Turpan -- Mon, Aug 15, 2005
I have now been to the two lowest places in the world -- the Dead Sea and the Turpan Basin. The one great thing about biking to one of these places is that you know on the way there you are going down hill (tomorrow I'll tell you about the other side of the story...).
This is a place you don't want to miss -- not Turpan itself -- but the surrounding area; absolutely stunning. Incredible grapes at 15 cents/lb, fresh hami melons, blazing red mountains (and the heat to go with it), and some of the most beautiful people around (Uyighers).
QiKeTai -- Sun, Aug 14, 2005
Chinese is a pretty easy language to become 2-year old fluent in -- that means being able to say 100 words so that people pretty much understand you (with a few hand gestures if necessary). But after that it becomes tricky.
See it's a tonal language meaning you can say "ma" four different ways and it means four different things. This can create some interesting situations...
So we had just arrived at our "hotel" for the evening. I needed to head to the backyard to do my personal business (remember toilets are not necessarily included in the room fee...), but I didn't have any toilet paper. Confident in my 2-year old vocabulary I waded over to the grouchy inn keeper and asked "Yo Mai Yo Xiao Jie" -- what I thought ment "Have don't have TOILET PAPER".
But I got an unusual response -- the lady looked up at me and sparked (in chinese of course) "You just got here and you want Xiao Jie. There are many Xiao Jie downstairs. Wash up first."
I looked at her with a glazed look, wondering why she seemed so angry that I wanted toilet paper. I persisted -- maybe they just didn't have toilet paper -- "Wo Ca-ee Mie Xiao Jie Zai Nar" (Where can I buy "TOILET PAPER")
At this point Fang Weng Guang runs out and says, "Brad, you just asked where you could buy a prostitute." He hung out his head and explained the situation to the inn keeper -- she didn't seem convinced and still thought I wanted a prostitute.
And that's pretty much how we found out that a prostitute in QiKeTai costs 30RMB for one home-run and 120RMB for the whole night. Just make sure you don't get your "Shou Zhi" confused with your "Xiao Jie" next time you are in China.
YiWanQuan -- Sat, Aug 13, 2005
We've pulled one 10pm night on this trip so far (and it was in the rain) -- but this one had to top them all. We are now in the hardest part of the desert -- not the flat part -- but the rugged part with 90km between towns.
Today was an interesting day to say the least. I tried to get the crew out for an early start b/c I knew we would face some difficult terrain and conditions. My efforts were twarted by sneak 1 hour nap by Wen Ray and a whole lot of tom foolery between the two goof balls I am biking with.
So after biking/taking way too many breaks for 12 hours into incredibly strong winds -- we had only travelled 100 kilometers. I was not happy, given that I knew our next town was 22km away and it was now 8:30pm.
What happens next, Wen Ray pops a tire -- he spends 30 minutes trying to fix it, gives up and decides to take a bus to the next town. He pleads with us to do the same -- but I have a no car rule, it is bike across china, not take any sort of vechile you like across china. Problem is that the sun is setting, its beautiful, but dark is coming.
Fang Wen Guang and I set off -- hoping to crank out the last 22km in less than an hour. That would have been fine and all except for a 10km climb just before YiWanQuan. Now it is pitch black -- I am just following the white line in the road -- not wanting to even stop to find my weak headlight because of the vicous wind blowing in our faces.
5km for YiWanQuan Fang Wen Guang calls it quits -- its too dangerous he says -- there is 2km of downhill after the climb. He's right, but I'm stubborn, I push on. Probably one of the stupidest things I've done since sticking a piece of cotton up my nose when I was five but that's a whole other story...
I couldn't see a thing going down; headlights were blinding me, I really didn't have a clue where the side of the road (which had a 15ft drop off the side of it) was, against the strongest winds I've faced (and I've biked in a hurricane -- note the previous day they closed the road b/c the winds were too strong), and god forbid I hit something in the road...
I saw faint lights approaching -- it was YiWanQuan. Thank goodness. Wan Ray found the few beds that someone was willing to lend us and I shivered into the room. It was 11pm, but I made it -- bike across china continues.
Hami -- Fri, Aug 12, 2005
Wen Ray had a plan -- head north into the mountains before going west to Urumqi. What he failed to account for was the wind, the ascent, the lack of towns, his lack of a sleeping bag, water, the road, etc., etc.
I went ahead of Wen Ray and Fang Weng Guang and after some of the most grueling kilometers of the trip (literaly winds that would barely let you pass, going up steep grades) -- I assessed we wouldn't make our target for the day. This was fine with me, I had a tent, I could rough it... but Wen Ray had none...
I went back 10km (and it was fun going downhill with the wind) and asked the guys -- what do you think. Wen Ray made the call and the northern route was called off. Back to my orginal plan, route 312, the following day. We'll just call today a training day in the hills ;)
Hami -- Thu, Aug 11, 2005
Now I know what that phrase means -- biking in the desert with wind blowing in your face, pouring liters of water down your throat to vainly attempt to quinch a thirst that will not reside. Your mouth is parched beyond repair, your lips are crusting over from sun exposure and your legs are about to keel over from over 100 miles of biking.
It was a tough day -- but we made it, now we are heading north off of 312, into the mountains of Xinjiang. This was not on my route, but Wen Ray says it is very beautiful. Others just say its cold... But I'm happy, I like the hills ;) Bring 'em on!
Hami -- Thu, Aug 11, 2005
We are now through the worst of the Gobi Desert and have now gone further than the Tour de France (3,608km) -- and even though we didn't have the climbs they did, they didn't go through a desert either, now did they...
If you haven't been following -- we have had some great stories over the past couple weeks. In the Jiayuguan to Turpan stage be sure to read:
- Chinese Customer Service
- Kao, Kao, Kao
In Lanzhou to Jiayuguan be sure to read:
- Being a Chinese Wingman
- Talking Politics in China
- Where's the Beef... No Lamb?
And as always, send your encouragement, donations and spreading the word works best ;)
Thanks for all of your support, we are almost there (sort of ;) !
Small town on edge of desert -- Wed, Aug 10, 2005
Stayed in a small roadside town because the next stopping point is 150km away. It is slow living here, dictated by the roll of the trucks on 312. But the people were very nice and the accomodations, humm, well better than the barn ;) Feeling better, eating again!
Dunhuang -- Tue, Aug 9, 2005
Today we spent the day in Dunhuang -- famous for its sand dunes and incredible landscape. We decided to have some fun and rented a jeep to take us deep into the desert; dreams of getting stranded in the desert should begin...
As we headed to the shop to get supplies, the Jeep promptly stalled -- a sure foreboding of what was to come. But he hoped out -- took some newspaper, lit it on fire, through it into the engine, and we were off again.... how's that for a starter.
We went for about two hours, through desert graves, barren desert, dunes -- only with about 10 stops to adjust this gasket or that lever... but I started to become at ease because our driver seemed to know how to solve all -- a regular McGuiver. Then, just before he was going to let me drive (thank goodness I didn't), something blew and a gushing noise flowed up from the bottom of the car. We all jumped out of the car and took a look at a pool of oil sinking into the desert sands -- we weren't going anywhere...
We were in the middle of the desert -- luckily with plenty of water, but with little shade unfortunately. It was about noon and there were few places to hide and under the car was off limits. Two hours (!) later, a car came to pick us up and atthis point we weren't too happy. (I was actually kind of liking all of this -- but did expect to get my money back).
We mentioned that we wanted a refund and it was time to "go to the office". What proceeded was 3 hours of talking to this guy, his brother, his assistant, her secretatary, their cousin, the manager of the manager, the president but not the real one, his aunt, and her long lost twin. Why... not really sure... Fang Wen Guang and Wen Ray's repsonse "this is china. this is how we do it".
The first response to our request for a refund was that we should pay for the broken jeep -- WTF... Then came threats of calling the police because we were in an area that is forbidden for foreigners (but didn't they take us there...). Then saying they would give the money back if we wrote a letter saying we would drop the issue and then renegging and only offering part of the money...
Luckily this place also ran a motorglider business to take flights over Dunhuang. I actually really wanted to do this -- so we finally said -- how about you take all three of us on flights and we will call it even. These were flights that they charge more for than we paid for the Jeep in the first place.
At this point, I think they were sick of this whole process too and they took it. That's win-win; sort of; we got some great flights over Dunhuang and then our driver took us out on an ATV to see the sunset (he was actually a really good guy).
So what is the secret to Chinese negotations: I haven't a clue...
Dunhuang -- Mon, Aug 8, 2005
Sorry for this tirade of complaints -- but come on -- I've been sick... You'll at least be happy to know that I feel better now. Let's hope it stays -- I am running out of Cipro.
So this morning we had 30km of dirt, rock, sand, dust, you name "highway". No this isn't some off-track short cut that my compass told me might work. This is 312 -- the only major road to the West.
So for what reasoning should huge trucks come barreling at me blasting me with clouds of dust so big that render useless the surgical mask that I am futilely wearing. Well... I haven't quite figured that one out. They are supposedly building an express highway right next to what used to be 312 -- but from the looks of things I don't see much building going on -- just a lot of tearing up.
Supposedly they have been working on this for four years -- this tearing up thing. What about just doing it a piece at a time or maybe just leaving the old highway there until things are all set with the new one... Not sure the logic here, but maybe there is a good answer... maybe there's not.
But then again -- how fast would you work if you were being paid 22 renembi ($3.75/day) working 14/hrs and living in 100 people to a room migrant "houses". That is what we learned from our migrant highway worker from Nigexia provenice. Rough life... I guess biking 120 km over dirt roads while sick ain't that bad.
Lamb's Barn -- Sun, Aug 7, 2005
The start of the day:
Nope -- Cipro wasn't quite as cool as I thought it was. Still excreting every liter of liquid that I consume and a few liters from god nows where. Wen Ray pleasantly let's me know that the roads will be even worse today.
The end of the day:
Hum... it looks like its going to rain and because of the roads we won't make it to Anxi. What can we do? We'll we can stay in this converted lamb's barn that currently holds farm workers...
And that is what we did -- I was actually rather enthusastic about this; Wen Ray and Fang Wen Guang wanted to catch a ride to town. I threatened them with the crazy American will sleep in a tent outside and they acquisced.
Our great host of barn stall #2 pulled in two wooden crate boards (the ones with eight inch breaks in them) for us to sleep on (perfect for a good nights sleep, right...) I liked the beautiful concrete facade and the wonderful outside landscaping of broken down tractor parts, disregarded plastic bottles and used toilet paper. After enjoying my delicious bowl of roman-like noodles I went to bed -- only to be woken at 1am by my stomach's disagreement with the sprite and roman combination.
But check it off the list -- slept in barn
Yumen -- Sat, Aug 6, 2005
Let's just say I don't remember much about this day. Another case of the "my bowels will not accept any form of nourishment -- liquid, non-liquid or otherwise". It makes biking somewhat difficult. Let's just say I wasn't too pleasant today and flicked off way too many (or just enough -- depending on your perspective) chinese truck drivers.
I finally got to Yuman after 10km of some of the worst roads we have ever had (albeit topped by 30km of such roads the following day and the next day). After throughly damaging my ass, intensines and right frontal lobe -- we arrived at the hotel and I promptly went to bed. I wasn't in good shape -- we'll see if Cipro can do the trick again.
Jiayuguan -- Fri, Aug 5, 2005
This volunteer day was different than the other volunteer days. As far as we know, there is not a school or organization dedicated solely to people with mental disabilities in Jiayuguan. We had to contact the local governmental organization that deals with all people with disabilities and see if they were interested in helping us meet with some parents with autism or other disabilities. Our hopes we're not high (government beauracry in China doesn't usually work on a Bike Across China time schedule).
We got to town and went directly over to the governmental organization. We we're greated by a man who was anything but happy to see us. He promptly told us that autism was not a mental disability and went to the bathroom. I had warned Fang Wen Guang about this, but I wasn't really clear I guess. The Chinese government puts autism in the "social disorder" basket and it is not a "disability" -- so we have to be clear with the government that this is a "mental disability" thing... somthing we learned from the Special Olympics in China.
So we cleared that one up and he begrugingly agreed to go check with the boss -- but not before barking out "Where is HE from?" He neither seemed pleased or displeased that I was from America, thankfully Wen Guang didn't say Japan.
Then things turned 180, a nice woman greated us and jumped right into plans for the day tomorrow. Wen Guang was a bit taken aback and I was quite clueless to all that was happening. But then she said, the big boss had to approve all of this, it wasn't her call... Ah, I didn't think it could be that easy.
After a few minutes, the big boss came down. He seemed pleasant to me, but I later learned from Fang Wen Guang and Ray Wen that he was a bit abbrasive. He shot at us "Who are you?", "Why should I care?", "Who is going to pay for this?", "Let me see your ID?". Actually pretty fair questions in my book, especially given his lack of real incentive to help us out. It all ended with an agreement to call us the next day -- with an answer...
Well the answer was yes -- not due to the boss though -- but b/c the amazing woman went above and beyond to put together a group of four families to talk to us about their experiences in Jiayuguan with a child with a CNS disability.
One parent had a child with autism. We had met his child in Lanzhou and were on the front page of the local paper with her. He proudly brought the two newspapers we were in that he had.
The second parent had a child with symptoms very similar to Blake but we never got enough detail to really tell what the child was diagnosed with.
The third parent had a child that had mental disabilities as well as developmental disabilities (causing him to shake if he tried to walk).
The last parent had a child that was absolutely fine until he was seven and then developed a disorder that in some way prevented him from walking, especially in the winter.
We spent over two hours discussing their experiences, describing my little brother to them, comparing the US and China. No reporters, no photos; just talking -- at times the language barrier was very difficult, but the day was very fulfilling. My admiration for these parents in unbounded. They struggle to just get basic information about their children's conditions -- let alone the lastest treatments. There is relatively no support from them in Jiayuguan (the disability organization being their strongest ally) and the understanding in the community is not much better. I could tell they were tired (weren't we all) -- but they emmanated such a good feeling. They had it tough but kept trying to get to the next step to help their children. Truly devoted, caring, loving.
It was a good day.