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Jack Gregory
Jack Gregory

Copyright © Jack Gregory, 2004


Jack's Trip to China
September 2004

To play the Beijing Biking song click here (you gotta have high speed, or a lot of patience)

DAY 1.... I THINK...

Well, here I sit in some bar (I think). I got into Beijing ok, Air Canada was its usually pathetic self. The guy next to me snored soooo loud all the way I decided to get an operation to prevent that when I get home. At least my snores are nice and calming......not a combination of tractor noise and deep hawking loogies. I digress.

Godspeed Wu met me at the hotel and we had to move because the hotel was full. We moved to one near this lake that the receptionist can't find on the map, even though I kept pointing at it. A nice lake with little bars and restaurants around it. All kinds of people walking around the lake on a Saturday night. Near as I can figure there are more bicycles in these 5 square blocks than there are in all of  Calgary.

             (This is the view along the lake outside the hotel in Beijing)

I used my best Chinese to order an iping pijoe and the waiter asked me whether I wanted a Coors or a Corona, I think he speaks better English than I do. I'm going to finish the beer then go back to my hotel room to pass out, I forgot what traveling for better part of 20 hours can take out of you! The clock in this computer says I've been up for 24 hours.

Day 2

I got up this morning and sat near the lake and listened to the neighborhood wake up.  Its different than back home, people get up, go for a little walk etc.  Some people yell in their courtyards, Godspeed says they do that to get the bad air out of their lungs.



       (See that little motorcycle thingy on the right, that's a one person taxi)

I put my bike together this morning and took it for a ride around  2 lakes in central Beijing, they are aptly called the big lake and the small lake. On both sides of the lakes are the Hutongs. Hutongs are the older style houses in central Beijing. To us they look like narrow little alleyways with slum like dwellings.

(A view of the Hutong area from above....actually from the Drum Tower)

To the people that live and work there, I think they are more like home and a good investment. The Hutongs are rapidly being bought up (at a profit for the homeowner I assume) and either turned into big buildings or 8 lane expressways.

In the afternoon, I took a taxi over to what I thought was the zoo, at least that is what I showed the taxi driver. He took me to the subway near the zoo and after much walking around I finally figured out that he had got me as close as he cared to get me and I should walk the last kilometer by myself...so I did. I stopped on the way for lunch and had a huge beer, which of course, being a Gregory, led me to another discussion with the waitress on how to say where is the bathroom. I'm getting pretty good at drawing things to get what I want. I may take up a career as either an artist or a draftsperson when I get back.

I finally made it to the zoo and had a nice time. It took me 3 taxis to get back to the hotel because the taxi drivers here don't have to know where anything is, youre supposed to. The hotel gave me a card with its name and a little map on it, but the taxi drivers either don't know what a map is or don't know how to read, or don't know either.

When I finally made it back to the hotel, I walked about a kilometer down the lake and toured the home of Son Quingling, the wife of Dr. Sun yatsam, the guy that is credited with starting the cultural revolution.... except he was out of the country when it happened and was apparently as surprised as anyone else. Son came from a well to do family and saw a good thing when he happened, so she married him and brought him back to China to a hero's welcome. Co-incidentally, her sister married the guy who took over Taiwan I think.... those girls kinda got around and had a bit of a plan me thinks! Anyway, he died 10 years into the marriage and the Chinese government kept her around and trotted her out whenever foreign dignitaries came to town. The residence is kind of moth eaten and has some really weird pictures of her life, and death in it. The grounds are beautiful, quiet and probably a good example of what you get in the neighborhood if you have a million dollars.

         ( Home of Son Quingling, the wife of Dr. Sun yatsam)

Day 3

The day started with Godspeed going to get David Flaxer, the other rider. David works for IBM, but doesn't know my brother or brother in lawguess you guys aren't that famous. When we got all settled and "biked up", we went for a ride around Tiananmen square and parked our bikes for a short walk to the Forbidden city.

   (Forbidden City on the right, a huge bike lane in front of us!)

First we had lunch, it has become plain to me that this particular army will be traveling on its stomach. The beauty of having someone with you that knows the language and culture is obviously going to be several fold. Firstly, he knows what to order, lunch was great. My first night all I could get was some kind of fried cabbage and spaghetti.

                     (David finds an air conditioner)

  (Here's me in the Forbidden City)

Lunch followed with a couple of hours going through the Forbidden City. I don't know if there is a word for larger than huge, but there should be. There are over 800 buildings in the place and it is so large that there is a group (large group) of people who continually restore the buildings in a 10-year loop. The main entrance way has three very large buildings half way into the compound for what were, I guess, official functions. The first was the "greeting building" (it seems like all the buildings are called heavenly something, if your looking for a precise and accurate travel guide, you've come to the wrong place). This was the place the Emperor met and intimidated dignitaries, visitors and anyone else he felt like. The second building, just behind it, looks like the first, but smaller and is where he practiced his speeches to give in the first one! Behind that is the "lunchroom?  each of these is separated by  courtyards, the first one could hold up to 100,000 people for the Emperor to intimidate and generally impress.. These 3 buildings take up the first half.... get an idea of the size yet? The most depressing thing is a Starbucks right in the middle of the whole thing! After a couple of hours walking around there, we rode our bikes back to the hotel.

    (One of the courtyards in the Forbidden City)

(Godspeed pointing out the Starbucks in the middle of the Forbidden City)

( I think this is the Emperor's private little garden, now full of tourists)

(From right to left, David, Godspeed and I in front of Forbidden City, Tianimin behind us)

After we got back to the hotel, we showered then took a taxi to a famous duck restaurant. If you've never tried Peeking duck, this has got to be the place! It was great; they say if the guy cutting up the duck is really good, he can get 108 little pieces out of it.... we lost count. I am proud to report that we demolished duck number 115,019,938 since they opened up the restaurant (they gave us a certificate to prove it).

(At the Duck Restaruaunt)

After the duck restaurant, we went to an excellent Peeking opera at a teahouse. The first two acts were great, I missed the 3rd while I was trying to figure out the proper way to use a squat toilet.... theres a skill I never thought I would need after I left Indonesia in 1985.... dont ask.

( The heroine, perfect face, Godspeed says they look like hell without the makeup though)

 

Day 4

We rode our bikes through 16 kilometers of Beijing traffic to the summer palace. I think I need to find a T-shirt that says: I rode my bike in Beijing and lived". Actually it wasn't too bad, most of  the roads have really wide dedicated bike lanes (about the size of a car lane back home).  These dedicated bike lanes are jointly shared by bikes, buses, taxis, motorcycles, some cars that come out of nowhere and the odd animal. Having said all that, the system seems to work fairly well, you are responsible for looking out for the front end of your bike (or whatever) and the person behind you is responsible for looking out after the back part of whatever it is your driving. There are two main rules that are involved: a) the theory of critical mass.... If you get enough of a group together, no car will dare run you over. And b) male ego or machismo or just plain chicken ... don't look like you see the car trying to cut you off, then he might back down. Taxis don't appear to know these rules, though.

Godspeed is a master at traffic negotiation; we just followed him like a couple of baby ducks following the mother.

The summer palace is another huge monument to excess and probably good justification for mass rioting by the oppressed masses. Judging by the descriptions on the monuments, the British and French seem to have done a pretty good job of burning the entire thing to the ground in 1870. It all got rebuilt in the late 1880's. 

(Godspeed and David if front of one of the bridges at the Summer Palace)

(Godspeed and I at the lake in the Summer Palace)

( The boys in the band at the Summer Palace)

We walked around the large lake and stopped for lunch when Godspeed claimed he was going to die from starvation.... man I wish I could eat like that guy and keep as in shape/thin.  Godspeed is a unique individual, China should declare him a national resource, he is a one man enthusiast, spokesman and general all around good guy when it comes to his country.  For a young man (21) he has gained so much experience and loves to share his knowledge of this fascinating country.

The day ended with another ride back to the hotel and an excellent dinner at a Muslim restaurant. Godspeed's advice is to eat at Muslim restaurants; he said his father told him they were always the cleanest.... Dads oughta know.

Day 5

Man that was a killer.   85 or 90 kilometers through traffic for about half the time, the other half was on the side of the road and UPhill. David and I both had to get off and walk a couple of times. Godspeed says one of his nicknames is Hummingbird, I believe it, he's got energy, but then he's 21 and I'm older than Moses. I think I drank at least 6 liters of water today and only went to the bathroom once.... if you know anything about me, or my heritage, that's almost a physical impossibility.

 

We stopped along the way and bought some honey from some roadside beekeepers, we mix it with water and I use it as a power drink when the hills get too steep and too long, the downside is that you kinda run out of steam after the sugar fix has expired.

(Godspeed and David on the ride out to Badaling)

We stopped for lunch and had an excellent Won Ton soup, you should have seen that little girl make the wontons, man was she fast!

 

We ended up the day at 5:30 at the hotel. I thought I'd gotten a good tan until I took a shower and saw most of it run down the drain. I wonder if dirt and diesel exhaust has an "SP" rating?

Our hotel is right under the great wall;  we will be going up there tomorrow morning to watch the sunrise.

(Our first view of the wall!)

 

Day 6

Today we saw the sunrise on the great wall at Badaling. If I had to put a word to it, it would have to be ethereal. I find it a piece of good fortune to know that I am one of a finite number of people in the world to have stood on such a structure.  The following are pictures of the wall early in the morning as the sun rises.

After the trip to the wall, we had breakfast at a noodle shop that made the noodles right there... The noodle maker continually stretches and refolds the same noodle until he has one about a kilometer long. After breakfast we biked (uphill of course) to Song Yuen National Forest Park.

(It took this guy about 30 seconds to turn a lump of dough into a bowl of noodles)

The trip up was long, and hot, about 10 kilometers of it was that UPhill crap (are you getting the idea I don't like hills?  Oh well as they say: "If it won't kill you, it'll make you stronger, hope its option number 2). Lunch was great, followed by a nap, then 2 kilometers of good, but of course, uphill road, then another 2 to 3 kilometers of really bad gravel, uphill road before Godspeed hired a truck to take us 7 kilometers through some really nasty switchbacks to the top of the pass. We felt pretty lucky that we didn't have to walk our bikes up the hill (it would have taken me the better part of a day to negotiate that crap).

(Lunch and a nap before the big hill)

(Me in my cool alien shirt with Godspeed, we're waiting for David to wake up from his beauty sleep!)

We stopped at the top for a bit of a celebration and David bought a watermelon from a passing farmer. The next 30 kilometers consisted of at least 20 kilometers ofl downhill on a gravel road, with a short stop for me to change a tube that blew on the sharp rocks.

(The truck...if you can call it that, which gave us a ride to the top)

(David and Godspeed enjoying the ride in the back of the truck)

(That's the farmer who was riding in the truck, empty after taking his cabbages to market)

(David and I called it a mountain pass, Godspeed called it a little hill)

( Watermelon anyone?)

(The other side of the park)

We are staying the night in a "guest house", more like a couple of rooms in the back of some village shack. The bed I have is a straw tick on top of hard wood...this oughta be good for case of bedbugs, I can see one now while I write this...oh well, I asked for adventure, and now I got it.  Actually the room isn't that bad, the bed is kinda hard and its the first time I've ever used a sack of rice for a pillow.

(The outdoor toilet is just around the right side of the building, next to the chickens)

(Godspeed is a wired guy, seen here with 2 cell phones on the go, he'd spend the day simultaneously text messaging, talking to us, eating, biking and encouraging us to "just do it" ....a line he liked from Ben Stiller in Starsky and Hutch)

Day 7

Well, that wasn't so bad, I crawled into my silk sleeping sack I'd bought from Mountain Equipment Co-op and had a fine sleep. Woke up in the morning and managed to use the outdoor "squat" toilet with out falling in, thank goodness, cause we'd already used the community shower last night.... and I do meant community shower.... the village we stayed in had a place in someone's house that rented out a shower stall to the village for 3 quai per person. At those rates, not too many showers a week please.

Anyway, that was yesterday. Today we biked about 65 kilometers total, and subsidized that with a short 5 kilometer ride to the top of "another bloody mountain pass", followed by a 8 kilometer bike ride to a village, then an 80 kilometer ride to a hotel in another "bloody mountain pass"...if I don't get healthy there won't be any excuse. The first 40 kilometers we did today were very easy (never thought I'd say that six months ago), we stopped for an impromptu tour of a small brick factory on the way...interesting.

(After this guy doubles the size of that load, he has every intention of driving it down the road!)

(photo opp, and an excuse to stop and catch my breath)

(The bricks come from over there and go down there, then you put coal in the little holes below your feet and keep everything hot for a couple of days)

(The workers in the brickyard, I think they thought we were nuts for asking to look at it, but were very proud of the work they did)

Dinner tonight was excellent as usual; the restaurant staff went out and picked fresh beans from the courtyard for us. A couple of good beers and a wide-ranging conversation that covered governments and religion, then off to bed.

(The excellent hotel, no hot water because there was something wrong with the heater, but...)

(you get hot water from these absolutly huge thermoses for your "shower")

(Do you see a shower stall here? Well there isn't, you just use the thing on the wall and make a hell of a mess of the bathroom and it all runs down the drain in the corner)

Day 8

The day started out with a nice ride for about 10 kilometers, all downhill. We rented a vehicle to carry us about 80 kilometers through some very high, and rugged mountain passes, then we finished off with another 20 kilometers or so of uphill, of course, finishing in Simiatai. This section of the wall still keeps the original appearance of the great wall of the Ming dynasty it is 5.4 km long,  there are 35 watchtowers on it all together.

(Look out for the Corn Truck!!!  Well not really a truck more like an overloaded corn tricylcle)

At Sumatai, we rode a chair lift, a cable car, and took the number 11 bus (thats a Chinese joke for walking) to the number 8 tower and there we were, on the wall! We spent the afternoon there and watched the sunset. Halfway down, we stopped and bought a few beers and some souvenirs. Supper at the hotel,  then off to bed.

(Sunset on the Great Wall at Sumatai)

(The hotel in Sumatai)

(Another day done)

 

Day 9

We saw Peter off in the morning, then spent 9 ?hours (7.5 in the saddle) and rode 135 kilometers to Chengde. Boy, was my ass glad to see the tub in the beautiful hotel Godspeed had reserved. We have cycled 550 kilometers and seen some things I would never have imagined. We washed off all the day's accumulated dirt and went for a hot pot dinner. I tried the cow's throat and liver, but found I preferred something that looked like real beef instead.

So you want to know how the farmers harvest their grain?  Well follow the pictures below:

(First you pick it, by hand of course)

(Then you make a nice neat pile in the middle of the road and your wife comes and tells you that you have done it all wrong.  She then rearranges everything to HER satisfaction.  In China they say that a husband who is henpecked is said to have a soft ear...from pulling on it I quess.)

(And you get some trucks and busses to run over it)

(Then you sift out the seeds)

(Finally, you make a pile of it on the side of the road so your neighbors can see how much you got)

Day 10

We spent a lazy day today resting and looking around the Imperial summer resort. The original resort was built in the 1770's (I think) and is a very large model of the country of China. It is several times larger than the Forbidden City and much nicer. We stopped for some tea, and also bought some. A nice lunch, then off to the hotel for some more rest. Tomorrow we take the train back to Beijing.

(This is a model of the Imperial summer Palace, it was designed as a model of China with the flatlands in the south and the mountains in the north.  The Emperor would meet dignitaries from various parts of China here and had set up embassies for them to stay in that were modeled on the architecture of their province.  The outside of the summer palace was surrounded by eight smaller versions of monasteries)

(I've got about a hundred pictures of various Pagodas.  I need  to figure out how to build one of these pagodas back home!)

(The background contains a scaled down version of the monastery in Lhasa, Godspeed has been to the real thing)

(I might get to see the real one some day)

(A theatre the Emperor used for performances)

(I bought some tea from this little girl/lady)

To see how to make a good cup of tea click here

(Our last supper, the stuff on the left is boiled pork something like side bacon, the stuff in the middle is an egg omelet of sorts with a meat sauce on top.  The green dish is green peppers that have been roasted briefly then stir fried.  The big green bottle is of course the beer)

Day 11

We slept in this morning, then took an afternoon train back to Beijing.

(Here is Godspeed and a friend of his, we have our bikes disassembled and are waiting for the train back to Beijing)

(No smoking, littering, or spitting on the train please)

(In case you've never seen a squat toilet, here is one on the train.  It discharges directly to the train track.  I'm not exactly sure how you use one, the best way I've found is to basically get naked, that way you don't end up with something on your clothes that you don't want there.  Then you find something to hold on to and go for it.....no reading the paper as you can't squat like that for too long without serious repercussions on the standing back up front.  Bring nice tissue paper, I've never seen any in one of them)


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