To Xian

August 19, 2011 - Xian, China


So as is standard, none of the top quality foreigner friendly hotels have working internet. But I have now made it to Xian (a tourist haven, foreigners can stay almost anywhere) meaning that the easy third of my venture across China is completed. In summary the rest of the route is mountains, and then MOUNTAINS!

I am now in my fourth province of China having cycled through Beijing, Hebei, Shanxi and recently arriving in Shanxi (no, not a typo, these two are distinctly (to the Chinese) different words, one is pronounced shan-see and the other is pronounced shan-see but although you are going over a speed bump. This is an example of the Chinese tones, of which there are four. The same word said in a different tone has a completely different meaning (much to the confusion of westerners). The border of between the two provinces is marked really by the Yellow river. Not a small beast, the crossing bridge is 1496m long! It is also marked by a stone, on arriving much to my confusion my cycling team start jumping from one side of the stone to the other shouting ‘Shanxi-Shanxi, Shanxi-Shanxi, Shanxi-Shanxi! I stand confused, unsure of the meaning of the stone and all the words sounding the same to the untrained western ear.

We have been putting in some pretty heavy days of riding to cover the 600km from Pingyao to Xian in five days. We have also had a decent amount of rain, always unpleasant but particularly so when the people riding around you have no mudguards! It’s been much cooler with the rain, so much so that I wore my jacket out last night, I noticed in the van that it was 21 degrees, hardly cold! Either I’m acclimatised to the Chinese weather, or it’s a manifestation of the cold I have been trying to shake since Beijing, which is raising increasing concern! The twenty one Chinese medicine tablets I was originally instructed had little effect, these were replaced in Pingyao by completely different looking tablets, dosed at a mere six per day, these were then dismissed as useless yesterday and I was given a third alternative and a dose boost to fourteen!

The past few days apart from being faster, hillier (but still ridden in the passive style) and longer than the first have been similar in stopping in towns en route to visit the Giant shops and be interviewed by the TV, picking up the occasional entourage, eating and sleeping.

A notable entourage was collected in Houma, we had the owner of a Giant shop and his friend. The owner was somewhat Gangster, with one earphone permanently in one ear (through conversation, riding, photos and eating) and music blasting out of his red and gold mountain bike. The other accompanier was morbidly obese, plenty of power but I suspected little stamina and zero social riding skills (always blasting off the front, occasionally in a dangerous fashion.) Outside of Houma we hit a few hills, in response to the first, our large friend (despite already being off the front) went for an all out sprint, then predictably died over the others, allowing us to obtain a good 5-10 minute banana break at the top to wait for him. Similarly it was clear when the gangster hit the pain cupboard, with the gradual fade of the Backstreet Boys and then the return of Michael Jackson!

Upon approaching lunch, I saw some huge Chinese characters spread across the hills, (very much like the HOLLYWOOD sign). I assumed it was the name of the upcoming town, as a corny rip off of the American version but asked anyway, it turns out that the characters indicate it’s a protected beauty area, making the characters somewhat ironic!

I thought I had become fairly accustomed to the range of quality of toilets in China, but today I broke some new ground. This morning in the process of heading towards some trees on another national road closure, the others found a toilet (unfortunately it turns out!) My Chinese character vocabulary is gradually expanding with the continual drilling from the road signs. One character that I feel I must put particular effort into learning is the symbol for female. My theory that the women’s toilet is always the most inconveniently located, has never failed me but I figure I don’t want to be caught in a difficult situation. This morning’s toilet was an open air hole full to the brim of maggot-infested sludge, setting the bar pretty low. This afternoon we found a close runner, after passing a sign on the way in telling us we would have to pay to use the toilets, we discover what may have been at one stage plumbed squat toilets, but had definitely not seen water, or been cleaned for weeks, maybe months, each open door toilet (always nice to stare someone in the eye) was full of faeces and there were plenty of feasting flies. In both situations, leaving me confused as to why the trees are not utilised more often – certainly my preference.

Another necessity that is highly variable on the Chinese scale has been food. I have been lucky so far to have experts in the language and culture to show me what’s good and to translate the various dishes that I come across. One thing to be avoided that continually crops up is tripe. Often disguised in various shapes and forms, other entrails are also common. One evening in Yuncheng we went for a street BBQ. I’ve had positive experiences with these in the past, however here the only things ordered were our good friend tripe, and sheep bones. As a lesser of the two evils I went with the sheep bones, but clearly not enjoying this, some BBQ’d green beans were ordered – which were awesome, as was some bread which was as close to UK bread as I’ve found in china – either being sweet or made from rice. As it was recognised I was a fan of the bread, I was introduced in the new Shanxi to a beef stew, to which a huge amount of this bread is soaked in. It’s such a perfect dish for a ‘cold’ rainy day, I hope that I’m able to order it when the native speakers leave! It’s also sad that I will not have the thousands of provincial special foods pointed out to me by my hosts, its been great not to have to order, but to just try whatever has been put in front of me.

But now in Xian, I’m looking forward to a rest and hoping to see the Terracotta warriors! but I'm really really sad to leave the amazing company of the Giant cycling team, things have been far far too easy for me and they've been great company :(

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tim johnston:
August 19, 2011
Mmm, yes, I learnt a fair bit about toilet habits from my (ex-)Chinese g/f. This is normally a communal activity, albeit segregated, which takes place at dawn: the men outside in the roadside ditch, the women indoors in a special trench...

Take care of that cold! Where can I get proper details of your route?


tim johnston:
August 19, 2011
ps. Whoever is in charge of showing your route on the map seems to be a bit confused! Maybe it's hte tones...
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