From Sea To Shining Sea

I have at last arrived in Qingdao, which means I have now travelled overland all the way across the Eurasian continent. It was quite something to wander down to the beach, and dip my toes in the water (no more, it was cold!). I broke out of the fog at last, and I even hit a few minor hills on the way into town, so things are not as dull as they were.

I quite like the feel of this place – it’s not especially exciting, and would presumably be quite a bit nicer in summer – it’s too cold and windy right now – but it’s nice to kick back in for a couple of days. The Tsingtao brewery was a nice diversion – the beer they give you halfway through is a rather small glass, but thankfully at the end you get 500mL.

Much enlivening the proceedings here is that Yann and Em, who I first met in Bishkek, are also stopping here, along with Em’s Dad. It’s nice to spend time with people that you know somewhat, and can have conversations beyond the normal “what’s your name/where are you from/where are you going” conversations.

Not quite sure exactly what route I’ll be going from here south, but the rough plan is to head towards Nanjing, then Shanghai. Hopefully things will be a bit more interesting along the road – may follow the coast for a while.

I’ve been doing some thinking about Chinese culture, and things that are done here that I simply do not, and probably never will, understand. Will try and write up something if I have time here, or if the weather is cold and I stay indoors.

The Shining

All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. Fog, all flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy. All flat roads and no climbing makes Lindsay a dull boy.

I’m currently somewhere in Shandong province (don’t even know the name of this town in Latin script), just south of the Yellow River. The four days riding south of Beijing have been all flat, and incredibly dull. Flat roads, too many bad drivers, flat countryside, corn and cotton fields. For the last two days, it’s been heavy fog, visibility 5-10m, so there’s even less to see – although in a way it’s not quite so dull, as the danger factor has increased – Chinese drivers don’t slow down for fog, no sireee. You just have to beep your horn more frequently.

However, another two or three more days, and I’ll be in Qingdao, which should be more interesting, and I should have something more enlivening to write about. Possibly I’ll even drink a Tsingtao or two.

Repeat after me…

(preferably in a female BBC presenter’s voice)

Escalator safety is easy to learn, and easy to remember

I kid you not – this was part of the message I kept hearing on the MTR (subway system) in Hong Kong. It all felt very British to me, with so many pointless safety announcements and signs everywhere. For someone straight from the UK, I guess they would notice the Chinese influence more, but the whole place felt quite British to me – perhaps the large number of people from the sub-continent were part of it.

This is not to say it was bad – for one thing people were not staring at me. Another is that I have found the Chinese are not genetically incapable of good driving, as I had suspected. Remarkably few horns were in use, and I even saw one driver let another in. It did make for some odd moments though, as I would just waltz across the road when I felt like it, only to look back and realise that everyone else was waiting for the “cross now” signal. Someone else commented that they liked it because they felt like just another expat – perhaps that’s what I didn’t like, that I wasn’t special any more. Overall, I was glad to visit Hong Kong, but I’m not sure that I would want to live there.

I had two reasons for visiting Hong Kong – one to get a new visa, two to do some shopping. Visa was absurdly easy – used an agency to get a 90 day dual entry visa – all done on the same day. Easiest process ever. It’s like a big shopping mall there, so the shopping was easy too. This message is coming from my new iPod touch – a rather sexy little piece of kit that does music, videos, photos and can browse the net with Wi-fi. All with a very cool finger-operated display.

Flew back to Beijing, going to be here for a couple more days, then make my way to the ocean. Rather worryingly, I’m having a mechanical issue with my Rohloff hub – they’ve given me something to do, to try and fix it – need to get my hands on some kerosene. Hopefully it will hold together long enough to get back to HK, where I can go back to the “Flying Ball” bike shop – they are the regional distributors. Or maybe it will all come right, would save me a lot of hassle if it does.

Oh and thanks to all who sent me birthday greetings, much appreciated

Birthday in Beijing

It’s still taking a little while to sink in, but I have now reached Beijing. It seems a very long way from London – over 15,000km actually – and it feels a bit weird, walking around, meeting people who are complaining about the jetlag from the flight to London. Oh yeah? I just got in from London too…

Some tough, but extremely beautiful riding from Pingyao up to Beijing, following the G108. Patches were really tough, with massively cracked up pavement, enormous lines of coaltrucks, huge mudbaths to struggle through – but then at some points the trucks took a different route. Suddenly the road was beautiful new seal, through glorious rural valleys, just a few small villages, hardly any people. Really glorious riding.

But tough tough tough. At one point they were resealing about 20km of the road, and I had to wait for a while as the machine laying down the seal went past. Had to haul the bike up the side of the road past the hot stuff, then where it was a little cooler, I could ride by myself, on brand new seal, on a road blocked to traffic. Great right? Except it was a 20km uphill climb, winding around switchback after switchback, grinding my way up a never-ending slope. Finally reach the top, huge rows of mountains stretching off in the distance. Ridiculously steep concrete roads wind down to villages precariously perched on steep slopes.

Of course, all that uphill built up my credit…and then it was repaid…70km of downhill, through a glorious valley, with huge amounts of slate piled up on the side of the road, being cut and polished, before being boxed in crates to be shipped out. Getting later in the evening, decide not to stop at the obvious place, instead head up a tough, but short, slope into the deepening gloom, spying a small town at the outskirts of Beijing. Pull up at the place with a hotel sign, but some other locals say that I can’t get a place to sleep there. But don’t worry, come and have something to eat at our restaurant, and we’ll sort something out.

It’s now full dark, and I no longer have any lights, after one went missing (stolen/fallen off, not sure) the other day. There is another climb coming up, and no obvious places to stay coming up. So yet again, I put my trust in the locals, figuring that something will work out. This works surprisingly well, having only let me down once. But sometimes it’s a leap of faith, especially when you are having trouble communicating, and you’re not sure if you’ve got the message across.

So shortly I’m being given hot tea, to warm me up, and I’m recommended a dish. I haven’t learn any Chinese words or characters for foods yet, instead either pointing at dishes, or just picking a dish from the menu entirely at random. Sometimes that results in me getting a bowl of cold noodles and tripe, sometimes it gets some really nice stuff. For some reason I often get dishes with a lot of chillis in them, not sure why.

This time I end up with duck soup, with a ducks head floating in it, one eye staring up at me. Hmmm. How do I eat a duck’s neck with chopsticks? Oh well, tuck in.

The 6 year old daughter comes home from school, and is shown the foreigner. She is shy at first, but then out comes her English language book, and she is going through it with me, practicing the words. Her mother is also learning. Lots of fun. And then at the end of dinner, someone says “Come with me for somewhere to stay” – OK then. We pedal off into the dark, down some dodgy streets, into a dark residential area. Hmmm. But no worries – we turn into what seems to be some sort of place that I think is set up for slightly longer term apartment rental. I’m shown a great room, hot shower, all clean and nice – and they have a photo of another cyclist who stopped there! All costs the same as the 6 bed windowless dorm I’m staying in here in Beijing. The trust thing worked out again. The next day, it was a relatively easy 40km ride to the centre of Beijing.

My birthday is coming up shortly, and I believe that you should always have your birthday off. I’ve done this for several years, and see no reason to change. So I’m going to have some more time off in Beijing, and do a side excursion to Hong Kong by plane, to sort out a visa, and maybe buy myself some birthday presents.

Assuming that all goes well, and it’s not too cold, I’m then going to head to the coast – to say I’ve crossed the Eurasian continent – then down towards Qingdao, to have a Tsingtao.

Blackened

Blackened is the end
Winter it will send
Throwing all you see
Into obscurity

Well, perhaps not that bad, but things have been absolutely filthy on my way here, incredible levels of pollution, all those cheap “Made in China” things have a price, even if you don’t pay it upfront. Thick smog for days, you can barely see the chimneys and cooling towers through it. Valleys shrouded in smoke, just the flare of the tower in the distance…if only I could post photos here.

But in a perverse way, I’ve actually been enjoying it. Not sure I could keep doing it forever, but it’s an unusual sort of challenge. The roads have generally been OK, but for the last 100km, it’s just been a mudbath. This delayed me a bit, and it took me 4.5 days to get here, rather than the 4 I had hoped for. I was so filthy when I got here, that the hostel staff hosed down my bike, my panniers and me.

I’m now in Pingyao, a city that somehow escaped the bulldozers, and is something like what I expect much of China must have looked like – a walled city, with narrow streets, traditional architecture, really quite nice. Hopefully the tour groups are only here for the day, and it should quieten down tonight. I was only going to stop here one night, but I think I’ll take the day off tomorrow, have a rest. Then race up to Beijing, hopefully find somewhere that will have the rugby on. Local times will be shocking though, unclear if I can find somewhere that will be open.

Had a couple of students on bikes escort me the first 20km out of Xi’an the other day, quite nice since the road was a mess, and navigation was a touch tricky. Not sure what it is, if it’s me (filthy face and all), or the new province, but people seem to be treating me differently now. Far, far, more pointing and shouts of “Laowai” – can get a bit frustrating when you just want to sit and have a quiet moment of rest, eat a chocolate bar or whatever. Cars following me for 15km, cyclists riding along with me, seemingly not too bothered by my inability to understand them.

So a rest here, then the plan is to race to Beijing, hopefully find somewhere to watch the rugby. Current thinking is that I may get a flight to HK, to sort out my visa, and watch the RWC final there. Will see what happens – must do something about my visa though, current extension expires in two weeks.