China

The past week or so has been a nice tour from Nanning, China to Guilin, China.  Two metropolises – a word that seems very easy to use here – in the south.  I was held up in Nanning for a week before I could depart with another case of travel sickness…that kind of general nastiness that seems to occur every so often to remind you in a bad way that you are far from home.  I stayed at a nice hotel in Nanning for a week, practically bed ridden, while my case of travel sickness passed.
Electric Bike
Heeding some of the best advice I have gotten during this trip, I stayed for a long time in Nanning to allow the travel sickness to travel to elsewhere, and then I made a plan to take it slow once I got back on the bike in order to prevent a relapse.  I knew that I must get to Wuhan by November 16 in order to meet my friend George – coincidentally, this is also my father’s birthday (who is also named George – happy birthday Dad!).  There was no way that I would make it to Wuhan from Nanning on 20-30 mile days in a week.  That is okay – I took this as my perfect opportunity to have an experience with the much-publicized rail system in China.  My plan was to make it as far north as possible, and then catch a train to Wuhan in order to arrive at McDonald’s by noon tomorrow to meet George for our journey to Beijing, roughly 700-800 miles north of Wuhan along highway 107… if memory, calculations and Google Maps are accurate.  I am very excited for this meeting, and for the journey to follow – cold, rainy, snowy, grey, windy, and unpleasant though it may be.  It will be great to share the company of George the Cyclist for a few hundred miles on the road, to do some wild camping in China with the master of the craft.  I have been reading, when possible, George’s accounts of his own tour through China thus far, which include stories of sleeping in small patches of trees, under bridges, and even in a cemetery or two during weather of all kinds.  I suppose there is a certain logic to camping in a cemetery when you are on the verge of death on a bicycle tour.  It makes your burial that much easier when the time comes.
on the road
We will freeze our asses off I am sure, but it is going to be an adventure.  That is all tomorrow though – there is still a bit of story to be told about the China I have seen leading up to today.
 Up to this point I have ridden for roughly 350-400 miles in China since crossing from Vietnam at Pingxiang.  Roughly speaking, there are 3 worlds here, but once I fly out from Beijing on the 26th (roughly speaking) I am sure that I will have discovered more.  First, there is the world of farmers, who work almost entirely by hand.  In that world, there are somewhat narrow roads running through quiet country.  Roads are moderately crowded and under constant construction just like everything else here.  Water buffalo, motor-tricycles carrying cargo, and bicycles ply the highways along with a constant traffic of dump trucks carrying the gravel, dirt, sand and rocks to support the ongoing process of paving the roads that run through the farm country.  The farmers themselves wear conical bamboo hats, and somewhat rugged clothing to describe it over simply.  A lot of people walking around on the highways.  Foot-powered grass cutting machines are used by pairs of farmers to make small conical hay stacks.  An amazing amount of labor is done by hand – everybody who is on foot is carries a pole over their shoulder that has a bucket or a basket hung from either end.  Heavy loads (e.g. sand) are suspended from the middle.  Two people carry one bag.
Trucks, Road Construction
The second world that exists is a kind of medium-sized city (50,000 or so) to support the farms around it.  Very square concrete buildings, wide concrete streets.  The cities feel as though they were built instantaneously: everything looks the same, all the same age.  Big brick apartment complexes on the outskirts house the people.  All of it seems to lack character at first, but you do notice stuff like scooters with hello kitty stickers, gangs of kids wearing pleather jackets with manicured nails – male and female – and other signs that it isn’t this lifeless Brave New World that it initially seems.  It is just that the buildings themselves are generic.  It seems that there are enough people here that, if a system had not been devised to construct buildings fast, that there might, simply, not be enough buildings!!  Perhaps there wasn’t enough time to manufacture character into some facets of Chinese life (i.e. the newest phase of infrastructure).  In every corner of these medium sized rural cities, you see welding shops, tool shops, small noodle shops, farm equipment repair shops, small banks (titles like “Agricultural Bank of China” or something similar).
Finally, there are the metropolises themselves.  These cities could be anywhere…  They could be in Europe, in Japan, in the United States.  Right now in Guilin, I know that the average person makes a lot less money than a European citizen or an American, but that has not stopped people from developing a city with huge bridges, dazzling neon lights at night (and in the day), jumbotron TV screens in the plazas, and so on.  You can buy iPhones, plasma screen TVs, and laptops from the stores if you want to.  People here swing the lifestyle by a combination of rising income and creativity.
The couples that I saw in the countryside riding motorcycles in pairs, both wearing hard hats, carrying pieces of aluminum surely have their counterparts in Guilin.  They save money by riding electric bicycles rather than driving cars, by doing their own home repairs, and by doing things that I would not think of because I did not grow up in China.  What it adds up to is that families here can live lifestyles that are fairly similar to western lifestyles and that they can do it with a fraction of the income.  I also saw this couple:
Jules and Jess (of www.julesandjess.com -
Jules and Jess are making their way around the world as well.  They will cover 30,000Km over the course of 1.75 years (or so) on their way back to Australia.  We crossed paths near Liuzhou, China where we had the chance to chat for about 10 mins. about our journeys.  A roadside meeting with bicycle tourists is always a nice encounter, and this was too!  It had me thinking for awhile, wanting to ask all kinds of questions, right up until I met the Solar Cowboy an hour later!!  They gave me their Lonely Planet guidebook to China.  I gave them my map of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam – a great trade for both parties I would say because they got rid of about 15lbs. of book and gained a map of their upcoming route, while I gained reading material to last for . . . ever.
 Lang Lung, the Solar Cowboy Tourist!
Lang Lung (??) was a Chinese bicycle tourist headed in the opposite direction – I met him an hour after I met Jules and Jess.  I am not an astronomer, but my stars must have been in alignment that day or something…because to have four bicycle tourists come together in one day is quite rare.  Lang Lung had a solar panel mounted on the top of his cowboy hat which, I assume, was used to charge his legs.  Lang Lung spoke about as much English as I did Chinese, so communication was based on smiles, laughs and photographs.  I gave him my map of Nanning which I had gotten at the border of Vietnam.  Hopefully his trip is going well!
 China
All three of these worlds exist in a country more vast than I had initially realized.  In the east, China has Muslim population near the borders of Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan in the frontier cities and villages, the largest of which seems to be Kashgar, though there are several others to the north as well.  All of them are, of course, undergoing rapid development as well.
There is also Tibet which is now accessible – assuming that you have the permit – by rail from Beijing.  48 hours and about $60U.S. will get you from Beijing to Lhasa on a train that runs over permafrost on the world’s highest railroad over sections of track whose foundations must be cooled by massive refrigeration tubes in order to keep the permafrost frozen during summer months.  The coaches have oxygen piped in so that passengers do not suffer from altitude sickness during the ride.
There will be high speed rail service linking Guangzhou (giant metropolis just N of Hong Kong) with several of the other major cities in China within the next five years – travel times will be about four hours.  In other words – anywhere in S China to anywhere else in less than 4 hours by high speed train, within the next five years.  Assuming that your destination is a major city.
It is, on the whole, a can-do society.  When I walked into the Rural Agricultural Bank of China with a $100 bill and asked to exchange it – (not a service offered by this branch) – a bit of confused conversation resulted, with me writing down the figure 675 (the approximate number of Yuan that a $100 bill is worth) and showing a teller the symbol for “exchange” on my iPod, as well as my empty wallet to try to build sympathy for my cause.
After a moment, the teller took out his own wallet and debit card, handed it to the other teller, and she withdrew 675 Yuan from his personal account.  He then took the $100 bill and put it in his own wallet, and handed me the 675 Yuan.  Problem solved, the line of people behind me was moving once again and I was on my way, cash in hand.  Good will all around – I was overwhelmed with his willingness to help me out, but also very impressed by the fact that a bank teller would actually do that.  That he would even think to do that.  But China is like that.  There is kind of a national mentality . . . a kind of a buzz . . . that you feel here that people are just like “do it do it do it do it now now now now now…..”  Or maybe I am just feeling that, and I am choosing to see things that emphasize that.  Whichever the case, it is very easy to see those things in China.
hay stacks
It is kind of like when you walk through a job site, seeing the construction of a building, and you think, “wow…cool…it might be interesting to build a house or something one day…”  China is that way, except that it is kind of like a job site on the scale of a nation.  The biggest nation in the world.  And you see it all working really well, and you see it on every scale, from a lone farmer working on an irrigation ditch to a series of 10 cranes simultaneously building 10 new apartment buildings at 2a.m. as they work ‘round the clock to expand a metropolis.  I think that the fascinating thing about China is that, although nation building (hah!  whatever that means…) may be happening in other places, you can really see it in China.  It is very easily visible both on the ground to your eyeballs and in the news.
China now has its own reconnaissance drone aircraft.  The airplanes are Chinese productions from start to finish – designed and built in China.  China also has female pilots in its Air Force as well after it started recruiting female pilots a few years ago.  It also has a lot more control of the press than other nations – and perhaps I fall a bit prey to that in thinking, “Wow…China=awesome.”  The two annoyances to travelers – and locals – in China as far as I can tell, are squat toilets and internet censorship.  This means that it is not possible to access large portions of the internet – including blogger, twitter, facebook, chunks of wikipedia, and anything else that Chinese police are concerned might lead to dissent.  Paradoxically, it is the censorship itself that is leading to dissent.  Whatevs…not a huge amount of dissent…  I certainly have not seen any resistance while here.  Nobody seems to be pulling me aside and ranting the way they would in the Middle East, the way they do in the U.S.A.  There is, doubtless, resistance – but I am not your expert about its nature or about where to find it.  Humorously, the most scathing, acid material I have found has been in the Lonely Planet Guide to China which is rants about the lack of resistance and makes a tiring number of stabs at the communist regime and its destruction of various architectural wonders during the 20th century.  Again – I am not your best source of info here.  But the Lonely Planet seems to be fairly disappointed by the lack of resistance.  Then again, sometimes the Lonely Planet is not exactly your best source of info either.
 Guilin
At the last time I checked, they had not yet censored www.seizetheworld.com, which is good.  We’re small enough to fly under the radar.  Notwithstanding China’s new fleet of reconnaissance drones.  I suspect that, in time, internet censorship will go away in China.  The kids who I see cruising around on their mopeds and scooters, listening to headphones, holding cigarettes with their perfectly manicured nails in pleather jackets – i.e. the future ruling class of China…I think? – is not a group that I could imagine censoring the internet.  Afterall – these are probably the very rebels who maintain facebook profiles under the nose of the Chinese Internet Police.   And I met one such person who asked me about the bicycle tour, and after a few minutes of conversation, she told me that she had a facebook profile and that she would add me as a friend.  I said, “awesome!  I will definitely look out for the request!”  Not, of course, remembering, until later that I had no idea how to access facebook in China.  It seems likely that it is only all of the Chinese people in China under 25 who know how to break through censorship to access facebook, chat rooms, online gaming, etc. in China.  I am, unfortunately, not among those millions.  So – facebook will have to wait until I reach Japan.  In a way, China is fun, because it is kind of like a great puzzle.  Few people speak English once you leave the tourist track outside the cities – in the cities it is now quite easy to get onto the Lonely Planet hostel/restaurant route and meet tons of English-speaking Chinese people.  This is amazing to me, because it means that travel in China can, if you so desire, be just as easy and luxurious as travel in Europe.  Perhaps more so in ways.  It is certainly cheaper.  Once you leave this track, however, few people in China speak English, and written Mandarin is utterly different from English.  Thanks to the Public Security Bureau, you get to work on the puzzle without help from large chunks of the internet.  The nice thing is that you are not deprived of basic cyclist comforts such as super-cheap hotels and noodles, smooth pavement, etc.  So, as you work on this great, fascinating puzzle, you can at least do so in the comfort of an environment that is an enjoyable place to be.
Breaking the code...22Km to Liuzhou
So – the ride from Nanning to Guilin was a ride full of these thoughts.  A relatively easy cruise on good pavement for the most part.  I stayed at hotels at night.  I did not camp at all, but found hotels – they cost about $7 or $8 U.S. here, and during my last 2 or 3 weeks on the road in Asia, I am really, really taking it as easy as I can especially after my case of travel sickness.  I have continued to work my way through various Isaac Asimov books on my iTouch – Pebble in the Sky, The Stars like Dust, Foundation’s Edge, Foundation and Empire – good for reading in a place where conversation is rare and where I have been sick and/or tired during much of the past two weeks.  I camped on my first night in China on a sugar cane farm, but that was only one of 2 or 3 nights spent camping since my arrival in Bangkok a couple of months ago.  I also figure that it’s best to play it safe…there are lots of sugar cane farms here that offer camping possibilities, but I am concerned that an itinerant Panda Bear might wander off the reservation in search of some more interesting cuisine and decide that I might make a good meal.  During the coming month as I make my way to Beijing, and then to Tokyo and around Japan, I am focused on staying healthy and making it back to Seattle in good shape.  And alive.
On November 26, I meet my friend Ian, who will fly in to Tokyo, and then we will enjoy a tour around the Japanese home islands – likely from Tokyo to Kyoto!  Ian is a good friend and also a director of the Seize The World Foundation, which makes this doubly exciting, because he has been a great help along the way, and now it will be amazing to be able to share some of the adventure on the road with him after so much work on the project from afar!  We then fly back to Seattle together where I will meet my Aunt Betsy and her husband David to stay for a week.  More details coming on all of that…

No Facebook in China! But Great Cities and Touring.

No Facebook in China…but great cities and touring!
I am writing from my hotel room in Nanning, China.  I woke up this morning at a different hotel on the other side of the city, packed my bags, and got on my bike to leave the city.  I planned to purchase a replacement camera on my way out of town.  However, by 4p.m., I found myself still in downtown Nanning, a city of 6.5 million with skyscrapers, and huge wide concrete streets, and I felt a little bit sick.
BUT – I had a new camera, and I was close to a different hotel, right next to the “Quick & Pretty Food” restaurant. I did not eat there…but it exists.  My head had experienced a couple of its telltale spins that make me feel concerned about a seizure, so I was glad to have made it to the there.  I went to my room and took a nap for a few hours.  No seizure occurred.  I believe that I was feeling off because I had eaten a breakfast consisting only of 4 pears and 2 bananas, and then I had not eaten lunch.  I had also spent all day searching frantically for a camera store (still hoping to quickly buy a camera and then hit the road – hah!  Yeah right!).  Up to this point in the day, I had been feeling sort of increasingly crazed…as though each time I entered a store was an increasingly futile attempt to find something (a camera) that simply must not exist in China.  (There are, in fact, millions of cameras here…if you know where to look.  If…)  So it turned into one of those somewhat strange, not entirely pleasant, not entirely sane, but in the end, pretty good days that happen out here.

During the whole experience, I was being driven insane by the fact that I could not find safe places to put my bicycle…as I began to walk into a store, a guy in a suit with a radio would immediately be on the spot to intercept.  China has lots of guys with radios…lots of guys with suits…lots of machines to make sure that money is real.  A necessary evil, I suppose, when dealing with large numbers of people in a middle class economy.

While I did not understand exactly what they had to say, the message is exactly the same…  “No cameras for dudes with bikes next to the door…”  Or… “No groceries if you have a bike . . .”  Or… “No books from the library if you have a bike…”  Of course that is not exactly the message..the message is, “sir, I am sorry, but you must move your bicycle.”  Anyhow…
By this point in the tour, I have become well aware of this global policy, to the point that I rarely even notice it because I have been conditioned to simply lock my bike outside and hope nothing is taken, or to buy my food at small casual places in the country where I can just lean the bike against a curb and see it while I buy food.  But like a chained dog, for some strange reason I must occasionally make a run against the chain just to confirm that the chain, is, in fact, still there.  It is still there.  And it is still frustrating when the chain yanks against your neck.
Just when things were at the point that I was about to go completely crazy – I do not know what was about to happen…something –  I had the good fortune of running into a few college students living in Nanning.  Two were American (I believe) and one was from Nanning.  They were also interested in going on a bicycle tour in S.E. Asia next month.  Needless to say, we had some good conversation about travel, Nanning, and places to find cameras in the city.  They also wound up being my salvation from this afternoon of running around lost, because they gave me directions to E-Plaza, where I found 20 stores full of computers, cameras, tripods, etc. etc. etc.  I purchased a camera about 3 hours later.  Security guards gave me no trouble when I locked my bike right next to the front door next to hundreds of electric bicycles.  It was a good camera shopping experience, and a good encounter with the college students.  I look forward to hearing about the experiences that J.P., Wyatt and Alex have on the road this winter!
After the past two paragraphs, you might feel – just as I do! that I am going a bit off the deep end.  And I am, a bit.  Well – never fear.  It was just a bit of a strained day today, as there occasionally are, but at the end of it, things are nice.  I find myself in a comfortable place looking forward to a long tour through China to get to Beijing.  During that process, looking forward to meeting my friend George in Wuhan in a couple of weeks.  Wuhan is a city of 10 million people or so.
What made an impression on me about Nanning was the scale of everything.  I wrote a few things in my previous post about people in China wearing hard hats at work, and then on their motorcycles (b/x they simply double as helmets while commuting) and then using them while hanging out simply as sun protection…in essence that hard hats are sort of en vogue because everybody in China is working on building things.  I realize now that this is a major over generalization now that I have seen Nanning.  I also felt as though Pinxiang was like walking the streets of Pleasantville…  Nanning is not like that at all.  It is its own entity, with beautiful bicycle paths along the Yong River, teenage kids out rollerblading at midnight, dancing classes practicing along the river during the evening.  It is real here.
Nanning is a huge city.  One of the largest I have ever seen – a bit of a strange thought when I consider that it is just one of the many cities in China.  As I rode into Nanning, from a distance of about 30Km out, I had an experience similar to Maverick’s approach to Fightertown USA in the movie Top Gun.  It was sunset, I was rolling in on my bike…I was watching the jets fly by over head as they took off from Nanning Intl. Airport.  There were, of course some differences…  Maverick (played by Tom Cruise) was on a Japanese-made motorcycle watching American-made fighter jets…I was on a Taiwanese-made commuter/touring bicycle watching french-made commercial airliners.  But for a few minutes, the scene felt similar, and it got me psyched for Nanning.  If nothing else, it began to make me realize that this was a big city.  Large jets were taking off at 3-5 minute intervals.
Here people wear suits and ties, polo shirts, and enough modern fashion that I don’t know how to describe it without sounding like an idiot!  Salons and barber shops are everywhere – big ones with multiple levels, themed decoration schemes, etc.  People here would fit in anywhere else in the world.  The only major difference from the other places I’ve been is that they get around on electric bicycles / mopeds.
Hundreds of thousands of mopeds.  Nanning has been constructed to separate two-wheeled traffic four-wheeled traffic.  The city is casually massive in this regard, with extremely wide streets and crosswalks.  There is no subway system, but there is a well-developed bus system and there are huge numbers of people riding on these electric bicycles.  The bikes move around at 20mph and carry 2 people easily with a padded rear cargo rack that has fold out foot rests.  I noticed the bikes once I got to within 40Km of the city.  Beyond that, people use electric (or perhaps hybrid power) scooters and, more commonly, regular gas-powered motorcycles.  You stop seeing water buffalo at a distance of about 20-30Km – no livestock of any kind in the city.  It is, in fact, devoid of all livestock.  I do see people walking their dogs.
Together with cars, the electric bicycles are the workhorses of individual transportation in the city.  I have never seen a city with wider streets than Nanning – which might explain why one of its sister cities is Provo, Utah (I believe that Provo also has wide streets…as does Salt Lake, come to think of it).  Nanning is the easiest city that I have ever been to for getting around by bicycle notwithstanding the fact that it has 6.5 million people or that there are no subways.  Each side of every street here (or almost every street) has a two-wheel only (i.e. 90% electric bicycles & a few bikes and motorcycles) lane.  The lane is the width of a regular two-lane road, but all traffic moves one way.  Six lanes of automobile traffic separate this lane from a similar lane of two wheel traffic on the other side.  Bike/motorcycle/foot traffic is controlled at intersections with its own lighting systems that have bike/human logos.  Very similar, in this sense to many cities in Europe.  However, in Europe, these bicycle lanes are often crammed (or simply painted) onto overly-narrow streets, and sidewalks, and make for some exciting commuting.  In Nanning, there is no word that I can think of to describe the infrastructure that is in place to move the bicycles, pedestrians, electric bicycles, and people from place to place.  They have poured more concrete here, built more bridges, more overpasses, stop lights, etc. than I have ever seen before.  It is big enough that you can be relaxed as you move around because it is not a hectic, harrowing, life threatening or grid locked experience as it is in so many cities to get from point A to point B.  Rather, it is just a leisurely cruise on 100yard-wide concrete boulevards that carry a flow of traffic that seems lazy because of the size of the city.  It is an interesting experience to come to an intersection and be stopped at a crosswalk with 20 mopeds, looking out to the distance – about 100-150 yards to the other side – at the other 3 corners of the intersection where there are clusters of 20 more mopeds at each corner.  As the lights change color, and traffic resumes motion, things stay remarkably under control, with 40 people on electric bicycles all crossing paths in opposite directions.  There are also a few regular cyclists, pedestrians, a dog or two and me added into the mixture.  All this is made sane because of the vast space and segregation of the streets…very wide streets, traffic neatly sorted out.  I keep hearing all of these great things about Holland in terms of bicycle and pedestrian lanes.  After seeing Nanning, I might think that China could give them a run for their money.  For entirely different reasons, Nanning is called the “Green City.”  This is because it is full of green foliage and parks (I did not see much of this, honestly, but I have no doubt that it is there…somewhere…)  Green does seem an appropriate title, however, for a city whose population moves itself around so much by electric bicycle.
Once it was dark outside, I put on sandals from the hotel (they all have them here) grabbed my new camera, and went for a walk around the city to get dinner.  I took some photos of the city, and will post them here as soon as I can…perhaps tomorrow before I hit the road toward Giulin (Way-lin) if I can.  Thanks for reading!
         Stephen

Truckers, Construction, Southern China

I am in an internet cafe in Shangsi City, China.  I am here by accident, in fact – both Shangsi, and the internet cafe.  It was a long day of riding today – as they all must be from here until Tokyo – and I was kind of just pedaling along thinking as I usually do – “Happy birthday Graef!” (that’s my sister – it is her birthday today), “Hope this truck continues @ 25mph so I can keep drafting!” “Wish my iPod had batteries!” etc. when I rolled into a city that was quite a bit larger than the other cities I’d seen since Pinxiang, when I entered China yesterday from Vietnam.  After I checked into a hotel here – a bit of a process, but it happened – then I went for a walk.  2 hours later, here I am!

When I entered the city, and it was 6p.m. I decided that I should probably use the chance of being in a big city to figure out where I was.  10 minutes spent looking at my maps and at the Chinese/English dictionary on my iTouch had solved the riddle.  I had, at some point, left highway 322, and wandered, together with my thoughts, into a new part of the prefecture.  I was okay with that, because the highway was still perfectly smooth asphalt, the buildings were still being constructed with a kind of application of manpower – and womanpower (and MACHINE POWER) of which I had never before conceived, and things otherwise seemed as they always had along highway 322.  My odometer said that I had ridden 60 miles.  I decided to find a hotel, or a “Lee-gyEW-an.”  At least I think that is how they are called.  As you probably already know, it is very important to use the proper tone in China in order to be understood.  The written language here is actually written so that the reader knows which tones should be emphasized if a given word is to be read aloud.  There is also a version of Mandarin Chinese which is written using the Roman alphabet called Pinyin, and it too has accent marks to show the reader where the tones should have emphasis.  I don’t understand it very well at this point – hence, “Lee-gyEW-an.”

 My arrival in China has been great so far.  I have this mental concept of China being its own alternate reality, and up to this point, most of what I have seen has confirmed and reinforced my mental concept of this idea.  It is a bit strange, because I have traveled through countries with different alphabets and languages in order to get to China, but China stands alone in my mind as its own world – sort os a massive self-contained place where things are different.  So far, what I have seen here is that it is possible to have huge cities that seem to be stamped out as if from molds, to have some of the best asphalt that I have ever ridden on in my life, and to have countryside separating the cities that is inhabited by farmers who use water buffalo and even their own bodies to haul their gear around.  The cities themselves have a “Pleasantville” meets “Rosie The Riveter” feeling: everything is a bit industrial here, everything under construction, everybody working.  Or so it seems.  Each city falls into one of two categories – under construction or complete.  I rode my bike through Pingxiang upon arrival, and this was one of the complete cities.  Wide streets, planters, Chinese flags, not too many people walking around, women in orange vests and reflective versions of the broad bamboo conical hats walking around to sweep up trash.  Too Perfect!  Then I rode through a couple of cities under construction outside of Ninming whose names I never learned.  This was amazing, because the projects seemed to have been started from the ground up at every phase – an entire city constructed in one stroke.  And there was enough labor, there were enough trucks, enough carpenters, enough water buffalo hauling around dirt, enough of everything to do it.
The people here wear their hard hats as motorcycle helmets on their motorcycles.  The motorcycles are mostly electric rather than internal combustion: so they hum around quietly at about 25-30mph.  While they are working on the jobsites, their hardhats are their uniform.  When they head home, they just leave their hats on in case their electric scooter has a crash.  Along the road, the traffic of dump trucks is constant – full ones, empty ones, ones full of logs, ones full of gravel, ones full of dripping wet sand.  These make the easiest – though dirtiest – options for drafting.  China is the best place I have yet found for drafting trucks, because there are large numbers of trucks that run laden heavily enough that they move slowly enough that I could hope to hang on.  What’s more, the road surface here is so good that the speed at which I can hang on is about 7mph faster than it would be in any other country.  It is possible to draft a truck in China at about 25-32mph for 30-40 minutes if I am really lucky – though this has only happened a few times on this tour.
Moving away from Vietnam toward the border at Dong Dang, I had what must have been the best such experience of the trip, when I was riding at night, and I hopped in behind a truck carrying a full load of sand along a highway with great asphalt and wide shoulders.  The truck had this great lighting system  so that I could see all around me as I listened to my iPod.  When we went around turns, I would pop out toward the side and take a look at the upcoming 3/4 mile of pavement, and make eye contact with the driver’s co-pilot.  20 minutes later, the truck stopped for what I thought was a bathroom break.  I stopped too, figuring I would rest, and then continue to draft.  The drivers, two Vietnamese brothers I believe, had just stopped to offer to drive me along inside the cab.  My first reaction was, “no, no, no – I’ll just ride my bicycle – thanks though!”  after more of this kind of communication, I reconsidered, and before I quite knew what was going on, my bicycle was being loaded on top of the cab of this big rig, one of the brothers was helping load my bags, and we were drinking energy drinks as we tried to talk about where we were from, what I was doing, etc.  I had never experienced trucks from this perspective before.  Thinking back to my moment of thinking that it might be best to maintain the perfect style of the trip, I am quite glad that I thought better of it and figured, “well, if I can draft a truck…then I can ride in a truck…right?”  Well – not for every day on this tour, but it was interesting to gain the perspective of these vehicles that are 90% my worst enemy.  Yes…trucks are people too.  Before long, the assistant driver was asleep, and I was just in my own world watching as we passed everything by from 10 feet in the air through the darkness.  There was no conversation at all because I don’t speak Vietnamese, and the driver spoke no English.  We passed small crowds of kids hanging out next to motorcycles, blurring by.  Passing by trucks on our own level.  Honking our horn occasionally at stuff, that sound that is so mind-jarring on my bicycle just seeming like one more thing to do to stay awake for a truck driver on his way to Lang’Son Vietnam at 10p.m.  After an hour of rolling along at 20mph, we had arrived at Lang’Son, 18Km from the border with China.  I hopped out, thanked the drivers, gave them two hostess cup cake  type cookies to stay awake, and got back on my bike.  I felt no guilt about having gotten a ride for 50Km or so…my rationale was that I’ve done plenty of pedaling so far.  Simple enough.  For me it is all about enjoying the nature of your travel as much as possible – I believe that riding in a truck and hanging out for an hour with those two guys (and seeing for once what it’s like to be in the truck rather than being blasted by the truck!!) was preferable to riding along for those 50Km of darkness…but as I say, I feel justified!
Although every hitch hiking adventure of this bicycle tour has been great, and although none has been scary, I would not exactly say that any of them have made me feel better about being a cyclist on the road in the world of drivers.  But I also must put that into the perspective that the people with whom I was hitchhiking were people who would pick up hitchhikers!  Don’t get the wrong idea though – these truck drivers were good, it was just clear that one of them was fighting to stay awake.  If I was able to play any part in helping that, then all the better!
Moving along – I am now in Shangsi China once again.  Tomorrow I hit the road for Beijing once more.  2,400 Km to go.  100Km/Day…  I meet my friend George somewhere around the halfway point, and we will then continue along toward Beijing together.  It is going to be an exciting trip.  Once I get to Tokyo, I rendezvous with my friend Ian for a tour to Kyoto – the rough plan.  I will resume posting photos as soon as I buy a new camera.  (Cameras were both stolen in Vietnam…   :-(
Thanks for reading, and check back soon for more!
Stephen

Next Phase…Bangkok to Beijing

I have arrived in Thailand.  I am now on the ground at the beginning of the longest overland segment of the Seize The World tour.  It is exciting to be here and to think about the road ahead.  During the course of the coming months and miles, I will ride from Bangkok through the countryside and cities of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam into China.  Once into China, the road will take me – eventually –  to Beijing, and then, all the way to the port city of Tianjin in north eastern China.
Tianjin is a very long way off right now.  But the exciting thing is that it is on the same land mass and that there are no major barriers between me and Tianjin right now.  It should – hopefully – be one long uninterrupted journey to get all the way there, giving opportunities to see various different geography, cultures, landscapes, weather, animals and people along the way.  It will also give opportunities to communicate with those people about epilepsy.  The upcoming leg is biggest single segment of the whole journey.
I will post another update soon from Thailand.  Thanks for following and stay tuned.
       Stephen