, so few syllables and names. Note, the Chinese language has but 400 syllables, and thus four 'tones,' invented to stretch them to 1,600. In contrast English has 6-7,000 syllables.
But, I wasn't thinking too much about the Chinese language, as I glided through the rain drops. I was noting the fact it's harvest time here in Qinghai, seeing sacks of carrots piled high. Also, we saw many tractors pulling over-loaded trailers of hay. The 'bee people,' have packed up and gone.
Ujwal, on his first longer cycling trip, seemed to be having trouble keeping up. But, after having cranked to the top of 'Antenna Mountain,' a few days earlier, I was feeling strong and maybe I was going too fast. I asked him at one point, but he said no. I think it must be a bit strange adjusting to cycling in China versus Nepal, where the traffic flows just the opposite (as in the U.K.).
He also has to contend with our 'extra' bicycle, the one I bought for Elia. This is a 24-inch (short size) Giant I paid 2,400RMB / $275U.S. for in Kashigar. Elia, a Chinese girl I met in Kashigar one year ago. One moment, she wanted a bicycle, the next moment retreating home (Fujian Province), never to ride again. Ah, young people not knowing what the want from one moment to the next. I was the exception when I was her age!
Xu Tanda ended up riding Elia's bicycle all the way from Urumqi to Kanas, back to Urumqi, and then all the way to Shanghai, some 7,000KM. So, it did get some good use, the bike now having at least 12,000 kilometers on it! Comparatively, 'Ms. Fiets,' has gone at least 50,000KM.
On the way to Datong the rain came down in a steady drizzle, me wearing shorts. I stopped at one point and put on my 'gaiters,' to keep the moisture out of my shoes. I regretted not bringing long pants and my warmer gloves. Seems like no matter how much experience I have with tour cycling, I always forget something.
A call from Rucha to Ujwal informed us (ah, 'mobiles' sometimes 'handy') she was up waiting for us at the Datong Hotel. She must have passed us on the way (as only one highway), but she didn't say.
I found the Hotel without missing a turn, as we have stayed there twice now. Most recently the courtesy of a Chinese school and our friend, Li Yan ('Swallow).' She is a Chinese teacher, we met through the people at 'our' laundry in XiNing. About two months ago she invited us to attend her school function (some kind of dedication). Thus, we cranked up to Datong the day before and spent the night in the hotel (again).
By the time we got to the hotel Rucha was waiting, sitting in the park (in front of the Hotel).
We tried to find the restaurant 'Swallow' (Li Yan) had taken us to, when we were there last, but after walking for twenty minutes no luck. I had seen a restaurant possibility right next to the hotel when meeting Rucha, so we retreated to it. It was full of groups celebrating (something). Note, Chinese people don't need much to celebrate, just having more now enough!
We sat at a table and tried to order something to eat. Of course, Rucha is not eating these days because of diarrhea (when she travels). But, I think good as she's losing weight! Isn't it interesting how the mind-body works, fulfilling what's needed even if we're not aware, or subscribing to some other cause.
In order to get the food I wanted, I had written the Chinese characters for my favorite 'standby,' a corn dish with pine nuts (送仁余米). Ujwal ordered eggplant, knowing how to say, 'Chisza,' (sounding like, but in Pinyin spelled, 'qiezi'). Chinese cooks know how to cook eggplant (never liked in the U.S.), thus we all love.
But, let us use the 'corn dish,' versus eggplant as an example in trying to write Chinese. You can't just type 'corn dish' into a Chinese-English (online) translator. You have to know the Pinyin equivalent, in this case: 'song ren yu mi' (without inflection/tone marks). Then you put 'song,' and the rest into the translator only to get twenty different options for characters for each Pinyin 'word.' Thus, you have to know the context and recognize the Chinese character to communicate correctly! 'Song,' for example, can mean 21 different things! And Chinese people think English is difficult!
The food had hardly arrived when I was mobbed for autographs! I know this sounds unbelievable, and you'll hardly understand, but Haqi is a local 'celebrity.' The fact I can write, my name, and 'America,' in Chinese makes me 'in demand.' I must have signed 20 postcards. I now know what Paul Newman feels like when out in public. It's a strange feeling actually, knowing you don't really deserve such attention, but nonetheless they ask. Of course, I'd never turn down one, 'honored' that they request.
This always reminds me of a story about Troy Aikman, the Dallas Cowboys quarterback (for many years). I've told this story before, but bare with me if you've heard it.
Way back twenty years ago I had a production company in Dallas. We used to produce the opening interview to 'Monday Night Football!' Normally, when ABC came to Dallas they interviewed Aikman. One time, a woman in the office asked me if I would get his autograph, knowing we'd be with him. Thus, I prepared, with photographs and black marker.
After the interview, before he could slip away I asked Troy if he would mind signing the two photographs. Of course, he was happy too. But, nearby the Associate Producer (wish I could think of this assholes name) fumed! As soon as Aikman was out of 'ear shot,' this guy laid into me like I just committed the most egregious act possible! I was dumbfounded! His tirade continued out into the hallway, where others could hear! It seemed I'd breached some kind of corporate etiquette, which, even to this day, I'm not sure I understand. I can only surmise, that they weren't paying Aikman for this extra work, and my asking was adding to their 'guilt!'
I doubt there will ever be a time in my life where I won't have the time to sign an autograph if asked--for whatever reason!
After lunch, Rucha returned to XiNing, while Ujwal and I went to the Buddhist Monastery (temple complex/tourist attraction) on the hill; this hill looming over the town. I'd wanted to check it out since first seeing it back in November, 06. Little did I know what kind of 'hike' we were getting into. But, it cost little money to enter… the fee a mere 5 允 / .75 cents U.S. each.
Up and up we climbed the stairs, Ujwal reminding me it was like Swayambhunath (famous 'Monkey Temple') in Kathmandu (straight line of stairs up). We should have counted every step, as they seemed never ending. We never got all the way to the summit, as not realizing how high it was and time ran out. But, in the process of trying we got a great view of Datong some 300M below. In addition, I got to partake of some real dirt (most of China under concrete), when I went into the bushes for a toilet break.
Past the Temple building, past the gazebos, past several picnic areas complete with 'snack bars,' up the covered stairs/path we went (see images at www.cyclingpeace.org/gallery/). We stopped to rest several times (mostly for me). Up ahead of us were some Chinese climbers, thus I knew there was someplace 'to go.'
Maybe 60% of the way up I nearly ran out of gas, telling Ujwal to go ahead. Then after some deep breaths got a 'second wind,' and followed. I caught up with him at what I thought was the summit, but guess what, it was only a rest stop/view point. From there we could see the group in front of us 'snaking' their way up stairs seemingly hung on the side of the summit hill. It looked like a time-consuming endeavor, making the summit. I asked Ujwal (Chinese name, 'Wu Zhou') what time it was. Turns out it was after 4P.M., (1600 hours). I knew better to continue, with a 2-hour ride back to XiNing.
So, we 'retreated' back down, this time our knees suffering from the jarring. On the way up it's cardio-vascular stress. On the way down it's stress on the joints.
Down finally to our locked bicycles at 5P.M. (1700 hours) we wasted little time departing for XiNing, some 36KM to the south. Downhill slightly, it's a smooth route for making good time. The only disconcerting thing was the amount of traffic, but we dodged this and that, and it wasn't long (no stops) until we were at Homey's Supermarket (north edge of XiNing).
Of course, I always say the same prayer, when I get on Ms. Fiets, going anywhere: 'Oh God, protect us from harm and evil!'
Labels: My life in Xining, Qinghai Province, China