20 Jul 1998 23:43:08 -0700
Hotel, Xian; Shaanxi--China :: MO 20 JUL 98
Well, I've been hacking away at the English Teacher story to
little success. Time for a change of pace. A new travelling companion
as well, and a new leg on the journey, so plenty to talk about.
It was way back in late May that I began seriously considering
the option of cycling the Silk Route to Kashgar. The primary concern was
finding a companion to share the hazards and loneliness of China's remotest
areas. It took a while but after posting messages all over the internet
I found Emma's simple message on a cycling page titled something like
"China Ride Partner." Needless to say we were both rather ecstatic at
the unexpected success.
Now it's nearly two months later and Emma's joined me in Xian.
The past couple of days we've spent checking out the sights in Xian, eating
a ton of food in street stalls, restaurants and hotel buffets--all in
the process of feeling each other out. Seems like an auspicious enough
pairing. Emma brought a cribbage board (cribbage games won: Patrick--1;
Emma--0.) and the cards from one of those dinner-party get-to-know-each-other
games. We've been responding to queries like, "Talk About Responsibility."
and "What do you think is your purpose in life?" and "Describe the kind
of car you would like to own." To these we've added a few of our own like
"What 12 items would you want to wash up on shore the uninhabited South
Pacific Island on which you've been stranded."
We've established that I'm a fast walker (no surprise there)
and, relatively, a morning person. We share a similarly droll sense of
humour and an appreciation for sappy Hollywood films (during which we'll
Both our bikes are currently way overburdened and yet we continue
adding new items to our travel belongings. Among our common frivolities
is a library now totalling in excess of 12 books. It's fun to imagine
the first major climb and all the 'essential' gear we'll be shedding.
Somebody get the strip-tease music ready, please.
As for route-planning, well there are very few options for connecting
Xian and Kashgar, way out there on China's western frontier. Yes, it's
at least 3,500 km away from this cozy, air-conditioned hotel room, but
there are only two roads leading into Kashgar and one of these presents
no alternatives within 1,500 kilometers of Kashgar and the other within
The other concern is that my way over-extended visa allows me
to remain in China no later than October 20th. Vivian managed this concession
from an understanding Foreign Affairs Bureau officer in the Provinical
Public Security Branch. We were lucky as the two local PSB offices in
Xian and Xianyang had adamantly refused to grant extensions any longer
than the 1 month (which would take me through the end of August) allowed
by Chinese law.
So, the bicycle turns into a pumpkin about 90 days from today.
It's possible to fly back to Beijing and acquire a visa for Pakistan,
Kyrgzstan or Kazakhstan, or hop over to Hong Kong and apply for reentry
to China, or just depart the area altogether for some other world destination.
Who knows? It's great that Emma's as unconcerned about what happens after
92 days as I am. I imagine as the end of September draws near, we'll start
thinking about it. For now, we have 92 days to spend riding into the remote
west and Kashgar is the jewel destination. Well, my jewel destination.
Emma's fancy is more general and she is so far willing to follow along
on my fanciful dream.
If we can manage to maintain the 100km/day pace I managed for
13 riding days from Beijing toward Xian, then more than 1/3 of those 92
days will be spent in full flight cycling along the Silk Route. Remote
as it is now, this was once arguably the world's most important trade
route between the world's most prosperous and advanced cultures, and the
route's significance lasted for a millenium...or more. Spanning several
Chinese dynasties, control of the Silk Route circulated among Muslims
and Buddhists, Tibetans, Uygers, the Han Chinese, Mongols, the Huns and
countless others. Lost cities lie under sifting sands; enormous complexes
of caves have been excavated and filled to brimming with Buddha images
and art; the Great Wall's Ming Dynasty western sweep ends at the Jiayuguan
fortifications; Turpan lies adjacent to the second deepest land depression
on earth--only the Dead Sea is lower. At the end of it all is the anachronism:
Kashgar, where the bizarre and the bazaar are of equal renown. Hopefully
the nearly 60 days we won't spend in the saddle will be enough to explore
Time to gather sleep for tomorrow's final gathering of supplies.
Wednesday we depart.
~~~ Responses, Please ~~~
A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.
Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn't reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn't waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.
What is a good man but a bad man's teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man's job?
If you don't understand this, you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.