Chengdu, China

Bob: We’ve arrived in Chengdu, China.

claire working on zippy lucky and zippy

Despite jet lag we got Zippy put together with a couple of problems that were solved with a little patience and some muscle. Lucky was particularly helpful, supervising and giving encouragement. We went riding around town today, and it is crazier than Beijing, more like Baku, Azerbaijan. We attract quite a bit of attention on the tandem, something they appear to have never seen.

first dinner in chengdu

We were starving on arrival and went wandering for food around our backpacker hotel, which serves mainly Western food to the less adventurous youth. We saw a hutong (alley) and it reminded us that the best food we found in Beijing was in hutongs. We saw an inviting pile of vegetables and were drawn by a cute girl working the street in front of her family’s three table fandian. We pointed at some noodles and green beans.  They brought us paper cups of  boiling water, for sterilization, and I ordered a beer for us. Both no name dishes were wonderfully spiced (dried juniper berries in the green bean dish)  and the heavily hopped Chinese beer was  just as good, and cold, as I remembered it. Total cost for dinner and beer, $2.19

From Claire: I’m hoping our taxi ride from the airport was the most adventure we’ll have on this trip. Sure, Bob was having fun in the front seat–he had a seat belt. Zippy and I clung together for dear life in the back seat of the van. For the driver to have hit a bicyclist on our way from the airport would have been very bad karma all around.

It is odd how the very distinct smells (all except one) are somehow comforting because now they’re familiar from our first trip. Mostly food, but also some incense and lots of other unknowns. And my ears perk up to the language, trying to pick out recognizable words. Already, I’ve found there is an accent to deal with, so that’s why, once again I’m not picking up much of what people are saying. I feel a lot more relaxed this time, we got a good night’s sleep last night and Zippy is back in one piece.

Bob: While Claire was in a grocery today, reacquainting herself with the joys of shopping when none of the packaging is readable, I stayed with Zippy and had a conversation with a Chinese man. He was middle aged, a bit soft looking, in white t-shirt, black shorts, black socks and black shoes. He asked for a light for his cigarette. I think he was testing me, because he immediately produced a lighter when I indicated I didn’t smoke.  Odd to shrug my shoulders in apology for not smoking! Then he asked my age. I knew because it happened so often on our Silk Road Crossing in China. We each drew out our ages on a bench, and used finger counting.  He was 53, and showed shock that I am 65. Then he wanted to see how hard my legs are, a reaction to Zippy as usual, and even went so far as to make me flex my arms for him, and he slowly traced my large veins down my biceps and forearm. I suspect he doesn’t have such good circulation. He complained about the pollution (bad) in Chengdu, between deep draws on his cigarette. He was just curious about me, and not shy about it; Chinese seem to be so shy that they pretend not to see you, or get very personal. All this was sign language, helped along by Claire when she arrived.

Then we had an exciting ride back to the bingwan. Now it’s time for dinner. What unknown dish will we have tonight? I’m ready for that cold pejo!

Zippy is ready to roll!

Zippy shrink wrapped and ready for China. The wheels are in two other boxes, along with tools and sharp objects, a third bag will carry tent and sleeping bag for the high mountains. We’ll carry cameras and the computer in …

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Shangri-la: Journey into Myth, search for Reality

Stupa at first pass into Tibetan landsOur original blog articles are now arranged chronological sequence. The first article appears on this page. Simply follow the sequence by clicking another article from the page boxes at the top and bottom of each page. You can leave your comments to each article by clicking the “Replies” link located at the bottom of each chapter.

The British author James Hilton published a small novel in 1933. He was no doubt shocked at the widespread repute the location of his fictional sacred Utopian kingdom would achieve, and the misuse that would subsequently occur.

Las Vegas to Shanghai, luxury hotels, and the no-tell motel in the seedy underbelly of thousands of towns, have expropriated his fiction. Shangri-la is the idea of a magical place where people live long happy lives in perfect bliss. All of these places, even the most plush, fall short of the dream.

Whole countries have laid claim to the title, and all but one are fabrications. James Hilton’s Shangri-La is not in Bhutan, Nepal, or Myanmar, but in China; in Yunnan province of the Tibetan cultural region of the eastern most ranges of the Himalayas. Here the great rivers of Southeast Asia begin with trickles, explode into violent torrent, gather into the mighty forces of nature to embrace one of the most dense populations on Earth, and to eventually braid out across huge fertile deltas from Shanghai to Myanmar.

Misty Morning in Shangri-la (Claire)

Misty Morning in Shangri-la (Claire)

Amazingly, Hilton was not a traveler. He got his inspiration from the National Geographic which published the explorations of the botanist, philologist, Joseph F. Rock, who spent years in northern Yunnan. The collection of plants was Rock’s primary mission, but he also documented the local Tibetan cultures. Rock’s plant collections are said to have sparked the, now ubiquitous, exotic garden craze in the United Kingdom and beyond. Hilton grazed from this material the fictional beautiful and perfect place.

Shangri-la, and surrounding mountains, hold most of the minorities of China, and are one of the last holdouts from complete domination by the Han majority.

The unique southerly curve of the Himalayan range at the east end, allows the valleys to funnel warm wet monsoon clouds to extremely high elevations. This makes for a fecundity of plant and animal life found nowhere else in the great stretch of the Himalayan range all the way to Central Asia.

Claire and I crossed the Tien Shan mountains of far western China on our Silk Road Crossing. They are the western ending of the Himalayan range in Central Asia. This trip we hope to cross the far eastern part of the Himalayan range, in our search for the real Shagri-la.

What will we find? Well, as with the Silk Road, fantasy and reality are not the same, but in Asia, reality is always fascinating and alive, always challenging and rewarding.

From Yunnan we plan to ride into Laos, then Vietnam, where Claire was born, Cambodia and end our journey in Thailand, after about four months.

We hope you will come along with us, here on our New Bohemians site as we begin in Chengdu, Sichuan, where the great earthquake devastated the region and killed thousands. From what we know of will and energy of the Chinese, the people are recovering. We hope so. We’ll visit some pandas of course, along with our Lucky, and then attempt the mountains, monsoon snows, and vagaries of Chinese Communist bureaucracy allowing us to make the trip. Wish us well and then bookmark and follow us on our unusual, and no doubt enlightening, quest documented on this site.