China by Bicycle :: April -- October '98

Subject: R&R
Date: Sat, 29 Aug 1998 11:13:00 -0700

9:54 Marty's Cafe, Dunhuang; Gansu--China :: SA 29 AUG 98

Dunhuang. A second day here. Perhaps four more. Rest. Yesterday, writing. Courage, a struggle. Still not right. And the email backlog. Ever present. When not writing, chatter with other westerners. The South African who talked and talked, an uninterruptible stream. The Chinese-American who I'd engage, curious about her reaction to China, but whose responses were drowned in the South African flood. The gentle Kiwi hippie, bedraggled long hair pulled back, whispy beard, flowing light cotton in purple and green and off for Tibet, then Nepal. Perfect casting.

Dunhuang is a good place to stop and rest. And we need one. Our rifle shot through the Hexi corridor, 1,200 kilometers in 11 days of riding, 17 days total. From Wuwei onward stretches of desert, longer and longer, until the 120 kilometer Oasis-to-Oasis hop between Anxi and Dunhuang. We exhausted our water 20K shy of Dunhuang, at the edge of the Oasis, and resorted to filtering from an irrigation ditch. Two kilometers later, civilization, refrigerated water and soft drinks.

From Jiayuguan to Dunhuang just shy of 400 kilometers and mostly desert. We cross in three days, the first day a marvel of 162 kilometers, a 100 mile day, as Jay would say, "a REAL century," a first for both of us. Something to tell the grandchildren.

But we are here now, and though there are stories yet to tell, a whole backlog of them, I'm on vacation, basking in lethargy. I've written of this before: on an extended journey it's necessary to just stop and recuperate, take a week off at the end of every month.

Dunhuang is a good place for this. A pleasant green town, a traveller's rest with english menus displaying reasonable prices for reasonable facsimiles of home cooking. In the night market, arranged around a fountain's spray, dozens of tea-tables, pay by the hour. And all around a bounty of sites to spread among the days: Mogao Ku, the Buddhist grottoes of Dunhuang; Mingsha Shan, the mountainous dunes of yellow sand; Crescent Moon Lake, nestled in the dunes; Yumenguan, the fabled Jade Gate to the Silk Road's Northern Route. A place where for a short time you can stop being a traveller while recharging your travel batteries with the stories and information other travellers share in your chatter.

~~~ Corresondence appreciated ~~~
In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creature flourish together,
content with the way they are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
endlessly renewed.

When man interferes with the Tao,
the sky becomes filthy,
the earth becomes depleted,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct.

The Master views the parts with compassion,
because he understands the whole.
His constant practice is humility.
He doesn't glitter like a jewel
but lets himself be shaped by the Tao,
as rugged and common as stone.
  graphical element Attributed to Lao Tse
The Tao Te Ching
Chapter 39
trans. Stephen Mitchell