I suddenly hear a woman’s voice behind me: "Can I ask you some questions, please?" I turn quickly and see three young Chinese women coming towards me. "Of course", I answer right away, thinking to myself: "Wow, somebody I can finally talk to in English, and girls at that!"
The three women
We had arrived in the Chinese city of Yulin in the pouring rain barely an hour earlier. Just before we got to town, we had met two women and a man on two motorbikes who helped us to find a hotel. They led us to what is probably the best hotel in town, just 3 years old. The entire city shows signs of a considerable economic boom, with many new buildings, new road works and two large city parks. Luckily, the hotel is quite reasonable: 120 Y for a nice double room, including a great breakfast.
I’m on my way into the hotel lobby with the last of our things when I encounter the three Chinese women. Shortly afterwards, I learn that the one who spoke to me is an English teacher at the local university. She acts as interpreter for her two girlfriends. By chance they had heard rumours that 4 foreigners had arrived in town on bicycles.
It turns out that the two friends of the English-speaking interpreter work in town at the local TV station. They would like to hear more about who we are and what we’re doing and want to interview me. This is fine with me, but first I need to go up to my room an get cleaned up a little. A couple of days on the bike without washing has left its mark on me.
Afterwards, back in the hotel lobby, I fold out the map and tell them about ourselves: where we’re from, where we’ve already been in China, etc. After the interview, the two girls from the TV station ask to be allowed to film us the next day as we’re biking out of the city. After I confer with the rest of the gang, we go along with that and arrange for the girls to come back the next day at noon to film us.
When we awaken the next morning, it’s raining cats and dogs. The weather report tells us that this is going to continue for the entire day. We don’t feel at all like setting out in the pouring rain, so we decide to stay an extra day in Yulin.
When the TV ladies arrive at 12 o’clock, we tell them that we’ve postponed our departure until the day after, and that they can come again tomorrow morning at 9:30 to film us. We can see that they’re a little disappointed, but still they’re willing to come back the next day.
So we spend the rest of the day relaxing in our hotel room and doing a little sightseeing in the city.
Bike Expedition 2005 on Chinese TV
A little before 9:30 A.M., while we’re still busy carrying out all our bags, the TV-ladies arrive together with a male driver and a female interpreter. This time it’s one of the students of the English teacher we met yesterday who will interpret, and she too speaks excellent English.
They are very interested in our bikes and all the equipment we have with us. Lyngve shows them how we find our position and altitude with the GPS, while I show them what we can register on the bicycle computer. One of the women films, while the other one writes down all that we tell them in a notebook.
As we ride out of town, the camera crew follows after, filming us. We’re biking on the same road we came in on two days before. However, after checking the map a little more carefully, we discover that we’ve taken a wrong turn in the rain and as a result, have biked 40 km to the north in the wrong direction. We should actually have turned off at a crossroads a way back and gone west.
After a few more kilometres, the TV crew stops us to thank us for allowing them to film us. Then they ask me if they can do an interview with me for TV, where I tell them a little about myself and our trip. Anyone who’s acquainted with me, knows that it didn’t take me long to say yes to that question! Then, to get away from curious onlookers, we bike a few more km south before stopping to do the interview.
After a lengthy interview with me, the other three are also given the chance to tell about themselves and what they think of Yulin and China.
We thought that they would be making a one-minute news item about us, but apparently we were considered to be “big news” by the locals. So they were planning on making a 10-15 minute “Special Report” about us, which is being aired at 7:30 P.M. the next day, i.e. May 17th.
We’ve sent an e-mail to the English interpreter asking that a copy of the interview be sent to us. Now we’re just hoping for a positive reply.
After biking on for a little more than 10 km, Lyngve is forced to stop, because he has a flat. It seems that a tiny piece of metal has punctured his rear tire. While Lyngve is changing the tube, he discovers that his rear wheel isn’t going around as it should be. We have trouble undoing the screws and bolts on the wheel, as they were specially made to fit the bike (Bob) cart, which is American made with screws and bolts fitted in inches rather than European centimetres. All of our wrenches can only be used on screws measured in centimetres. Luckily for us, Chinese people are curious, and in just a short while, a Chinese man in a little 3-wheel delivery truck stops and lends us an adjustable wrench.
The road west
We’re very satisfied with our route going west. The road we’re on is off the beaten track. The standard is relatively good, there’s little traffic and no industry. So the air is nice and clean. The road follows a watercourse up from about 1200 to 1400 metres above sea level.
The area along the rivers is entirely cultivated, with rice paddies going right down to the river edge, cornfields a little higher up. Beyond the river valley we can see that the sand is pressing downwards. Some places we see large sand dunes. A lot of trees, bushes, and grass has been planted on both sides of the valley to stop the sand. Country villages lie in a continuous row along the river, making it difficult for us to find a suitable spot to camp.
The town of Dashuikeng
We arrive in this little town early on May 19th. As opposed to most of the other towns we’ve gone through, this town doesn’t seem to have grown at all since our map was made 15 years ago. The only thing new is the square in the middle of town. There we also find the only hotel in town. Clean and pleasant, with a very friendly and service-minded staff. We feel as if we’re being treated like gods from another world. As we’ve been biking against the wind, in the rain and uphill the entire day, we’re feeling pretty worn out when we get ourselves some lunch in a small restaurant.
A little more celebrity-status
The new, large square in front of our hotel was empty when we arrived in town. But suddenly by 5 or 6 P.M. in the evening, it’s teeming with people. There’s loud music being played from loudspeakers. Children of all ages are running about, driving small radio cars in the square or sitting in small groups and playing board games. One place in the square a lot of adults have gathered and are dancing to the music. A dance that seems to us to be a cross between line dancing and aerobics.
Suddenly some of the children spot us standing there on the second floor of our hotel watching out of the open windows. They wave and shout so that everyone in the square becomes aware that foreigners have come to town. The result is quite surrealistic for 4 quite serious Norwegians. Up to 100 children of all ages gather around right in front of our hotel window, screaming and hollering. We’re thankful that we’re only there for one night.
We’re pleased to entertain them a little, so we wave back, take some photos and film a little. A few of them can say some sentences in English. In order to create even more fun, I go down with the camera and film while running around in the square with 200 shrieking children following after me. The children remain outside of our hotel for hours before they finally get tired and disappear.
At 6:30 the next morning we wake up to the sound of music streaming out of the square. When we look out the window, we see a group of women of all ages doing gymnastics in time with the music. That’s early for a Saturday morning.
Status as of May 21st
We are now about 500 km from the city of Lanzhou. We expect we’ll need about 6 days to do this stretch. From Lanzhou we plan to fly to Hong Kong, where we’ll renew our visas and do some important shopping. Lyngve wants to buy a new digital camera. The old one got a little ruined in a sandstorm in the Gobi Desert. And we need to get new rear tires. The ones we have aren’t good enough. One has already exploded, and the others are becoming very bare after only 2000 kilometres. We’re going to try to get the same type as we have on our front wheels, i.e. Schwalbe Marathon XR.
Author: Jardar Valand