Kun Ming (Provincial Capitol of Yunnan Province)
We just arrived in Kunming (some times spelled separately ‘Kun Ming’). This, last Sunday afternoon (7th of Dec.), after cycling in from Songming (or Song Ming), a city 50KM / 30 miles north where we had spent the previous night.
We had endured an arduous day before, cycling some 120KM / 72 miles in 12 hours (arriving after dark). Luckily we were on G40, a main highway sometimes an Expressway (4 lanes and wide shoulder for cycling). I think the last 17KM or 9 miles we did in one hour and twenty minutes which is moving on a heavily-loaded bicycle (14KMPH / 9 MPH).
Yesterday, with just 50KM / 30 miles to Kunming it would have been a ‘breeze,’ had the full moon not been at work! First of all, before we got out of the parking lot I discovered a flat rear tire (always the rear tire because of the load). Since we had run out of tubes, Zha yi’er, my hearing-impaired (we used to say ‘deaf’) cycling partner, had to find a shop that patched (we don’t carry a patch kit). Then we forgot my pump, as they are ‘Presta-value’ tubes (two kinds, the other, the older you’re familiar with, Schrader). Presta was invented for the smaller light-weigh pumps. He must have been gone one hour. Then after installing the ‘patched’ tube and the tire/wheel back on the bicycle, the tire sagged again! Chagrined he discovered an overlooked ‘tack’ that had caused it to go flat again! Damn! Thus, he had to change tubes twice before we ever departed the hotel!!
Finally, at 12 noon (two hours late) we left in a hurry to make up the lost time. Unfortunately, in my haste I overlooked a plastic bag full of my rain gear (didn’t realize until that night in my hotel room in Kunming).
One thing I was prepared for on this trip was rain. But, of all the weather we encounter from cold to hot, sunny to foggy, it never rained once!
The last few kilometers into Kunming was going smoothly until I heard Zha yi’er honk his bicycle horn (signaling me to stop). Now, it was his turn to have a flat on the rear tire – three flats in one day! So, there on G40, with an incredible amount of traffic honking at great speed, I recorded (on video) repairing his third flat tire of the day!
I think we had something like 10 flats in 32 days on the road. Chinese highways are full of flat-causing debris! Why? Because they are the trashiest group you’ll ever come across! After repairing whatever, parked right in the traffic lane they’ll leave all their ‘shit’ behind!
The rest of the afternoon was up and down a series of hills, the final ‘down’ gliding into ‘Spring City,’ Kunming is called.
I had a list of International Hostels, and had identified three for ‘Melinda’ (one of my Chinese daughters) to investigate. She had picked one, but how to find it in a city of 5-million people?
Five-million population, for a community is considered medium sized! Note, Chengdu, with a population of 10-million population, Shanghai, 22-million, and Beijing with 18-million. But, trust me, they don’t really know how many!
Reading the Hostel’s AD from a list of International Hostels (picked up in Xining) I had found the area where this Hostel was located. This on my English tourist map. But, of course, Zha yi’er couldn’t read my map in English. Thus, I led the way, relying on my instinct. ‘A step’ in the right direction.
After asking four people, we were about to go in a wrong direction, when a bit of good fortunate turned up. A taxi stopped right next to us and I gestured to Zha yi’er to ask directions from the driver. Kind person he turned out to be, he offered to show us the way. The route he took us, however, was so circuitous, we would have spent the rest of the day locating this hostel.
Additionally, try staying up with a motor vehicle in Kunming traffic. I remember almost having a ‘heart attack’ cranking up a hill the taxi and Zha yi’er disappearing in the distance! Luckily, they waited for me. The hostel turned out to be so difficult to find, even the taxi driver had to stop and ask. When he got us there, he wouldn’t take a tip (paid the fare of 10RMB / $1.40!
Note: Westerners will find this shocking, but it’s very difficult to tip waiters, waitresses, and taxi drivers, people who give you service in China. They simply won’t accept any additional money. Waitresses will chase you down the street to return .50 cents! Then you have to fight with them to take it! What a difference between China and the U.S. in this regard!
The Kunming International Youth Hostel turned out to be in a ‘trendy’ neighborhood adjacent the Provincial Library and a park.
My first appraisal of Kunming is that it has some charm, compared with Xining. Maybe it’s the tree-lined streets.
Xining is raw and rough, with little sophistication. Kunming looks and FEELS more sophisticated (probably because of more Western influence). But, we shall see, and I’ve only been here a couple of days!
We weren’t in the hostel ten minutes, however, before a paper journalist called (thanks to Xu Tan) and we were being interviewed for the ‘Spring City Evening Daily.’ She, and her photographer, were cute! Before departing Tan Jiang Hua, the writer’s name (in Pinyin Chinese), offered us any help should we need it.
Being in Kunming now we have just completed the first ‘leg’ of our ‘Discover China,’ trip (to Yunnan Province). You’ll be seeing all of this of course, once edited at www.haaqi.com (or www.youtube.com). But poor Leo (our editor) is so backlogged, it may take some time. We’ve ‘shot’ something like 20 one-hour cassette tapes, and at least 50 still images. I’ll upload the images ASAP, for those interested.
But, to summarize the ‘first leg’ of our adventure here are the highlights:
We departed Xining, November 6th, arriving in Chengdu (some 1,200KM) in 13 days (including one rest day).
The first 13 days were spent riding through southern Gansu Province. This endless openness, barren, mountainous land similar to Qinghai Province. First, you encounter the Hui Chinese (Moslem) and then you’re in Tibetan country. We passed within 34 KM of Labrang, one of the four great ‘Yellow Hat’ sect (Tibetan Buddhism) monasteries in China. In this area of Gansu Province there are more yaks and sheep Buddhist monks, however.
In one village we were invited off the highway to eat and rest in a Tibetan household. Can you imagine this happening in the U.S. – total strangers invited into a home to eat? Here we were fed Tsampa (barley flour), ‘buja,’ (Tibetan butter/salt tea), and the best fresh bread I’ve tasted in China. Then they insisted we take the bread and other things along with us.
Interesting observing authentic Tibetan culture… There were four generations in this one dwelling. I remember the grandparents in the ‘front room’ lying in ‘beds’ on the floor (being catered to)! No wonder Asians die young… They start dying early (the grandfather was younger than I)!
On a vast plateau we bought the best honey I’ve had in China: rich and creamy. I think we paid $3U.S. for 1 kilo (2.2lbs.).
There was snow on the ground in some places in this region.
We cranked up to 3,800M ASL / 12,400ft. before descending into Sichuan Province and Chengdu. This is the longest ‘downhill’ I’ve ever experienced almost continuously downhill for 200KM / 120 miles. If it hadn’t been for the wind in our face we’d set records for speed. The drop in elevation from the very top (3,800M) to Chengdu (400M) is 3,400M / 11,000ft. This is over a two-mile vertical drop, and oh how the flora and fauna changes as you descend. In Chengdu flowers were blooming.
Coming down from the ‘pass,’ at dusk, Zha yi’er hit a rock going too fast and blew out his front tire (also damaging the rim). I glanced off the same group of fallen rocks, but with no damage. He tried to ride down on the flat, but finally after about five kilometers he stopped in the dark, trying to figure out what to do.
And there behold were two ‘angels of mercy,’ two Tibetans, two young men standing next to a tent. I heard them first, before seeing them with my flashlight. I told Zha yi’er we should seek their help. Suddenly, these two boys were not only assisted Zha yi’er fix his tire, but fed they us! In the warmth of their tent we discovered the epitome of Tibetan hospitality (as in the household before). Without it, I don’t think Zha yi’er could have changed the tire (so much trouble with the damaged rim).
Before departing I slipped one of the boys 100RMB without Zha yi’er noticing. He would have thought this an astounding amount to give them, some $13U.S. But, the boy took it, and well deserved. We thanked them profusely before continuing down the hill in darkness! But, at least Zha yi’er rode on a hard tire.
Before I fell into a stupor, that night, in a cold and bare room with no heat, we had cycled 150KM / 90 miles, in 14 hours (record for the trip).
Continuing the next morning we were soon in the earthquake area (last May 12th). I first noticed the highway guardrail twisted and ripped out of the ground. Above, they had temporary telephone lines strung on bamboo poles.
In this river canyon, sides of the hills had broken loose and like open wounds indicated the pain of May 12th (many thousands, including children, died). High above on the hill tops the large KV lines sagged or lay on the ground like yesterday’s noodles. Also, the highway was, in places, still being repaired (six months after the earthquake).
In one memorable place we suddenly came upon a line of vehicles stopped vehicles in the traffic lane. This is where a bicycle comes in handy as we were able to thread our way pass automobiles, trucks, buses to the front (almost two kilometers) of the line. It appeared there was some problem inside a tunnel. But, Zha yi’er, always the risk taker, wanted to go inside and find out what was the hold up. What we discovered were more vehicles and people milling about in the darkness, waiting (strange scene). Seems the problem was on the other side of the tunnel. A portion of the hill had fallen onto the highway, and a heavy front loader was excavating.
Thus, when they did allow traffic to move (we only had to wait a few minutes) we were among the first to cross a thirty-meter stretch of rock and gravel. Just in time to get over to the side before the ‘explosion’ of now frantic traffic late for somewhere. Chinese people have absolutely no patience on the street!
Not too far ahead Zha yi’er stopped to ask where we might spend the night (as getting late) and no civilization in sight. A friendly construction foreman (I’m guessing) drew him a map to a temporary-housing village suggesting we stay there for the night.
Suddenly, as this was not too far distant, we were ‘celebrities’ in the midst of earthquake survivors. You would have thought we were important, or at least movie stars as they treated us with such respect! Not only did they rent us a guest room for the night (25RMB / $4 U.S.) they cooked us dinner!
Of all the people I’ve met in the world the average Chinese person (on the street) is the most helpful and friendly I’ve ever known! And honest!
Among this group of survivors was a 12-year old girl whose leg had been amputated below the knee (obviously a casualty of the earthquake). You would have never known, however, as she hobbled about on her crutches, laughing and playing with her friends.
They all became enamored of Zha yi’er, a good-looking young man (see his pictures online) who must write to communicate. At one point the girl on crutches disappeared only to return with a present for him. It was a fat stack of notepaper, as he’s always looking for paper to write his Chinese characters on. This touched me greatly and maybe more than him! I felt we were so lucky to have ended up in this place, to meet these earthquake survivors. Trust me, they appreciate just being alive!
AND BY THE WAY… I have an idea to purchase a prosthesis for this girl. Anyone want to contribute?
The next morning we discovered we’d slept in one of the most devastated villages of all, destruction still obvious everywhere. I did one ‘stand up’ (on camera for ‘Discover China’) in front of a building that had collapsed.
Just outside of this village (name ?) there is a commemorative boulder with the date (May 12th) and something written in Chinese (I can only guess…). Here we were interviewed by a TV crew from Chongcheng (sic).
After that it was all ‘downhill’ into the Chengdu basin.
We spent six days in Chengdu, the Provincial Capitol of Sichuan Province. This to rest, shop, and repair bicycles. Additionally, Zha yi’er worked one day on friend Peter’s (Snow Cao) (www.bikechina.com). We also had dinner one night with my friends ‘Crystal’ Xu and ‘Helen’ and this at the ‘Tex-Mex’ Restaurant (would you believe in Chengdu?).
We tried to record the highlights of Chengdu for ‘Discover China,’ Zha yi’er visiting the Panda ‘Zoo.’ I got caught up responding to one hundred email messages (not interested in caged Panda bears).
Departing Chengdu, we went due south and up/down a series of mountain ranges, but not before ‘discovering’ the Lishan Giant Buddha. I hate Chinese tourist sites as where the ‘rip off’ is on! I think to get in to this ‘park,’ the ticket for foreigners is 100RMB / $13U.S. dollars. While Zha yi’er partook of the 1,200-year old, 81-meter / 265ft. high Buddha, this on his disabled ID (30 RMB), I sat out in the sun keeping an eye our bicycles.
Somewhere south of Lishan I stopped in a no-name village as there were some old houses I wanted Zha yi’er to ‘shoot.’ We didn’t notice immediately a school directly across the street, that is, until I started hearing ‘hellos!’ All Chinese children know the English word ‘hello!’
Glancing across the street I noticed three students waving from a window. Then more and more as I started waving back. One boy nearly fell out of a third-story window, trying to get my attention. So, I decided to cross the street to hand my postcard to some waiting parents. But, the time I got to their front gate, the entire student body had abandoned their classrooms to meet me! It was an amazing experience! You would have thought I was Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, as these kids so hungry to meet a foreigner (‘laowei’). I nearly caused a riot when the guard tried to control them. One, a young boy who could speak some English, asked me, ‘Where are you from?’ I decided it best to retreat as, no doubt, this was disturbing to the teachers. Walking back to my bicycle, parked across the street. tears came to my eyes. It’s a humbling experience to be so venerated, and for nothing but being different!
For the next week we went on to ‘suffer’ through ‘highway’ #213, which had appeared on my (too old) map as a ‘major’ highway south (to Kunming City). At times it was nothing but a rocky/dirt (and muddy) track through the mountains. Slow going on a heavy bicycle!
One day we only made 35KM / 20 miles all day, ending up in a basement ‘cell’ for the night (only beds available). But, we had stopped often, one time to allow Zha yi’er some adventure crossing a rushing stream by hopping boulder to boulder. Trying to return he slipped on one and fell into the stream getting wet. Trying to pull him up a bank I stepped off a ledge and half of me disappeared into a crevice (strange feeling not knowing what’s down there). The scenic beauty of this area, however, was worth all the travail we encountered!
We also traversed the longest tunnel I’ve ever been through in China: 4KM / 2.4 miles in length. By the time, we exited on the other side I had a headache from carbon monoxide (they didn’t have the exhaust fans on).
On this trip we must have negotiated 30 tunnels. The good news about highway tunnels (for cyclists) is that they save you time and effort. The bad news is that these two-lane tunnels are very dangerous (no lights in some of them). I can hardly describe what it feels like cranking through the dark, not knowing exactly where you are, hearing an oncoming truck (thunderously loud in a tunnel). I think near panic describes it.
The next so many days we went 100-years back in time, as this is one of the most primitive areas I’ve experienced in China. Sometimes I noted they didn’t even recognize ‘Ni Hao!’ Or the Mandarin ‘Hello!’ These rural ‘bumkins’ have been living the same way as long as they can remember – probably having never heard of Hu Jintao. But, each of their ‘houses,’ has its own a satellite dish for TV. So, trust me, they know who Hu Jintao is (president of China).
China has an amazing 96% penetration in terms of possible screens/tubes (that’s 1.25 billion people!)! And it’s always on wherever you go! Zha yi’er is addicted as most Chinese!
What China needs is social not material development.
Approaching a small village one morning, I heard the frantic squealing of a pig (they can sense their demise). The ‘death march,’ proceeding as eight men pulled this huge pig out of a barn, and down in front of the house. Here they wrestled it onto a bench. I rushed forward to record, as for some reason Zha yi’er wouldn’t. A man quickly slit the pig’s throat and the squealing ended with blood gushing out into a bowl. The surrounding crowd seemed to celebrate this ‘sacrifice’ with a gleeful and noisy response! Note, the Chinese, particularly the ‘unwashed,’ a patently boisterous group.
I thought about this all day long, finally conjuring up a child’s tale (with moral) entitled, ‘Gip, the pig that wouldn’t eat!’
Finally, after one week of hard slogging we retuned to ‘civilization,’ in terms of a town called Zhoutong! Here, was the best hotel for service the entire trip (including Chengdu)! The manager couldn’t do enough for us. But still, no heat in my room (typical of hotels in southern China).
From there, surfeited with some western-styled bakery goods, the going became easier as we were now on G40 (the newer version of highway #213).
The penultimate day of our trip to Kunming, the 120-KM day (as mentioned at the beginning) is an example of what you discover when cycling around China. We hit fog almost immediate going up through some mountains. This was the coldest day of the entire trip for me, as going downhill the wind chill became unpleasant, my hands becoming numb. The fog became dangerously thick, and we passed two vehicles having just collided (a police car screaming). Up ahead my rear tire went flat (don’t tell me this isn’t full-moon energy at work). So, there in the cold mist we changed the tire by the side of the highway, people walking past like ships in the night.
We had planned to exit the highway for lunch, and this decision turned out to be full of surprises. Within minutes, the cold and lonely highway, turned into a mountain resort, the kind I’ve been looking for all over China (constructed out of wood). Don’t ask me how we got there! Looking for a restaurant, we ordered some roasted potatoes at a stand (came on a stick for 1 RMB / .15 cents). But, Zha yi’er wanted something more, and was gestured up some stairs. He went ahead. What I discovered trying to find him was some kind of Chinese temple, garden, pathways, fish ponds, all entirely ‘out of character,’ from where we’d just come. Maybe I’m having a dream, I pondered.
But, then there was Zha yi’er motioning me to come, he’d discovered a restaurant. It turned out to be some kind of ethic/Taoism retreat facility complete with loft rooms to rent (where we ate). The Miao girl (one of the 56 minorities in China) even lit the candle on our table (only time ever in China)! I found out you can rent these ‘suites’ for 60RMB / $8U.S. dollars per night. I made sure I got contact information, as this is unique for China (where I’ve been so far)!’
We somehow befriended the young male ‘monk’ (wearing a dark blue robe) who gestured us to follow him. He showed us, what only certain ‘guests’ get to see, a yin-yang pond (see at www.haaqi.com or www.cyclingpeace.org), and a series of meditation huts constructed away from the main facility.
Then it was a ‘‘jump cut,’ back to the cold, and honking madness of the highway! I wanted to spend the night there in one of the loft rooms, but Zha yi’er must have his TV (and hot meal) – so we went on to Songming.
Darkness came before getting to Songming. But, the shoulder was hard and wide (Expressway here) and we ended up covering 120 KM / 72 miles by 8:30P.M. (as mentioned earlier).
What I didn’t mention earlier, in Songming is where the police came and took us to their station. This because of Zha yi’er’s lack of a proper ID card. Note: The Chinese Government is massively uptight about anyone from (Uyghur) Xinjiang A.R. (Zha yi’er isn’t Uyghur but Uzbekistani). They don’t know the difference, however.). At the station I called Leo (in Xining) and he explained to the ‘big guy’ Zha yi’er works for us. It turned out that all they wanted was to photocopy our IDs (my passport), then they drove us back to the hotel. But, I wasn’t happy about it, as not getting to bed until 1000P.M. (generally up by 0500).
Now, these police are going to come in handy retrieving my left-behind bag full of my rain gear (don’t remember the name of the hotel, but they will). In the rush of our departure I’d forgotten to load in onto my bicycle.
Who knows I may need as it may rain yet!
I leave you with some things to ponder (for the open minded):
One, about making offerings… I always, when cycling ‘out there,’ try to feed the creatures who live in the wild, particularly birds. On this recent trip I carried a little bag of crumbs from my leftover bakery items. Eventually, I scattered the crumbs on a small green hill near the highway. But, there were no birds in sight.
Then yesterday, Zha yi’er showed me what he had ‘shot’ (on video) in a park near where we’re staying. Much of it had to do with feeding birds (seagulls in this case). There they were diving and grabbing bits thrown in the air by people (you can purchase a bag of bird food). Then I realized that this was ‘thanks,’ from my birds ‘out there.’
You see there is a ‘connection,’ beyond space-time, that a few of us understand. I need no scientific confirmation. It’s something you ‘just know.’
On ‘Thanksgiving.’ I just received an email message from my sister Sally in the U.S. She says she prefers to call the ‘holiday,’ a ‘Day of Giving Thanks.’ I didn’t celebrate such in China, but the following illustrates what ‘counting your blessings’ is all about:
Just this morning I partook of some wonderful western pastry I was amazed to discover in Kunming yesterday. One item, an apple croissant. I bought all they had (four). This morning I was just admiring one, a work of art! I got to thinking about all that went into my having this in my hostel room. Someone had to plant the apple trees and nurture them to bear fruit. Someone picked them, and loaded them on a truck to deliver to market. The same with the wheat used for making the croissant. I thought about all the energy and time that went into the process of my partaking of this wonderful ‘gift.’ I thanked my Master, Lord, and God, for creating such a wonderful thing for me to enjoy. I thought about the bakers and how much work goes into baking and displaying such food items. I thought about the business that was prescient enough to offer these for sale. You see, so much goes into the food you devour, without you even thinking about it.
So next time you eat something, think about all that goes into your enjoyment of it. And give thanks for it!
‘the Magic Dragon’ (who doesn’t like living by any sea!)
A person of many names.
from Kun Ming, Yunnan Province, China
Labels: Cycling China