Tuesday 19th – Xi’an – Simon.

Richard has been many times to Xi’an , both on working trips for Roll Royce but also with Christina his partner just to visit this one time capitol of China. Our stay here has been augmented greatly by meeting some of their Chinese friends who have lived in the city for many years and indeed held senior positions here in Government and business. Having been guided out of the Qin Ling mountains by them, gone out to dinner with them and today Mr Sei has kindly offered to take a few of us to a beautiful local park about an hour back into the mountains. We are met at the front door of the hotel and whisked off in his V8 Range rover. No one wants to squeeze into my hire car for the day  and by the way I took the white one today.

Price tag about 3 X European due to import tax.(2M)

Mr Sei dusts out his new car

On climbing up out Xi’an on an empty motorway we enter an 18 kilometre tunnel, brand new and every 8 K ms there is a widened section which is flood lit and contain plastic shrubs and palm trees!

Keep awake sections with plastic shrubs and trees

Mr Sei is a senior member of the Xi’an police authority and drove us very safely at vast speeds . His wife and he love the musical “the Sound of Music!” so much so that he opened a now well known Xi’an restaurant and called it “Edelweiss”!! He is also a passionate fan of Julie Andrews plus he has a Chinese version of the musical on his sound system in the car . We were given a rare treat of listening to him belt out the tracks singing along the lyrics, having developed a great tenor voice while serving in the Chinese army!

We arrive at the park and after a rather inauspicious start up a a concrete track we enter a 10 k ms canyon. It is possible to get right to the top and look out over Xi’an; we made it to the Bridge half way up.

.

 

The canyon had been refashioned with bridges , stepping stone and a number of small glades which were beginning to encourage the original Fauna and flora back

A set of rather unsettling stepping stones guided you through a narrow part of the gorge.

At the halfway point the ravine is crossed by a cats cradle of bridge and platforms.

As we descend a few more people have arrived to try out the white water rafting- not exactly “ River Wild” scary film with Meryl Streep ? Anyway they all seemed to be enjoying it.

After being treated to lunch at a local restaurant by the river we speed back to Xi’an- this time I got to sit in the front of this vast silent tank while Mr S gave some more renderings of SOM.

In the evening we walked out into the Islamic quarter for an alcohol free supper and took in the street markets. Some strange sights. A small dog talking to to two camels

some beautifully lit pagoda styled building in the old city -all the best

Simon

And finally a guy on a motorized tricycle with about 5000 eggs on Board

-all the best

Simon

Monday, June 18 – Xi’an – Dave

A couple of days to unwind in the luxurious lap of the Sofitel before Karen, Susan and Tim arrive and the sightseeing tempo picks up again.  Strangely, although this is all one mega vacation, we never seem to have time to ourselves when we can just loaf around, read etc. and I , for one, hadn’t realized how much I needed it.

Our Hotel

So today – after we’d all breakfasted together – I had settled down in my room with a book on China, when a squeaky noise made me turn (don’t worry, Janet, no rat this time) …

Window Cleaner - Sofitel, Xi'an

…and I was reminded that I was in a world demanding to be seen.  So I went out and wandered the streets, people watching.

Xi’an has grown, and is still growing, like crazy, with massive apartment buildings sprouting like weeds to accommodate the flood of young people pouring in from rural China to find jobs that pay as much in a month as they could earn in a year of farm work.

To stand on a street corner in Xi’an and watch the insane Brownian motion as everyone scuttles to meet market needs, is to be forced to recognize that there is no way any centrally planned economy – no matter how brilliant and assiduous the planners – could ever meet material needs as efficiently as the Invisible Hand of capitalism – particularly not on this scale.  I know that one might experience a similar feeling in most major cities, but what is different here is that so much has been accomplished in just a few decades – hundreds of millions of people tugged out of poverty by that Invisible Hand.

But witnessing the exhaustion on the faces of older people struggling to earn money to compensate for the diminishing purchasing power of state pensions, or seeing sick people, who you know will never receive adequate medical attention from a weakening state sector, is a reminder of the cruelty of unfettered capitalism.

I know it is neither profound nor original to suggest that the best we can hope for is to bounce forever between the extremes of capitalism and statism, but my point is just that the streets of modern China make that truth so blindingly obvious.

Brownian Motion on the Streets of Xi'an

I loved this street vendor – offering a view of Saturn – a need you never knew you had until the Invisible Hand offered it up.

See Saturn for $1

In the evening we dined in a private dining room with Richard’s Chinese friends – the ones who pulled strings to get us the police escort (indeed to get us permission to bring our bikes into the center of Xi’an from which such terrifying monsters are banned).  Suffice it to say that whoever believe that the Chinese are inscrutable has obviously never met many of them.  These dudes can party.

 

Sunday 17th June Yang Xian to Xi’an- Simon

We had to get out of the hotel in Yang Xian, the cigarette smoke infused bed linen, no food, fungi around the bath. I know – I can hear you saying we are a bunch of softies. Anyway it was so bad we even got up early to get away. At least it was relatively cheap.

Said goodbye to a great bunch of British birdwatchers who where enjoying their last day seeing the Japanese Ibis.

For today we have asked Paul to choose a route that will give us great scenery and no motorways. We have a problem coming into Xi’an in that no motorbikes over 125 cc are allowed into the City centre. However Richard has a good friend in town who has a good friend in the city council and there maybe a solution.

Texts are still coming through from John who is now trying to escape from Beijing back to UK. Apparently not enough “chops” in his passport. They try and give him a rough time but what are they going to do -lock him up and tell him he has to live in China for the rest of his life. In fact the authorities are usually very polite and reasonable with these hitches- no doubt he will get through.

Off into the countryside and a trip through the Qingling Hills. Rolls Royce, by the way, named many of its engine’s after British rivers, The Trent, the Spay, and in fact sold the licence to manufacture the Spay engine to the Chinese who rather engagingly decided to name its own engines after its mountain ranges, So the Chinese version of the the Rolls Royce Spay engine is called the Qingling engine!!!

Here we are starting what is going to be one of the great rides of the trip. 250 kms of switch back on mountain roads . I am riding John’s bike and so have less opportunity for taking photographs but we do have some great moments. I bitterly regret not stopping to photograph two guys with a tractor and cart who had two cormorants sitting on perches . The Chinese use these birds to catch  fish in the mountain streams. They put rings around their necks to stop them swallowing the fish. I think that some of them become so well trained that they can manage without the rings and get a treat at the end of a few dives.

Cormorant fishing

We stop for a drink at a small house beside the river and chat to a couple who have clearly had a hard life.

This road is a great challenge for biking because every mile or so  the surface has fallen into the river and although rebuilt we have to go off piste with gravel and sometime mud . This is fine for cars but bikes fall over in the skiddy stuff and so we ride standing on the pegs which allows the heavy bikes to find their own way.

We stop to say hello to some Chinese big bikers. They have a lot of trouble getting their bikes in and have probably taken some “short cuts” to get BMWs and big Hondas onto their roads. They wear simple clothes and a few knee pads

 

 

Before we come out of the hills we try one of the small suspension bridges across the gorge

We charge on down the valley and notice that the temperature rises from 25 through to 35 deg C. We suddenly meet Richard and Paul’s special guides who are going to try and get us to central Xi’an.

For reasons we don’t understand large motorbikes  (over 125 cc ) are banned from many of China’s big cities. Xi’an is ginormouse probably as big as London. We are led down through the last section of the Chinling Hills and onto a massive Xi’an ring road .

My helmet is hurting , and I have a numb right side of my face where the helmet has pressed all day on one of my cranial nerves. The temperature is 36 deg C and my arse is sore. Eventually we get to the outskirts of Xi’an  and unbelievably our police escort is waiting!!!!. Out riders -the lot! We charge through 30 Kms of Xi’an with the blue lights flashing. Right into the Soffitel. It has been one of the best days and I am very grateful for the opportunity to ride into the central plain of China on John’s bike. Covered in sweat and diesel oil ( we spilt it while refueling the van) we stop out side the reception where some tosser has left his Lambourghini . I have to have a shot standing by it!!

Great beer in the bar and now a few more days rest to fix some of the electrics on the bikes and most importantly to visit Rihard’s charity that cares for orphaned children.

Simon

Saturday, June 16 – Yang Xian, Shaanxi Province – Dave

We were all subdued as we breakfasted together for the last time  before John headed off to the airport for his flight back to England.   And our glum mood was amplified by the surroundings – a grubby dining room, in a grubby hotel, in a grubby city…

I echo Simon’s comment in yesterday’s blog regarding the remarkable harmony of the group – it’s been one of the most delightful aspects of the trip.  But the flip side is, of course, that when someone leaves there’s grieving to be done.  We will miss John.  But as to Simon’s comment that the big guy will be “riding with us in spirit”, I m worried that Simon’s over-exposure to Buddhism combined with vulnerability to altitude  is turning his mind.   We’ll have to keep an eye on him.

We moped around town for the rest of the day – getting haircuts, searching for a clean restaurant etc. – and decided that we needed to be back on the road asap, so we are leaving for Xian in the morning.

Nothing more to add, other than that I spent some agreeable time after dinner watching families roll by on their motor scooters.  They were enjoying the balmy Saturday evening.  And for them this city isn’t grubby, it’s home.