Asia | China – Going placidly amidst the noise and … chaos
First of all, a very Happy Thanksgiving to my family and friends in Canada. Walter, Christine, Rose – thanks for being there, loving me, and supporting me. Lesa, Peter, Michelle, and Mark – thanks for (usually)going easy on my siblings, being there for them, and I’m glad you’re a part of my life. Thanks Mom, Dad, Steph, Sherry, Doug, MG, Mike, Chuck, George, Antoine, Erin, everyone from the Wise and the Team, my friends who continue to endure the PNE, everyone at World Surface, and those of you I’m not mentioning by name here, and the friends I’ve met travelling on this trip of a lifetime, I’m wishing you the very best Thanksgiving. Cheers, with a worldwide hug and a kiss from the top of the world.
Here in Chengdu, the capital city of Szechuan Province, there is a mellowness and a certain quiet after the plodding chaos of Beijing and the bright neon lights of Xi’An. Although it’s a city of 11.2 million people, it has a much lower percentage of private automobiles and so the air seems cleaner, and the streets quieter. Still, the bicycles line up at the lights, and there is a circus style mass crossing at the roundabouts just as there is in other Chinese cities. It seems that nothing will ever go anywhere, but somehow it does. The key is patience. Don’t try and go anywhere too quickly, especially in the cities. You could say that ‘Going placily amidst the noise and chaos’ is a mantra for China.
I arived here a couple of days ago after two days in Xi’An, and after returning from the Great Wall of China near Beijing on a curious journey, that at one point had our bus line up six deep head-on against an oncoming column of traffic that was also six deep. I’m not sure how we managed to extricate ourselves from that, but eventually we made it back.
From Beijing, I had flown to Xi’An to visit the nearby Terra Cotta Soldiers, that until they were dug up by a farmer looking for a well in 1974, stood silently guarding the Emperor deep beneath the earth’s surface for over 2000 years! Today, I’m convinced that there are more people selling more replicas of the Terra Cotta soldiers, than there are originals, including the ones in bits and pieces.
I really liked the walled city of Xi’An. At night, the center of the city is lit up, and the edges of the Chinese style roofs are trimmed in neon. One highlight was making time during my short visit to rent a bike and ride almost all the way around on the top of the wall for 10 Yuan or just over one US dollar.
From Xi’An, it was a relatively painless flight to Chengdu. This time, they did not change the gate or delay the flight for almost an hour without saying anything. It actually left on time. In Chengdu, I had two main priorities: (1) get a new bike, and (2) see the Panda Bear Research Station.
The Panda Bear research station is a delight to visit, arriving early enough to see the young cubs playing with their observers and caretakers. Our bus was the first to arrive, so most of the Pandas were still up and somewhat active. You see – Pandas do two things really well. They eat, and they sleep. So if you don’t catch them doing the eating and any other activity at the time, you’ll be watching them doing their sleeping, which isn’t all that interesting.
The second priority: getting a new bike, turned out to be a lot of work. After spending several hours and days checking out numerous bike shops and settling on one where it seemed I could get the most bike for 3500 Yuan or about $500 CDN, I paid my deposit and agreed to come back the next morning at 11. At 11 the next morning, I was standing in the bike shop looking at a frame. No forks, pedals, wheels, gears, brakes, or anything else – just a frame – and listening to a promise that it would be ready in one hour – maybe two. After a few trips back and forth to other bike shops to pick up things that could not be found at any one of them(like a strong rack, water bottle holders, water bottles, etc.), I finally took possession of the bike around 6:30 p.m.
That evening, I again met Pierre and Sonia from Montreal, who I would be joining in Lhasa to cycle the Tibetan Plateau. We had dinner and agreed to our rendezvous in Lhasa. Pierre and Sonia are from Montreal, and I connected with them on the Tibet Overland forum website. Their timing for cycling in Tibet coincided with mine, and we have agreed to cycle together as much as possible. You’ll be hearing a lot more about them in the coming month when and if I am able to access or endure the internet service here. That is a caution that internet in Tibet is sporadic and slow, so I’m publishing a “Wojo is Wondering” entry in case you were wondering about some of the things I have been…well…wondering about. Hope most of you have received the postcards from Beijing. (Thanks Lynne – I got your note!)