Archive for May, 2008

On the Road to Xi’an

Friday, May 30th, 2008

One of my main reasons for coming to China was to bike the Silk Road, the ancient trading route linking China to Europe. The starting point for the Silk Road was the ancient city of Xi’an (pronounced shee-on) in central China. Here are some photos of the 16 day, 1300 km ride from Qingdao to Xi’an, which took me through Shandong, Henan and Shaanxi provinces.

During one of my outdoor dining experiences these kids came by and took a bunch of photos.

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I passed this woman carrying a chicken on her bike and thought it looked amusing. Not sure if it was alive or dead.

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The Huang He, Yellow River. This is the second longest river in China, 5464 km. It is the most silt-laden river in the world, hence its name.

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I spent some time playing with this cute puppy. Later, I ate him for dinner with some mung beans and fried rice.

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Barges ready to load coal. China burns more coal for electric power plants than any other country in the world. It is a major source of air pollution.

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In one area people spread corn out right on the highway to dry it out. Do they worry about obstructing traffic? Apparently not.

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My birthday was memorable. I had severe stomach pain in the morning for some reason. As I was stopped by the side of the road in pain a guy came by and talked to me. He was acting very strange, standing close to me a stroking my bike and panniers. I finally realized he was retarded. Then he grabbed my $100 Oakley sunglasses from my hand. I shouted at him and almost elbowed him in the face (the Haganah training kicked in). When I rode on he followed behind me for a few miles, singing.

My stomach felt better later in the day but in the evening, in my hotel room, three policemen came and interrogated me for an hour about where I was going, etc. I had just gotten out of the shower and all I had on was a towel. Fortunately it was just routine and they weren’t looking for some reason to shake me down.

Finally, I went out at night for dinner and this drunk guy kept coming by and wanting his picture taken with me. Now, maybe holding hands is a Chinese tradition, so I did not object, or maybe he was just gay.

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A sign in a hotel lobby. Anyone care to hazard a guess as to what it means?

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Who says industrial plants can’t be aesthetic. How would you like to wake up to this site every morning? The Chinese are evidently not too keep on the zoning concept. I have passed dozens of these along the roadside.

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I crossed the Yellow River again in Henan province. A major source of nourishment for millions, it is also known as China’s Sorrow due to its frequent flooding and course changes. To control it, levees have been built but they don’t always work.

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I stayed a day in the historic city of Louyang in Henan province. Louyan was an important capital in past dynasties. Here is a guy making a living collecting cardboard. Did I mention the average monthly wage in China was about $200?

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One of the main thoroughfares in Luoyang.

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A back street in Luoyang and two locals.

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A view of the old part of town. Nice and quiet with some old shops.

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Here is one of them: a shop specializing in calligraphy equipment.

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One more shot of the Yellow River. I liked the sand formations.

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I passed dozens of places where people spread out wheat then let cars and trucks run over it to separate out the grain. Can’t see that happening on a US highway.

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I just like the color and lines in this photo.

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One thing the Chinese don’t seem too concerned about is the environment. As I said in a previous post, the filth and smell are overpowering. Not an hour goes by when some foul odor assaults my olfactory glands. Here is a typical view of the garbage by the side of the road. This happens to be in Henan province. That little creek contains some gross black liquid, probably related to the coal mining that occurs in this area.

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I tell you, I thought South America was the filthiest place I have ever seen. But China has them beat hands down. The sky is never clear. There is a permanent haze that blocks the sun. It must be the smoke and pollution. You can’t get away from it. The smell of excrement, sewage, and chemicals is so bad in some places I hold my breath–I don’t want it entering my body through my nose or my mouth.

Yet people live there. I can’t believe it. It’s no wonder half of them don’t have emphysema. Maybe they do. I read that 9 of the 10 most polluted cities are in China.

So next time you notice something ‘made in China’, just keep in mind that there are thousands of factories in China making that stuff and the environment (and people) are paying a price to make it so cheap.

Hmmm, that sounds like a good blog topic: the ethics of us rich westerners enjoying inexpensive products made in China at the expense of their environment and health. Is it just good ol’ laissez faire capitalism, or should we be more concerned about leaving the planet in a good state for our children? Is it OK that others may suffer health problems so that we can benefit from their cheap labor?