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Spoke Notes Stamp

Peter Snow Cao
Spoke Notes

Copyright © Peter Snow Cao, 1998.

Skip to:   Travelogue Index | Introduction | South Korea | Hong Kong | Macao | China | India | Pakistan | China, Again

Skip to:   Travelogue Index | Introduction | On the Road Again | Pakistan | Roasting in Islamabad | Monsoon Washout | Breakup in Gilgit | Khunjerab Pass | Kashgar | Urumqi | Lanzhou in September | Labrang Monastery | Zoige, Sichuan | Farmhouse Family | True Love in Chengdu

William Holtby, Where are you now?

I am too tired to write. I went to Karakul Lake yesterday by bus with William Holtby. The road was VERY closed to bicyclists with two checkpoints along the way to Kashgar so a bus was the only choice. We stopped at Karakuri Lake, which is at an elevation of 3,800 m (12,500 feet) situated between the fabulous Konggurshan and Muztag Atashan mountains. We spent the day eating, playing chess and staring at the mountains. We decided we would save the 40Y the locals wanted to charge us for a tent and sleep under the stars. It rained a bit and we squeezed under my rain poncho with all our gear between us. I got a little wet but not too bad. It was strange because the temperature was much colder in late afternoon than it was at night.

This morning we caught a local bus and I had a pushing competition with one old Uighur who apparently just returned from Mecca and wanted both seats for himself. It went on for a few minutes, and then he gave in and we spent the rest of the ride in peace.

Alien Travel Permit

Here in Kashgar, I have run into lots of people I have met along the way: Kal (UK), Duncan (NZ), the Kiwis. I also heard from several people that I have lots of mail waiting for me at the GPO. Hurray! I'll pick it up tomorrow.

I have been searching for a plan of action to ring a bell in me, but nothing is very inspiring. Roland is apparently still here so joining up with him is still a possibility and cycle back to Hong Kong.

Yesterday Will and I discussed money making options for travelling; buying things in Asia and reselling them in the US and Europe. We would try to take a $1000 investment and make $3500 to $5000 back. The problem with this idea is I don't think I have the right temperament to follow through. Will thinks I ought to follow "The Grateful Dead" concerts around, selling scarves, jewelry, pipes and embroidered vests. I feel more comfortable going on bike rides.

"Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God."
Kurt Vonnegut

My immediate concern is tires, though it is probably not insurmountable. If the Chinese tricycle tires fit on the rim I think I can make them fit on the bike.

I just picked up my mail: a whopping 27 letters! Holy Cow! Colette had a class of fifth grades write to me as a class project. It was great fun to read them and quite inspiring as well.

I went back to the Seman Hotel to see if I could get a 6Y bed in the dormitory. It was still full. I took a look at it and they are packed in there like sardines. However, it looks like a great place to stay, as it used to be a foreign consulate compound, with courtyards and fountains (not operating), but still a nice atmosphere.

Sitting at the restaurant, I saw the old Pakistan crowd: Pierre, Jon and Ducan. After a while Roland showed up. We talked for a while discussing plans and options. Roland said he wants to take a bus and train to Lanzhou and start cycling there. He wants to meet a friend in Hong Kong at some point, so that will pin down his finish time. Roland has an easy going, relaxed style. I think we could work well together. It is not so critical to get the bike parts here as there wouldn't be much cycling until Lanzhou, where I think I could get new tires, a spare freewheel and maybe even a new pump.

Seeing and talking to Roland has renewed my enthusiasm for cycling in China again. Just riding around here, I was reminded how much I enjoy watching the Chinese.

"Travel magnifies and intensifies life."
Eric Hansen, The Traveller

Four Pakistanis moved in to the 20-bed dormitory and instantly the noise level tripled. I don’t care for their aggressive, obnoxious style.

I went wandering around Kashgar on the bike. I really didn't accomplish much of what I set out to do, except get some sulfur creme for my feet. Will said he had the same problem for three years and finally discovered it was a fungus that was causing the problem. It seems unlikely, but I'll give it a try.

Ah, the pleasure of getting decent food again. There are some benefits to the long-term traveler of having well-establish tourism in some places. I wouldn't want to find all of China converted, but after six weeks in the culinary hell of Pakistan, I am very happy to see some Western food again.

I went to the Kashgar Sunday market. It was interesting. There were plenty of hats and people to watch.

On the fourth day I finally get into the Seman "Slum" Hotel, as an Israeli called it.

"Get your priorities straight. No one ever said on his deathbed, "Gee, if I only spent more time at the office"."
Life’s Little Instruction Book

After a shower and the beginnings of breakfast, I'm feeling pretty good. Today is like the dawn of a new trip. I'm feeling really good. I am writing letters and enjoying it. I am sitting around in my dorm room going through pictures, organizing my stamps and record book, talking to people. I will continue with the plan to go to Hong Kong with Roland. Getting to Europe this late in the year just doesn't feel right.

It was another good day, just writing letters, eating and talking. I spent the evening with two guys on their way to Pakistan to do some trekking in the mountains. I also met Deb, an American woman going on her second year as an English teacher in China. I met a number of such people. Obviously, China holds a special attraction.

I have been thinking about Suzanne lately. She must be close by. It is too bad we weren't able to work it out, at least to Kashgar. I wonder how she will do in Africa.

‘Question authority."
Behram’s Words of Wisdom

I went to the post office to mail a few letters and questioned the charge by the postal worker that all my letters were over 10 grams. He took offense and began a string of abuse by first saying that if I don't believe him, then I shouldn't come to the Post Office. Then he said I shouldn't make demands. However, if I was a woman, it would be okay, but its not because I am a man. Finally he asked where I was from. I told him and it said, "It figures". It seemed like he was just taking his frustrations out on me. I just hope he doesn't interfere with my letters, both coming and going. It has been three days since I got any new mail. I feel sure that Elizabeth's letter must be in the next batch.

"Oh my husband is the one who reads the mail at the Post Office."
Heard second hand for a traveler who met a Chinese woman from Lhasa

A few days ago I was cycling down one of the main road with not a vehicle in sight.   Suddenly, I spotted a cyclist coming the other way headed right for me. I swerved to avoid hitting him and as I passed him, he swung his arm around and smacked hard me on the back. I was taken aback and turned around to look at him. He stood there yelling at me. Then it clicked; he was a traffic policeman enforcing the bike path law with the slap of the hand.

Bus Ticket to Urumqi

Road to Urumqi
Today began with disturbed sleep. The Pakistanis staying in the dorm were snoring big time. We got up about 3 AM real time, 5 AM Xinjiang time, and 7 AM Beijing time. The Chinese, in their desire to have one unified country, have dictated that the entire country has the same time. So even though in reality the country spans four or five time zones, the Beijing time rules the government offices and transportation timetables. So while a 7 AM departure my sound reasonable in Beijing, the reality is that here it is in the dead of the night. The people in Kashgar have compensated but adjusting their watches two hours later, but this results in more confusion, because one never knows what time it really is.

We got to the bus station and waited around for about an hour and a half or two before we got rolling. The Chinese have a policy that all bikes are charged a freight fee as if they were the standard farmer special, a 50 kg (110 lb.) rig made with extra heavy duty gas pipe steel rods and a rack capable of carrying anything from the standard 50 kg of rice to a complete bed or sofa (no joke, I saw with my own eyes). It didn't matter that our bikes weigh one third of the Chinese bike: a bike is a bike. Thank you China. The bike cost almost as much as the seat.

Day 1 on the bus to Urumqi – (The background noise is like being in India again, loud TVs, horns blasting, dogs barking, etc.)

We decided to take the "standard" bus because the deluxe models have very little room for luggage. We were jammed up near the front with no foot or legroom. They put family in front of us and they always bring a ton of stuff on the bus so there isn't any room to move. This is a three-day bus ride. We have two overnight stops and 12-hours of riding during the day along the way. I can tell it is going to be a very long journey.

On the way I set my bag down in the aisle and I discovered that somebody opened the top when I wasn't looking. Damn. I hope the bikes and gear is okay on top of the bus tonight. We aren't permitted to take it down until we get to Urumqi.

"Few things are fatal."
A reminder from the US Consulate "Travel Hints" when the frustrations seem overwhelming

I hate taking the bus! But I think taking on this stretch of road by bike would be insanity. However, we saw a cyclist westbound going toward Kashgar today, plus Jan and John did it as well as a number of others. Not for me though. I’ll take the mountains any day over the desert. Nevertheless, the landscape, however uniform, was indeed remarkable. Rainbow colored Grand Canyon-style terrain on the north, and an unending expanse of plains on the south, with the road stuck right in the middle. There is a green band of irrigated land at the edge of the plains, and everything else is a sandy brown color; the buildings, the road, the people, the animals, everything.

At one point we saw what appeared to be a line of snow or clouds striping the mountains off in the distance. I turned out to be the sharp contrast between the areas in cloud's shadow and those areas in direct sunlight.

Back tracking to yesterday. I had a bad time with the man in charge of the poste restante in Kashgar. He wields complete control of the international mail and I have a very bad feeling about him intercepting mail, holding it, opening it, etc. I have no proof, only feelings.

I tried to mail my old letters home and the hats I found in the dormitory. Everything went okay until I paid him. He didn't want to put the stamps on while I was there, saying that all he had was low value stamps, 0.8Y and 1Y. Yet he sold a 2Y stamp to someone while I was there. He said I could come back on Monday and see the stamps put on the package, and what's the matter, anyway, don't I trust him? I wanted to cancel the whole matter, but I felt it might jeopardize me getting any further correspondence or the rest of my mail out of China.

I felt my chances were reduced after I met a Brit in the post office and he talked to me at length about his intrigue with the PSB. He said they have intercepted his telegrams from home and he threatened to notify the British Consultant. He said that they should produce something in the next few days, as they would hate for the higher powers to get involved. He also told me he has some interviews set up with the BBC and that he was going spying again. What a crazy guy. I hope he knows what he is doing.

Bus to Urumqi - Day Two. After yesterday's events, today was a piece of cake. In some ways I think it is a good idea to start in the middle of the night because I am so tried that I have no choice but to sleep part of the way, lessening the time I feel discomfort by the amount I slept. I think I was totally rebelling the first day on the bus, and submitting to it today. The landscape was an exact repeat of yesterday. It was as if we didn't make any progress at all. I am glad I am not cycling this. However, I am looking forward to getting on the bike again, soon.

We are stopped in the middle of nowhere due to some mechanical problems. Early morning on the bus, the twilight yields an expansive sky, filled with stars. Dawn appears slowly.

On to  Urumqi

Skip to:   Travelogue Index | Introduction | On the Road Again | Pakistan | Roasting in Islamabad | Monsoon Washout | Breakup in Gilgit | Khunjerab Pass | Kashgar | Urumqi | Lanzhou in September | Labrang Monastery | Zoige, Sichuan | Farmhouse Family | True Love in Chengdu

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