First Days

Bob:

September 8, 2009

Day One: Left Chengdu to parts unknown. Encountered difficulty: finding the right post office, getting our bank card to work, finding our way out of town. Visited a nice big plaza and took pix of Chairman Mao statue. Traffic eased as we got out of town, but were almost hit by a car coming onto the street from a side street. We both stopped in time. Then it got really, really hot and the humidity was killing me. We stopped twice and I chugged sodas; the sugar and caffeine kept me going for another half hour each time. Finally found a binguan after asking at least five times. Air conditioning! But nothing else works very well. Finally got hot water after dinner which was an epic. All we could find were streets filled with hot pot restaurants and they couldn’t really accommodate us for under 100yuan, and a lot of confusion. We weren’t that hungry.

Near a street market, we stopped for a meal of baozi, and met a nice family group and a regular customer. Lots of language issues, but lots of fun communication and laughter. The regular customer bought our dinner! We presented the family with business cards. Stopped for pastries to eat on the way back to the binguan. One was filled with sweetened squash! Wonderful.

September 9

Day Two: Went back to the same place for breakfast: two tea eggs, three jiaozi, two bowls of rice soup, and pickled vegetables: 5y or 70 cents for a great breakfast for two. Claire was made happy the one person who didn’t get a business card last night, and they all got to wonder at Zippy!

On the way out of town, one missed turn cost us about 3k, not too bad for getting out of a medium sized city.

We stopped at 39K. The heat/humidity index has to be over 100 because we are exhausted early; we have four months (or more) ahead of us, and some 12-15,000-foot mountain passes not many days away, so we need to ease into this thing! We should be getting into some cooler temperatures soon; today our closed plastic bags collapsed some, so we gained some elevation, but it’s still hot and humid, though the pollution is easing.

We would have done another 20 k, but are pretty sure the next binguan is 78k more. We’ll save that for tomorrow. We averaged less than 20k/hr even though there was much less stopping for traffic obstructions than yesterday. Today was riding near the edge of a 2m concrete drop/off into trees or an irrigation (empty) ditch. My shoulders and back are tired wrestling a fully loaded long wheelbase tandem. I’ll work into it.

I packed extra hex wrenches because I wasn’t sure I had all the sizes necessary to fit every hex bolt on the bike. Turns out I had, and I had probably 200g of excess baggage. We looked for a bike mechanic all morning and found one fixing an old bike for a waiting woman. I offered them to him, “I don’t want, do you want?” in Chinese (Wo bu yao, ni yao, ma). Claire knew how to say that! She keeps amazing me, and I keep using pantomime. At first he asked me how much I wanted, “Duo shao qian” (more money, less money literally). I told him I didn’t want any money, “Wo bu yao.” He looked a little confused at first, then happy. Those tools would have cost him quite a few bicycle repairs.

That little interchange, like many others we have on these trips, helps remind us how fortunate we were to have been born in a wealthy country. A small gift, like the reading glasses I gave the Uyghur man in far western China, or those hex wrenches, makes us realize how much we take for granted the little things that most people lack.

Claire:

Today, it only took asking once for a binguan – it was right across the intersection. Bob impressed the whole front office of the hotel when a woman dropped her scooter coming down off some steps and he was able to fix something that broke. I could tell they were also in awe as he muscled the fully loaded Zippy up the same steps.

I’m learning that, in this language, context is everything. So many syllables sound so similar, (and with four tones, my chances of getting the pronunciation wrong is 4:1) that mumbling single words doesn‘t seem to work. If instead, I can prattle off a full line of words, people seem to get the gist. I’m also trying to memorize just the sounds of the last few syllables of the questions people might be asking us. Otherwise, I just get a deer-in-the-headlights look on my face.

Saw three dead pigs today – two in the river and one in the irrigation ditch. I didn’t think pigs had the chance to die a natural death here.