Bicycle Around the World


Index: Letters By Date | A Unique Opportunity | The Last (?) Bike Ride
May 18, 2002

Saturday May 18, 2002

Destination Lanzhou

Despite all the things that are not to like about living in this part of the world, I dearly love the kiosk services. Again I am at Zarema's using her computer while she is in class. Besides regular Saturday lessons there are makeup lessons from the ones she cancelled for Thursday's picnic
When I was in New York City in 1995 taking a one-month course on how to teach English as a foreign language I bought this $10 watch. It is still going, but the band was about to break.
There is a watch repair kiosk just in front of the building here. It is at the end of a row of kiosks of various kinds. One sells newspapers, one sells things to eat, one sells things to drink, and another sells cigarettes and candy. In other places they repair shoes, do sewing, and change money.
A couple days ago the battery on my bicycle computer died. I found a battery at the big department store but it didn't work. Later I learned the real problem was that I didn't do the things that you have to do to wake it up again when a new battery is installed.
I didn't buy that battery and instead took the computer to the watch guy. He put in a new battery and it didn't work for him either. I left it until the end of the day, and he had it working. Charge was $3, which was basically what the battery would have cost at the department store. A few minutes ago I went down to see him again. Showed him the band with the cracks in it, and in about two minutes he had installed a new one for a total cost of $1 - band plus labor.
Yesterday was stay at home and pack day. It didn't take all day, but I had to take several breaks as I evaluated where things should go so they will be in the right places when I finally start pedaling. There is the stuff that goes with eating and drinking - stove, pan, gasoline for the stove, lighter, water filter and a few more things along that line. Then there is the bag with stuff that I hope I never need but eventually I always do; spare candles for the candle lantern, a handful of odd screws, nuts and things, special tools, wire, spokes, tubes, spare chain, and more. Those two are in the front. One in the back is for clothes, and maps, plus log book, journal, camera, balloons to give to kids, U.S. commemorative stamps as gifts to people who help me out in some way, stationary. The other in the rear is mostly reserved for food, but there is room at the bottom for a sweater or rain gear that isn't needed very often. One of the outside pockets is for small tools that are good for simple adjustments. Some guidebook chapters are in another outside pocket, and the third pocket has first aid kit, mosquito dope and stuff like that. It finally all fit. Then I had to
start taking things out again for daily living these last three days.
One of the things I didn't take out was my camera. I wanted to take a picture on an outing this morning, but finally couldn't. Shirley (my new webmaster) suggested that she might put some pictures up, but even if I take any, they are not digital. I probably won't get my film developed until I get to Japan. I'll see what happens then. But I haven't taken many anyway.
There are too many things to take, so basically I don't take any. And sometimes I don't feel like it is appropriate to point a camera at some of things that would show life as it really is here. For example, the card tables that are spaced every 10 to 100 feet all along main (and sometime not so main) streets. Usually there is an umbrella to provide shade for the person sitting behind the table selling the stuff on the table, which is usually gum, candy and cigarettes. The most interesting part about this, besides that they are there in the first place, is that the cigarette packs in the very front row are all open and some of
the cigarettes are gone from each pack. If you stand and watch for a while, someone will come up and hand over a one som note (worth about 2 cents), them take one of the cigarettes, and light it with a lighter provided by the vendor.
What I was going to take a picture of today was at a large regional market on the outskirts of town. At first I wasn't going to do any cycling today, but the guy who called last night to see about getting together this morning called in the morning saying that he couldn't come. Why is another story that might have to wait for another time.
I thought I might actually ride to the Kazakstan border and see what, if anything, was new since I had been there five years ago. It isn't very far, but I didn't take a map because I thought I would remember the way. I didn't, and ended up at this market instead. I had been there before, and mainly stopped because it was getting on lunchtime and I knew that where there are people there is also food.
This is a big place. Bigger than most malls in the United States, including parking. Here though it is all outdoors, and all the shops are the size of shipping containers; the kind that go on freighters across the ocean, and then to their final destination on trucks. I think there are basically two sizes of containers. One is not quite as long as the trailer on a regular 18-wheeler. The other is half that size. These are the half size, and the reason they are that size, is because they are actual containers. Hundreds of containers stand in
neat rows facing each other on aisles that the shoppers walk in. The containers are the shops. What I was going to take a picture of was a new section that was being set up. You could see the containers all in their rows, and there was a crane setting another one in its place at the end of one of the rows.
Standing in the aisles are food vendors with various versions of local fast food, and drink vendors ditto. Sometimes I buy this kind of stuff to eat as I walk along, or if I am on my way home and don't have any food there to eat. This time I didn't have a free hand to eat as I walked, so I kept going and found a little restaurant. They had a fairly extensive menu. Some of the stuff I saw on other tables looked kind of interesting, but I settled for a couple things that I knew the names of, and spent a grand total of $2 for a pretty good meal. Fromthere I came home to take another water bottle bath before coming here.
This outing turned out to be another useful shakedown for the bicycle. And shake is the right word. There are a couple of main streets that have been resurfaced lately, and they are pretty good, but most of the streets and roads are just patches on top of other patches, and some places where they haven't gotten around to patching anything yet. On an earlier ride, my chain came apart. Fortunately that was a day that I had ridden up hill, so getting home was just a coast away. Got that fixed. Today the bolt that holds one of the fender stays fell off. It is in two parts, and I am sure they came off at separate times so I didn't take time to look for the one that fell off  last. It is a special kind of bolt just for fender stays. I don't think there are any of them in that spare parts bag, but I am sure I will find something to clamp it in the right place with. Maybe even wire or string will work.
Besides packing, yesterday was also haircut day; not because my hair was as long as it normally gets before I break down and go to the barber, but because I want it short for easy care over the next couple of months. I'll surely need to get it cut again at least once while in China.
There is a barbershop about a five-minute walk from where I am staying here in Bishkek. I used to go there before. All the barbers are women. It was worth the price of a haircut to get my hair washed in warm water; for the first thing they do when you get there is to have you stand in front of a sink and lean forward while the barber washes your hair using a shower head on the end of a hose. Next she cuts the wet hair with scissors, trimming the sides with electric clippers, and shaving neck and sideburns with a *dry* straight razor. Then there is another wash. Finally back to the barber chair for a blow-dry, Bryell (sp?) Cream, a final go with the scissors, ending up with a dollop of Butch Wax to keep it in shape. I look like a very well groomed Russian. Another photo opportunity, but I don't think I will after all. Total price - $1.70.
In looking through the previous messages, I see that I have forgotten to mention a significant cultural experience that took place just a week ago today. There was performed here in Bishkek, the Central Asian premier of Mozart's Magic Flute. That sentence sounds like it might have been written with tongue in cheek. And that would be the case if it were not for the contributions of the Swedish director, and the Swedish conductor that were in charge.
When I was here in 1996/97, I attended several concerts, and ballets in the opera house that is within sight of where I live. Quite convenient, and at a dollar or two for admission, reasonably priced. When I first started going I thought this was really great, real classical music, real ballet, what more could you ask for. But then I began to notice the off key notes and the lackluster performances by those on stage. It was almost embarrassing to be there. This was different. The orchestra played very well, and both the singing and acting were good as well. I am not really a fan of opera, good or otherwise, so I left after the first act, but was glad I went to see what it was all about. From there I went next door to the new Hyatt Regency hotel for a look around. Very nice, but just not the kind of place that I feel comfortable in.

Maybe this is a good place to end for now. Tomorrow is my last day here. Zarema doesn't have classes, and I have promised that I will spend the day with English and computer questions. While Bishkek is an interesting place - at least I hope you think so after reading all this stuff, the most interesting part of this adventure is yet to come. Unfortunately I know that I am not going to have time or place to write such detailed descriptions of what happens next. I am sure there are Internet cafes in China but mostly in cities, and when I am cycling I like to avoid cities when possible. If not possible then I like to get
on through to the other side all in the same day.
Anyway for those who want to get out their atlases, I am going on Monday from here to Almaty by bus as already described. From there by bicycle to Saryozek where the road heads east 150 miles to China. From there, there is basically only one road to my next major stop, Lanzhou. That is where I had my first English teaching experience in 1989/90. I think I will be able to rest a few days there and maybe write a bit more.
The main problem with China is that they only give visas that are good for thirty days (unless you start out in Hong Kong, which I am not). The guidebook says that I can probably get one thirty day extension, and maybe one more for a total of 90 days. Because of time pressures I don't plan to spend any time in China that is not moving me eastward, or getting me rested so I can keep going. With a lot of good conditions - like every day a tail wind, it is conceivable that I could do the whole 3000 miles in 60 days, but 90 is more realistic, so I am hoping for that second extension. I will just have to wait and see.
So thanks to all who have sent email messages while I have been here. Sorry if I haven't responded to everyone, but you can be sure that I at least read them. Thanks also to Shirley for providing access for others who are interested.

May 18, 2002