On the run
After a restful day in Huatugou we drove on through the plateaus of the Artun Shan Mountains in Qinghai Province. Qinghai is a relatively unknown province and also known as "Chinese Siberia" because of its penal camps and nuclear deposits. We soon realized that. On the first night, the thermometer fell again below the minus 15 degrees mark.
On a cycle trip, there are always things that will eventually break. There is always something to repair. This time my zipper was at the tent on duty. With safety pins I had to close the tent. Not exactly comfortable in a icy, cold and windy area. The landscape was extremely hilly and again and again it was on smaller passes.
About 1,500 kilometers before Xining we took the turnoff north. 168 kilometers with only one village in between and permanently between 2'000 and 3'500 meters above sea level. Seductive Prophecy! We went out on the first day the water again slowly. Fortunately, at some point a small settlement with migrant workers appeared. These gave us fresh water and even filled our thermoses with hot water. Wow! In addition to beautiful landscapes and car wrecks appeared from time to time.
On the second day, after a freezing cold night, we arrived in Lenghu. The first shop was invaded immediately. That's the good thing about cycling: you're always hungry and can stuff as much as you want.
At the city's only hotel, they wanted to have 400 yuan for a triple room, even though the price list indicated 280 yuan. In China, it is common practice that foreigners do not get cheap rooms. Discounts are usually possible. This time we had no chance. The village policeman stood next to us at the trial. I unpacked my entire Swiss German curse vocabulary to give my opinion to this incompetent fool. It did not solve the problem, but I already felt a little better.
After that, we located a guest house, which took us for 80 yuan. We were just unloading luggage when the owner got a phone call from the policeman. He was not allowed to receive us. The dear Chinese have a lot to learn in terms of tourism!
Slightly frustrated, we went to a warm restaurant and ate first a delicious portion of pasta with vegetables and beer. Then we set up the tents outside the village and went to bed early.
The nice beer, the strong wind and the cold made for a pretty sleepless night.
The next morning we sat at breakfast and enjoyed the sun in a windless place. Most of the time we have to wait until the sun shines on the tent in the morning because it's just too cold to get up until then. After four rounds of Yatzi, we decided to spend another day here in Lenghu.
In the evening we went again to our pasta king. There we made a plan for the next day: at the only gas station in town we wanted to try to find a truck that takes us to Dunhuang. The staff at the gas station were extremely friendly and helpful. After waiting for two hours, still no vehicle appeared. We were assured, however, that at 12:00 clock a bus would go to Dunhuang. In fact, after an exhaustive search, we found the ticket counter, paid three extra tickets for the bikes (390 yuan total), and shortly thereafter sat on the heated bus to Dunhuang. A wonderful feeling!
Our decision was confirmed when we drove over the pass. In many places the road was icy and there was snow everywhere. Dunhuang was for me at first a little overstimulation. After four weeks in the desert, I felt like an alien in this city. Shops, restaurants, lights, banks and tons of people everywhere. Since you have to get used to it again.
The hotel was quickly found and right next door was a café, which in addition to espresso, cappuccino and café latte also had internet.
All the comfort we liked so much that we stayed four days in the city. One time Tim and I tried to visit the sand dunes and the crescent lake. This tourist attraction costs 120 yuan. That was a bit too much for us. The Chinese masters of fence construction became aware of us in Tadjikistan. We tried to smuggle ourselves past the entrance, but eventually had to give up.
On the market in Dunhuang, there were numerous small restaurants that cook delicious local specialties. A true dream for the palate. Logically, we visited this place daily. They do not know bread, butter and jam here. So there are now just for breakfast each simple noodle soup. It does not taste too bad. A fresh butter braid with honey and hot chocolate would be much better.
In addition to the food, we also tested the rice schnapps "baijiu" for the first time in China during the dice game. A fairly concentrated drink that caused a slight headache the next day. The main reason for visiting Dunhuang is the Mogao Caves. Since they were on our way, we decided to make a detour there. On the way we found a small bouldering spot.
Andi has definitely mastered the block best. In front of the entrance of the caves we spent a wonderful night among the sand dunes.
The next morning we stood at 12:00 o'clock in front of the cash register. For 100 yuan you can visit almost all grottoes and even get a guide to it. Our pretty guide even spoke German and tried hard to answer our questions.
The Mogao Caves (Mogao Ku) are, simply put, one of the largest collections of Buddhist art in the world. In its heyday, the complex housed 18 monasteries, more than 1,400 monks and nuns, and countless artists, translators and calligraphers. Wealthy merchants and important dignitaries have been the main donors in building new caves, as caravans made long detours on Mogao to pray or to thank for a safe journey through the treacherous wastelands in the west.
The year of construction of the first grotto officially became 366 AD. called. After the collapse of trade along the Silk Road after the end of the Yuan Dynasty, this endless chain of grottoes - stretching over 1,700 meters of canyon walls and containing works of art spanning over a millennium - was forgotten for centuries in the ever-approaching sand the Gobi Desert. Only at the beginning of the 20th century This art treasury was "rediscovered" by some foreign researchers.
Western imperialists plundered or destroyed many Chinese cultural treasures on the Silk Road. At the top of the list of crimes is Dunhuang's Library Cave (No. 17), where in 1900 self-proclaimed guard Wang Yuanlu found a hidden library filled with tens of thousands of immaculately preserved manuscripts and paintings dating back to 406 AD .chr. dating back. The exact scope of the fund is hard to estimate, but the small room was filled with texts in rare Central Asian languages, military reports, scores, doctor's prescriptions, Confucian and Taostic classics, and Buddhist sutras written by some of the biggest names in Chinese calligraphy not to mention the oldest printed book in the world, the Diamond Sutra (868 AD). In short, it was an indescribable amount of primary sources of Chinese, Central Asian and Buddhist history. However, it was disputed who this fund should belong to.
Seven years after the discovery, rival archaeologists Aurel Stein and Paul Pelliot, two of the many European adventurers who hauled Central Asian Buddhist art away from the ancient Silk Road, collectively collect nearly 20,000 of the priceless manuscripts and bring them to England and beyond. Smuggling France. The advocates of the two refer today to the widespread destruction of cultural assets during the Cultural Revolution and the disfigurement of Buddhist art by Muslim iconoclasts. But what really kills the Chinese people is the sum that the two Wang Yuanlu "donated" for their prey: a total of the miserable amount of 330 euros. Even the Russian army, which quartered here, destroyed many murals.
Several dynasties have built different caves that differ markedly. The earliest grottoes are the Northern White, Western White, and Northern Zhou Grottoes, and are clearly Indian in style and iconography. All contain a center pillar representing a stupa (which symbolically contains the ashes of the Buddha) and which the pious circumnavigated in prayer. The men always run from the left side around the stupa and the women from the right side. The colors were obtained from malachite (green), cinnabar (red) and lapis lazuli (blue), costly minerals imported from Central Asia. Wood was used in the core of the figures and this was clothed with reeds and clay. Mostly the ashes of the monks were built into the figures.
Then came the Sui grottos. The Sui dynasty (581-618 AD) originated when a general of Chinese or mixed Chinese and Touba ancestry seized the throne of the Northern Zhou dynasty and reunited North and South China for the first time in 360 years. The Sui dynasty was short-lived and more of a transition between the Wei- Tang period and the Tang period. This can be seen in the Sui grottos: the Indian curves of the Buddha and Bodhisattva figures are gradually giving way to the stricter style of Chinese sculpture.
During the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), China moved its borders westwards to the Balkash Lake in present-day Kazakhstan. The trade expanded. This was the culmination of cave art in Mogao. The techniques of painting and sculpture became much more artistic. The beautiful murals depict the Buddhist Western paradise and reveal rare insights into the courtly life, music, clothing and architecture of the Tang Dynasty in China. Unfortunately it was not allowed to take pictures on the whole area. Only the cave 96 can be photographed from the outside.
After that, the highway came together with the highway. For cyclists it is not allowed to drive on it. The side street is built only single lane and in a relatively bad condition. In addition, there was initially a relatively heavy traffic. It is not exactly pleasant when a truck drives past you at high speed. Their vehicles are definitely pretty bad for the lovely Chinese.
Our food was slowly coming to an end. But the wind was on our side for the first time since 2'000 kilometers and blew us nice in the back that day. So we managed a new daily record of 120 kilometers. It was already dusk when we set up our tents and cooked noodle soup. Without breakfast the journey continued the next day. Fortunately, the first gas station appeared after 5 kilometers. We satisfied our needs, played Yatzi and watched the huge truck. These sometimes have enormous dimensions.
About 30 kilometers later, another gas station appeared. These have become our oases. You can find everything there, what a cyclist needs. Until Yumenshe were still indicated 50 kilometers. The view there to get a warm dinner in a restaurant gave us the necessary strength and motivation to get there.
Andi has a colleague who allegedly teaches English in Yumen. We want to visit her there. Luckily, that same day, she wrote Andi a text message that she was at home in Yumenshe. We were all happy to end the evening in a warm bed on this day. Jenny greeted us right away with her colleagues, showed us a hotel, took us to a delicious eatery for dinner and then there was karaoke. A great welcome!
The karaoke singing is not my cup of tea and so I was soon back in the hotel. The hotel manager was already waiting for us there. She informed me that they are not allowed to host foreigners so we should switch to the twice as expensive Yumen Hotel. Exactly at 1:00 in the morning. It is not always easy to stay calm in such moments. At least we were allowed to stay the night. The Chinese tourism system is definitely still in the Stone Age. Tim and Andi later brought a drunken Chinese from the karaoke bar, who did not let go. Only when Tim stood threateningly in front of him with the frying pan in hand did he leave.
The next day we changed frustrated the hotel, which is completely at the other end of the city. Yumen was originally 150 kilometers further southeast but was resettled here a few years ago. Thus, the city now consists of a new and old district. Everything is possible in China. The city has three different schools. Jenny is the first foreign teacher ever to teach at the first school. Besides her there are other foreign teachers at the other schools who also teach English. In total, several teachers from different countries work in the whole province of Gansu.
Some of them from Jiayuguan visited this Saturday. We all went to eat hot pot together. The whole thing can be compared with the Fondue Chinoise. Various ingredients are thrown into a huge pot, which has a sharp and a bouillon-like department. We were a total of 10 foreigners. The staff really enjoyed us funny Fritzen. You do not see so many white Europeans here every day. Since there is not much to see in "New Yumen" we enjoyed the first two days just nothing to do and spy out the two Supermarktes.
Jenny showed us her school on Monday. A class usually consists of 40-60 students. Everywhere in the schoolhouse, slogans are in English and Chinese.
Jenny has her own office and lives with a few other teachers at the school. The students come from far away and therefore live at the school during the week. Since many parents work as migrant workers, the grandparents usually supervise the offspring. This keeps up the education at the school, which is enormously difficult for such huge classes. There are no different levels of classes like ours. What keeps the classes together for the entire school time.
Special education schools, social or school psychological services do not exist. There is a lot of discipline. Other countries other manners. English is not one of the compulsory subjects and there are no exams in this subject. That does not always make the job easy for Jenny. She invited us to present our pictures the next day during class.
The headmaster gave his consent. Lily, a teacher colleague of Jenny from Singapore, invited us in the evening for dinner at her home. She has worked as a teacher in East Timor for a long time, helping to set up a kindergarten and train teachers. Her pictures and stories were enormously impressive. With a fully packed bike we went to school on Tuesday. Over lunch, some of the teachers eat together. Her cook felt really honored that she could cook for us.
I have not had such a delicious meal in a long time. The cook has worked for 20 years as a teacher, but then had to work as a mother on the field and would now be slowly retired. However, since there is no pension allowance in China, she keeps herself afloat with this job. She earns 200 yuan a month and is also looking after the household and the grandchild. An admirable woman.
Our presence had spread like wildfire in the schoolhouse. Jenny first introduced us to her colleagues in the staff room. These greeted us warmly. Not all were able to speak English but nevertheless showed great interest. In addition to the approximately 40 students we finally had half a dozen teachers including cameraman as an audience.
The enthusiasm for the three white spinners from Switzerland was so great that all teachers wanted to invite us into their classes. We decided that we would make a presentation every day. Too much work is unhealthy. At Jenny we were also allowed to watch in class. Teaching a class of 40 teenagers is definitely not an easy thing. Jenny masters this but excellent.
On Thursday we had our biggest performance so far. In a big hall we gave our talk in front of three classes. Around 100 students.
Tim and Andi even sang an English song at the end. Before that, we played a round of ping pong on the playground. A teacher and two students challenged us to a duel. Ping Pong is a national sport in China, which means that pretty much everyone rules the game. We failed miserably. Only Andi was able to withstand the pressure at times. In the evening, we each used the opportunity to use the kitchen. So Andi cooked potato noodles with red cabbage on the first evening.
A blessing. Ratatouille was on the second evening. It's really nice to be able to get some hometown-like food between your teeth again. The nights were always icy cold here. The lake behind our hotel started to freeze.
Foreigners are quite rare here. Even Jenny is still considered an alien when she is sometimes out and about. Meanwhile I got used to the looks a little bit. The Chinese usually find it extremely amusing to talk to them or answer their questions. A posed people. Since one may also behave from time to time like an alien. On Friday, Tim drove on to Jiayuguan while Andi and I made another presentation in front of three classes.
Then we were asked to play basketball. Two other teachers supported us in the hard fight against the students. Half of the schoolhouse was watching. Afterwards we took the bus with Nina to Jiayuguan for a well-deserved weekend break.
Jiayuguan is one of the main points of the Silk Road. After the construction of a fortress by the Ming dynasty in 1372, Jiayguan was also colloquially referred to as the "mouth" of China, while the narrow hexi corridor leading to the rear neidi (inland) was dubbed the "throat". Even today, this metaphor is still anchored in the Chinese psyche, and Jiayuguan still marks the symbolic end of the Great Wall, the western gateway to China proper, and imperialist Chinese, the beginning of nothingness.
The Jiayuguan Fortress oversees the pass that runs between the peaks of Qilian Shan and Hei Shan (Black Mountains) of the Mazong-Shan Range. Built in 1372, the fort received the name "First Strong Fort under the Sky". Although the Chinese often controlled a territory far beyond the Jiayuguan area, this was the last bulwark of imperial China-the end of the "civilized world," beyond which there were only desert demons and the barbaric armies of Central Asia. At the eastern end of the fortress lies the Gate of Enlightenment (Guanghua Men) and to the west the Gateway of Reconciliation (Rouyuan Men), from where exiled poets, ministers, criminals and soldiers broke into oblivion.
The hanging wall runs north of Jiayuguan. This section was probably built in 1539, but the reconstruction to be seen today dates back to 1987.
We visited the hanging wall on Saturday. Pretty impressive, the first time to see a section of the Great Wall of China. Especially if you imagine that the wall once reached from here almost to Shanghai.
It was snowing in the night. Slowly winter is definitely coming.
The Jiayuguan Fortress followed on Sunday. Jenny had to translate for us, like the whole week, constantly. I was pretty impressed with the fortress.
In reality, one feels transported in the buildings as in another time. The Chinese tourists always wanted to take pictures with us. After all, you do not see such rare birds every day. After a while we got pretty cold. In the souvenir shop, we warmed up with cheese and bread. Nina and Jenny got these rarities from a teacher colleague from Inner Mongolia. If you have not had a real cheese on your palate for months, such a moment simply feels like a super-gag. The staff even brought us green tea. As Tim continued on his own and Jenny and Nina had to teach again on Monday, we went back to the tea house to eat "Mo shi" (a local sweets) and sip tea.
Andi and I stayed for the last evening in the trio. Without women! My visa was valid for only two days, so the next day, after I said goodbye to Tim, I went to the visa office. The lady at the counter was extremely friendly and helpful. Actually, the visa should be ready the next day. However, I made her understand that I needed it the same day. An hour later, I left the office with a new 30-day visa. That's what I call After two rounds of billiards, Andi and I took the bus back to Jumenshe. There was first a portion of snack.
The filled dumplings are available in different variations and taste heavenly. Especially deep fried. On Tuesday, the school invited us as a thank you for a banquet with the school principal and the English teachers. The Chinese have very special traditions at a banquet. The host tries to serve more than the guest can eat. Empty eaten bowls make the host appear stingy. No guest drinks alone, drunk only after a toast. When toasting, you almost touch the glass with both hands, pointing in the direction of the host and ganbei (the glass dries). I have rarely seen such a huge banquet. Thanks to Jenny's translation, we had exciting discussions. So they wanted to know exactly what we know about China and what Chinese celebrities are known in Europe. Of course, we also wondered what kind of knowledge they have about Switzerland. Again and again followed by toasts with great thanks for our commitment.
When we showed a few euro and dollar bills, they were totally baffled. You have never seen foreign currency in original. For me it was a beautiful and interesting evening, which I will keep in good memory.
Jenny was hit by a cold the next day. The daily maximum temperature was -2 degrees. It is somehow difficult to get on the bike again with such prospects. It was too hot in Iran and now too cold. If only one could control the weather. Jenny was well looked after by her teacher colleagues. Andi and I delivered the stupid sayings. It's the quickest way to get well again with humor. I decided to stay one more day and continue on Friday. The cook at the school conjured me another delicious dinner at the end of the table. After that it was said once more: say goodbye. Not only from Jenny and her school, but also from Andi. Thank you Jenny for the great time in Yumenshe. It would have worked! I wish Andi and Tim at this point also a good onward journey. Take care and remember: "Sometimes you have to suffer!". As an honest loser, I congratulate Andi on his overall victory in Yatzi.
After a short time I had made a decision: in this cold, I did not want to spend the night outdoors. Jiayuguan, the nearest village, was 120 kilometers away. With a little luck I could do it. However, I soon realized that ten days break, poor road conditions and strong headwinds are not exactly optimal indicators to accomplish such an act. When the sun went down at 6:00 pm, I was barely 20 kilometers from Jiayuguan. I already sat in the saddle for over 8 hours and had not eaten anything but some Snickers. The water had already completely frozen already 2 hours after departure. Even in the thermos.
Luckily, a jeep stopped me the first time and took me along. The hot shower and hot tea in the hotel felt like a rebirth. The receptionist at the front desk also told me that today's daily high temperature was -5 degrees and it should be -22 degrees in the night cold. That same night, I put together an escape plan. The next morning, I bought a train ticket to Xi'an. However, I learned that the next train leaves in 2 days. So I had a little time to make everything transportable. In the hard sleeper it was on Monday in 20 hours train ride to I'an.
The distances in China are enormous and the train is the best way to travel. Jenny almost swarmed with her stories about her train journeys in China. It certainly has its charm. I never got bored on the long ride. Either you sip your noodle soup, nibble on a chicken leg or talk to the other passengers. In addition, melancholic Chinese opera music is constantly sounding. Over time, one becomes almost depressed at the eternal piano playing. At least in the morning, they could wake you up with something cheerful music. In Xi'an, I immediately loaded my luggage on the next train and drove another 29 hours towards the south coast.
Allegedly the temperatures should be better in the south. Around midnight I was in a pullover and with a bicycle in Guangzhou. After a few hours sleep in the park, I stayed at the youth hostel the next day and went on a discovery tour.
I have never seen so many skyscrapers on a pile. The Prime Tower in Zurich is tiny compared to these giants. Probably the motto is: big city = big skyscrapers, small town = small skyscrapers. I declared December to be my "bike free" month. Everyone needs a little rest. I will stay in Guangzhou for a few more days and then take the train to Hong Kong. There my family comes to visit and once again it is time to take care of the visas. I wish you all very nice and happy holidays. See you next year!