It's the 7th of January (Wednesday), 2009, and we sit outside in the sun in 'Old Dali,' Yunnan Province, China.
We arrived last night after an arduous day of cycling over a mountain. But, we managed 88KM in 9 hours, and not bad considering my chain broke going up hill. I had to get off and push the bicycle for 5KM and into a village, where a man repaired it with a hammer. Amazingly this worked! But, for me, breaking a chain two times in one month very unusual. I've been riding Ms. Fiets for ten years and have never broken a chain before.
But, good fortune came to our rescue again. With the chain hammered together we thought we still had to go up over a pass. But around a bend it was suddenly downhill--a nice surprise! On the way down a shower wet the pavement, but nothing serious impeded our decent except I began to get cold. Combining wind child and wetness you can get cold fast. I didn't have my rain pants on, just cotton long underwear. Note, I wear a strange combination of cotton long underwear and cycling shorts, always causing Chinese people to stare. They just can't believe you might dress differently.
Down and down we went until suddenly, the wind, which we'd been fighting for days was suddenly at our back. Oh, do you notice the difference, as it feels like you have an engine. We glided down into a town (I rarely know the Chinese names) and onto a wide boulevard, the concrete surface as smooth as the proverbially babies' bottom.
But, again, the cosmos said, 'time to stop, maybe an accident ahead'... Interesting how you learn that what happens to you, although perceived as unpleasant, maybe something saving your life. I discovered my front tire going flat. But, it was sunny and warm now, and if you're ever going to have a flat, this was the place. We changed the tube, or I should say Xu Tan did (as he helps greatly with such).
I have Vedrestein 'Spider' tires from The Netherlands. But, this recent pair nothing but trouble from the beginning! The first pair went a long way, maybe 10,000KM with little trouble, but these two, the last two of the name (they discontinued the model)... I wish I hadn't purchased. Two small (for 26-inch rims), they're a 'bitch' getting on and off. We managed to damage the tube in the process, prying the bead onto the rim. Luckily, we had one more good tube. You should have seen us, however, sitting on the pavement, feet together pulling this tire in opposite directions, trying to stretch the tire onto the wheel without using a tool.
Then back into the wind as we turned West. Turns out the wind (da feng) we'd been experiencing for the past four days is famous in Yunnan Province. It blows everyday from the southwest (going in a westerly direction it hits you at 1000). I first thought (maybe hoping) that this was a January phenomenon in southern China. Now, I discover it's most of the time!
From here we could begin to see the Lake (Erhai) in the distance to the north. Dali is located between a mountain range to the west and this large lake (shaped like the crescent moon). But, I hadn't realized that 'Old Dali' is a small tourist town 15KM north of Xia Guan. Cycling through Xia Guan I was confused. And during traffic hour no less. I was ready to stop for the day, as had been fighting off a cold for the past two days. With the two bicycle 'incidents' I was feeling a bit weary haven't not eaten since 12 noon (it was now about 1800 hours or 6P.M.). But, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger!
At one intersection, Xu Tan hailed a man for directions to Dali. Riding a Chinese bicycle he stopped too quickly and fell. Two large water bottles crashed to the pavement that he had tied onto the rear rack. Xu Tan helped getting all back upright and together, but I felt badly as this man wouldn't have had any trouble had he ignored us, like some others. He, however, turned out to be a good guy, taking all the time to explain how to get to Dali. We put 10RMB into his pocket for the trouble, which he protested.
Then another cyclist (if you ride a bicycle you turn out to be a good person) helped us, by directing us to follow him (He would point out the way to Dali). He rode, probably out of his way to show us, (Would this happen in the U.S.?) and to the north-south boulevard we needed to take for Dali?
It was here, the sun setting behind the snow-topped mountain range that I realized what a beautiful area! There are houses, buildings up in the foothills most unlike anyplace I've visited in China. In fact, this area reminds me of California, U.S.A.
We continued northward on a very good six-lane concrete road, with a wide bicycle path. Now, getting dark, the sun having set behind the mountain, I was definitely wanting the day to end. We were supposed to rendezvous with the man Melinda (my Chinese daughter living in Yunnan) had set us up to meet (as he owns the place we were to stay).
Spoiled after Kunming, I was looking forward to another 'short-stay' flat we'd been fortunate to rent there. Xu Tan had called this man several times trying to coordinate our meeting. He told Xu Tan to find and meet him at the 'East Gate.'
Well, I stopped, at a gate, directing Xu Tan to ask. Sure enough, had we gone further we would have had to return, as this turned out to be the 'West Gate.' We headed east through the 'West' Gate and on a cobble stone street, the buildings, restored (or built) to resemble 'Old Dali.' I was amazed to discover a town of some charm, clean and movie-set in tone. It's most the un-Chinese like I've experienced yet. It was like 'at first sight!' If I had to compare, I'd say it has the same sophisticated 'feel' as Carmel, or Sausalito, California. No wonder it's the choice of foreign tourists. Again, I've been all over China, and for the first time I said to myself, 'I could live here!' But, first impressions can be wrong.
Speaking of 'wrong,' we ended up at the wrong 'Gate.' The 'East Gate,' turns out to be the 'South Gate' in my mind at least, but nonetheless we finally rendezvoused with a Mr. Yang in a white van. We followed him first north, to where his wife lives, and he showed us what is a hotel room to me. When we explained our expectations, he offered another choice, and we followed him back to 'East Gate,' and beyond to a 'guesthouse' and where his daughter was waiting. Again, not a 'flat' situation, but it does have a kitchen and office with a computer/Internet (not working of course). This is where we are now for 60RMB / $8U.S. per night. Note, something similar in the U.S. would cost at least $200U.S. per night, as this is very well appointed. Again, most un-Chinese like.
I was so tired, I took the first room on the ground floor, unloaded, made tea, and tired to get warm. There are some very strange paintings on the wall in this room, surrealistic in nature, ominous in tone. They didn't keep me awake, however. What did was a stuffy nose, the result of the infection trying to get the best of me.
The next morning I was the first up, of course, sleeping in to 0700 (still dark outside). I lit my camping stove trying to get warm as none of these buildings/houses/hotels are heated (in southern China). Note, in hotels they give you an electric heater if you want to pay for the electricity.
Turns out I'm warmer outside, and colder inside (in southern China).
Note, Chinese people (everywhere) grow up wearing long underwear, and even in the summer (most of these concrete buildings not heated). Additionally, they have 'a thing' about their legs I don't understand. They always ask me, when I wear shorts, aren't you cold? I, in turn, having developed a response, point to their heads (almost never wear hats when cold), 'Aren't you cold?' They don't get it, of course.
It was a clear morning, the sun saving me, warming my old bones. Mr. Yang was there up and about, and started talking immediately when he discovers some human ears nearby. We communicated, or I should say, I acted like I understood. Since he noticed I was following the sun, he directed me upstairs to the roof. After climbing a steel ladder, I betook of a stunning vista of the area, the mountains to the west and the Lake to the east. It was a beautiful morning, the area a 'piece of jade,' in a garbage dumb or modern China. The Bai people (the local ethnic group), artistic by nature, have created a work of art!
Xu Tan appeared, and after his breakfast and my laundry hung up, we took off on our bicycles for Xia Guan. This is the commercial city 15KM south, we'd come through the evening before. We were in need of some bicycle repair, and we knew of another www.cyclist.cn, as part of the 'chain' in China. (Had been give a brochure in Kunming.). After a fast ride on a good bicycle path (part of the highway north-south) we were in its midst 'lickety split!' (old expression for faster than expected). First order of business, lunch, and we found a good restaurant on a street bordering the river (name?). I bathed in the warm sunlight, our table in the perfect position to keep an eye on our bicycles (we didn't lock). Afterwards, we found the bicycle shop without too much trouble (Xu Tan now with much experience now finding things in new cities more efficiently).
At the bicycle shop, the name having to do with Golmud (a city in in Qinghai), we discovered two good guys, 'Ben,' the owner, and his mechanic (don't ask me his Chinese name). I had gone to deal with my chain/shifting problem, only to discover Zha yi'er, a so-called 'expert mechanic,' had incorrectly installed the chain (too short) in Kunming. I had wondered if the length was wrong... Sure enough... Some times the man with intimate experience knows more than the 'expert.' Why? They're aren't any 'experts!' Least of all Zha yi'er, my opinion of, continuing to fall. I bought and had a new chain installed. Next, Xu Tan's needed much more, his cables old and worn. I think we were there two hours or more, feeling more and more at home with these two guys! At one point, 'Ben,' took me to a nearby 'camping store' where I purchased much needed butane canisters for my camping stove (to keep warm inside). It's aflame and keeping me warm at this very moment!
The typical concrete Chinese building, so cold on the inside. Chinese people, so fast on the streets, so slow in business. Everything is the opposite from the U.S. in China! And as it should be as on the opposite side of the world.
Now, it's the 8th of January (Thursday), and we've partaken of 'Old Dali'... 'The bloom off the rose' so to speak...
We went off this morning in search of the GoGo Cafe, as I had a bookmark AD I'd picked up somewhere. It turned out to be good, good WIFI connection, and good 'laowei' food (very good apple pie). But, very strange to discover and for the first time (too late) a sign in the toilet that reads, 'No Shit! Only Piss!' I've never seen this anyplace in China (or the world for that matter) thus I'm going to 'capture' an image of this and upload for you to see (in both English and Chinese). If you ask for the toilet and they direct you, they should inform you of such. Seems you have to go to the public toilet if you want to 'shit!' Ah, defecation... So simple, yet so complicated in modern life.
But think about the sheer quantity of human waste ('night soil' they used to call it in China). Everyday, roughly 4 billion meals are eaten, this EVERYDAY! Multiply 4 billion times 30 and you get 120 billion each month. Like Everett Dirkson once said, a billion here, a billion there, and after a while it begins to add up! I, because of the poor condition of public toilets in Asia, like to do 'it,' out there. Well, you can hardly find a private place ANYWHERE in China, where someone hasn't come before you. In another 20 years China (maybe the world) is going to be drowning in shit!
Later, after we had eaten lunch, both a German woman (Brigit from Frankfort) and a couple from Australia stopped to eat. The German woman, from Frankfurt, on a two-week holiday (probably to warm up and meet the man of her dreams). The Australian husband, was born in Austria, but had moved to Australia 20 years ago. His wife, who I couldn't hear, a native of Australia. I learned, unfortunately, that Australia is comparatively expensive. This is not good news for me as it was the next country on my itinerary. They said Austria is less expensive! This is hard to believe, but from the 'kangaroo's mouths.'
Xu Tan went off to cycle around the area ('shooting' video for 'Discover China'). He wanted to see the Lake. I sat in the sun until no more, and then went off looking for a bicycle lock. I found one, but the woman didn't want to sell it to me. Strange how spoiled some retailers can get, or in this case maybe tired of foreigners being demanding. Anyway, I said 'Thank you,' and departed without buying anything.
Returning to our guesthouse I found it empty, the sun setting behind the ('Lion') mountain.
Note, although I'm drawn to a sophisticated place like 'Old Dali,' I don't like settlements that lose the sun early (especially in the winter). Additionally, 'Old Dali,' reminds me too much of Thamel in Kathmandu (Nepal). Plenty of hustlers and beggars! Thus, after only two days 'the 'bloom is off the rose,' so far as Dali is concerned. I think I would prefer the 'real,' city (Xia Guan) 15KM to the south, if deciding to live in the area.
Tomorrow our final day in Old Dali before departing for Lijiang, another 'tourist town' some 180Km to the north.
Labels: Cycling in China