Jiayuguan -- Thu, Aug 4, 2005
My Chinese vocabulary is limited, which makes most traditional pick-up lines and openers worthless. It would be great to tell that cute chinese girl across the room that she has been running through my mind all night... but I just don't know how to say it.
So I am reduced to use one of the phrases I know well, one of the six questions that I am asked everyday. No its not "where are you from"; nor is it "how much do you make"; not even "do you have a boyfriend".
Nope, its usually started by a game between Fang Wen Guang and I guess how old a girl is and it is my job to ask "How old are you"? As long as the answer isn't 12 I unload the rest of my crappy chinese and then Fang Wen Guang comes in for the kill. And he's good at it...
In WuWei we picked up a couple of twins, cute ones at that. In Jiayuguan a girl we met outside a bar (who happened to be long-distance runner with a great smile) took us on the tour of the city the next morning. Now I'll leave the details to your imagination -- can't say too much Fang Wen Guang's got a girlfriend -- and we'll its just too much fun to keep you hanging. But I have learned you can even be a wing-man with a few words of Chinese and even more if you have a phrasebook... ;)
QingShui -- Wed, Aug 3, 2005
|Today was our first trek through a real, sandy desert -- including the sand dunes and running out of water... The sky and scenery has been incredible the past three days -- arid landscapes with mountains to our side. |
I kind of think of Gansu as the Kansas of China, except with mountains and more muslims... I mean they do grow a lot of wheat and corn out here (they actually use large machinery -- unlike the ox driven type we saw in the east). I've been told that Gansu is the middle of continguous China -- just like Kansas in America. Ok there aren't many similarities but it makes me happy to think there are.
Missing all of you -- and yes Mom I will bring more water next time... ;)
Zhengye -- Tue, Aug 2, 2005
I was warned against talking politics while I was a teacher in Shijiazhuang. Never directly -- but subtly, it was made clear that politics and religion where pretty much off limits. I decided not to be a crusader and keep my lips pretty much shut for four months. As anyone that knows me, a pretty tough feat for me.
But now after biking for one month with Fang Wen Guang and Wen Ray -- the politics card hit the table. It came in the context of a discussion of vigalante justice -- supposedly still an all too common thing in China -- and spilled over into a discussion of Iraq, 9/11, and the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1997.
Let me just note that the political discussions with the "people on the street" have grown considerably since Xi'an -- highly correlated with the growing muslim influence. Bush has become less popular and Iraq isn't a very friendly topic...
So back to the dinner discussion -- the take-away is that even though most Chinese won't come out and say it, they don't think very highly of American foreign policy. Iraq is motivated by "money, oil, and military strategy"; 9/11 was greeted with cheers (unoffically) by most Chinese people; and bombing a Chinese embassy is not a good thing...
Not remembering much about the Belgrade incident -- I read up on it and it seems like a pretty bad blunder by the US. I can see how the Chinese aren't that happy and the Chinese press helped make sure of that. Who really knows what happened, but it wasn't good none-the-less, the most we can do is keep saying we are sorry and hope we can move on. I encourage you to read these two articles if interested in refreshing the memory: http://www.isop.ucla.edu/eas/NewsFile/Bombing05-99/990617-ussd3.htm; http://www.wsws.org/articles/1999/may1999/bomb-m10.shtml
The only sad part of this is that I haven't been able to have these discussions until now and even then -- Fang Wen Guang and Wen Ray don't really like having them. Just like in the US -- politics has become a taboo subject that is considered off limits by many. People are very afraid to disagree with others and get truly upset when they do.
To me it is truly inane; look people don't always agree and that is ok. My view of Iraq, Bush, Belgrade or many other things that I have relatively little access or time to do a through analysis of should have little bearing on what you think of me (and has little bearing on what I think of you). We should enjoy these debates soley to get our minds thinking -- to pose questions to ourselves so that when posed with difficult decisions like choosing our politicians and getting involved in politics we have some reasoned thought behind our decisions. Or moreover -- just to learn what others are thinking.
It's happening all over -- we are shutting the doors to ourselves closed -- locking the chains and hiding in our supposedly safe little isolated worlds. It scares me, this how prejudices form, hatred forms, etc. Enough of the soapbox. Love you all ;)
Zhengye -- Mon, Aug 1, 2005
Today we dropped into the desert -- finally out of the mountains (although they will surround us for another 500km) and passed through the Great Wall. Isn't that cool -- we got to bike along the Great Wall for about 10km.
Now this isn't the Great Wall you see in the pictures -- the Beijing variety. It's the western Great Wall -- the crumbling, earthen Great Wall that keep out the hordes of "barbarians" for so many years. It is made of mud, stone and wood -- is probably 20ft tall with towers every 500m and has many broken spots where the wall has worn away.
At the point where the road passes through the wall there is a little tourist site at which I was kindly greated by two locals and absolutely no vendors trying to hawk me "my piece of memorablia" from the wall. They walked me personally through the tourist site -- turning on the lights as I walked from room to room. I am not sure if this place was really open (Fang Wen Guang and Wen Ray didn't get to go in), but they seemed pleased to have me there. I got to see some old scroll paintings, an explaination of how the wall was built (in Chinese though) and the highlight, a mummified body (don't ask me why it was their though).
My opinion -- the Great Wall in Beijing is nice, but nothing beats biking along it in Gansu ;)
Small Village -- Sun, Jul 31, 2005
This is not a story for vegetarians -- sorry... please close your eyes.
We were supposed to bike 170km today -- well according to my plan -- but we didn't make it and it turned out to be a really interesting blunder. We had to stay in this small village -- the last one before 70km of desert that would led to Zhangye.
As I fixed a flat tire, Fang Wen Guang and Ray Wen looked around town. They reported back that they couldn't find a restaurant but there was a guy that was willing to let us stay at his "motel". I was biking to the other village (ie the stores just across the highway...), pondering a dinner of crackers and a packaged bolonga like substance, when I was stopped by a herd of lamb.
I jokingly said to Fang Wen Guang -- "how much do you think one of them lambs is". He looked at me and said -- "are you serious"? I told him just to ask. The sheep herder responded, "170 quai". Now that is a handsome some to a sheepherder and many Chinese -- maybe 1/4 of many peoples monthly salary. We taught for a second and then ran to catch him -- "Sold".
We spent the next four hours, selecting our sheep, watching it be killed, skined and de-gutted, and then fryed right up in front of us in the farmer's home. We sat back and enjoyed a few beers in their friendly abode -- complete with a TV with two channels and basic electricty -- it was actually pretty darn nice.
Next came the lamb -- yes the freshest lamb I have ever had in my life -- pretty damn tasty. The farmer wanted some rounds of beijou (rice liquor that the Chinese love to torment foreigners with) but by now it was 12pm and we needed to hit the sack. The farmer gladly offered us to same at his house with him -- an offer we couldn't refuse. The three of us snuggled into our two beds and enjoyed the musty, but somewhat cleansing smell of this farmer's home.
We woke up to lamb boiling in the morning -- a little lamb soup to bid us farewell. Still better than most lamb I have had at home -- merely eight hours old. Our lamb was a good lamb and we must praise him for his service. He filled our bellies well -- we will miss him -- but we have his horns to remember him by and the service he has provided to Bike Across China... ;)
Oh 170 quai -- yeah that's about $22...
WuWei -- Sat, Jul 30, 2005
I don't mean to complain but sometimes you just need to point out the differences in this world. Have you ever seen a picture of some chinese guys waiting around in a squating position. When I was in 9th grade, I saw this and wondered how they could do this -- try squating for 30 minutes, legs all the way down, butt barely off the ground.
Well, I found my answer. You can make this position comfortable, by practicing it almost everyday of your life. Why would you do this you ask? Well what if you didn't have a toilet seat -- but instead had a porcelin hole that you did your business in everyday. Well then the squat comes in handy (as any camper knows).
So if you spend any time in China -- you will probably get used to the squat (as well as some great smelling facilities...). But biking 150km and then doing the squat, adds a whole new dimension to the game. You are posed with some difficult decisions: Do you go for the backward arm support? Can you stay down, do you do the down and up?
So whenever you see a picture of a Chinese guy squating -- just think how nice it is to have a toilet seat ;)
TienJou -- Fri, Jul 29, 2005
This is going to make everybody at my office cringe -- people line up to take pictures with me here -- just what me and my ego needs... right? So today there was a half page photo of me and an autistic girl was on the front page of the local Lanzhou newspaper (I will upload a picture soon). Yesterday, I had a line of more than 10 people waiting to take photos of me, I got to limit them to only one photo... ;)
It's partly the biking thing, but its a lot about the white thing... China is an incredibly homogenous country (well at least in terms of skin color diversity) and its quite incredible that even in this age it is an incredible thing to see a "yigeren" (foreigner). It seems to have gotten more common in the east of China and therefore it is less of an event, but as we have gotten further west -- the insta-crowds are getting bigger and bigger (I stop, 20 people quickly gather around, I smile and speak poor Chinese, they stare, etc.)
But, as anyone that knows me knows, I like it. Some would get sick of it, even my Chinese friends took a while to get used to it. It will be wierd coming back to the States and not having everyone wanting to be my friend and take photos with me. Oh well.
Well, I got lost today, sort of. My partners went one way, I went another. I swear I saw the right sign... opps. So I had to take a back road to get back to highway 312 which was actually a blessing in disguise. It was a great rolling road (lovin the hills) through desert like hills with mountains in the back drop.
Then the road opened into the full backdrop of mountains -- beautiful. No real steep climbs today -- a steady uphill getting us ready for the climb tomorrow and then steep drop into WuWei. We will reach our highest point of the trip tomorrow (about 9,000 ft).
Today we are staying in a great mountain town where the air is fresh and the air is cool. I haven't had air like this since I've been in China -- it is a great feeling.
TienJou -- Fri, Jul 29, 2005
|We are at the half way mark and making incredible progress. Yesterday's volunteer day was press-packed and we were on the front page of the Lanzhou newspaper today. |
We are getting the word out here in China -- you can help us by getting the word out in the US. Keep spreading the word to your friends.
Also if you have any friends/acqaintances/lovers/arch-enemies that work in the media -- please pass along one of our press releases from http://www.biketheworld.org/china/press.php. We will be sending out more US related press information soon -- so please let our campaign director Mathew Farkash (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) know if you are interested in helping spread the word through the media.
|Everyday we pass 100's of people and in the quick ten seconds we "spend together" get all sorts of reactions. Some are excited, some are confused, a few are angry, and others just don't know what to do. When we stop -- people are almost always nice, friendly, and usually incredibly curious and interested (sometimes the interest is more in my bike and if my tires are pumped... but that's another story).|
So here you have it -- the six most common faces we pass while biking through China:
|Ha, good for you -- I think I will just sit here and have a newspaper cigarette. Yes that sounds much better.|
|Does Your Mother Know You are Doing This |
|What, do you want a medal or something...|
|It would be faster by motorcycle|
Yes brother, that is awesome! -- but you know I did the same ride 30 years ago, but there weren't any roads and my bicycle had square wheels...
|WTF -- "that is the dumbest, most idiotic thing I have ever heard. Take a train you fool."|
Lanzhou -- Thu, Jul 28, 2005
Another great volunteer day. This school is a small school that started less than 2 years ago. There are less than 10 kids that attend it now, but there are 30 members (ie families that can't afford to attend but still get advice, etc. from the school). Note -- this is the only school in Lanzhou (a city the size of Kansas City) for children with autism.
We started the day by participating in some of the morning exercises -- ie some chinese song that I couldn't understand but involved clapping and marching -- before having an interview with one of two TV stations of the day. After the TV interviews and one newspaper interview, we went to a radio station for a live 30-minute session discussion on autism and our bike trip (the director of the school was also there). Then we went back to the school and joined about 20 people for a bike ride and publicity shoot around the city.
Today we had two TV interviews, four newspaper inteviews and photo shoots, and a 30-minute live radio program. Now let me explain why this isn't just a silly ego boast, but actually one of the key parts of our trip.
As I have noted before -- many Chinese people have never seen or really had exposure to people with autism and some other mental disability. We are helping create that exposure -- piggy backing on what we are doing and my white face. It gives these incredible schools full page advertisements at no cost.
Starting this trip, I didn't really know if we were going to be able to get any coverage of this event in China. I don't know Chinese and don't know how to navigate the Chinese media. But things have worked out incredibly well -- thanks to Fang Wen Guang, Wen Ray, the leg work by the schools, and some friends that have also helped me link up with press in Beijing and Shanghai.