Duì (對) - China

Duì (對) - China

The weather is changing the day I leave Ulaanbaatar. An announced depression should bring with it the first flakes of winter and we are mid-September! Already the temperature has dropped and the weather is covering. I cross the city in a violent wind that raises dust. The eyes sting me, grains of sand creak under my teeth and the taste of the earth interferes in my mouth. Also plastic bags fly everywhere, carried away in distant lands, but which rarely derogate from the impact of man.

I arrive at the station a little early to have time to put my bike in the cargo car. I am joined by Vera, a German traveler met at the hostel and will make the road with me. The sleeper train is not compartmentalized as often in Asia. Proximity guaranteed, but there is room for luggage, which saved me by taking with me my saddlebags: the transport of goods is by weight.

We cross Mongolia towards the town of Zaamin Uud, located in the south of the country. Soon we find ourselves in full steppes, characteristics of the Mongolian landscape. But the contemplation will be of short duration, the horizon being quickly engulfed in the darkness of the falling night. Here we go for a night's sleep at the rhythm of the train's regular stops.

We arrive early in the border town. After a night in the pouring rain, it's a violent wind that welcomes us. I do not regret having opted for public transport in this part. In any case, I am a little righteous about the validity of my Chinese visa and could not allow myself to extend my stay in Mongolia too long.

Vera gets ahead of me while I wait to get my bike back. Finally we will lose sight of ourselves and I will not have the opportunity to see her again. The peculiarity of this border is that it is strictly forbidden to cross it on foot or by bike. The only possible way is on board a motorized vehicle. Here we touch the heart of human stupidity and ineptitude. The transport is organized by a taxi line. I load my bike on board the first comer, not even being allowed to go up the line to fill the vehicles progressively like other pedestrians. After more than an hour of waiting we enter the border area. I have to unload my bike to pass the Mongolian control... after having traveled a hundred meters at the most!

In the lobby is the crowd, several people are responsible for passing products more or less legally. And to see the number of stamps on the passports, it seems that they do their main activity.

After elbowing for a moment and making my driver wait, we take the bike back to the Chinese station. Here again we will only go a few hundred meters! 

The Chinese side is already much quieter. This time it's me waiting for my driver, control and disinfection of the vehicle requires. We load my equipment again for a hundred meters before leaving the area. I would have had to pay almost the same amount as having traveled half of the country from north to south by train. All this for a directive rule taken by an illuminated. My driver brings me however to the city where he goes to pick up other passengers.

I am taking a bus here for Beijing. I had planned to be dropped a little before the capital to finish cycling and make a hook through the Great Wall of China. It turns out to be a little complicated and especially would make me see me landed in the middle of the night and in the middle of nowhere. So I decide to stay in the bus because the driver allows passengers to finish the night in the bunk of the bus.

I leave for the city center at the first light of the day. Beijing wakes up quietly. The light is soft and the sky is clear. Few pollution these days, pushed by the strong wind here too. I walk towards the city center enjoying the calm of almost empty streets.

I reach the city center and join an inn where I meet Xavier and a friend of his. I met Xavier eight months ago in Iran, he is in backpack mode. Chance is that after having traveled different paths (he opted for the south, Nepal, Burma) we find ourselves in Beijing. We begin visits to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.

Forbidden City
The next day I am looking for hosts on the capital. The hostels are relatively quite expensive and I did not plan my early arrival. Fortunately Peyman welcomes me the same day. Pekingese of origin, he studied four years in Iran ... decidedly! He chose a nickname from this country he so loved. Most Chinese opt for a nickname Western fashion to promote exchanges and understanding, their name is often unpronounceable for us foreigners. I do not count the Jack, Lucy and other I met. 

I have to find him to cross a good part of the capital. Fortunately, virtually every street has a dedicated two-wheeled space. Rolling quickly becomes a game in this crush. I am quickly taking speed beyond most bikes. But as in the ocean, there is always a bigger fish, and here the space is shared with almost all-electric scooters. If this is a real boon for the ears, the problem is that we do not hear them coming. At the halfway point I get over a little too close, the driver probably misunderstood the size of my saddlebags. It jostles me and in my tracks I hit the flat central band. My wheel hangs in the barrier, I fly over and roll several meters on the track of cars. Fortunately no vehicles at this time. The time to find my mind the scooter has naturally disappeared. No body damage by chance, but my front luggage rack is out of order. Broken into three pieces, the attachment points also did not survive the shock. He is irreparable. I finished with the panniers hung on the handlebars, at reduced speed.

I enjoy Sunday to take a ride in a park with Peyman and the temple of heaven where I find Xavier. The majestic temple built in honor of the emperor, who made the connection between spirits and humans. We are joined by other French, expats in Beijing, Xavier knows ... friends of friends ... A thing of the kind is now classic travel. 

Temple of Heaven
Camille invites us to a group tour she organizes at the Great Wall of China. This marvel of the world only came into my program late. A little shameful, I discover this landscape that our friends make us discover for free by their knowledge of the place very little tourism. We attend the sunset at the cocktail hour and yes we are French!

I spend two days trying to repair my bike, without success. Unfortunately, I am struggling to make myself understood and to roll around in Beijing is quickly frustrating and discouraging. If a few stalls opened the door warmly, the reception was much colder when they thought they could do nothing for me. The solution is to tinker until you can repair it more seriously.Je finished by attaching my panniers directly on my fork.

I change host, Josh this time, who greets me in his apartment on the twenty-ninth floor near the business district. Guaranteed view. I take advantage of my free time to update myself on different social networks as I can. You should know that the main social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Whatapps ... are prohibited in China. Everything is condensed into one and only, the inevitable Wechat. With this one everything is possible (and above all controllable). Purchases are made via this app, even to take the metro or to buy some fruits at the market, generating dependence on the smartphone and an obsession with the empty battery. 

On Friday I meet the physio team of a clinic in Beijing with whom I had made an appointment a few weeks ago. The team is very heterogeneous about the origins of its members. Sheilagh, head of department is Scottish, Stephanie and Raphael are French, Udi is Indonesian, Jako is South African. Even if their practice is exclusively Western, like their patient, it allows me to have a first approach of the trade in China. Indeed the status of physiotherapist is officially not recognized in the country and most foreign therapists must arrange with the guidelines to practice here. This also explains why my research is difficult and not very successful.

I take advantage of my last day to close the visits of the essential of the city of Beijing. I go to the famous summer palace built by Empress Cixi during the twentieth century, and located on the outskirts of the city. As I look at the map (finally my GPS) to spot the entrance, I am approached by Maya, Israeli. She is also looking for entry and we decide to continue the visit together. I am often asked if it is not too hard to be alone on a trip and it is clear that I am rarely alone. The lonely travelers attracts the curiosity of locals, and the sociability of other travelers. Thus ephemeral meetings for a visit, a meal, is commonplace in my journey.

I drop my bike at the station after crossing the capital again. I could not complain globally about the traffic in China, even in the cities (if not scooters).

I struggle to find the entry, exclusively pedestrian, the officers more willing to take pictures than help me. I pick up my train ticket at the counter and try to find out where to drop off my bike. The employee replies that she is only there to sell tickets and that she does not have any information on freight transportation. At the information desk it's the same answer, what a shame! I finally find a good soul who explains to me that it is in a different branch that I have to join by bike. The control of my bike is much more basic than in Xinjiang, and I can leave gasoline, knives which is not common in the country, most cyclists must play tricks to keep their precious blade. 

I then find Benjamin. Friend of friend, I have already had the opportunity to meet him several times. Ben is an expatriate in China for several years where he works in the import of wine, French naturally. With his girlfriend they invite me to taste a duck lacquered, a must in Beijing. All accompanied by a shot of red import! Then we go to discover the nightlife of the capital before I go to the south of the country the next morning.

My budget does not allow me to opt for the high-speed train, so I opted for the interregional train. He who stops in all cities. So I decided to enjoy the Saturday night as it should to reach the station directly after the exit of the nightclub, my train leaving relatively early (8am) in the morning. So I can enjoy sleeping as much as possible for this journey that looks slightly long: 28 hours in total, no change. Unfortunately It will not be easy for me to turn a blind eye, the Chinese are not the most discreet. I spend the time between reading and watching movies, interspersed even when nap generous.

Hot water is available on the train. This allows me to make instant tea and noodles at lunchtime, the very ones I had sworn I would not touch. The berths are again not partitioned and I do not pass in the wagon. The news spreads quickly and everyone passes me say hello. I'm quickly put a beer in my hands. Hard to refuse to my new local companions. At dinner time I get Baijiu,  rice alcohol. These people obviously have no respect for my hangover

Finally the journey passes faster than expected. We arrived in Guilin the next day around noon. The time to get my bike back and attach my panniers directly to the fork of my bike thanks to bicycle inner tubes. 

Here it's Ryan who welcomes me. Originally from the city, he returned from studying in Macau and then worked in Singapore. Guilin is a medium-sized city with about a million inhabitants. Enclosed between the calcareous concretions, the city spares its expansion with the hazards of the relief. We enjoy the beautiful hours to enjoy the views. I'm (re) discovering his hometown Ryan, more willing to spend his days on video games.

Guilin "by night"
It is then time for me to hit the road again. I leave Guilin with disconcerting ease. I quickly find a bike path that winds through the forest. 

I continue to attack the limestone mountains around the city. We are in the middle of a Chinese holiday for the National Day and all the tourist sites are highly frequented. Fortunately the mass is often concentrated in strategic locations. I can evolve quietly in this majestic universe without trouble. All the magic of the slow bike takes its meaning in this pile of small mountains between which I make my way. 

I reach Xingping, tourist rendezvous with its pier for a cruise on the Li River. Here, difficult to progress with my bike as the crowd is massive. I managed to steal a photo at the famous "20 Yuan bill viewpoint" (point of view "20 Yuan ticket") written as is on my GPS. The landscape has changed, the solitary sinner replaced by hundreds of cruise ships, more profitable.

After traveling less than a kilometer, I am almost alone again on the road. The Chinese have the particularity of generally being massed in the tourist places, without trying to move away from it. The same phenomenon has been reported to me on the wall of China, where after elbowing for half a kilometer, it is quite possible to take pictures alone on the wall. 

I camp near the river, quickly joined by a young child. We have an exciting discussion for almost an hour. Finally, especially him because he is particularly loquacious, and me to answer by one of the only word that I know: "Duì!" which in the context can be translated as: "" quite. "To this day I still can not say that he really understood that we were not speaking the same language. 

I cross the river with a ferry. I sneak up to reach the foot of Xiang Gong Mountain. A small ascent allows me to reach one of the essential points of view of the region, and for good reason!

Then I arrive at Yangshuo. I contacted Sam via the Couchsurfing network and he offered to welcome me. But the address he sent me turns out to be a hotel. I am a little repelled because some people use the network for commercial purposes. Even if the prices offered are advantageous, it does not correspond to the spirit of the website. But no! Sam does not have a room to offer me for free because all are busy in this tourist period. But he offers me to install my camp on the roof of the hotel where I can enjoy a view of the city and a tranquility foolproof. 

I meet here an American couple with whom I sympathize. We organize a climbing day, the region being a high place for the practice of rock climbing. It is good to find the feeling on the pebble in this atypical scenery. If I'm used to walking through fields and forests, this is the first time I have to cross rice fields to get to our place of practice. The scenery is beautiful and Sam turns out to be an experienced climber with whom I can enjoy a few laps.

I prolong my stay an extra night (as often in fact!). Passionate about sports, Sam has all the paraphernalia to open a physiotherapy practice. Having had knee problems we are discussing a suitable rehabilitation program.

After morning goodbyes I take the road still towards the south of China. 

I leave the city and walk the countryside. Traffic on the road is plentiful which does not help my progress. But the landscape is really nice. The calcareous nipples are spaced out and give way to crops. 

Duì (對) - China

I stop for lunch along the road. My bike is leaning against a tree, the saddlebags open to retrieve various food and equipment. 

As always in these cases, the scene is slow. I did not position my bike stably enough. I can see him slowly swinging to the opposite side. The slope he overhangs helps to make him take the inertia and now he literally rocking a turn on himself and ends his race three meters lower ... In a channel! Fortunately shallow, my bike remains on the surface, motionless after its crazy tumble. But the open saddlebags dumped everything in the muddy water ... passport, camera, phone, cash, and so on. Here I am, feet in the water trying to save what can be and give first aid to what was not. Disassembled hardware, spread tickets, open passport. The show is of proportional size to my dismay. I contemplate the disaster of my business, which is slowly drying up.

After two hours of drying, I set off again, letting the future tell me what will happen to my business. Against all odds the camera has survived quite well underwater. The tickets too, the passport has not been tampered with even if its appearance has been strongly degraded. In the end, only the computer did not survive and that's why I took a delay in updating my blog. I was able to recover all the data (photos, documents) that were on it, a chance in my misfortune. 

So I continue my journey to find a place to camp near a river. The next day I drive to reach the city of Liuzhou, where it is John who welcomes me. Working late, I have to wait in town where I postpone my frustration of my misadventure on some pastries. We do what we can in these cases ...! Liuzhou is a relatively modern city where there is not much to visit. Its only attraction could be its nocturnal side, where all the buildings are intensely illuminated giving the city a magical side to the damnation of mother nature. I am attaching an internet photo, my camera being temporarily out of order. 

My stay in China will not have made me very optimistic about respect for the environment. The minimal awareness that we have acquired in our society is totally non-existent in this country. One throws his plastic garbage in the street or by the window of the car, the water saving is often non-existent, the lights are omnipresent. The idea of ​​generalizing the little that I saw to 1.4 billion people leaves doubtful about the future of our beautiful planet. And unfortunately this is so in most countries that I visited.

John offers me a secondary apartment all mine. He still lives with his parents while waiting for this apartment is fully arranged where he can settle with his girlfriend. Passionate about travel, desperate for the global behavior of the Chinese (I do not approach the mania to spit, everywhere and ostensibly, to speak loudly, to jostle). So we have some conversation in common but we will unfortunately have little time. It is part of these meetings that seem too short in my trip. I hit the road again after her mom brought me a full breakfast. 

After a few kilometers I am attracted by the melodious sound of an Erhu, Chinese string instrument. A man is there, under a heat exchanger, to play this magnificent instrument. I stop to enjoy the melody. He seems to play for himself without begging, the few passersby being totally indifferent to his music. And yet, time is suspended for me as I enjoy this magical moment. I thank him warmly before returning to the road.  

Quickly the time is covered. I swallow a noodle soup for lunch and I wait for a downpour deign to pass his way. After a few kilometers a "Hello" surprises me and gets me out of my thoughts. To my expression, my interlocutor asks "Do you speak English?" It must be said that in this country it is rather recommended to ask this question. 

Duì (對) - China

They are two cyclists, two English, right next to me.

New bike and light, I know they are not on the long run. James joins Ollie in his few weeks trip to China. They head to Kunming before heading back north. What a joy to find fellow travelers here. We ride together as they adapt nicely to my pace. 

The weather always gloomy, we take advantage of a stop at the shelter of a new shower to reserve a triple room. They travel without means of camping, projecting the end of the stage according to the housing chosen beforehand. But in this country a shared room costs three times nothing. And they did not skimp on the choice of the hotel. For only a few euros we have a huge room, a big bed each, and enough space to get our bikes in and dry our things. 

The next day rebelote, they adapt their program to find us a new common room the same evening, which is not a refusal for me face the derisory price and very capricious times. We cross fields as far as the eye can see, including sugar cane. We are walking along secondary roads and, for the time being, very little disturbed by traffic. It's a beautiful day of cycling, probably one of my favorites in this country.

We end the day with the twilight of the end of the day. Not so much that we have cycled a lot, but the starts are not very morning. To each his adaptation! The surroundings of Litang where we arrive are very industrial. We go along stalls of craftsmen. The smell of cut wood mixes with that of the weld.

We have to get in order by declaring our presence with the local police. It seems that you have to register as a tourist in every city. It will be the only time.

After a morning pedaling, we get stuck in the outskirts of the city of Binyang. Perfect reflection of Chinese economic and demographic growth. Cranes build a new residential area here. The gigantic buildings will accommodate some twenty thousand new inhabitants. 

I leave my companions a few days in Silang. Their route continues west as I continue my quest towards the South. I find a family very happy. I contacted Qikun via the warm shower network. Currently in Kunming for his studies, it is most naturally in the world that he proposed to sleep at his parents who do not speak a word of English. They are, however, delighted at the possibility of having me at home in this remote region where very few foreign tourists set foot. We converse via translation apps on their smartphone. And finally we are doing not so bad, the joys of technology. 

Duì (對) - China

The next day I leave for Nanning, the last big city before Vietnam. Capital of province with its 3.5 million inhabitants, I find the crush of large cities. Overall, I had the choice to be welcomed. My choice finally turned to a group of Ethiopian students. China has invested a lot in Africa and in counterpart established host programs for young Africans. For them it is a major boon for their future and the possibilities of hiring back in their country. While Chinese students are looking for them to come to Europe or the United States. 

I already had the impression of coming from another planet in this region of China. But Africans ... that's another story. While around campus people are used to it. It will take us a walk in the city park to realize the frenzy that their presence can generate. Observed, photographed, pointed fingerlessly ... "Like the zoo!" will make me wryly notice one of my guests.

On our return I have to leave the place without too much care, the establishment being reserved for students. 

Fortunately I find at the same time a new host, who will even propose to play the interpreters for a meeting with a local physiotherapist. Physiotherapy status does not officially exist in China. This therapist generally practices traditional massage and easily incorporates acupuncture. There is therefore no rehabilitation and rehabilitation in the true sense of the term. 

Then I leave for my last days in the middle empire. I go out not without worry about Nanning's orientation. Then finally find the road that will take me to Vietnam. 

The road is a crossing point for trade with China, and I have to jostle with the trucks. Finally, I must more often fall under the horns of rage unleashed against me. But I try to hold my position as much as possible. I camp in the middle of the bush before reaching the border town where I spend the night. 

The border post is mainly road, and so to say absolutely not suitable for pedestrians and cyclists who must take a different path than that of cars. I have to go back several times before finally finding the right road. I can not stress enough the difficulties of understanding in China, even in sign language. I have to explain to a guard about 5 minutes that he has to open the road barrier because my loaded bike does not go into the pedestrian area. Culture shock is not negligible. I have no regrets for keeping him on my way. It is a country to do once in a lifetime, which has the advantage of showing many faces in terms of landscapes, culture and people. I am not sorry, however, to leave him.

In Vietnam I am welcomed with open arms. The officer was notified of my arrival by the agency that provided me with the letter of invitation for my 3 month visa. Everything is ready for my arrival and he has even revised his French. That's good I studied my Vietnamese. We exchange the polite phrases each in the language of the other, hilarious (especially him because my accent seems to work again).

I reach the first city to restore myself and find a sim card. It is often beneficial to have a local number and I take one whenever I spend a little time in the country. 

I take the road again. Vietnam promises to be even more sonorous than China, the horn is appropriate, even for an inextricable situation where only patience is de rigueur. I leave the highlands of the north by a beautiful descent. Already the rice fields line the road and offer a magnificent landscape. I am quickly surprised by the dark, having neglected that the jet lag would make me lose an hour of sunshine. The road being lined with crops, there is no way to pitch the tent. I find refuge in a road restaurant where I am offered to bivouac under the awning after giving me the cover. The proximity of the road will not make me close the night. I leave my landmarks at dawn leaving a word of thanks. 

I continue along the rice fields in the traffic. Alternating between main and secondary roads, these are not always a better option. I arrive in Hanoi at the end of the day. I spend the first night in a collocation of students where I will not feel good at all. We can not always fall well! 

Fortunately Romain offers me to host me the next day. He cycled the country from south to north and offered himself a few days off. He rents an apartment that he generously offers to other travelers. This is how I meet Guada, Argentinian, and I find Charlotte and Solène, met several times in Central Asia at the beginning of the summer. A small collocation is improvised around a good meal. I take this opportunity to rest and discover the local life of the capital of Vietnam, waiting for the arrival of people a little special ...! 

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