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Lanzhou in September

Copyright Peter Snow Cao, 1999.

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Lanzhou in September
Finally, here at last to begin cycling after over one and half months of being in China. I'm virtually ready to go; yet I still haven't been able to locate the Driver’s Road Atlas that Rainer and I used the last time I was in China. And I can't find any province road maps either. I only have a very small scale impossible to read atlas of China with no distances shown. I was fortunate, however, and found a list of open cities, albeit in Chinese, yet it is a start.

I was thinking about trying to leave tomorrow, but I think that is pushing it a bit, so I will put it off for a day. Maybe I can get a few letters written.

A busy day, but I am very happy, no elated about finding the Drivers Road Atlas to China. Comparing the little red one that I bought yesterday to the present one is like trying to cross a ride rapid flowing stream in pitch dark or at noon. It is always such a challenge to find the things I need in China. Frustrating as well when I know they should be available somewhere.

I am remembering to take advantage of the opportunity of speaking English to English-speaking Chinese. It certainly paid off today as I met a guy in a department store who wanted to know how useful it was to know Spanish. It seemed odd, but who am I to judge. I told him in South America that it would be essential. Then I asked him about where I might find the atlas. He told me where I could find a big bookstore that might have it. I was wandering around thinking it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack, when suddenly spotted, not one, but two good atlases. It really made my day.

I also switched my inner tubes on my bike to the Chinese style and happily discovered that the 26" Chinese tricycle tire fits on my rims once the edge is trimmed. So I'm pretty well set to go tomorrow. It looks like it is about 82 km to the first open city with some climbs along the way, judging from the distances and the line lengths in the atlas.

Then this evening as I was returning to my room from dinner a man called me over to the second floor attendant's desk and asked me for my name. He then wrote a "poem" about me, paying me compliments, like I am a "very tall and handsome man with a beard, blah, blah, blah" (as the woman who was interpreting for me put it). He made me a very nice calligraphy scroll and put lots of chop stamps on it for long life, good health and the like. My interpreter said it was a very nice thing he did for me. I asked if I should pay him, and suggested maybe 30Y would be appropriate, but when I tried to pay him, he wouldn't hear of it. Tomorrow he wants to meet me as I am leaving to get our picture taken together.

Early morning observations: - I must be getting better: I am feeling pretty randy these days. - I think the Chinese women have the most beautiful legs in the world, and they don't hesitate to show them off, with tight fitting short skirts. - It is a male cyclist’s dream come true to see all the gorgeous well dressed woman cruising along on their bikes.

China seems to be relaxing its views on sex. In the bookstores, posters and books of nudes are readily available.

Today will be my first day of cycling in 50 days.

Yongjing
I am exhausted from a day full of adventure. Leaving Lanzhou by bike was a bit stressful. It was like starting the trip all over again.

The Happy Poet The first 30 km were flat and easy, but also very busy and noisy. I met the calligrapher/poet/writer outside the hotel for the picture taking ceremony. He is an eccentric man, but full of smiles and good will and friendliness. Maybe when I get to Chengdu or Kunming I can get the photos developed and send him a copy. As I was parting, he gave me two bottles of beer which I tried hard to refuse, but as usual, I lost the battle. He tied them on my handlebar bag. As I was leaving Lanzhou, I was lamenting what to do with them, as the last thing I needed was to carry another five pounds of weight. While I was contemplating this I spotted a baked sweet potato tricycle on the move. I hailed the yam man and pantomimed a trade of the beer for the spuds. It was a bit difficult to get the concept across, but eventually we agreed on three big yams for my two bottles of beer, and we both departed happy with the transaction.

The first 26 km went very well. Then my front tire went flat. Damn. It was the beginning of my most frustrating 20 km ever. I tried to find the leak but failed. I found a floor pump and got a full dose of air. This lasted about 10 km before going flat again. Then I had to stop every one or two kilometers and put in some air. The hand pump I got in Kasghar does only a very marginal job in exchange for a lot of effort. As I was getting blisters on my hands from all the pumping, I was cursing the Pakistani in Islamabad who stole my pump while I was at the movie theater.

Finally, I decided to try and change the tube, however, when I tried pumping the tire up, the side popped out of the rim. I tried a few times and gave up figuring I ruined the tire by riding in it while the air pressure was too low. Depression City. At this point I felt really low and frustrated. I thought that the only thing I could do would be to return to Lanzhou and get a new tire and tube. I sat along the road waiting for a lift back to Lanzhou when a small van going the other way stopped. The driver came back and I tried to explain the problem. He offered me a ride to Yongjing, which is where I was planning on going today. I accepted the ride figuring I could always catch a bus back to Lanzhou if I couldn't find what I needed there. He was a nice man, about 45, who was very talkative. He looked through my phrase book many times, and picked up on something in it told me all about it. Not that I could understand what he was saying, but we had a nice ride together nonetheless.

When we arrived in Yongjing, he introduced me to everybody he knew including two police officers, which made me a bit nervous, but nothing came of it. He organized getting my tire repaired and then offered to let me stay at his company's hotel for 5Y. He seemed pleased as punch to introduce to his friends. After all he had done, I didn't mind a bit. Now I'm laying here with a full stomach about ready to sleep. What a day! There is never a dull moment in China.

William Lindesay's words about being a guest certainly ring true. It is good, but you definitely earn your keep. I met Mrs. Ming Jie this morning and got a lift to the boat ramp in Mr. Su's Vanette with a "Big Potato" (Jie's name for the number-two man at the company). The boat trip was full of Chinese tourists "on business". It seems to be the way the Chinese get to see their country, by going on side trips while away on business. Jie said that they get 28 days of vacation a year if they are unmarried, but this drops to once every four years when they get married with 8-day vacation for the three years in between. Their workweek is six days for eight hours a day. On Sundays she usually does housework, or maybe a picnic in the country.

Bingling Grottes The boat trip was typically Chinese with cards, sleeping, eating, drinking, throwing trash in the reservoir, and number games (a very noisy drinking game where the participants throw their hands out with a number of fingers shown from zero to five, and simultaneously shout a number from zero to ten at what they believe the summation of the two hands will be. The loser has to drink a thimble-sized glass of potent alcohol). Having Ming Jie along was good as she acted as an interpreter for the Sichuan tourists who sat in our section of the boat.

The objective of the boat trip was to visit the Buddhist grottoes located at the reservoir, a damming of the Yellow River. The grottoes were in fairly good condition, some of which survived the destruction of the Cultural Revolution. However, our stay there was way too short which only allowed the briefest look at the several hundred statues. I would have liked to have spent the night there and a full day of looking around.

Returning, I was invited to dinner at Ming Jie’s home where fish, vegetable and rice were prepared. I was well fed and entertained by Mr. Su and his friends. It was very flattering to be in the limelight and I was made to feel very welcome. They were very curious about life in America particularly the aspects of money.

It is with great regret I that found myself telling lies to them regarding my activities and also ironic as I visited the grottoes on the same day. It began with Mr. Su ordering a meat dish when he took me to eat after he brought me here. I felt that at the time I couldn't explain that I don't eat meat after he already had it sent to my table. It is a concept that is as alien to most Chinese as saying I don't drink water, or breathe air. I always have a difficult time in restaurants and usually only have a 50% success rate. Then question about my trip came up and because I didn't want to appear too wealthy to them (as the disparity always seems to embarrass me) I lied to them about how long I have been travelling and when I was returning home (I told them 3 months and will return in 2 months). Then, as if to punish me, Mr. Ma says that maybe I will be able to ride a bicycle around the world sometime. I felt very small and downhearted. Why am I so modest? Why am I afraid to tell others that I have been travelling for over two years and probably will continue for another one? The truth may hurt, but lying is much more painful. I'll have to just accept that the inevitable wealth comparisons are there and if it is three months or three years, that is what it is and it is just as unreachable to most of the people I meet, even, come to think of it, from my own country.

The Buddha’s Noble Eight-fold Path

Right understanding
Right intention
Right speech
Right actions
Right livelihood
Right effort
Right mindfulness
Right concentration

Linxia (China's Little Mecca)
A quiet easy day. I left Yongjing without any fanfare (nobody met me on the way out). It was good in a way as I felt I needed a break from the stage. I got on the ferry for a second trip on the Yellow River. I was surprised when Ming Jie said that this was the Yellow River. I had seen it on the map and thought that this is one big river. But I didn't realize I was going to cross it.

The ferry dropped me off at what seemed like the middle of nowhere, there was only a small dirt track big enough for a jeep. It seemed unlikely this was the right place, but I got assurances along the way. The villages I passed through were classic. Virtually untouched by modern way, they were substance-level farming villages in a Muslim community. The adults and children alike were very surprised to see me. I was cheered on by the kids yelling, "May gwa ren" (American person). It was such a great feeling to find the China I remember with such vivid memories. It was a shock to finally arrive in Linxia, a typical ugly Chinese town of 16,000 after being on those bumpy dusty dirt roads.

Tomorrow I will try to get to Xiahe (Lebrang is the Tibetan name for the monastery), but it is 109 km by my map. I can't remember the last time I did over 100 km in one day. It should prove interesting.

On to  Lebrang Monastery

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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