China Part 1, Xi'an Beijing
Thursday, July 12, 2012
After three relaxing days in Xi'an, my second leg began in China. Cycling in the Chinese cities is great. There are large bike paths, as most goods are transported by two-wheelers. Not only climate technology, but also traffic was a significant difference felt. Here in northern China, too, mercury rises rather high during the day. However, it is a lot drier here than in the tropical south.
Due to the quick shortcut to the train, my body had to change pretty soon. In the tropics, my whole organism was programmed to sweat for 24 hours. Now there were suddenly cool nights and pleasant wind in the morning. My water consumption was reduced by almost half. Only 4-5 liters a day.
Two-thirds of China's land area is de facto uninhabitable, as this area consists mainly of desert and high mountains (Taklamakan and Gobi desert and Himalayan mountains). The majority of the 1.3 billion inhabitants are concentrated in the remaining third of the country. The traffic with a dense population is enormous and for cyclists not always a joyful experience. Especially the truck and bus drivers are my biggest enemies. The constant horn concert is even more unbearable here than in Southeast Asia. I would like to tell my opinion to the inventor of the horn! Maybe with the Chinese vehicles, the accelerator pedal will be coupled with the horn?
Scenic it was the first few days through a fairly hilly area. A little bit like cycling in the Jura. Loam is mined here on a large scale, processed and distributed in pretty, small tractors to the suppliers. Due to the heavy load, the tractors drove quite slowly, so I could hide behind each one of the things and thus had the best wind protection, which a cyclist can wish for.
Buddhist pilgrims also visited regularly. All their personal belongings are pushed on small cars in front of them. On their knees, they sometimes carry huge cushions so they can kneel to the floor after almost every step. Already in Iran I had admired the Muslim pilgrims there. It is always impressive to see what a belief in people can do.
Tent sites are usually relatively easy. The locals were extremely reserved, so I was able to enjoy the evening in peace and quiet in the evening. Even the signs could be partially read without bilingual road maps.
One of the biggest problems for me was the heavy air pollution in combination with the pollen flight. At the moment, the grain harvest is in full swing, which made my hay fever pretty noticeable. The exhaust fumes flow unfiltered out of the exhaust pipes in huge, black clouds. Over time, my entire skin was covered with a black layer.
On the big main roads there were always petrol stations with shops. For me the ideal opportunity to take a short break in between. The staff there often tried to communicate with me. Unfortunately, her English is about as good as my Chinese. A conversation is approximately as follows:
Chinese: 应用 方面?
Me: "I'm from Switzerland. Do you know this country? "
Chinese: 你 去 哪儿?
Me: "I'm traveling from Switzerland to Beijing."
Me: "Yes, to Beijing and then with the Flugi back to Europe."
Chinese: 为什么 Beijing 何以.
Me: "Exactly, I've been on the road for 15 months now."
In Kunming I had bought a light vest to be seen better in the tunnels and in heavy traffic. It looks like a Christmas tree, but somehow feels a little safer with it. In addition, I always worry about it with the Chinese for a short laugh.
In terms of cleanliness, China is not a prime example. At first glance, a lot looks pretty clean. On closer examination, however, one finds considerable shortcomings. Also my Pneu on the rear wheel had some unpleasant experiences with the dirty roads. Exactly 20 kilometers before Pingyao, a wire pierced the mantle. Luckily, this happened right in front of a gas station. The staff helped me fix the plates as fast as possible. Although the nice headwind made itself felt again and again, I made good progress and reached Pingyao after 5 days.
After several name changes during the Qin and Han period, the city received in 424 AD. under the rule of northern Wei her final name Pingyao, which she has kept until today. Since the division of China into 36 counties under the reign of the first emperor Qin Shi Huang Di in 221 BC, Pingyao is also the district capital of the district of the same name. In 1370, under the reign of Ming Emperor Hongwu, the city was substantially expanded and the now larger city fortification built as a wall with a core of the earth. Since then, Pingyao has become a China financial center throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties, dominating the Chinese financial sector in the second half of the 19th century.
Due to the rise of the Chinese coastal cities in the wake of the economic influence of the Western colonial powers, Pingyao lost its importance in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in particular to Hong Kong and Shanghai and has not recovered from this loss of meaning until today. Due to the lack of financial power and importance Pingyao was largely spared by the destruction of modernization and cultural revolution and was thus able to preserve its historic old town. Pingyao today owns the longest fully preserved Ming Dynasty city wall in China, which has been on the list of monuments of the People's Republic of China since 1988, and has a large number of historic court houses. In 1997, Pingyao was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The shower in the guesthouse was fantastic. In the evening I wanted to buy something for dinner in town. Before the first shop there were seven teenagers, who seemed to be rather bored. When I entered the shop they followed me and tried to communicate with me in English first. At some point the theater became too stupid and I tried to get back to the guesthouse. The boys followed me with their electric bikes, kept shouting "Fuck You" and throwing stones. None of the passers-by tried to help me. After two of them spit on me my patience was over. I grabbed one of the guys by the collar, pulled him off his bike and took him into the stranglehold. In Swiss German I told him then that he should forgive himself. None of his friends came to help him. Everyone hid themselves at a safe distance and the passers-by watched in amazement. The boy seemed to have understood me and set off pretty quickly on the way home. This experience once again showed me that even in Asia one can not always count on moral courage.
At the guesthouse, I met a 68-year-old Indian woman who has been living in the USA for 30 years and currently traveling alone as a backpacker through China. She invited me for dinner and told me some impressive stories from her life. So I was able to digest my negative experience for a while.
The next three days I spent mainly with lazy and long walks through the old town. Although you can get for 120 RMB (20.- CHF) a collective ticket for all attractions, but I have slowly queued up full of this capitalistic, greedy fuss of the dear Chinese. You always pay a lot of money and can not even take pictures at the end. Especially the city tower and the city walls were impressive and beautifully restored by UNESCO.My silk sleeping bag and my pants needed a repair again. After a while I found a fabric store with a sewing machine. The nice lady sewed the sleeping bag for free and you drove me through half the city to show me a shop where I could fix my zipper for the pants.
On Sunday, after three relaxing days, the journey continued. Shanxi Province produces about one-third of China's coal output. The more than 3,000 coal mines in this province are responsible for the heavy air pollution. When cycling I felt this again and again. You always have to cough and shut up. As an asthmatic, I had a particularly hard time with it.
Currently, crops are being harvested on a large scale and my hay fever has been able to fully develop. Luckily, loud spitting and sneezing in China is normal. Nobody cares if you distribute your body fluids out loud in public. The first three days in the saddle were especially nice.
As far as Jinzhong, I first followed the Wutai Shan Mountains before crossing the mountain range in a westerly direction. Wutai Shan or the "Mountains of the Five Terraces" is the sacred northern mountain range of Buddhism and the earthly place of residence of Manjusri, the bodhisattva of wisdom. Especially in the early morning hours there were some fantastic scenery to marvel at.
Finally, I was rewarded with a 30-kilometer downhill. Suddenly it got warmer again. Already at 4:30 clock each rang my alarm clock. By noon, I always tried to cover as many miles as possible to spend the hottest hours of the day in the shade.
On Wednesday, I finally reached Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei Province, located 280 kilometers south of Beijing. There I wanted to extend my visa, which was only valid for 4 days. In the visa office there was only a small table for visa matters. That already startled me. The lady at the counter asked me for a bank statement from my bank account, which I could prove to have at least $ 3,000 on it. When I asked her for the reason for this form, she just said that her English was not good enough for me to explain. Angrily, I slammed all the cash I had on the table to make her realize that I will not show her a bank statement. After talking on the phone with her boss, she asked for a temporary residence permit from my hotel. Since I had just arrived in the city, I had to go in the heat of the day to find accommodation.
And then came the next problem: In China, foreigners are only allowed to stay overnight in certain hotels and it is not allowed to give cheap accommodation to foreign tourists. I had already experienced this fiasco last year in western China. So I returned empty handed to the Visa office in the afternoon. Without batting an eyelash, the lady now told me that I do not get a new visa here and should cycle to Beijing. Inwardly, I was already foaming with rage.
Only after I told her that I could never be in Beijing in time did she take a closer look at my passport and discovered one important point: the tourist visas are valid 30 days after entry. She had not even bothered to alert me to this important detail in the morning. So a whole day was lost in vain and I could have saved myself all the trouble. At that moment, I was close to tearing this incompetent lady to pieces. However, I was able to control myself as far as possible to leave the office and the city as quickly as possible.
Last year, I extended my visa in Gansu province in no time at all within two hours. The dear Communists always seem to be brazen. Fortunately, a farmer offered me in the evening on his field a campground including water and I could enjoy a beautiful sunset.
In order not to be too early in Beijing, I tackled the last kilometers on the Asian continent very comfortably. The national road G107 connects Shijiazhuang with Beijing. Again and again I met Chinese cyclists, who are also traveling to the capital. Some of them gave me water or food and others wished me all the best.
My fourth record on the trip was also the trickiest. A tiny wire had drilled into the tire. First, I pumped up the tire and drove on.
After three hours, the air was outside again. A Chinese man working as a bartender on a cruise ship, speaking English fairly well and visiting his parents just came to my aid. With a pair of pliers, we succeeded after several attempts to remove the wire. However, it was impossible to find the hole in the hose. So one of my replacement tubes had to serve. At the end I thanked for the help and went in search of the last campground in front of Beijing.
In addition to the sunsets you could see funny vehicles on the streets again and again.
The most annoying thing on the streets was the eternal honking concerts and the ruthless behavior of the drivers. The accelerator pedal seems to be directly connected to the horn of Chinese cars and to get a vehicle pass, it's probably enough to accelerate from 0 to 100 within 10 seconds. Anyway, when I arrived in Beijing, I was so relieved not to have to drive on these streets anymore.
Actually, I wanted to take a souvenir photo on Tsianamen Square. However, this is completely sealed off and guarded by soldiers. The dear Communists seem to be rather afraid of a new attack from their folk-people. After taking a picture in front of Mao's monumental image at the Gate of Heaven Peace, where Mao proclaimed the People's Republic on October 1, 1949, and stuck out his tongue, searching for accommodation, I had to take pictures with Chinese people again and again , They were very enthusiastic about me.
On Monday morning I went to the visa office. At the counter, the official again asked for a bank statement. I flung her all the forms on the table when she could not give me the reason. After a long pause, she agreed to accept my application until I got the form. So I had to drive back to the hotel for another hour and get my form over the internet. When I came back to the visa office, which reminded me of the story Momo of Michael Ende with the gray people, I learned that my visa would be ready in 7 working days. Including the weekend, this meant waiting for 9 days in Beijing. If I had not been in such a predicament, I would have liked to leave China immediately the same day. I think it's a miserable mess, what these fucking communists allow themselves. So no one treats her assholes to guests!
My mother decided to visit me to ease the wait a bit. My mood was a little better again. Now I'm really looking forward to your visit.