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Published: April 28th 2009
Today finds us in Tianjin, China where we have taken the day to find info, maps, etc and enjoy another round of damn fine food. Southern Japan was a pricey treat and procuring ferry tickets turned out to be far easier than finding our way to the dock! After a few interrogation sessions with helpful locals (including a spanish exchange by some strange chance) we found the obscure footbridge entrance to the departrure port and off we sailed. The journey took 53 hours and we were lucky to have a four person cabin all to ourselves. On the second night our course led us directly into a storm. The sea swelled to 20+ feet and sent waves up and over our top deck cabin. From the window the world outside undulated constantly between total darkness and innundation. Throughout the night the sounds of the ship creaking and the passengers vomiting filled the smokey air on board. On the journey we met Hiroshi Yamaguchi (a.k.a. Julius Begar) who turned out to be an authoritative guru in the world of adventure cycling. We shared stories of flying rocks in Ethiopia and listened as the crazy son of a bitch laid out for us the best possible route for the start of our tour. Most Japanese folks share a sort of reserved nature around foreigners. Hiroshi is one of the few who lives outside of that. In his case, the nail that sticks out just keeps sticking out, getting rustier, shrewder, and more beautiful while reminding the boards around it what a bland, sedate existance they lead. He wore shabby clothes, had few teeth, talked like a madman, and inspired us both. As you read this Julius Begar is out there in far western China somewhere bartering for a cheap bike in some market so that he can find his way back to the Pacific. When asked if he still gets nervous before trips after all these long tours (Congo, Arabia, etc.) he simply and slowly nodded, picked his teeth like old Japanese men do, and looked out the window.
Our landing was a simple process and Chinese formalities couldn't have been easier. They (the folks at customs) set the tone for what we would find in Tianjin with their courtesy and friendly smiles. Three hours later our bikes were locked up in the bathroom of a cheap hotel and we were sweating out hallucinations over a wicked hotpot filled with lamb, cabbage, fresh tofu, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and about 30 cloves of garlic! The food here is amazing to say the least and the people are as welcoming as we could have imagined. In every interaction we have it is obvious that our Chinese counterparts are as happy to help us as we are to be helped. Around ever turn someone is waiting to smile at us and, though the language barrier is great, the jovial nature of the population here makes it possible to travel without saying a word. The fact that we are Americans only peaks their intrest in us and we have not had a single negative interaction thus far.
Per Julius' advice we are heading straight for Beijing at this point and we plan to be there late tomorrow night or the next morning. He seemed to know that we would find roads fit for cycling through the mess of development along this route. We had other plans but Hiroshi's concern was hard to ignore. So far his advice has been right on. There are cycling lanes filled with bikes and scooters and the traffic, while crazy, is definately bike savvy. Did we mention that they are building a few things here? In the States we have seen housing developments go up like Dandelions in the past few decades. Here in China they are sprouting fields of sky scrapers and laying out new roads like ribbons of icing on a cake. Unlike The US their building boom is in full swing and companies like Century 21 are here to start a new game. It would be easy to say that it seems that we are all screwed, but we'll be more optimistic......for now. So far the whole of what we have seen could be summarized as one huge construction site with no end in sight. The air quality is, to put it truthfully, apocalyptic with visibility limited too a few kilometers and bumper to bumper traffic spewing clouds of exhaust from every angle. To add insult to injury, the people are really excited about cigarettes and every room is filled with the foulness of corporate nicatine doom. Presently we are in a room of over a hundred people. Most of them are young or younger still, playing video games, smokin' 'em down. It is worse than France, it is worse than Middle America and there is probably no cure in ther near future to this, the filthiest of habits.
Assuming that we do not end up under a car, or playing video games and smoking cigarettes, we will probably blog again from Beijing. To all of you out there in Cali- skin hard, make another lap, stay away from tobacco. Tutoanana
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