Xinjiang, a province situated in the north west of China, has the harshest nature. I have to cross a vast desert from Urumqi to Lanzhou. It will be hard, I know...
At least, I could enjoy the first one third of the month in the international harbour of the former British empire: Hong Kong, which is still maintaining the system from the colonial time. This crazy hybrid city has the influences of a lot of cultures, which made it unique and very interesting. Anyway, at the end of this month, I should be on the rim of the Chinese culture.
Five AM in the morning, I was still sleeping. I was too tired to notice, that there was a phone call from the airport: they found my passport holder. VIVA HK!
We decided to go to the airport in the evening, since there was no need to hurry anyway (or actually we misunderstood the fact that "Lost and Found" is open between 7 and 12pm, which actually was meant to be 7am to midnight)
At noon, there was a Brit, Nick who visited us. Actually his apartment was 50km away (yes, indeed, Hong Kong is pretty large) and he came by bicycle. According to Osman (who is by the way my host in HK if you didn't see the last part of my post for March) there are a lot of cyclists in this city. I didn't write it in the post for March because I wanted to make it clear how disoriented I was because of the credit card, but the roads in Hong Kong are very good. The habitants there appreciate the (past) presense of Great Britain so much, well Great Britain did a good job but I come to this point later.
It is actually not particularly warm in Hong Kong. I was expecting something like tropical climate but I have the feeling that there is almost no difference between Hong Kong and Urumqi in temperature. But the humidity is completely different: it's exactly like Japan. I think those who are living in Europe should once go to Hong Kong or Japan to know what I'm talking about but it sincerely makes you lazy. It resulted in having instant noodles twice on this day. I don't know when I had something like this the last time but I think it was in Japan, so probably 7 or 8 years ago?
In the evening, Osman and I left the apartment at the same time since he needed to buy stuff from IKEA, which made me again think of the life in Europe again.
The subway system in Hong Kong (or maybe only this line) comes from Osaka, Kinki... whatever. It was to be honest not as comfortable as the one in Almaty, which was built buy Hyundai (though this subway is a little bit older) but still had a very good quality.
It was a little bit noisier than in Japan but it's almost impossible to be as quite as in Japanese subway I suppose.
The subway in Hong Kong works pretty much like in Japan, namely a bit different than in Paris: depending on where you are going, you must pay a different fee. You can buy a single ticket at the station but according to Osman it would be cheaper to buy the so called "Octopus card". You can put as much money on it as you want and every time you pass the gate the fare will be debited. As in Japan, you can buy small stuff with this card for example at Seven Eleven (sorry for advertising Seven Eleven so much. It doesn't have anything to do with patriotism but I used it very often during my stay in HK, though they are almost non existent in Europe)
So, I came back to the airport (with this bus). My passport holder together with my credit card and ATM card came back without a problem.
So, I didn't need to hesitate to go to MacDonald's anymore. I ordered a "Japanese style ramen" at the airport. You will see how much I love this dish along the way to Japan.
I think most of you know what Merlot is, but have you ever heard of Shiraz? It's a city in Iran, which used to be very famous for its wine. Now, under the Islamic regime, of course it's forbidden to produce wine so only the vine went to other countries, such as Australia, to be produced in small quantities. I was not particularly looking for it but I always wanted to try it once. And here you are, the city of real quality, Hong Kong. I did not buy exactly this one but the one I bought was very sweet. And at this point, I found out on wikipedia, that this grape actually comes from France, even from the region where I lived, namely Rhône valley. No wonder that I had never heard of the name Shiraz, since it's called Syrah in Europe :)
It's probably not so surprising that I don't speak Cantonese, though I can understand most of what is written in Chinese characters since pretty much the only difference between Cantonese and Mandarin is the pronunciation, as is the case in French and Spanish, for example. And as Japanese I understand almost all the Chinese characters so the written language is not a big issue.
However, what if you come to HK without being able to speak Cantonese? Literally ALL of those from Hong Kong I had seen in my life told me, not many people speak English in Hong Kong. I was expecting something like Japan. No, not at all. You may see unpunctual Germans or Italians who cannot flirt or Russians who cannot drink vodka, you will NOT see two persons on one day who do not speak English. What's more, in department stores they talk to you directly in English, even if you look Asian (let alone European). Mandarin, on the other hand, might not be understood, while in the mainland everyone can speak Mandarin to a degree despite huge regional differences in dialect.
Do you still remember why I went to Hong Kong first of all? Well, it's because I need a visa for China (cf. Feb. 2013). Since Apr. 1st is a holiday, I went to the tourist agency on the following day. I just handed over my passport and a photo, filled out an application form and left the office. It took maybe 20 minutes. aha. By the way, the background of your photo must be blue for the Chinese visa. Most tourist agencies can change the color without charging you so much (2 HKD = 20 EUR cents)
The day started appropriately enough as I got up at around noon. I'm still living according to the Kazakh time.
The weather. Under the British regime, probably Hong Kong adopted the bad weather of Northern Europe. It was namely raining, like in Germany, non-stop, but never too strong. Nevertheless, I decided to walk along the harbor.
Hong Kong is probably most famous for its film production, I suppose. I think it's also a great place to make movies, if it's a good weather...
In most countries it's a good idea to buy a SIM card even your stay is very short. Well, actually except for Turkey and Japan, I can almost always recommend to get a SIM card. Here in Hong Kong, you can use the mobile internet as much as you want for around 8 euros for seven days, even with tethering. A SIM card with contract might be even better. Anyway, it's probably the reason why there are so many people staring at this tiny device. Well, I cannot laugh at them since I was part of this group of people.
The region I cycled through was not particularly clean area. The people did not so much care about the hygiene. Hong Kong is different. They have the top quality and you must convince the people that they are not going to be infected by saying how often they desinfect the door grips. (And this was not just an accident that I encountered such a note since you can find it everywhere in Hong Kong. It looks almost they are obsessed with infection, which may come from the humid subtropical climate)
Most of the constructions, according to Osman, haven't been changed since the return of Hong Kong of 1997. It was also made clear in this part that it was built under the British regime. Very nice European style architecture.
And you know what? I could find the crispy sand of Haägen Dasz of Matcha taste!! This used be my favorite ice cream in Japan but this mysteriously disappeared from supermarkets about ten years ago. I don't think that it was unpopular. Anyway, you can still find it in Hong Kong, which seemed to be almost a wonder to me because I still remember the days of my childhood searching for the defunct cryspy sand of Matcha taste and without expecting it at all, I could find it outside of Japan (you can find it even in every seven eleven in Hong Kong)
Starbucks are very busy in this country. There was no reason for me to go there but I used Starbucks at least 10 times during my stay in Hong Kong. I don't know what other quasi-nomadic people do or feel, but in my case at least, I can live without internet for weeks, but whenever I have the internet I stick to it for a long time, or I can live without eating sushi for years, but whenever I go back to Japan, I always eat sushi. Also the very first thing I bought after Iran was a small bottle of vodka. I didn't miss Starbucks but since it was absent for such a long time and it was there at once, I could not help going to Starbucks, as well as MacDonald's and Seven Eleven.
A typical street view. They use bamboo for construction zones. Or it's even more like they use ONLY bamboo everywhere in Hong Kong. Well, Abel told me that bamboo is not particularly welcomed in many places because of the roots. It might be a solution in Hong Kong?
A little bit like in japan, there are historical spots sometimes in the city. The result is, through the gate you can see skyscrapers.
I could also buy a new rucksack. In Germany I had a rucksack for a very long time but usually I don't use a rucksack, which might become a target of stigmatization. Well, it was not particularly the reason but rather I'm planning to hike in China and Korea if possible and the hand bag that I bought in Georgia out of necessity will certainly not be quite helpful, I think.
There is a very famous restaurant in Japan, Watami, which also exists in Hong Kong though the people think it's not a real Japanese restaurant there. Indeed, you can find Watami everywhere in Tokyo (in other regions I don't know. Maybe not in Gifu). It appears to me a wonder that Japanese restaurants are so popular in this city. Look at the people standing in front of the restaurant. They are waiting for a place there.
I think, though I'm not very sure, private gambling is forbidden in Hong Kong. However, there is something called "Jockey Club", which is just horse racing (as the name indicates...). Osman told me that there's a lot of money involved in this business. There is something called "Pachinko" in Japan and I was wondering whether Japan was the only country in the world where the people can be so crazy about gambling but Hong Kong is not much less than that, if I look at this.
Later in the evening, I tried to go back home on foot. However, I ended up taking a bus after having noticed that Hong Kong is really not that small. Well, if I consider the fact that only 25% of land is used there, it must be a huge place in total.
So, again, I got up very late in the morning, at 12... Anyway I went to the toursit agency again to get back my passport. In Hong Kong, you must usually always carry your passport but Osman told me that for Japanese it's not that crucial. Anyway, I got my passport back with a visa inside, for three months!!! (it was by the way 350 HKD, I think...) So, here's a small announcement: I'll try to arrive on the Saturday of July 13th, which is a long week end in Japan. I don't know how many people can fit into my parents' place but with a bit of acrobatics there can certainly be 10 people or so. And a friend of mine is organizing a party for me, which may or may not be held in Shinjuku. If you are free on that date, it would be pleasure for me to see you there. In this case, please feel free to contact me at the top of the page. I'm looking forward to seeing you in Tokyo :)
Sorry for putting a totally irrelevant photo here above but I just wanted to say that I went to the museum of art? or something like that after the tourist agency, because every Thursday, the museum of art and the museum of history are free of charge (but anyway it takes only less than 2 USD). I wanted to go to the other museum but because of my formidable orientation sense I ended up being at the museum of art. It was almost like a visit, in order to have been there. :)
For those, who don't speak Chinese nor Japanese at all: Japanese language has three different alphabets, which are called Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. Kanji are the Chinese characters that were imported to Japan a few thousands of years ago. Hiragana and Katakana are required to fully reproduce the Japanese language. So, for Chinese, it's almost impossible to read Japanese phrases due to the presense of Hiragana and Katakana. However, this hilarious advertisement contains one Hiragana "の", though they also use the Hong Kong type of writing system of Kanji at the same time. Later I found out that, actually ALL the people in China, incl. Hong Kong can read this one letter "の", which more or less means "of". Nice thing.
In the evening, Osman and I spontaneously planned to have BBQ at home. And we invited one local guy and we just drank. Every day it's a little bit different but it ends up drinking. I think after such a long time of Islamic countries, it's not that bad to drink a little bit again :)
As you can see on the photo, there's a very big British flag at Osman's place. Not only at his place but everywhere in the city you can still see this flag, or the flag of British Hong Kong though of course it's not required anymore. During my stay in Hong Kong, I could not hear any negative opinion on the British occupation. According to what I saw (later), the British government had to change its policy over Hong Kong after they were defeated by the Imperial Japanese Army, since its invincibility was somewhat gone.
I don't need to do a lot of things everyday. I got the best visa for China I could ever imagine in this moment and my credit card and ATM card came back again. Maybe I've got a little bit lazy in Hong Kong. Anyway, I didn't want to get up too early this day, though still there was some stuff to see and to buy in Hong Kong. At least I decided to walk around Taipo Area, where Osman's apartment was located.
Not everywhere is highly developed in Hong Kong. This local area still holds the very nice traditional style. It's a little bit funny that every corner of this city reminds me of Japan. Maybe because of the never-ending bad weather and their very close connection.
Whenever I could, I made it clear that I was Japanese. I'm visiting MacDonalds' almost every day but every time, I'm trying to show a little bit of "Japaneseness" in my behavior, not because I want to be handled in a different way, but because I'm just curious about how different the reaction of the people might be. And indeed, it's a bit different. They have already got the impression that the declination of the Japanese economy is too visible but they have still a very high expectation of politeness and general good manner, according to my hearings. Hong Kong and Iran might be the only one places in the world where Japan is loved to such a high degree. Even the very severe time they had during the WWII doesn't seem to have an effect on the society of Hong Kong nowadays (which appeared to me a wonder...)
I was even too lazy to drink on this day. It was probably the first time since the beginning of my stay in Urumqi (but I had long dried out before I arrived in Urumqi so it's not really a problem I daresay!!)
I know that many of you reading this blog are travelers themselves and there's really not so many MacDonalds' in the world. Here, a photo that might be a little bit reminiscent of the western capitalism :)
Hey, did you know that there's a Disney Land in Hong Kong?? I know that there is one in Japan (Tokyo Disney Land, though NOT in Tokyo) and thankfully enough the concept in Hong Kong is a little bit different, or let's say, it's a bit strange in Japan: Tokyo Disney Land exists exclusively for young families or couples. If EVER I go there for example with King Eduard of Northeim, I'll get social problems for sure (Tokyo Disney Sea is even worse. That's the reason why I haven't been there :)
There were some couch surfers who organized a Disney Land day in Hong Kong, in the middle of my stay! Nice! So I told them I would be there, which turned out to be impossible for me, as I got up at noon, believing that the weather forecast would tell me the truth, a storm, which ended up being the finest weather I had in Hong Kong. lol.
This possibility was anyway gone. What to do?
There was actually one couch surfer, Ellen who contacted me because of my post on couchsurfing about the Hard Rock café (because I'm visiting all hard rock cafés of the cities I visit). Hard Rock café was actually not that important to me but just I wanted to see locals there. So, we decided to go to the museum of Hong Kong history.
And this is the museum that you should for sure visit if you are interested in the history of Hong Kong. The thing is also, I don't really trust history museums in China and Japan. I mean, you must be able to understand that they are kind of both struggle to chip away their own troubles, but to be honest, I have a little bit more confidence in the history museum in Hong Kong. It was by the way also the first time for me to see WWII from the other side of Asia, namely from the side of the war victims. However, we could not come to this point on this day because we arrived simply too late, mainly due to my very casual style of time distribution of a day.
In the evening, on the other hand, I had the opportunity to visit a German and English Christian couple. Appropriately enough there are a lot of Christians in Hong Kong. All of the people gathered here were Christians. Osman, on the other hand, comes from Indonesia, an Islamic country. He was also at the meeting but he does apparently pretty much the same thing as I do: simply follow the others. If they ask me, I'd say I'm no religious or I'm a Shintoist but otherwise it doesn't bother me that the people have different religions and different custom.
Sometimes I really don't know how my body works, especially when I manage to sleep eleven hours... I'm a kind of person who lives with 23-hour cycle, which started to crumble since the beginning of this trip. After all, it's not that easy to cycle everyday. I get exhausted. And probably this exhaustion arrived a little bit late this time. Yes, let's put it like this :)
I went to MacDonalds' nearby where the waiters meanwhile can recognize my face and almost automatically bring a sandwich and a coffee, which is by the way my breakfast, at 1pm... This day was gone after I studied Chinese for hours. This is the most important thing at the moment as I'm supposed to go back to China to go through that vast country taking more than a month.
Here, look, people from all around the world. Here in Hong Kong (as in Japan) all the people are aligned on the right side when they use an escalator, making way for those in a hurry. This is the order that governs Hong Kong.
In the evening, there was Nick who invited us for dinner. His apartment was near the airport, as this part of the city is deemed to be occupied by white people. As far as I know there's no reason to separate different nationalities in Hong Kong but it resulted in like this.
Nick is also a cyclist and he's planning to go back to England by bike, which would be pretty much the opposite of what I've done. If ever you get the same idea, you can always ask me now, because I know exactly which routes can be taken. Actually, the world looks huge and you probably get the impression that there is an uncountable number of routes ramified all over the world. No, there are only a handful of possibilities you can choose. Maybe I'll make a corner for this stuff on my website.
The major islands in Hong Kong are connected by road, but still you can take a boat to go to a different place. On the way back home, we took exactly this boat on the photo and went to Hong Kong island (for those who don't know: Hong Kong consists of a peninsula jutting out of mainland China and different islands. The biggest island is called "Hong Kong island", which I suppose was handed over to Enland after the first opium war)
The Hong Kong island is also the cultural and administrative center of Hong Kong. Due to its importance, you can see sometimes strategical structures like here: untypically of Hong Kong, this road is relatively narrow. It's because if there's an attack on the island, or a large demonstration from the inside, the army can easily block main points. So, this is probably one of the points which might have been barricaded in emergency, Osman told me.
One district is completely occupied by clubs and bars. Exactly in the middle of this district, there's the old main police station of Hong Kong under the British occupation. When the Chinese government took the control over Hong Kong, they intended to move this building somewhere else, thinking it's better to separate the district of entertainment and the administrative district, only to end up being harshly protested by the people in Hong Kong (I don't know why).
Osman and I walked around for a while, figuring out which bar/club would be good. Hard Rock Café of Hong Kong was by the way also there, but the atmosphere was a little bit different: There were people singing inside, whereas it was not very clear if it was karaoke or live music. Well, you know what I mean :)
Behind Hard Rock café there's a stairway to go onto it, and it looks like this on the photo. It was a Saturday but probably there's no street like this in Tokyo, as far as I know (though Tokyo is really not the place for clubbing)
We went to one of the bars where at first Bon Jovi was running and then Queen, Chili Peppers. Hui nice. We stayed there until the last marshrutka-like mini bus was about to leave and went back home. The next clubbing will be in Shanghai or Seoul. There's a long way to go (though there was nothing either during two months and a half in Iran. With this in mind it will not be too hard I would say)
I contacted Ellen again, as I really didn't have anything anymore to do in Hong Kong. Actually during the last session we talked about what might be interesting in Hong Kong. There are of course several possibilities written in Lonely Planet there, but none of them would be interesting according to Ellen. At least there was one thing, the museum and hobby and toy? or something like that which she didn't know so we decided to go there.
Ellen had time later in the afternoon. Therefore I decided to go to the museum of history again, to the first floor, which is dedicated for the modern history of Hong Kong, including the era of the Japanese occupation.
But the modern history of Hong Kong starts with the occupation by Brits. These buildings were first made by them. Can you recognize some of these buildings? They have already appeared here in this page.
Just after the beginning of the war, Great Britain declared that Hong Kong would be in the British defence. As a matter of fact, this was merely the recognition of a standing fact since there was no force to spend in Asia for Great Britain. As a result, Great Britain was forced to concede a colony to the invading power for the first time in history. At the same time, the people in Hong Kong hated Japan, probably even more when it came under the Japanese occupation, as I know that in case of Qingdao for example, there was a very good infrastructure set up by Germans but Japanese did not do anything at all.
These photos are supposed to describe anti-Japanese sentiments of that time, but I'm not quite sure what they really represent. It might be a very abstract expression...
Well, so far was the Japanese occupation. Fortunately it didn't last forever and after the liberation, Japanese gained quickly a very high status in Hong Kong, probably also contributed by the fact that Hong Kong, under the British occupation again, and Japan went a very similar direction. The development of technilogies, which was exhibited in the following section, looked exactly like that of Japan, which is a little bit weird regarding the fact that in all the other countries in Asia it did not look like this. In 1990 the GDP per capita of Hong Kong surpassed that of the sick man of Europe. It was again the first time in history that the GDP per capita of colony beat that of the homecountry.
While I was staying in Hong Kong, Margaret Thatcher died. She was the person who gave back Hong Kong to China, with the condition that the system would not be changed for 50 years. China was obliged to create two different systems in one country, which made a very strange situation that Chinese citizens cannot go to Hong Kong without permission while I can go there without restrictions. Still there are a lot of people coming to Hong Kong from the mainland for different reasons, making up now about 25 % of population. In total, little has changed since the restitution but Hong Kong is certainly changing now. I'm very anxious to see Hong Kong in 34 years.
In the evening, I met Ellen at the station. She was born in Hong Kong but she spent her whole childhood in Costa Rica. Besides, she told me that she would arrive 20 minutes later she told me on the phone. Ok, if Latin Americans say 20 minutes later, it must be at least 40 minutes later, I thought. I spent more time in the museum. In reality though, she arrived in time. Furthermore, there are two stations with almost the same name in Hong Kong: Mongol and Mongol east. However, they are not directly connected. Not only not directly connected, it's actually pretty tough to go from one station to the other, although I found out later the distance between these stations was zippo. Well, GMT stands for German maybe time so it's not a wonder that I arrived almost 45 minutes too late.
We didn't have anything particular to do, as we decided to go to the hobby and toy museum on the following day. We just had dinner together and we walked around the city. In the end, we went to a bar nearby and stayed there until midnight, until my birthday actually. It's a pity that I didn't make so many photos.
I'd coin the term "otaku museum" for this museum, hobby and toy museum. It was firstly quite expensive. The stuff you can see there is consisting of American and Japanese figures, as you can see on the photo. Ellen and I could be amused a lot but I can imagine that there'd be a lot of Europeans who cannot appreciate the characters there. I was not particularly surprised to hear that there was one person who collected all this stuff and created this museum. Yes, it looked precisely like this.
After the museum we went to a café and just talked for a while, as she didn't have so much time.
At home, I was shocked to see my mail box going nuts. There were twice as many people who posted on facebook to my birthday as the previous year. Hm, it's possible that I really have twice as many friends as before.
On facebook I could talk with Noshad again. I never mentioned in my blog but I still talk with her a lot, as Shadi never appears on chat (and Omid doesn't have an account on FB). Noshad does not seem to be particularly satisfied to hear "Hey! How's Shadi doing? and Armita? and Omid? and by the way how are you?". Well, I'm not really a person who can ask a teenager girl about her temper which I know changes every 5 seconds... (with the hope that Noshad is not reading my blog anymore)
In the evening, Osman and I went to the nearby market, to celebrate my birthday a little bit. Well, it was just a dinner outside. Nothing very special.
In other countries you can probably never see anything like this, but traditionally in China they leave whatever they cannot eat (like bones) on the table, leaving it like itself a garbage.
Hey! The Japanese style arcade center! though it was MUCH smaller than arcade centers in Tokyo. I don't know how much time I spent in those places (though not so much compared with others, to be honest) If you are living in Europe and have the opportunity to come to Tokyo, this is something that you can feel the craziness of Tokyo with. Hong Kong is almost like a part of Tokyo with this...
Before going back to Urumqi, I needed some stuff for my bicycle. And I wanted to buy it in Hong Kong. I had to walk around the whole day to find it and the last day of my stay in Hong Kong was almost over.
There were some couch surfers who contacted me before my arrival in Hong Kong but somewhat I lost all the messages and I couldn't find them again. At least there was one couch surfer, Alvin, who mailed me long before my arrival. We went to a restaurant to eat Peking duck (for the first time in my life wow) He spoke very nice Japanese and he had apparently hoped that I would speak broken English. Well, sorry Alvin but still it was very nice to talk to you.
I hated to reply to all the messages on facebook. What to do? I posted a message saying "Hey! Thank you for the birthday wishes. In order to express my gratitude, I would like to send post cards to the first five persons who reply to this post!" Almost instantaneously, there were five persons who replied. lol. I bought postcards after the Peking duck and we went to another bar.
My flight was scheduled for 7:30am, which means, I must take the last bus, which was supposed to leave just after midnight. So, I went back home early enough, hoping to be able to see Alvin and his friends again.
Osman was waiting for me at home. Actually there was another bus to depart at 4am so I had a little bit more time. Osman usually does not go to bed before 4am so we stayed awake until the bus arrived. My last meal in Hong Kong was of course MacDonalds'. I don't think I would go there again when I start to live in France again.
The bus was overcrowded. No wonder, since there was ONLY one bus that goes to the airport at that time.
So was my stay in Hong Kong. I still don't know what is the adjective of Hong Kong (Hong Kongish?) but I have to say, I had a very very expectation for Hong Kong before the arrival. And appropriately enough, it largely exceeded my expectations, directly striking my mind. For me, Hong Kong was like it took advantages of Great Britain and Japan, which totally makes sense regarding the history. And I can understand very well that there are still so many white people staying in Hong Kong. Well, later in my life, if ever I have the chance to do so, I would love to come back there to live for a while, discovering this tiny metropolitan city which contains the entire world :)
I almost missed the flight in Shanghai. It was a very big airport (as it should be...) Well, back to the mainland again and the people speak Mandarin and no English anymore. In Hong Kong, I did a lot to improve my mandarin. The problem is just when the people talk their pronunciation is so ambiguous that I really don't know what they are saying. Well, I just have to get used to it. It cannot be so far away.
I'm now planning to cycle from Urumqi to Shanghai. It means that, the landscape I can see from the plane is pretty much what I am going to do in the coming months. I've got to observe precisely what it looks like.
Almost all the time it looked like this at first. I don't know if you can see it clearly but there were always buildings and buildings. Maybe not so concentrated but it never ended. This is the reason why 25 % of world population is in China.
However, the situation changed drastically: After the half of the flight was gone, I could see the very harsh nature of the Gobi desert. In the whole view, you must be very lucky to see a road. Otherwise there's only desert. This is what I'm going to do in the coming two weeks. There have been some cyclists who did the same route but they all wrote on their blogs that they had to be very cautious about this route. Hm ok.
Steve was waiting for me at the airport with one of his friends.
I stayed in Urumqi for further five days. There was not much to do anymore but there was no reason for me to hurry either, since I could obtain a visa for three months. At the same time I was a bit afraid of the desert waiting for me. At least until Lanzhou, I cannot be really relaxed.
On this occasion I met Rockey again. She wanted to study German so it was a very nice exchange for us. I don't think she can see so many Germans in Urumqi, except for German travelers (which, on the other hand, would be numerous...)
Did you know that if you go to a fast food restaurant in China, you don't need to order anything? I was shocked to bring stuff from outside to another restaurant to eat but it was much more than that this time. Rockey and I did it two times and there was nobody complaining. Aha. Finally I could understand why Chinese students bring beer or whatever they want to for example a Kebab restaurant in Germany. It's not because they had a bad education, but it's obviously pretty normal for them. Well, ok, I don't thinkg I would get used to it anyway...
It was more like pronunciation sessions for me, since this is the most difficult part in Chinese for me. At the same time, I had to update my website at home as I didn't take my computer to Hong Kong (for which reason I could really enjoy my stay there)
April 14th was Steve's birthday. There was a small dinner with his parents at his place. I didn't have anything to offer but I bought a bottle of rice wine, nice stuff, though I could not drink so much because I planned my departure for the following day.
The distance between Urumqi and the first city after Urumqi, Turpan, was around 200km. I had to do it in one day because there was otherwise nothing between them. At the same time though, actually Turpan is the second deepest dry place in the world, after Dead Sea. So it should go down a lot.
Turpan is more or less touristic, according to the Lonely Planet. Actually I was really interested in looking around in that city but I didn't want to have a day off just after the first day. Above all, I cannot be too slow to get into the desert in the middle of the heat.
I said there's nothing between Urumqi and Turpan but small villages like this still exist. I could have a very nice Banmian there, with a lot of garlic. In Xinjiang there's always a small pot of fresh garlic on the table, just like salt and pepper. You can take as much as you want.
The wind was blowing exactly in the direction I was going. It was almost too easy to do 200km on one day.
Turpan is geographically in the west of Urumqi but it looks less Chinese. And the number of motorcycles in this city is simply amazing. Even small children used motor cycles and the police do not bother to get involved. Aha.
Turpan is actually the warmest place in China, although it's located in the north. I didn't believe before my arrival but seeing myself sweating uninterruptedly, I could see the reality. I must be a hell in summer...
I could have taken one of the hotels on the way just randomly but there was one not so expensive hotel on Lonely Planet where the staff would be supposedly friendly and helpful. Well, they were not particularly friendly and helpful but it was still a nice hotel.
I met a couple from Belgium there. Maybe I shouldn't mix up Belgium and France but there were so many French tourists in the hotel, as somehow everywhere around the world. From them, I learned that I would have to go over a pass of more than 3000m above sea level. !?!?!? When I arrived in Bishkek, Patrice (my boss in Lyon) wrote me "in general it goes only down when you arrive in China!". Hm, "in general" was a very ambiguous expression, Patrice... Anyway, this will be just before Lanzhou, so the point doesn't change so much: the turning point will be Lanzhou.
The hotel had a very slow internet connection. In my effort to send an email to my parents I stayed awake until midnight. Due to the presense of so called "Great Wall", which controls the information in the internet, the internet connection in China is generally very slow, though internal connection is quite fast.
I checked the position of the next stop on the map. It was not very far away. I got up not so early in the morning and started cycling.
If you are not so much interested in the culture of this region, you can pretty much skip it. Well, this day was pretty okay, since there were still buildings and some human activities going on. Not like in the middle of a desert or so. You just have to be sure where you have to take the highway and where not, because the highway is really boring for cycling. Don't expect any village located nearby.
In Lonely Planet, it's explicitly written that you might not be able to stay in a cheap hotel in China because the police do not allow it all the time. I didn't have any problem so far, but it happened for the first time on this day. All the hotels refused my stay there, saying I should go to a big city nearby. Well, this big city nearby was 30km away and it's not very near for a cyclist, as it was almost getting dark in this moment at the same time. Hm, what to do? Of course there's no choice. I had to find a safe place to put my tent, which is not very difficult in China because there are a lot of abandoned houses. I put my tent behind one of them. I'm very happy that the winter is over now, though probably this method does not work all the time in this region because of the desert.
The memory of the first day with very nice wind was blurring now. The day started with crosswind, later headwind. It's almost impossible to predict the wind in the desert. Even you have a very nice wind for a while, it might be an entirely different direction thirty minutes later. Actually the head/cross-wind was so strong that I couldn't even cycle anymore. And the landscape looked like this, the whole day. I was trying to arrive in the next city but after struggling for hours in the head wind, I decided to go to the next gas station which was just several kilometers away and to call it a day, which involves a lot of risks since a very high number of gas stations in China are not in service. And I didn't have water at all anymore. Luckly if you manage to stop a car they are pretty much always willing to offer a bottle of water, but there's no guarantee that there are always cars there etc etc...
In this moment, there was one small truck which stopped in front of me. They obviously noticed the difficulties I was having in that moment. NICE! They were on the way to Hami, which is exactly the city I wanted to arrive in on the following day. They took me directly there. What a luck!
I observed the landscape of the whole route. It didn't change at all. Actually the gas station I mentioned above didn't even exist. I still wonder what would have happened if they hadn't appeared.
This driver, Yinghun, was more than willing to offer me something to eat, though I could not understand his Chinese at all. It was probably the toughest accent I had ever encountered. Fortunately, we could communicate by writing on my iPad. Well, at least in this way the communication went quite smoothly but I still wonder what other tourists do when they get troubles in China. I just should make one thing clear here: Even international words like "sport" or "hotel" or even "Volkswagen", are completely different in Chinese. You can simply forget about saying anything. Besides, even if you think you are speaking as is written in the Phrasebook of Lonely Planet, they would not understand what you are saying. This is the Chinese language. You cannot write (which is a very known fact) and you cannot pronounce anything.
In the evening, we arrived in the city of Hami. I still don't know how it works but it must be very difficult to get water in Xinjiang but in cities water is abundantly available.
Yinghun was a mechanic. There was a dormitory appended to the factory. As he was staying at his parents' place he did not need his flat and I could use it. Nice!
There was a restaurant of Sichuan speciality nearby. Sichuan is very famous for its foods, spicy and flavorful. One thing you must carry in mind here: can you see three dishes on the table there? After these dishes there was even one more. And we were two. Do you think we could finish all the stuff? Well, the answer is no. Besides, Yinghun didn't eat so much, leaving me with almost all the dishes there. The thing is, it's apparently normal in China to leave a lot of food on the table. On the other hand, I personally cannot do that. Maybe Yinghun was wondering how much I am able to eat :) Well, again, he invited me to this meal so I really cannot complain at all.
The weather was not very nice the following day. I was about to leave when Yinghun arrived but he told me I can spend one more night at his place. Actually it was already pretty hard to go upstairs after three days of intensive cycling. I could extremely appreciate his offer. I also wanted to have a bit time for learning Chinese, which never seemed to improve.
Until noon, I was just studying Chinese and I could also use the internet a little bit, just to check my email and that was all.
His workplace looked like this. All the staff were more than excited to see a cyclist coming from France. I'm just sorry that I could not speak as much Chinese I should have.
Yinghun, on the other hand, did not work at all for the whole day. Maybe because of me? I don't know. Anyway, we talked about what I was doing when I was in France. Well, I was a physicist. There was a secretary in the office and we three decided to go to the museum of Hami just nearby. Just for me? Too nice.
It was a very small local museum exhibiting local stuff, which of course makes sense since Hami is not a touristic city at all. The name appears only in the map of Lonely Planet and probably no page on wikitravel (to be examined...)
The rest of the day went the same. Just as much Chinese I could learn and in the evening, Yinghun went back home. I was supposed to go to his flat but his flatmate, who was well over 50 years old, apparently did not want to share the room with a total stranger so I slept in the conference room, which was not bad either.
I had to double-triple check the next destination. Again, because of the presense of the desert. Well, it can only be the city called Luotuojuanzi, because the one after this would be 130km away from this town...
The road was again quite dull. Madarbozorg would have said "Chikarkonam (=what could I do?)". Fortunately, I arrived in Luotuojuanzi very early, like at 3pm or 4pm. It was almost a pity that I could not go further because the wind was blowing exactly in the good direction.
Anyway, I need a place to stay. I asked around but there were first of all only four hotels and two of them were full. The first one I asked wanted to have 60 yuan (=10 dollars), which is not very high but in average you pay 30 or 40 yuan in China for a night, so I tried to go to the last one. They had a room, but I had to ask if it's okay that I'm a stranger.
"Yes, yes, okay. Where are you from?"
I'm from Japan.
"From Japan? No, go away"
And so was the very first discrimination I experienced in China. I was not sad or shocked or anything like that. I was expecting it all the time. Well, finally it arrived.
In front of the hotel though, there was one guy, who was talking all the time during the whole process. After it was over, he asked me where I was from. Well, actually he spoke pretty decent English. This guy, Chu, was from Xian and he was working for the installation of electric cables near this town, along with all the coworkers. That was the reason why the hotels were full. Anyway we tried to have a room in one of the hotels, in vain (he didn't notice that there was one more that offered me a place for 60 yuan) and in the end, he told me I can stay in his room with his coworkers, which was actually for four persons but three of them were staying there. Later I found out why he didn't propose this possibility at the first place.
The hotel was a very nice place. His coworkers were on the field but Chu could not work on this day because of the strong wind. It must be pretty tough to work in the desert.
We talked all the time in the hotel room. I was very happy in this moment, that it was not this guy who discriminated. You know, this town, Luotuojuanzi, is still in Xinjiang. It's not very Chinese. On the other hand, his hometown, Xian, is an ancient capital of China and his behavior etc. must be more Chinese. And this guy didn't discriminate, or let's say, he even did a lot of effort to communicate with me. Now I can still look forward to going to Xian. Nice thing. I included him in the list of couch hosts, though it was a little bit different from the initial concept.
Just before dinner, we went to the field to fetch all the workers to the town and straightaway there was a dinner with all the coworkers.
None of them spoke English but the conversation somewhat went on, with increasing amount of rice wine and beer coming in. Well, Chu spoke very nice English so there was no problem. He had been to Malaysia for one year and he practiced his English there. Anyway, they all appeared to be excited by the presense of a total stranger, who came there by bicycle from France. This item "cycling from France" multiplies the excitement of the pople by an unpredicable factor, I have the feeling. Again it was an amazing amount of meal on the table. However, I really don't know anymore what happened in the end since I was completely knocked off in this moment.
This rice wine, with 56%, may sneak up on you quite instantaneously. Since I stayed cautious about the amount of alcohol first of all, I didn't have a big problem, but still I had a very strong headache in the following morning.
Well, as I mentioned above, Chu was very reluctant to offer me the last bed in the room at first. Why? It was simply because one of his mates in the same room snores like a locomotive... There was no possibility for me to prevent the noise intruding on my nerve system and I had to wake up several times in the night. At least I could drink water which alleviated the headache in the following morning.
The very first statement of this guy in the morning was "did I snore?" You are the luckiest man in the world...
Chu likes Xian a lot. And he also likes his company and he told me that his company is pretty famous world wide: "China XD Group". It might be very very famous but probably for a very different reason than he thought it to be...
Not only I didn't pay the hotel, they invited me to the dinner and even the breakfast. Too nice.
The girl in the background must have eaten something very sour or bitter, I suppose :)
Still early in the morning I could restart my trip. The next destination is 130km away, as I had announced. Well, not too much, except for one problem here: actually the pedals were almost out of order. Almost none of the parts of my bicycle were affected by this great distance since the beginning of this trip (except for tubes and tyres), but pedals were quite a problem. The first time I had to change them was in Greece, and the second time was in Turkmenistan. So it makes totally sense that they must be replaced now. But of course it was impossible in this moment to find a bicycle shop nearby. I must at least go to the next middle-sized city. I really should have bought them in Hong Kong.
It was again a very windy day. In order to see if the wind direction changes, I stopped in a small parking area to have lunch. There were 5 or 6 more people truck drivers. One of them spoke to me and we talked about my trip. He was impressed by my story and offered me a ride to the next city. I was not quite sure what was meant to be the "next city" but he was even speaking of Xian. Well, usually I turn down this kind of offer but this time the situation was a little bit different. First of all I was in the middle of a desert. There's no guarantee that I can always find a city before I arrive in Lanzhou, though in theory there must be a city every 50 km since it was working as a part of Silk Road. The second thing was the problem with my pedals I've just mentioned. So I took his offer.
It was incredibly comfortable to sit in a car, something most of the people do not appreciate. If you cycle all over the world, you can understand what a luxury it actually is. I even slept in in the end.
However, the story didn't end just like this: at the toll of Xingxingxia, there was a huge problem, that there was apparently one car which drove into the truck we were in. The miserable Suzuki you can see on the photo was the victim. Of course nothing happened to the truck. I even didn't perceive anything.
We stayed there several hours. It was anyway too late for me to go to the next city so there was no choice.
In the end, the driver had to go to Hami to clear out the problem. I stayed in Xingxingxia with the other driver. He stayed in the truck and I took a room in a hotel nearby. Well, anyway I was planning to stay in Xingxingxia, so it was not really a problem.
Again I was invited to dinner. What's going on in this country?!
Following day, I just had to wait for the truck driver to come to my room. I decided to learn as much Chinese as possible.
This was my breakfast. "Voce nao vai resistir" technically means "You are not going to resist" in Portuguese. Well, this one is okay but the Japanese phrases "pan nimo pittari", which means "perfect with bread" though I don't know how to eat this one with bread and "obenz". I have no idea what it means.
In the afternoon, I was still waiting for the driver to come back. In the end though, at 3pm, I went to the truck again, just to learn that he would not be able to start his journey. Well, lol, it was also too late for me to start to cycle since the nearest city would be 90km away from Xingxingxia.
The hotel was not very cheap but the staff were very friendly, or more like, they were very interested in my trip. Wherever I go, they always want to see the currencies I have. In my case, it was of course Euro. Fortunately I had many new 20 euro bills I could change for them. To be honest, I had the problem that it's not as easy as I thought to change euro in China. Most of the banks accept only dollar so I could also appreciate this exchange.
Otherwise, Xingxingxia is really not the place to stay. They probably created this place out of necessity.
The truck driver told me that it would be fine on the following day but I simply decided to leave the place after having rested a whole day. It was impossible for me to stay in one place for such a long time, even just a morning more.
It is somewhat funny to see traffic board like this which doesn't have any traffic information but just a slogan on it.
The landscape hasn't changed at all, but at least the wind was blowing the same direction. There were a lot of wind turbines on the way which also indicated that the wind should blow in the same direction as I was going.
I still stayed on the highway, illegally. Well, there was no other way which would lead me out of this desert as quickly as this one so I cannot really get out of it. At the service area where I had lunch, there were again truck drivers who offered me a ride directly to Shanghai. Hm, somehow it's very difficult to transfer the idea that I'm not cycling because I don't have money. I actively decided to cycle myself.
After having done 160km, I arrived in a middle-size city, at 6pm. Hm, I can go a bit further. Since I knew there would be a service area 65km away, I decided to go there, which made me cycle more than 230km in a day.
This service area, though, didn't exist. AGAIN! Apparently when they decide to create something in China, they first create a sign board for that and then they start to install the stuff. Anyway, the service area was simply under construction.
I had hardly any water anymore. I first tried to catch a car, with no success. They stop fairly often during the day but probably it's too creepy in the night, with no light in the middle of a desert.
Still it was a construction zone, there must be people there. I then decided to ask the people there directly. This is something that works pretty well in China. The workers there not only offered me water, they also gave me some bread and a place to sleep, as the photo shows. It was just a big tent but quite comfortable inside. At least I didn't need worry about the sand storm outside.
The language they speak in this region is supposed to be Mandarin, however, it belongs to the subcategory "Gansu-mandarin" and sounds still a little bit different. Therefore, I didn't understand them so well, but whenever I said something they understood. Chinese is probably the only language which I can better speak than listen and understand...
They get up pretty early in the morning at the construction zone. With all the workers there I had breakfast. What a nice surprise.
Later we tried to contact each other but I didn't know how my cellphone exactly worked and how to write Chinese characters. For this reason, I just simply put pinyin (phonetic representation of Chinese characters in Latin letters) but they didn't understand it. So, in this moment, I found out that some Chinese cannot read pinyin. Only Chinese characters. For me it's not really a problem since I can usually write directly Chinese characters but for Westerners who want to get in touch with local Chinese it's probably a big problem...
I was sincerely fed up with the highway which doesn't have anything to offer. Only service areas that are only partially in service. Besides, the direction of the wind changed, entirely. The interesting fact is that the wind turbines at the road were pointing exactly the opposite direction to those which I had seen the previous day, which means, it was not due to "yesterday so but today different", but it's natural that in one place the wind blows from one direction and just 80km away it's exactly from the opposite direction. The nature of desert is unpredicable...
Fortunately, I found out that there was another road going through cities. Well, my map is not remarkably reliable but I can still try to take it.
It turned out to be a very nice try. Actually, here it started to be more and more green. From the information in the internet, I knew that around the city of Jiayuguan should give me a turning point between desert and civilization. This is just an example of a street in the city, Yumenzhen, that I arrived in when I left the highway.
As you may know, I almost always took Banmian when I was in Xinjiang, but China is vast and culinary specialities differ a lot depending on the region. The problem was just there's nothing simple/cheap/more than Banmian. From here on, I have to choose, what I want to eat. Make whatever you like...
It was not long before I noticed that the road was missing, or let's say "under construction". Fortunately, it was just next to the highway so I snuck on there again.
Several kilometers later, I found out that the road reappeared. Well, I stay on the highway. I don't care. There I noticed that there was another fully equipped cyclist on the road. Aha, interesting.
It turned out that it was a cyclist from France. Well, not only from France, she was from Villeurbanne. It's exactly where I used to work before I started this trip. Lol. She was cycling from Peking to Turkey, though with a bit of short cut on the way. I learned from her that actually the road just next to the highway is supposed to go directly to Lanzhou. Wow nice.
We talked more than an hour and the day was almost over when the conversation finished. The next city was just in front of me. I was about to start to cycle again, when I noticed that I got another flat tyre... Actually I abandoned the Schwalbe tyres in Urumqi that I bought in Istanbul, which I replaced with tyres from Taiwan. Since then I get only flat tyres on the way. The German quality should not be taken away...
I fixed it in 5 or 10 minutes. It was almost dark but I quickly cycled up to the town. The godless situation gave me another flat tyre on the way, just within 10km. I didn't have time anymore to fix it so I cycled to the end (what a danger...)
Just after the exit of the highway, I could find a petrol station where I could put my tent. In China, the people never say no whenever you need to put your tent. Here, even not only tent but also I could use the internet of the petrol station. What a nice place!
I might have loved the highway, if I had been on a car. I was more than happy to be able to cycle on a calm road, even though the condition was not particularly good there.
This gate looks nice, right? However, later I found out that this seemingly very traditional stuff is mostly not very old. Apparently more like a tourist attraction.
The development of China is amazing, as you all probably know. This part of China is of course not an exception for that, but still you can sometimes see a view like this. Probably it has been like this more than centuries.
As I left the highway, I could have much more contact with local people. I met two Chinese cyclists from Shanghai. They were heading for Urumqi and I could get a lot of information from them, like for example, how to go to Shanghai from there. They told me they needed 17 days from Shanghai to the point where we met. 17 days!? I mean, the distance from there to Shanghai must be more than 3000km. You must be crazy to do such a distance in 17 days (though it might have been "70" days since we were talking in English). If, however, it's reasonably possible to cycle from Shanghai to this point, I must be ready for very strong head wind...
In Xingxingxia, I had an unexpected day off, but I was anyway planning to stay in Jiayuguan for a day or two. After all, I have much more time than before... And Jiayuguan is a city which also appears in Lonely Planet and there are three hotels listed there. Actually I was quite looking forward to seeing other travelers from around the world, as it occurred in Turpan. I'm okay with cycling alone. I listen to podcasts and I feel good. But still it's very nice to talk to other travelers to share experiences.
Jiayuguan, however, was not as nice as I expected it to be. If you arrive there by road you will see that there are a lot of touristic spots around the city, since it's the city where the Great Wall starts. And appropriately enough you can find tons of hotels. Of course I went to one of Lonely Planet hotels. They didn't speak English at all (which was a minor problem) and actually it's written in Lonely Planet that a room would cost 60 Yuan (=10 USD) without bathroom. I thought there would be a shared bath room but according to what I heard there, there was no bathroom at all. I was confused... And a room with bathroom was 100 Yuan. Well, no thanks. Besides they didn't have the Internet.
The next hotel written in Lonely Planet had very friendly staff. But the problem was, they had to refuse foreigners. In this city, Jiayuguan, foreigners MUST stay at least in a 3-star hotel. This is a very hinky part of the tourism in China. If ever this system hadn't existed I would take a hotel every single day but only because of this I don't even try to ask if it's okay or not and I take out directly my tent. And what a surprise that even a hotel written in Lonely Planet wouldn't take foreigners... (And I can hardly imagine that Lonely Planet is written for Chinese...)
In the end, I gave up and I cycled further. Well, I can stay in hotel in Zhangye.
When you see a sign in China, it's sometimes writtein in Chinese and "English", as shown here. The problem is, "wenhua" means culture and "bolanyan" means museum. Obviously they think it becomes English if they write it in pinyin in China.
If you walk around in the morning in China, you can see many people exercising, like here on the photo. They are all working in the hospital but before they start to work they go out and move around for half an hour or so. It's definitely a good idea but it looks just pretty funny :)
So, as I have mentioned above, Jiayuguan is more or less a turning point. It's not like it becomes suddenly completely green or so but you can expect much more villages and nice streets. In fact, since the beginning of Iran or so there had been pretty much only desert all the time, expect for Kyrgyzstan maybe.
But what really characterizes the fact that the desert is over? Yes, water. It was almost impossible to see a waterway until there but I could see clean clear water coming from the mountains in the south. And simultaneously I had a small problem in this moment: the last time I took shower was in Hami, more than a week before. My hairs were like needles and my arms and legs were completely black.
Since it was a very warm day, I washed myself in a waterway. The water was incredibly clean and by washing my head and face I could feel extremely salty water falling down. Those who are reading this are probably all living in a developed country, right? You don't probably know what a nice feeling it is :)
Well, otherwise there's almost nothing to tell for this day. It was windy and I had to cycle the whole day in order to arrive in Zhangye on the following day. At the end of the day, I arrived in a small village. In one of the restaurants I asked if I can put a tent in front of the hotel. They never say no in this country. (Elise by the way told me they even let her put her tent in the police station, though officially it's forbidden to camp in China)
They speak a dialect of Mandarin in this region so sometimes I really don't understand what they want to say. Usually I can ask them to write it down (in this case I can doubtless understand it) but in this village the people were not able to read and write. Hm, I come from the country with the highest literacy rate in the world for centuries so I wanted to know a little bit more what it is like to live without reading and writing but I didn't want to appear impolite in this moment. Hm what a pity.
I had several days of headwind and I was also desperate the following day, but fortunately it turned out to be a very sunny day with very strong tailwind. I was determined to take a day off in Zhangye where I was planning to arrive on the same day so I cycled very slowly. What a comfortable day.
Here in this photo it's maybe not quite evident but many many houses in China are pink, Whenever I get something from someone it's almost always red (I never buy anything red if I have choice) and it's almost like a sort of humiliation but I would freak out if ever my house should become pink.
On the way to the next city, Zhangye, I met two other cyclists, Dawi and Abby from Shanghai. They had a month off (?) and were cycling around this region. In this moment, I was not sure what to do in Zhangye. There was a hotel recommended in Lonely Planet but my trust in it had plummeted after Jiayuguan. They had then recommended me the hotel where they were staying. Nice move, I think I'm pretty lucky since the beginning of China.
I don't know anymore when it was the last time to see so much water in front of me. The water in this region comes from the mountains in the south and therefore so clean and clear.
The wind brought us to the city of Zhangye (though there was again flat tyre) and the hotel let me stay also without problems. 40 yuan per night (=5 euro) with internet. Yahoo!!
In the evening, we went out for dinner, whereas I forgot my camera. We hopped from one restaurant to the other etc. In the end, I was almost dying because of exhaustion but I stayed awake to the end and even until midnight, exploiting the internet to the end.
40 yuan per night, why not? I decided to stay one day longer. Can you see the white stripe going from my right eye to the ear? It's exactly due to the sun glasses I couldn't live without. In the two months and a half I spent in Tehran, I became more or less white again, but it quickly came back again, only on the route between Urumqi and here... Well, I couldn't have avoided it since even with sun glasses I had an explosive headache in the desert.
After the lunch, they took a train for Xi'an. I wanted to walk around with them but I had to do it alone.
This city, Zhangye, was a very important city in the Silk Road, as the geography does not allow to take any other way to go to the Central Asia. The resplendent aspect of the city can still be seen for example here, at the drum tower, which used to greet people from outside.
It was Saturday and there were a lot of people everywhere in the city. I walked around near the drum tower. Here in the park there were crowds of people killing time but most of them were playing cards, normal Western cards, especially old people. I can hardly imagine that my grand parents would ever play cards (not only my grand parents but in general in Japan).
There is something called "Niu rou mian" in China, which usually costs around 4.5 yuan (=75 US cents). You'll get pretty much exactly something like a bowl of instant noodle. The Chinese cuisine is also sometimes a little bit lazy :)
I updated the website in the evening (which took quite a lot of time...) and looking at the weather forecast, I bumped into a horrible fact: the wind will blow exactly from the opposite direction in the coming two days. And still it was a desert, so it's probably not so funny. What to do?
Well, to be honest, I have to hurry up at the moment, since I've already promised to be in Tokyo on July 13th. So I decided to go nevertheless. It'll probably also a good thing to experience :)
And again, flat tyre. I fixed it before dusk.
The day started perfectly, with a flat tyre again. I finally realized what the problem was: if you have a flat tyre in Europe, like, let's say Germany or France, you don't need to care about the environment. Here, however, in the desert, it is VERY important that sand doesn't enter the tyre. These small tiny corns make their own way to make holes in the tube and you get quite simply flat tyre. Good I figured it out finally. At least I'll suffer less from this problem :)
The wind in this region was simply excruciating. When I was in Croatia, I experienced a similar dimension of wind, but at that time there were at the same time enough trees so that I had only bouts of very strong wind. Here, in the desert, the situation is entirely different. I just stopped cycling several times and had very long breaks, though the sand storm was making a new layer on my face.
Just after the noon, there were two cyclists coming from the opposite direction. They had done 90km at this point. Probably they didn't even need to cycle to come there, I imagine. We exchanged a bit of information. Apparently, there are two passes before Lanzhou. The first one would be 2600m above sea level. The second one 3000m. In this moment we were at 1500m. If I consider that fact that Turpan was UNDER the sea level, it appears to me really not so easy to get through China. Indeed, it isn't. Who told me that it generally goes downwards when I enter China?
About 70km before the first pass, there was just one city, Fengchang. The Irish cyclists I met on the way had told me that there would be no village after that. I had done only 70km but I decided to stop there. Still the desert is going on. I cannot risk so much. The owner of the hotel I stayed in was immensely surprised to host a foreigner.
As I had expected, the weather didn't change at all the next day. The wind was blowing exactly from the opposite direction, making it almost impossible to overcome 10 km/h. Besides, it was so sandy that I could hardly call it a road. Completely dry and deeply covered. Something I had never seen in my life in this extent.
This was pretty much the day I started to realize that I hate deserts. It took almost a whole day to go up to the top of the pass, whereas I couldn't even cycle in many parts. There was a huge wind farm there, though from the installation of turbines it was clear that the direction of the wind is quite chaotic.
The two passes I mentioned were connected by a very long plateau, which were at 1500m above sea level. On the way, there was one cyclist, Gaorun, who was going to the same direction as I. Since he did not speak so much English I thought he would not want to cycle with me, but he proposed to cycle up to Lanzhou. Aha. Actually he was cycling with another guy until this day but his partner got a problem with his knees so he had to cycle alone. Well, since I hate to cycle alone so it was a very nice opportunity for me.
There was something called "white tower" on the way to the next city Gulang. As many tourist attractions in China, this site was heavily invested. I could have a tourist guide there. She usually is not a tourist guide but since it was the first time for her to speak English with a foreigner, she wanted to try it out. It's interesting to see Asians speaking English sometimes, since they have an incredibly good grammar but it's hardly fluent. Later she told me that there are some foreigners coming to this site but she never dared to speak to them directly. It's an omnipresent problem in China that the people don't try to speak to foreigners, being too afraid of something that does not exist in reality (though the same problem exists in Japan as well)
The site by the way had been reconstructed after an earthquake which happened in 1920's or 1930's (though there are anyway not so many ancient things in China). The only thing that is still coming from the past is this tower (or the foundation stone?). The fleeing girl in the photo was the interpreter.
In the evening, we arrived in the city of Gulang. It is situated in the mountain with the 3000m pass I mentioned. I think this city was so far the most beautiful city I had visited in China. It's anyway so nice to see mountains on both sides and not too much air pollution. And the infrastructure of the city was also pretty good.
The hotel we wanted to stay in hadn't hosted a foreigner before. They didn't want to accept me but after a small negotiation and the police coming by, I could stay there in the end.
And so was April. It was perhaps physically the hardest month going through Gobi. Mentally it was not easy either in the sense that I had to plan where to stop and needed to hope that the cities depicted in my map truely exist. Nevertheless, I am more than glad that the people I bumped into helped me in the extent that I didn't even encounter a slightest shadow of danger, something I hadn't expected before.
More than half of this vast country is now over, though culturally it was just the beginning of the far eastern part of Eurasia. It literally means that what I can really enjoy in this country is still to come. I just don't wonder if it's the reality or not. I'll just advance and see what happens!!