Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bike Trip To Chang'an

Sunday, November 22nd.


Pavan was studying hard for her upcoming exam so I had made plans to go to Chang'an by bike with Jeff Fang. I got a cab to the Active office and then hung out there for a while with Jeff waiting for Nemo to show up so I could use his bike. I wore shorts as riding in jeans sounded chafe-intensive; Jeff, by far the more experienced rider, was apparently immune to this concern. Nemo showed up a few minutes later with a rather clean, new looking mountain bike, that is probably brilliant for a person a foot shorter. It felt a lot like getting on your old bike from when you were a kid. After adjusting the seat as high as possible it sort of fit, though my knees came up remarkably high on the upstroke.

We pulled our "heff"s (cloth tube that you pull over your face to make a ninja mask)  up and set off. The trip began in the city and during the first thirty or so minutes we rode out generally south towards the city boundaries. According to the bike computer on the borrowed bike we generally travelled at about 20km/hr. Intersections rapidly proved to be a little awkward. If the bike is moving the hot air from ones breath generally trails out behind you and doesn't cause any problems. At intersections while one is cruising blithely out in front of busses and so on it is often necessary to slow or stop. When slowed or stopped in the cold morning air your breath produces considerable steam, which thorugh both it's natural inclinations and the channel created by the ninja mask tends to want to rise. Just above the ninja mask the hot air encounters ones glasses and forms a marvellous mist. The effect is that you pull up to avoid a made motorist splattering you across the road and your glasses promptly turn opaque, as if desiring to keep the unpleasent realities of the situation hidden. Douglas Adams once proposed a pair of glasses that would turn completely opaque in presence of danger; the effect of the glasses in the morning air was quite similar. The loss of vision on reaching an intersection made it hard to follow the only viable plan for surviving biking through a Chinese intersection: go when Jeff (who is hopefully the blur through the mist) goes.

A short time later we passed out of the city boundaries. Jeff refers to this as "being in China now", apparently as opposed to be in Xi'an. The road stretched out through the mist and what appeared to be a bike lane was surprisingly often occupied by cars, trucks, vendors, crowds, and other obstructions so fairly often it was necessary to duck onto the main road where it was easier to attempt to draft the large trucks flying by six inches away. Jeff seemed totally imperturbed by the prospect of sharing space with much larger and more solid vehicles; I found it alarming on a number of occasions.

Jeff preferred to sit down while riding so I followed his lead. After we had been going for forty-five minutes it was very noticable that some muscles in my knees were getting rather tired. All along the roat was a kind of endless array of small shops and vendors. At around an hour out my knees were aching in a few places that evidently don't get much excercise from running and swimming. Luckily Jeff was thirsty (or thought I was) so we stopped at the endless shops and procured some water and a curious small somewhat spicy sausage for energy. The sausage may or may not have helped; five minutes of knee break was a life-saver.

A short distance further down the road we stopped to admire some unusual windmills.

At 11:37am, knees ready to quit, we finally reached our destination.

The fishing spot was a small artificial pond where fish are farmed. It is free to fish but you have to pay for food. All in all this seems like a rather good deal.

The fishing gear is basic - a simple telescoping pole with a fixed-length line attached - but seems like it should be effective. I say should be because we never witnessed an encounter between fishing pole and fish, despite the locals turning on a fresh water pipe and hurling in fish food to encourage the fish.

Lounging around in the noon sun fishing was rather pleasant. After we had played with the fishing equipment for a while the food Jeff apparently ordered while I wasn't looking showed up.

The best part, despite being rather overly salted, was a dish that translated as "edible wild herbs".

Apparently these are literally wild herbs; the locals pick them growing wild in the area. I didn't recognize any of them but there were delicious.

In addition to the wild herbs we had rice and a chicken broth with chicken in it. This appeared to be basically a chicken that was plucked, gutted, and then wacked into roughly even-sized pieces with a cleaver. All the edible bits were present, including feet and head.

Jeff didn't seem to want to eat the head and I wasn't too enthused either so we started throwing scraps to a pair of puppies that had been eying us from accross the yard. The puppies seemed pretty enthused about this so we kept throwing them bits.

The toilet facilities at the fishing camp could be described as rudimentary.

After lunch we wandered down onto a nearby riverbed to look around. Jeff is in the foreground of the picture.

As we wandered east we disturbed a pheasant and then noticed there was a mountain just barely visible through the mist. I convinced Jeff that we needed to get a little closer to this so we took the bids off the good road and onto a muddy dirt road leading mountainward. Unfortunately we ran out of road fairly shortly.

The whole time Jeff used the same gear rather than switching to deal with the mud so I got a bit ahead when we headed back. After shooting through a particularly muddy slope I glanced back and saw Jeff was behind and decided to brake to wait. On EVERY bike I have ever used the right-hand brake is the rear wheel. Every bike except Nemo's. Apparently when using the brakes earlier in the day I never noticed it was actually the reverse of the expected orientation so it was with considerable surprise that the rear of the bike and I launched forwards in a bid to dive over the handlebars rather than just skidding the back wheel. Luckily the child-like proportions of the bike came to my aid and I was able to land with my feet on the ground quite far forward, the handlebars pushed nearly to the ground, and the bike kind of popped up behind me then with great grace tumble sideways sustaining only a minor knee-scrape.

At the end of all this the bike was a little dirty and Jeff expressed that it might be best if Nemo never saw it that way. We made it back to the road and started towards home. According to a road sign Xi'an was some 29km away. My knees protested greatly and my ass was rather sore so I tried riding standing up more often. This proved to be a key breakthrough. Sitting on a tiny bike causes your knees to rise to high and produces a very energy inefficient peddling motion. Standing up turns out to both spare your behind from the saddle and spare your knees from the aching caused by the inefficient seated peddle so on the trip back I think I actually recovered energy. If only I had realized sooner!!

To avoid Nemo wanting to kill me when I returned his now less than spotless bike we stopped at a roadside carwash which agreed to clean the bikes for ¥3 each.

We even got to operate the water-gun. This was surprisingly powerful; we discovered to our surprise we were able to knock the bikes over with the spray.

We continued on towards Xi'an and to my delight my knees continued to recover courtesy of standing up rather than sitting on the saddle/torture device. I think we may have gone rather faster on the way back than on the way out. By the time we returned the sun had dipped enough that the air had cooled so the game of glasses-misting-at-intersections was played out again.

Once back in the office we got onto the topic of our plans for after Xi'an and I mentioned that after China we had six weeks off. Jeff seemed a bit surprised at this so I asked about China vacation (which I had done before and forgotten about). Apparently they get one week of vacation per year after the first year of work and then get plus one day of vacation per year for each year of employment thereafter. Apparently there is a cap on China vacation as well; you cannot get up to 15 days or anything like that. This seems rather crappy. On the other hand, I've mentioned our vacation allocations to Europeans who were just as shocked at how little we get.

My cab driver understood my pronunciation of the apartment address on the first try so at around 5pm I got home. My throat proved to be quite unhappy with the consumption of so much Xi'an air particles (despite the ninja mask); the next morning I got to enjoy coughing up some charming phlem, something that hadn't happened since our first arrival days in Xi'an.

For dinner we went to the Sleepy Time Cafe where I learned Pavan had never had a banana split so we corrected that problem. The local banana split is nearly correct; the only unusual bit is that the banana and ice cream and so on all sits on a bed of strange fruit parts.

-- Rod.

1 comment:

Myo said...

Seems quite fun. I rather see how you actually landed when you claim you pull the right break on Nemo's bike :)

Say hi to Pavan, Jeff & Nemo for me :)

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