Thursday, July 26, 2007

26/07/07 - Goodbye China
After 4.5 months, we left China.
We were excited at the border, it surprised us.
For some time now we were ready to leave. We were tired of too many things. We were tired of the bureaucracy; from the constant was of visa-extensions, to the small things, like entering our censored blog or even sending a CD with digital pictures, by post.
It’s funny, because now, in Kyrgyzstan, the post is not reliable, internet is sparse and expensive and visas are a nightmare!
Another thing that disturbed us was the lack of character. The small villages were just as they have always been, old, the houses and the traditions. But, the towns and the cities are all rebuilt, big concrete buildings, no architecture (what is known as "Chinese style shops"), all the same. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the south, or up in the mountains of Yunan or even in the far west (Muslin Uygur): a Chinese town will everywhere look the same!
Maybe it’s the tough communism that totally extracted individual thinking, or the want to be different.
Communism also killed religion. There is no religion in China. None at all! Except for XinJiang
province, a very Muslim region, and Buddhist Tibet; both are minorities, lusting for independence.
And the history - where is it? 5,000 years of history, but we barely saw anything old! The culture revolution is partly to blame, but even the current regime does its` part. Simple examples are the "old towns" in Yunan: they are all restored/rebuilt, looking like some Chinese "old town - Disneyland", with souvenir shops, but nothing authentic, and funny Chinese tourists, being led by their noses. Nothing is actually old! And on the Chinese TV you see all these saga movies from the old days, all Chinese watch them and long for these days, but everything old is being replaced with new concrete & plastic!
And the farmers with the round straw hat, working in the rice-paddies...we only saw them in Vietnam!
Maybe this is what irritated us the most: we finally reached the Silk-Road, but it was just modern Chinese cities and "Lego" ruins, At least we’ve cycled the desert, that hasn’t changed!
It’s as if traditions are not being kept. As if, generally speaking, China has become another USA, the way they dress, their music, etc.
The only ones that were different, totally different, were the minorities. The Uygurs, the Tibetans (changing as well, with the prosper of the "caterpillar mushroom") and other minority groups we saw up in the Yunan-Sichuan mountains.

But don’t get us wrong, China is very beautiful in many ways, especially the people. We were told by many that Chinese Hans are neither friendly nor nice. That’s totally not true! It’s true, we haven’t really been to the big cities of the east, but Han-Chinese, Uygurs, Tibetans or any other Chinese, doesn’t matter, they are all very kind and friendly, patient & helpful. From the small things, like giving a watermelon to sweaty cyclists, or water in the middle of the desert, to bigger things, like hitching, a place to sleep, a friend that could receive a package, translation services, etc.
We had the locals helping us during all the trip, that’s half of what cycle-touring is about (thus interacting with the locals). But, in China, we felt it much more. Maybe because China is so different and difficult to communicate with, or because the locals go so far to help. It’s as if they see foreigners as their guests, not just tourists.
This it one tradition we will surely bring with us to Israel!

Obviously, there are exceptions, a few we have met, traveling independently through China, learning English, some also travel-cycling in this huge country.

As to cycling in china - PERFECT!
It's like a school for cycle-touring.
The rods ar perfect, the drives are polite and patient, many bicycle shops, food everywhere, good hotels, fantastic local maps, easy to navigate, people friendly & helpful and everything is cheap!
The only problem is that it's too big! China is huge! It taks time to cycle from one place to the other. In contrast, we crossed Kyrgyzstan it 2 weeks!
But, this 'probelm' is also its' beauty - you cycle it and slowly see things change. And, you don't se too many travelers, we barely saw, about once a month, when we reached a big city or tourist atraction. Between these - it's China to yourself!