Monday, 12 September 2016

Potatoes in the Middle Empire (part 1)

We decided at the very last moment to change our program. Instead of 3 months in Japan, we'd go to China.

Asking for the Chinese visa in Seoul was finally quite easy: we had to show only our onward flight tickets (a boat ticket would also do), as we will get out of China by land border, we just needed to explain it on the formula. The hotel bookings were simple too: we made several ones on then cancelled them once we got the visa (please, make sure, if you are a couple like us, that both of your names appear on the booking).

The most annoying part (that we didn't realize at first) was the daily schedule during our stay. And as we asked for a 90 days visa, it was quite a job to write down a 89 days schedule. We had to open tripadvisor and fill the form with everything we found. An exemple, for our stay in Xi'an, we "planned" one day to visit the Bell Tower, one for the Drum Tower, which is 1km away, one for the market, just behind the Drum Tower, without forgetting some "resting days" from time to time, and so on...

Two days later, we got our visa on our pockets. 2016 August 14th, exactly one year after the previous planned trip, we entered China, not through the quiet, deserted, mountainous Xinjiang but directly to the over crowded and hypnotic Shanghai.

We had to see Frank, my friend since 20 years, and also to renew Alessio's passport which had only 3 pages left - a bit short for all the countries we still plan to cycle through.
Our life in this boiling city of 23 millions of inhabitants changed from luxurious compounds, fine dining restaurants, free flow champagne... when we were with Frank, and savorous street foods when we were by ourselves :-)

While waiting for the appointment at the Consulate of Italy, we had time for a short escape to Suzhou. We loved this small city (well, with 1,3 millions of inhabitants, it's just small at the Chinese scale....) with its charming canal around the old city and its beautiful gardens.

We also loved to take that 'dance' at night, trying to find a way among all those walkers along the river, on the Pingjiang street, in the old town, to feel surrounded by thousands of sounds, colors and flavors....

Well, everything is not always rose in the middle empire.

Chinese seem to fancy eating giblets.  The strong smell of it was all over the places, they didn't seem to be bothered. We did.
Besides the national sport of spitting, they also like noises. Every shop had a loud crackling speaker to advertise their products, everyone shouts, it was painful when our visit coincided with a Chinese group - the tour guides keep screaming from the top of their lung during the whole time....

Our stay in Hangzhou, the famous silk capital with the romantic West Lake, was less successful. We didn't expect so many troubles with G20.

(Happiness and civilization.... well )

(For sure, it would be a perfect G20 without any incident, everything was under control....)

At first, usual guesthouses could not host foreigners anymore, we had to go to a fancy one which cost several days of our budget. Then we had to deal with omnipresent police controls, checkpoints, streets were cleared, buses we needed were cancelled....

Seemed like every parameter worked against us, so we quickly got back to Shanghai, where more pleasant life was waiting for us :-) :-)

One thing one may not miss in Shanghai is the "couples market" at the People's Park, next to the People's square, every Sunday morning.
Apparently, Chinese youngsters have so many troubles to find their other halves that the parents feel the need to handle the issue themselves: they organise this market where the parents arrive with full information about their beloved child (birth, height, weight, education, job and expectation for a husband/wife...). If the expectations meet, the parents would exchange the numbers and organise an appointment for the future couple to meet.... We wondered how many got married through this, somehow traditional, canal.

August 31st, after more than two weeks waiting for an answer from Italy, we finally had the appointment at the Consulate. And got out 20mn later with a brand new passport. Yupiiii! We could start cycling finally!

Well. Not really. Because we had to take a train first to Xi'an.

The train was more comfy than what we expected and the 24h journey past amazingly fast (some episodes of the oldie but goodie "24h" did also help). A little girl on the train was completely fascinated by Alessio and spent her time "spying" him. At our inviting sign, she just jumped to our place and started talking for hours. My Chinese is slightly better than her English but not enough anyway to have a decent conversation. However, she managed to explain lots of thing, how she was puzzled by the European appearance (there were also two blond tourists on the train - you could imagine her excitement), she made a recite about her favorite serial, was happy that I knew Angela Baby (her wedding was even an event in Vietnam....). A very lively and smart little girl!

2016 September 3rd, we arrived to Xi'an - the Peace of the West.

We loved Xi'an with its beautiful, green and small streets, its animated night market (food, food, food!!!) the Muslim's quarter, the mosque...

and of course, we could not resist the call of the Terra Cotta Army

Monday, September 5th, we took the G108, heading to Chengdu. The road was in very good condition with beautiful sceneries. After a month, we felt so good to continue our cyclist life

Cycling in China is so comfortable. We don't need to cook: good and cheap foods are everywhere, in any remote area, we could find a cheap place to stay. People are very friendly (no English though). Alessio, as cook and logistic man, was happy to see his two important jobs taken away. At some point, we would need to bivouac just to show that we didn't bring along our tent and equipment for nothing :-) :-).

We've covered some 250 km after 3 days when Alessio started to feel some growing pains on his right knee. We stopped at Yangxin, a tiny town of around 200 000 inhabitants to see a doctor. At the hospital, we paid 2 Yuan (a bit more than 25 euros cents) for a consultation and were received right away by a doctor. The administration team, curious about this "lao wai" case, came giggling into the consultation room and tried to explain, in Chinese, to us, what the doctor said, in Chinese of course.
Finally, it was not a serious thing, he just has to rest for a week before getting onto the bike again.

So here we are in Chengdu, after a not so direct bus journey :-) at Gokben and Nico - a French-Turkish cyclists couple ( place, waiting for Alessio's knee to heal and for Sebastien ( to arrive from Beijing after his trip in Mongolia.

Please, stay tuned for the next of Potatoes' rolling in China

PS: my VPN, that gives me access to Google and Facebook, expires today, it means that I'll have to wait two more months to be able to give some updates. Please, be patient :-) :-) 

1 comment:

  1. A very good and fun reading blog, throughly enjoyed the whole journey.Waiting to have more updates and to know about your experience.