Lanzhou -- Wed, Jul 27, 2005
So, this was the big if of the trip that I didn't tell about yet -- my visa was only until July 31... I was told in Zhengzhou that I could get a visa in Xi'an or Lanzhou. Xi'an said no -- I could only get it in Shijiazhuang. That would have caused some problems for the schedule, I have planned for such events, but it wouldn't have been fun.
Luckily, Lanzhou came through for us. I've got my visa, I can stay, I can bike ;)
We spent the rest of the day planning our volunteer day with the volunteers at the autism school and at an incredibly slow internet bar trying to upload pictures.
Lanzhou -- Tue, Jul 26, 2005
As I have mentioned earlier -- when we stop for drinks, food, really anything -- a crowd of 20 or more usually forms within minutes. The type of crowd varies: there is the staring type with little interaction like I am some sort of facinating creature from outer space; there is the aggressive/non-communicative type pushing to touch the bike, pinch the tires, play with the computer while not asking or saying a word; and then there is the questioning type. Sometimes its a progression, they start out staring, then a brave soul sends out a question -- usually one of six.
I have become very good at answering the six questions. There are sometimes others but I just have to shrug and say I don't understand. But the six questions -- I know them well:
It usually starts with (1) Where are you from? America I smile. They smile too. They like America. They don't like Japan...
Then after the obligatory compliment of my Chinese and my canned response of yes I speak a little but very poorly they may ask (2) Are you a student? Nope, not a student; I am a teacher, I say proudly. It's fun to be a 24-year old university professor. They love teachers in China so its a good gig to have.
Ah, a teacher they ponder -- still warming up, not wanting to be too intrusive they might ask (3) How old are you? Twenty-four I say. They nod and say yes, I thought you were 20-something.
Now things are comfortable they think. It's time to ask what I really want to know (4) How much money does your bike cost / how much do you make / how much does the trip cost? Hum, it was a present I don't know or how much do you think / not sure, you? / don't know -- if its a taxi driver, I might humor him with a response -- but never the bike question, they would think I'm crazy that I have a bike that costs more than they make in a year.
Ok that's good in all, you don't want to talk about money, but what about your love live, (5) Do you have a girl friend? Nope.
And then we can close it all with an easy one (6) Do you like China? My answer: China is very good. Chinese people are very, very good. And I mean it!
Huge winds today -- coming into Lanzhou there was a cloud of dust/pollution swarming overhead. Looking forward to sand storms ;) Are they kind of like tornadoes but with sand? I've never seen a tornado but I want to...
We got on the highway (even though we weren't supposed to) and cut off 50km from our route into Lanzhou. Went through some great tunnels. Lanzhou is cool. Surrounded by mountains.
Crossing my fingers that I can get a new visa tomorrow -- say a prayer for me, if not I might have to go back to Shijiazhuang or Hong Kong, not fun.
HuiNing -- Mon, Jul 25, 2005
This is a question that I have been asked in every press interview and I am sure a few of you are wondering. Even more specificly -- what does biking across China have to do with you? We've got two reasons for you:
If you are in America -- this actually has a lot to do with you. First, pat yourself on the back. The strides we have made in America in terms of Autism awareness and support are light years ahead of many other areas of the world. When other countries are struggling just to make people aware that there are people with mental disabilities (really, this is true); we are pusing to implement inclusion programs and to expand support services in business and day to day life.
But don't pat yourself too much -- we still have a lot more to do. We still need to push ahead with support services and awareness, especially in certain areas. But moreover, it is time to put significant resources into autism research in the US. We are still at the beginning stages of understanding autism (a broad classification for a spectrum of what are mostly likely developmental and or genetic neurlogicial disorders), but the first steps have been taken. Researchers and making new discoveries on the genetic front as we speak and the progress is encouraging.
You can help change the lifes of millions of children by helping support autism research in the US.
If you are in China -- its all about awareness. First, I want to say that the steps being made on this front are incredibly encouraging. At every school we have visited I have seen numerous young volunteers and incredibly enthusastic hearts. Change is occuring, slowly but surly.
I probably don't need to tell you about the awareness and perception of mental disabilities in China, but humor me. Having a child with a mental disability bares with it a large social stigma in China, along with incredible financial and emotional burden. Children in China are expected to support there parents when they grow older -- they are your social security in China. But a child with a mental disability changes that equation dramatically.
Additionally parents have incredible social pressures to bring up the best and brightest students -- it is seen as a reflection of themselves to their peers and colleauges. Having a child with a mental disability is sometimes seen as reflecting a character flaw within the parents.
These pressures along with little or no educational (normal schools will not accept mentally disabled children and the segregates special schools are often overcrowded or not of suitable quality) or social support, parents often literally hide their children inside their houses. Before this trip -- Fang Wen Guang had met only one person with a mental disability in China -- he is 21 years old and an education major!!!
So I ask you -- keep the momentum going in China! Get some friends together and volunteer at a school for children with mental disabilities (or special olympics). Urge the government to increase the support services for parents and families of children with mental disabilities. Be creative, get involved!
Another great day. The scenery is really beautiful out here -- it makes biking for 8 hours actually fun, incredible. Met a biker who is going to Lhasa from Lanzhou. Great guy, from Shanxi provence -- the coal mine of China. Great report on Shanxi on the Smile Train's web site (www.smiletrain.com).
The people out here make you really appreciate what you have in the States. Almost everyone we pass is a peasant farmer and the farming techniques are entertaining to say the least. Their are not large pressures for efficency in farming, with a huge labor capital overhang in China. Some argue against the way farming has gone in America (corporate), but if you look at China, you would have to at least think there is some sense to it.
Hopefully pictures soon ;)
LongDe -- Sun, Jul 24, 2005
We had lunch in PingLiang -- the first larger town in Gansu off of 312 and it has a large muslim influence. Many mosques (or mosque like buildings) and more than half of the people wearing head caps or head scarfs. The people were very friendly and interested in what we were doing. I had a great lunch of potatoes and stewed beef -- I have been craving that.
And then the mountains came -- I can't tell you how beautiful it is out here. We did some serious climbing -- this is what I live for... Switchbacks define serious climbing and there was about twenty of them and then a 2km tunnel that they wouldn't let me go through. They made me hitch a ride in a car... Well its only 5,062 kilometers now... damn it ;)
We're staying in this small mountain town that is surrounded by beauty (pictures will come when I get to a faster internet bar). The people are very friendly and a lot of younger people want to practice their English.
YongChuang -- Sat, Jul 23, 2005
We woke in the morning and looked for breakfast -- but this morning was unlike the 20 before -- the smells were different, the food was nothing I've seen before, the people even looked different. Xi'an is the St. Louis of China -- the dividing line between the East and the West -- and the line is even more dramatic in China.
Instead of venturing into the plains of Kansas, we are surrounded by the approaching mountains of Gansu. Although I am starting to see mud houses... I think we had those in Kansas... Religious influence is seeping into our surroundings, primarily Muslim.
We had lunch at a Muslim restaurant. I met the owner and he initially really scared Wen Guang and I. His body gestures were stern and he was whispering to his friend. But he was one of the few vendors that actually didn't have a big knife so I was emboldened to talk some more. By the time we left we were arm over arm smiling for a photo -- scary body language or not.
I find that most Chinese people are very scared of the ethnic minorities. I have been warned countless times about how dangerous they are. They might have some basis for their belief but at the same time I think it is a bit prejudiced. Yes there are bad apples anywhere -- but to broadly classify a group of people (yes even Japanese people... a Chinese thing... will tell you later if you want) is just not smart (even if their body language is scary).
I feel a lot better now and was able to take the climbs at full speed later in the day.
It might take some guts -- but I think its worth it to take a little risk and say hi to that person you might not say hi to -- to break barriers you are afraid to break. Especially in this world were there are many forces pushing us to hide in our safe havens.
YongShou -- Fri, Jul 22, 2005
Probably one of the hardest days of the trip. Biking when your body refuses to accept any liquids (let alone food) that you give it is a difficult task. I drank plenty of water but it all sat in my stomach. By noon, I was having a really rough time and we had only covered 50 kilometers.
But luckily sometime around 1pm the Cipro kicked in and did a number on what ever has been tormenting me for the past four days. The most amazing feeling having your stomach drain into your body and starting to feel sweat, your bladder fill, and your mouth become wet again. I still hadn't really eaten and was pretty weak, but that didn't mean I didn't get excited when I saw some hills.
I am now in YongShou and am going to take it easy tonight. We have some tough terrain ahead of us before we get to Lanzhou.
Xi'an -- Thu, Jul 21, 2005
It started at 8am and didn't end till 8pm... Here are the highlights:
1) A parade through the streets of Xi'an with 30+ students from the school promoting the awareness of mental disabilities
2) Five TV and newspaper reporters covering the day -- we had people the next day yell at us "Stop! We saw you on TV last night!" (says Wen Guang... it was in Chinese).
3) Playing head, shoulders, knees and toes with the kids; watching them sing; just having a great time
4) Biking around the wall of Xi'an to promote the awareness of people with mental disabilities