It’s the small things in live that count.

Da-dong. Da-dong. Da-dong. Something is not right. I can feel it every time my backwheel turns while I’m working my way up-hill. I am 15km in into a 21km climb and awaiting an equal descent. Started yesterday in the afternoon, I woke up to a flat tire this morning. Couldn’t find what caused it and just put in my spare tube. And now – again. Of course I checked to make sure it’s nothing stuck into the tire that would cause the next flat. But here I go. Another one. This time, I will have to patch. I sigh. I hate this. This is the part of bike touring where I can’t be matter of fact see it as part of it.

So, first thing I do, is eating some soul-comfort chocolate I bought at an international supermarket in Panzhihua. Then I get to work; tools out, bike apart, detecting the pinch and so one.

But, It’s the small things that count in live, right? I empty my tool bag. I empty the pannier where I store my tool bag. I can’t find it. This tiny piece of sand paper needed to roughen the tube so the tube, patch and glue become one. I use stones instead but to no success.

There I am, grand-daughter of a galvanizer, all alone, somewhere in Sichuan, not able to fix a simple flat tire.

More chocolate, packing of stuff and pushing of bike. What else could I do? No-one there to pick me up if I a) throw a tantrum or b) break down crying and I feel like I might need my energy.

On two kilometers of walking I meet one woman who totally ignores me and two men who try to help but can’t and learn the Mandarin word for sandpaper before approaching a young guy who simply puts my stuff into his truck and gives me a ride to some colleagues of my grandpa. (And yes – I am soooo close to the summit and do the whole downhill in a car…)

I buy sandpaper and fix the tire. Easy, as I know where it is broken. But by now, there is another pinch, and another one and another one… We eventually find 8 (!) more holes… And decide that this is madness and I walk into Yumen where there are two stores selling bikes. And that’s what they do. They are selling bikes. But not bike parts.

„Go to Panzhihua. There you can buy new tubes“

Laughing? Crying? The man who helped me find the second bike store feels sorry for me and explains me, I could just take a bus. For his sake, I try to look not-totally-devastated, nod, thank him and wonder, if I should just abondon this trip and my crazy idea to cycle north from Kunming while walking past Yumen’s beautiful lake.

Back at the work shop I am in for a – good – surprise. The other tire has been fixed!

Off I am, finally cycling again and getting another 25k done.

So, distances this day: cycling 27km, pushing 2km, walking 3km, car 23km.

Learning Chinese Characters

Remember the last sentence of this article about learning to speak Mandarin? I may quote:

“It will get easier – once you start learning the characters. “

Awesome! And here I am – learning the characters. My teacher writes them with ease on the whiteboard. I draw awkwardly something on a piece of paper that kind of resembles her hanzi. After a while some of them look even kind of neat – and I get promptly praised by my teacher. And of course I promptly feel proud.

In some ways the characters do help. Since so many words sound the same, only the characters can reveal some connections.

The word for ‘worry’ is made up out of two characters that – by themselves – mean ‘carry on your shoulder’ and ‘heart’. Isn’t that fitting? If I worry about something – it moves my heart and it weighs on me – like something that I lift onto my shoulder.

For a while I wasn’t able to remember the word for ‘wallet’ – which I had only seen written with the Latin alphabet.. My life could have depended on it – until my teacher reveals to me it’s made up of the words for ‘money’ and ‘bag’ – which I both know. And suddenly it sticks. – If I had seen and known the characters I would have figured that out on first sight.

And then, there are these situations:

“What is the meaning of this ‘xing'” I ask holding up a piece of paper with the character for ‘xing’. “That’s the same as in ‘bu xing’ – not possible” I nod. I wish to live in a world where paper has three sides – one for the character, one for the pronunciation and one for the meaning, as my teacher continues. “If you take this ‘xing’ and ‘ren’ – the meaning is construction worker. If you take ‘ren’ this ‘xing’ and ‘dao'” – at this point she is fishing for one of the other pieces of paper I’ve been drawing on until she finds the ‘dao’ that is part of ‘zhi dao’ (meaning: to know) as well as part of Daoism – finding it, she continues “and this means ‘sidewalk’.”

At this point – I realize how futile my wish for three sided paper is.

Embrace the poetic of the language, I hear my roommates word echoing in my head. I embrace it.

But how do they do it? – Living in Kunming without knowing Chinese

Short overview of how to get by in Kunming or China in general if you don’t speak Chinese.

My teacher looks at me in total bewilderment. She switches to English and keeps repeating her questions „But… how do they do it? Just… how do they live here?“

I had just learned the word for room-mate in Chinese; it’s literally „house-friend“. Which I think, has a beautiful connotation that the German word „Mitbewohner“ lacks. It just means „person you life with“.

My roommates here in Kunming are Dutch and English. My Dutch roommate knows a little bit of Chinese. Vera is working on HSK Level 2 and Ellen is just on her first words since it’s her first time in China and she just arrived about a week ago and planning on taking lessons once she is a bit more settled in, found an apartment with her – Austrian – boyfriend. He actually studies Chinese and has easily the highest level between the four of us.

So, how do you do it? How do you cope and live in Kunming without knowing Chinese? You can cope, maybe not as easy as in Shanghai but then Kunming-people are incredibly helpful and I came across English speakers a couple of times already.

In General

The wide-spread of mobile phones makes many things easier – and less adventurous. There are some translating apps where you can talk into in your language and they answer in the desired language. But there are still some misunderstandings, sometimes the internet connection is way to slow and it just takes the fun out of things.

Plus, there are a few things that are very good to know: the words for the numbers up to ten, how you indicate them with your hand and how you write them. And there is one sentence that has been vital for me and was among the first expressions I learned. „I want this.“ It opens the door to almost anything – as long as you can point to it. It doesn’t mean you are eloquent or especially friendly – but it helps yourself and the other person in sucessfully handling an operation.

In the following there’s an insight in a couple of everyday situations and how I cope(d) with them without knowing the language as well as coping methods.

How do you take the bus? Or metro?

Amaps is a great help. It’s a map-app designed for China. It not only gives you walking, cycling or driving directions but you can use it for buses as well. Works like a charm….

ONCE you got used to it. Since it’s been designed for China, everything is in Chinese. You have to give it your destination in Chinese. But it can cope with PinYin. Pinyin uses the latin alphabet for phonetic transcription so you don’t need to install a Chinese keyboard on your phone.

Using it without being able to read Characters isn’t too hard either since it’s using a lot of icons for things like „walking“ or „bus“. Plus how it’s made up it’s not rocket science but similar to google maps.

It’s obvious which is the bus number you have to take and it even shows you on which side of the road your bus stop is so you don’t end up going in the wrong direction.

What really gives me a hard time is following it’s spoken instructions as it not only telling you the important things like „turn left“ but asking you to take care on the road. It basically feels like it’s talking non-stop. But if follow the dot on the map, it’s easy.

The only thing giving me a hard time are bus lines that seem to divert. Goingtowards the city centre the bus line number 1 turns either left or right at one point. I haven’t figured out how to tell which of them I am on.

How do you get a metro card?

There are three ways to pay for the bus. Either cash, by app (only an option if you have a Chinese bank account) or by card. The down-side of the cash version is that you throw your money into a box. Bus is 1 or 2 Renminbi so before I had the card I was holding on like crazy to my one-renminbi bills to have enough for the bus.

My first try on getting a metro card wasn’t succesful – even though my Chinese skill were already at the amazing level of being able to say „I want to buy a metro card“ – like I knew all the words AND the right order. But the clerk at the booth just waved me away. So I eventually took a picture of someone elses to point to it. Worked like a charm as it gave me enough self-confidence to walk up to the booth again, smile and ask for a metro card which I hold in my hands minutes later.

But have done the „I want this“ picture thing many times before in China.

How do you buy food?

Apart from a splendid amount of affordable restaurants there are more sources to food: Supermarkets, markets and people selling from the back of a truck.

To be honest, at the start, China was sometimes overwhelming in a way that I didn’t want to deal with any of these options and decided for a pack of Oreo-cookies to be a whole meal.

Supermarket feels the easiest as it involves the least interaction. You go through the store and put everything into the basket you’d like to have. You can go to a small one in your neighbourhood or to a big one of a foreign chain where you will also get loads of imported products. The smaller ones in many places don’t sell vegetables and fruits though.

So you will want to opt for going to a market. It feels scary at first – I felt a bit vulnerable and unsecure. Going to a market stall involves a lot more communication then I could master. It works with pointing, taking the food as well. The situation is pretty obvious actually. Many stall owners would have a calculator to show me the price if I didn’t understand it or I would just give a rather large bill.

Buying from the back of a truck is working pretty much the same – it’s just that they have less variety. Here in Kunming, most times they are selling one or two kinds of fruits.

It’s worth the bit of akwardness as I get a load of nice veggies for a really good price.

But of course, I don’t want to cook everyday.

How do you order at a restaurant?

Yunnan has the best invention ever, when it comes to ordering food without any language skills: Fridge restaurants! All the food they have is on display, you just go and point what you want to have, sit down and get surprised which food has been fried, cooked or become a soup. But it’s the best way to really get what you thought you ordered.

Other places offer a a variety of options. Many places have pictures of the dishes so you can point at them and hope it turns out what you think it is. Most times it works out alright – it’s more noodles and less vegetables most times.

Another option is to point at other peoples food and indicate you want that kind of dish. Sometimes the staff hands me the menu, completely in Chinese. I explain that I can’t read but they insist. So I just point to a couple of dishes and hope to not get Chicken feet. I opt for the cheaper dishes as they are most likely to be vegetables and/or eggs.

The English Speaker

Many times, when it got more complicated, „the English Speaker“ evolved. Like the other day at the pharmacy – many times when I was somewhere and there were some conversational issues – the English speaker would show up. It would be someone being called from outside – like this one lovely time when I was in a small store in a city somewhere between Hong Kong and the Vietnamese border – a young student who loves to watch English movies and speaks a conversational English was fetched from the street to assist me. At other times, someone would overcome their shyness in speaking a foreign language and simply go for it. If the English speaker can’t be found among the people that are there, she or he will be called on the phone to translate. Like this one lovely day on my first biketour, just outside Xiamen, when I was sad and lonely, eating an early lunch and I think, the people around could tell I wasn’t in a good place. They called an English speaking friend basically so she could ask me if I was okay and if they could do anything for me.

The last resort: calling a bilingual friend!

This is the best joker ever if you are in China and you can’t speak the language. If you have a Chinese speaking friends who also knows English (or German or… whatever language you have in common). It’s pretty much the reverse version of „calling the English speaker“ as you are calling „the Chinese speaker“. Many times one of them saved me when I was desperate because something just wouldn’t work out. This summer, when I arrived in Qingdao, I needed to take a ferry, was totally exhausted by that time and couldn’t figure out where to buy the tickets. Even though there were people trying to help me. So eventually, I called Huan who helped me out by translating. Within a minute all the communication issues that had been going on for twenty minutes were solved and I got my ticket.

So

Yes, it’s much easier when you are in a country where you speak the language – but it’s also less fun at times. Plus: whenever I handle a situation here I feel a bit like a hero. And the sales person as well. Or she is simply smiling with relief when I walk off with the desired item.

Four kinds of mistakes that show my process in learning Chinese

“I never ever gonna learn this language” I complain to my room-mate who just came home from work. Mildly smiling she just answers “Ah – it’s one of THESE days.”

Learning Chinese sends me from euphoric moments (“I asked a question today. And I was understood. And I understood the answer! I am so talented I will learn this in no time and soon have conversations in Chinese!”) to these down moments where I am sure, I’ll never ever gonna get anywhere with this language. My ears, my tongue and my voice are not made to recognize or reproduce this language. My brain sometimes simply seems to refuse using the grammar rules.

Focusing only on speaking (no writing or listening) there are four mistakes that feel like they are language-specific and I am happily fascinated at them in times (other times they frustrate me.) but right now, my fascination. As well: They do show I am making some progress. If I would still mess up the first three, no-one would realize I am making the fourth kind of mistake. (Imagine me nodding with a VERY proud smile on my face)

  1. The wrong tone
    Chinese is always referred to having four different tones (let’s see if you agree with me once you finished this column). You kind of have to sing the language and the tones tell you, how. There is the high level tone, where your voice shouldn’t change at all. The rising tone where your voice goes up and you speak somewhat softer. The falling and raising tone where your voice first falls and then rises again. The falling tone where your voice falls and you sound rather sharp. And then there is the “no-tone”-tone. (Yes, the no-tone-tone is the actually the fifth one). So not being used to tones having this kind of meaning I often get them wrong because I forget them. Or I simply can’t do it. Was hard work until I produced an acceptable high-tone for the very first time…
    At the moment I am struggeling the worst with the second tone – so badly, that my teacher looks even surprised when I do it. So many times she looks at me and says “Remember? This is second tone!” and I answer in despair “I remember. I was trying to do second tone!”

  2. The wrong pronunciation
    In Chinese the correct pronunciation of “z”, “zh”, “j”,”g”, “ch” and “sch” is very important to say the word you wanted to say and not something else (or in the best case, some nonsense. If you are talking nonsense, you are at least not accidentally being rude). For an English or German speaker they don’t sound that far apart from each other and I had to practice a while until I was able to produce them on command. I ended up drawing little pictures of the position of my tongue for some of them. But I still mix them up so my teacher gives me a queer look and I know I failed again and start to try different ones…
    On the other hand, some English sounds are hard to differentiate for Chinese speakers. My teacher was astonished that there is a difference in pronunciation between “ring” and “rain”.

    So, as my tones and pronunciation are getting towards acceptable there is:

  3. Grammar!
    When you start on Chinese you think “This is awesome! Grammar is so easy and logical!” And it it. At first. But then you come across “de”, “de” and “de”. Three different words, that do similar things and are pronounced the same way (but the Chinese writing is different). I usually put them where they are not needed or leave them out where they are needed. Basically, they link words together to show that they are related to each other. Like in between “my dog” would be a de. But on other places as well. I still try to figure out why and when and how… But sometimes I get it right and do a little victory dance.

    Ok, and here we go. The fourth-type of mistake you can only do if you get tones, pronunciation and grammar right. You wonder, what that could be? Well… wonder no more:

  4. My favorite mistake the “No mistake-but”
    I learned a new grammar structure or a new expression. I produce a sentence using this new grammar structure. And producing a sentence is a painstakingly slow process but I get there.
    My tones are correct. *throw arms in the air in celebration*
    My pronounciation is perfect.  *bows to the audience in pride*
    All the words are in the order they are supposed to be at. I used all the “de”s I am supposed to and I did not leave a single “de” out. *picture me doing a happy dance*
    Short: My sentence is picture perfect. I am proud. Happy. Until… 
    The BUT comes along: It’s not idiomatic. My teacher leans in, smirks, seems a bit uncomfortable until she says “uhm… we don’t usually say this like that… for this… we would use another structure”

If you are learning Chinese – keep your head up. Accept the beauty of the language, the poetic of the categories of the measure words and embrace the “de”. Actually the “de”s as there are three different ones… but I am not that advanced yet.

And -never forget (while reading this, please imagine me having a slight mental tone to my voice and hysteric laughter at the end): It will get easier – once you start learning the characters.

My travel buddy – how Mouse and I met

Here is the story how I got Mouse as my most reliant travel buddy.

And she is the best travel buddy. Always in a good mood, available and keen on seeing new places. And her ears make sizzling noises when you massage them. Apart from that she is very quiet.

Only downside is her laziness. Not one step does she do on her own. She wants to be carried always and everywhere. For photos she insisted on being leaned against something – otherwise she simply lies flat on the ground. So finally we agreed on buying some wire for her last weekend when we were in picture-perfect Dali, China. Mouse finally agreed on waving as well on that day. We are still working on the perfect exo-skeleton set-up and are open for recommendations. 

My favourite travel buddy waiting for some tea

So, we met four years ago, at Hamburg Airport. It was both our first time going to Asia. But to be honest, she never told me where she is from. Maybe each trip to China is a bit of going home to her origins? We got introduced through my niece, who was one year of age at that time. But here’s the whole story from my point of view:

My stomach flatters. I am nervous and excited. Desperate to go and afraid to leave. The whole mixture of feelings before starting to a very new place. Lust for adventure and new things wins – plus I had commited to a job and a paid plane ticket in my hand.

Family and friends come to the Hamburg airport to see me off. I am going to China for the very first time. My father is here. My mother. As well as my sister and her boyfriend, Kai, they are also the parents of my first niece. She is about one year old at this time. My boyfriend. Around my neck a necklace one of my closest friends gave me for my 30th birthday a few weeks ago.

We are standing in line, two huge suitcases to check in, backpack on my back. Apart from my family I am surrounded by people with cardboard boxes, speaking a language I don’t understand at all. Despite my try to get a grasps of the basics in the last months.

So, do I have everything with me I COULD just eventually need in China?! No. I don’t. Kai runs off to the overpriced airport supermarket to return with two rolls of toilet paper. I hardly know anything about my new destination, about the city where I am planning to spent the next 12 months. But I do know that one of the worst things is to be somewhere without a sufficient amount of toilet paper.

Going towards the security gate I start to feel a bit wary, having to leave all of them behind. When Kai produces the mouse. „When I asked our daughter what to give to you, since you are going away for a year, she was very determined in handing me this toy.“

I smile and clutch on to the mouse. Not SO alone after all.

And that’s the story how Mouse became my travel buddy.

When I left on my current trip, my niece – almost five year old at that time – and I agreed on me taking pictures with Mouse for her.

Living the sweet life in Kunming

I feel like writing an update of the last couple of weeks. Just a couple of sentences to each topic where I could easily fill a whole article with. But I don’t really get around to it. Why? You’ll see…

I really enjoyed the last rough bit with ferrys, trains and beach camping as I expected to settle down for a while when I get to Kunming. I settled down in high-speed mode as well as fell in love with this city.

My sweet warmshower-host, soon-to-be roommate, fellow solo-cyclist and first friend in Kunming,  Vera picks me up at the metro station after a long-and-relaxing trainride (me) / a long day of work (her). The late-evening walk to her apartment was wonderful, I was amazed by the quietness of Kunming as well as it’s fresh air.

Last time I saw all the stuff I sent off to Kunming

Most of my stuff was already at her place as my friend Huan helped me sent it there earlier. So I dreamt on the train of how I would take a shower to put on all-clean-clothes afterwards. This is the SWEETEST feeling!

So settling down in high-speed mode Vera offered me to stay in her guestroom while I’m here studying Chinese. Of course I jumped for it – not only no hassle to find a place but just – I don’t know how to phrase it – I didn’t even stumbled across it as for that, I would have had to at least put a foot out to search, I think. So with literally no-effort I got a nice place to stay and even co-hosted another female solo-cyclist for a couple of days. Sophie is on a big tour, going strong from Scotland towards the rest of the world; cycling, hitch-hiking, camping and woof-ing.

Couple of days after my arrival my Chinese one-on-one lessons started. I am making progress in speaking – but the listening is just killing me. I am still not able to HEAR the difference between “zh”, “ch”, “sh”, “q” and “z”. But I can PRODUCE these sounds correctly. This discrepancy totally puzzles my teacher. I know the words, I can recall them, use them and understand them when said on their own. But in a sentence? Nope.


Yeah – that’s me. Learning TaiChi on the road! (oh and on a smaller note  – BOTH of them tell me how to do it *gg*)

Since only learning Chinese isn’t filling my days (please note my dry-german-sarcastic-humor here!) I do yoga, go to the climbing gym (only got to real-rock twice so far), spent time with my room-mates, explore the market and – I am really excited about this one – started practicing Tai Chi! A small group that meets every night nearby and I summoned all my courage to walk up to them to ask if I can join. I am so proud and happy I did! After one month of diligent training I should be able to do the first part they said.

Oh and talking about the sweet life: This is a melon! Have you ever seen such a tiny melon?! I am eating loads of fruit here. And in all sizes. The other day on the train, I ate like the world smallest apples


… but I don’t need help!

how my evening stroll through my new neighbourhood in the City of Eternal Spring Kunming in Yunnan, China, alerted my neighbours

The man is carrying his one-year-old when he stretches out one hand towards me, assuring me, yelling „hold on, hold on!“ with a worried expression on his face before he flees the store for my rescue…

What happened before..

Two nights and days on the train brought me to beautiful Kunming and I can’t help falling in love with this city! It’s quiet (for a Chinese city anyways) and small but still big enough to feel like a city – there is a metro, climbing gyms, loads of small Chinese restaurants but if I want to I can resort to Western food as well or Thai or… and there are climbing gyms. Oh – and talking about climbing, it’s close to the mountains as well. As in climbing-areas in day-trip reach! One spot you can even reach by said metro. And on my first weekend I found two groups that were heading out so I got to go Saturday and Sunday.

It was just beautiful – it is a short drive and a really short and easy hike to „The Swallow“ where you get routes from really challenging, where I sit in awe and watch the other climb it, to really easy, where I can get a go. It’s set totally in the woods, surrounded by pine-trees and rock. No building to see, zero trash lying around. The only evidence of human impact where the bolts in the wall which we need to climb. Up on the wall I see into the distance. Terraced rice fields remind me of being in China and my heart fills with joy – for having successfully climbed this wall as well as for being here, in beautiful Yunnan for six weeks with loads of free, unplanned time that I can use for climbing, hiking, yoga and – finally – up-ing my Chinese level to a level where I can have a conversation.

I’ve tried to learn Chinese for a while. I had Chinese friends teaching me expressions, words and sentences. I’ve used apps, podcasts, YouTube Videos and just recently started learning with an Audio-course while cycling. The Audio-course was starting to get me somewhere but I just started it and was on my 15th 30-minute-lesson when I got to Kunming. I really enjoy the fact, that I can do it, while I am doing something else where I don’t need to be focused. Like doing the dishes or cycling. Every lesson they teach just a few new words or expressions so there is loads of spaced repetition and I have to talk out loud. Sometimes I would already know everything that’s new in a lesson, sometimes none. These are the ones where I realize I am getting tired in the middle of it.
The biggest advantage of this course is that it is building up, the stuff I learned in the lessons before, is getting picked up in the following ones using some spaced-repetition pattern. This way I don’t lose it but it sticks in my head. The other big advantage of it is, that it gets me talking. I repeat or answer what the course is asking, try grammatical structures and practice pronunciation.
Since it started with useful sentences, I can now say – pretty close to perfect – that my Chinese speaking skills are very badly and that I don’t have a clue, what the other person just said.

But who really get’s me to speaking is my Chinese teacher. We have daily lessons, Monday to Friday. Two hours, one-on-one. We don’t do the tone-practicing-thing – thank God! – but words, grammar and pronunciation.
In case you are wondering what the tone-practicing-thing is? Chinese has tones as in it’s not only important that you pronounce it the right way, but you have to use your voice in a certain way, go up or down, stay or go up and down. And when I first learned Chinese, I would spend ages saying the syllable „ma“ in different ways. It’s fun at the start and gets frustrating quickly. Like, you get to a point where, if you choose to learn Spanish, you would be able to have a small conversation. But you didn’t pick Spanish, or any other sensible language, so your teacher is still trying to get you to do the tones right without teaching you new words.
So, we are working on the language. Of course we are working on the tones, but we do it „on the job“, with the different words. Same with all these sounds that German or English don’t have but are really important in Chinese. I actually started drawing little pictures to remind myself where my tounge has to be to do „zh“ as supposed to how I pull my mouth for „j“. My minor difficulties in distinguishing the English „ch“ and „sh“ are much more of an issue now. But – despite all this – I AM MAKING PROGRESS! (Capitals intended. I didn’t think it would be possible).
I learned about 200 new words so far – well almost, the last 40 don’t stick yet – and am able to make up small stories, tell about my day or ask questions. Sometimes I even understand the answers! But my listening skills are way beyond my understanding skills. If you are wondering how that is possible – so much stuff sounds the same to me. Plus, sometimes words DO sound the same. Like the word for „house“ or „home“ sounds like the word that means „plus“. Of course, different characters, but same syllable, same tone. It’s „jia“ with the first tone if you are interested.
So it’s only context that allows me to know, if someone says „coffee, house, milk“ or „coffee with milk“.
Don’t think it’s easy. That is only ONE example! Of like many I came across with the meager amount of words I learned so far.

I can now manage situations where I walk up to a Tai-Chi-group and find out, if I can join, express to the worried people in that group, that I am aware that it is Tai Chi that they are doing and yes, I do want to study Tai Chi. They are meeting again tomorrow, at 7.30 and I am very welcomed to join. I am so exited!

Oh – how come I can just walk up to a Tai Chi group? As in, why is it there and where am I? It’s such an awesome Chinese thing that all over the country, pretty much every place would have groups of people doing sports together in the evenings and mornings.
It might be everything, from dancing – from very casual to rather serious and it looks like they are preparing for a performance – aerobic, Buddhist praying, marching around a temple with patriotic music from speakers following a Chinese flag or – like in this case – Tai Chi. You just walk around until you find one you like.

My dear friend Huan gave me the courage to walk up to a group for the first time when I was visiting her in her hometown a couple of month ago. And here I was now, walking down the street with my room-mate Vera. We just came back from a lovely dinner at one of the Western food places in our neighbourhood when she pointed the group out to me. So I decided not to think about it – in that case, I might have felt to shy to walk up to them – but to go for it, smile, walk towards the group, indicating I want to take part. So now, tomorrow, half past seven – I will practise Tai Chi. With a Chinese Tai Chi teacher. In a small, Chinese city, in the middle of the side-walk.

So it really pays to be brave! And to learn Chinese – as I managed to do all this, mainly talking, no smartphones and very little pointing involved. Way to exited to go sleep now, so I tell you the story of the man who came to my rescue when I didn’t even was in trouble.

Having just learned the way for pharmacy I felt brave enough to walk into one to have a look around. They are bigger than the ones in Germany so there are some products to be looked at. With most things I can figure out what they are for – not because of my Chinese reading skills, but they have some English-information on there as well. So I stroll around when a helpful employee comes my way. I explain, that I just want to have a look – and that my Chinese is very poor but I am feeling perfectly fine. Confused, she turns around and chats with her colleague while I continue browsing the store. They give it another attempt, other customers come in. And that is when my situation becomes obvious to the man with the baby:

I am a foreigner. I can’t speak Chinese. I need help.

So he stretches out one hand towards me, assuring me, yelling „hold on, hold on!“ before he flees the store to fetch his wife – an English teacher. We are actually neighbours and she is happy to explain me the way to the next stationery store where I get some pens and notebooks to motivate me for my studies. And maybe… maybe next time I can convince people who I really don’t need help. At least, at this particular moment.

How can I not fall in love with a place, where people are so helpful that they even try to help where there is no help needed? (Just in case – my teacher taught me how say that I don’t need help in a more eloquent way)

Day 23 – off to Incheon! A relaxed ferry ride

Maria, Andrea and I look at each other before doing the math. About 10 Euro per person to sleep in a four-bed-room on the ship instead of sharing a room full of sleeping mats with 50 people. As the ticket sellers sees us hesitating he offers that there won’t be a fourth person in the room. We get tempted but decide to still go with the cheapest option. How bad can it be? It’s just one night, 17 hours and all of us had spent nights under worth circumstances.

A couple of hours later I meet them on the ship. I have already settled in, watched the astonished face of the receptionist when she realized that this foreigner booked into the biggest room available (the dorms for 72 people seemed to be closed), and listened when she explained to me how to read the room and bed number and where to store my bike.

The air-conditioned room was spacious enough, we slept on pretty comfy bunk beds with curtains, lights and socket next to the windows. Money for the private room would have just been a waste. I text my arrival time to my first Korean host before I resign to sleeping a couple of hours while Maria and Andrea set off the explore the ship. It’s a quiet and relaxed journey.

The view in the morning is magnificent as we glide past numerous small islands.

Small islands dotted around the Yellow Sea
Windy – mouse gets almost blown away

Upon arriving we are the first to leave the ship and get onto the bus – with our bikes – and the staff is taking some of our bags as we make our way towards customs. We are unsure if they are trying to help us or if our bags are being taken to be searched and lose sight of them to be reunited at the compulsory scanner where all our bags have to go through.

On the other side I see a young man with a touring bike smiling – I am so relieved I don’t have to find the way to some hotel on my own with all this getting lost in Qingdao I had.

Day 22 – Rizhao to Qingdao – No-where to hide!

4 am, sneaking around Phil’s and Jennie’s apartment I am getting ready to go. Last night I cooked and packed myself a decent breakfast and lunch so I could get an early start to Qingdao and wouldn’t have to worry about food. And of course filled up my water bottles so I wouldn’t be totally dehydrated once I get into Qingdao.
120km, most of them flat and 10km with the ferry – I am confident of fitting some sightseeing in before my host Dai would come home from work at 6.30.
It’s so dark, I have to wear my head lamp for the start as I set off on the now quiet roads of Qingdao. As I don’t just want to follow the G-Road I take a detour along the beach where I watch the sunrise over breakfast together with a lot of people who camped at the beach for exactly this purpose.

Sunrise at Rizhao beach

Later on, I will have to cancel my attempts to follow the coast as there are road works going on. Nonetheless I leave the G-road shortly after to climb some hills in the hinterland past small villages. It’s more exhausting than the levelled G-road, but I enjoy it much more. 100km of that would surely get my morals down.

Landscape like this is keeping my morals up
Dockyard for fishing boats in Rizhao

I just keep cycling only stopping to nibble a bit on my food or buy an ice tea so around lunch time I get to Huangdao’s ferry port. The cycling gets harder, as I am in a city AND have to climb. So I can’t just cycle up and enjoy the down hill but have to stop all the time for traffic lights.
Anyway – I am almost there at the ferry port. I will have a rest waiting for the ferry, enjoy the ferry ride and the last bit in Qingdao. Right? No. I start getting a wary feeling as I am turning into the port area. It’s just too empty. And a dirt road. No cars. No people. A locked up building that maybe used to be a ticket selling point. Rain is starting slightly when someone asked where I want to go.
I make myself understood and finally hand him my phone. He types in the name of the correct ferry port and I brave myself for another 20km of cycling.
I detour, then I share the road with nothing but trucks with shipping containers. I am out of water soon but no stores. Dehydrated – again -, exhausted – very – I arrive at the correct ferry port, double-check with the guy that’s selling beverages while purchasing a bottle of iced water and finding out where to buy the ticket.
Most times in China I would find English signs like “Ticket counter” even though I am in areas where hardly ever any foreigner gets too. But not here. I can’t find the signs and the hut the helpful vendor pointed to are deserted. I ask a bus driver who points back towards the vendor. I doubt him, gesture that they send me here. But he says “go go” and is very reassuring. Slowly I cycle back, checking everything in between if that might be the place. But no. I ask the vendor and other passengers, point to the word for “ferry ticket” and they point…. back to where they send me before.
I mentioned my state, right? I am tired. I am exhausted. I am way to hot. I am still dehydrated. I cycled 20k more than planned.
So, in this state, I sit down on a bench. I think about crying. I take a deep breath. And I remember what a foreigner, that doesn’t speak Chinese does, in a situation like this: I call a friend that speaks Chinese! My dear friend Huan picks up the phone, explains my situation to the vendor, who explains it to the other passengers, a father that’s waiting with his wife and kid says “follow me!” and I am so relieved I don’t know how I can thank Huan for solving this for me.
The father walks me back to the hut where I stood before. By now, a couple of trucks are waiting too and three women that get way to excited about seeing a foreigner. The father feels a bit embarrassed while I endure the process of picture-taking, trying to smile politely.
An eternity later the ticket seller shows up and a few minutes later I am on the ferry to Qingdao, sitting exhausted on one of the chairs, resting…

UNTIL…

I get spotted again, and the picture-taking gets taken to a whole new level. A woman makes her daughter – somewhere between 6 and 8 – pose next to me without asking me at all. I never said no so far but I really appreciate if people start communicating with me before they take a pic and I never had people posing without getting in touch with me first. It’s really not hard to ask for a pic – you just have to hold up your phone and make eye-contact. Anyway, this woman wasn’t having any of that, I was too exhausted to do anything so I just played along eventually. One pic doesn’t take that long, right?
Right. But her daughter wasn’t posing enough. Wasn’t being sexy enough. Didn’t have her t-shirt in a sexy enough way. And she had another daughter. So she had to get pics of her and both of them, all the time scolding them and I was too defenseless and bewildered to do anything about that. Then, she had to have her pic taken with me… It just went on and on.

My day ended at 7pm. I fought myself through rush hour to Dai’s nice and spotless apartment where I could re-hydrate and eat a yummy, vegetarian dinner. I was actually excited about meeting Andrea and Maria, two cyclists that were going to take the same ferry as me in the morning. But I just passed out at about 8pm and didn’t notice anything until the next morning…

Like I said – I wanted to leave the main roads…

Day 20 – Lijiazhangcun to Rizhao – Doing a bit, but working hard

With four hours of dozing and four hours of sleeping in my sticky tent I am back on the road. I feel battered right from the start.
It’s less than 40km to Jennie’s and Phil’s and I am glad it’s not one k more than that.

When I start riding, my camp site was at the edge of a small village – if I had gone further, I would have had to pass the village before camp. It’s flat at the start but Rizhao is hilly, it’s getting hot and I think, I am pretty dehydrated as I drag myself up the hill to my hosts place. Counting every km, ever 100m to be honest. Part of me thinks about stopping to get more water, but the other part of me just wants to keep going so I will get there.

I finally make it, Jennie is offering me their biggest glass, pointing to their water supply. When I finally stop drinking, I stagger towards the shower, just to fall asleep after. At this moment, I am very glad that I am staying with two cyclists who totally understand my needs and supply me with delicious food for lunch.

I enjoy a very lazy day and when they come home from work we talk, share stories, drinks and we agree on my staying one more night so I will go to Qingdao in one lap, rather than two with camping in between.

Day 19 – Doing a lot between Fei (Linyi) and Lijiazhuangcun

Cycling on roads that are about two trucks wide. With trucks going both ways. Slow when it’s going up, fast when it’s going down again. One after another after another. And trucks overtaking each other. And cars overtaking the trucks. While it’s getting dark. Trying to look for a campsite.

This does not feel good… as in safe. It’s my first night camping ahead of me and – to be honest – I am dreading it that’s why I am still cycling. No chance to get to Jennie’s and Phil’s place, as it’s still more than 50km. So, I check the map for gas stations in the hope that they would let me stay.

The first one is right opposite a hotel – so I assume my chances are rather slim. I pedal on. 10k further on there is supposed to be another one so I aim for that while trying to spot a camp site. My chances are rather slim – I can only see my side of the road, have to concentrate on the trucks and it’s getting darker. I spot tiny patches but they feel too close to the road. All other places are used as farmland and I don’t really want to destroy crop for a nights sleep.

Finally, I arrive at the gas station. But they refuse. No way I can pitch my tent somewhere. Shoot. I aim for the river near by and end up setting my tent up in front off an empty house. I can’t really tell if it’s deserted or not and there is no where around to ask. Half way through a man comes around, rubs his bare belly while trying to talk to me.

And to be honest, I don’t attempt to talk to him. I am tired. I feel beat. I am going to spent a night in a mosquito ridden, hot tent. At least, as long as this is not his house and he is unhappy about me camping there. Then I would be facing more cycling. In the dark. With the trucks. Even though I already did 130k. To spent a night in a mosquito ridden, hot tent a few k further up the road – So I try to appear harmless and polite and therefore try to smile while I repeat “tingpudong”. Even if I tried, I don’t think I could have produced any sentence where the tones where important.

Eventually he goes away. I finish pitching the tent, get in and take a dozen mosquitos with me. After four hours off dozing off and waking up again I fall asleep for another four hours.

When I wake up, I look like an offering to the god of mosquitos.

The day of cycling was pretty flat, unexciting G- and S-road riding. Most times with a shoulder, only the turn off to the S341 the road gets smaller and looses it shoulder.

A city disappearing in smog
An AAA-tourist-attraction. The photo on amaps promised waterfalls so I am surprised to find a park at a river without waterfalls but with an impressive number of all kinds of statues.

Day 17 – Peixian to Linyi

My friends mother made sure I wasn’t leaving hungry. The plate with the amazing amount of scrambled eggs is not in the picture. Oh and I got TWO cups of soymilk.

A day that holds everything in stock that biketouring has to offer – it felt like bicycletouring in a nutshell.

A lovely goodbye, a warm welcome. Headwind. Rain. Sun. Bad climbs. Awesome downhills. New pavement. People waving and smiling at me. Picture taking and exchange of WeChat contacts. Cars stopping to hand me ice cold water. Practicing my new Chinese sentences. Awesome views. Dirt roads and dead ends. Going in circles in a small village. Finding my road again. Garbage dumps. Lush green mountains. Rivers and lakes. Even nice picnic places for my first and second lunch.

Purple sweet-tomatoes for lunch under a bridge…
… where some stone tables and chairs stood around. Cards lying around are telling a story about this is a casino at night
Quiet, flat roads for lunch part 2

After saying Good-bye to my friend and family – I am so happy that we are going to meet again – after a huge breakfast with panniers full of food, I am looking forward for a relaxed ride. Just see how far I could get on a day like this, rested and well fed, before dark. So I start off towards Linyi where I had been a touch with Yana, an Ukrainian girl through Couchsurfing. The weather is lovely – cloudy and on and off rain. Hardly any sun, but headwind.

My feeble attempt of sight-seeing. I followed one of the tourist signs but whatever they were offering here, was closed

Not having a specific goal in mind I enjoy cycling along, stopping for photos, smiling at people and having a small conversation with a girl on a e-bike when I meet a student from Qingdao. His dad stopps their car, so he could get off, talk a bit and hand me a cold bottle of water. You never realize how thirsty you are, until you see a bottle of ice cold water. Finding out he’s a student in Qingdao where I am headed we exchange WeChat-contacts before I rode on. Maybe we can meet there?

I did 80km since I left seven hours ago. I go small roads through the mountains. It’s exhausting and breath-takingly beautiful. I wonder, if I even make it to a 100 today, even though it’s cold. I estimate less than three hours until sunset. My heart is happy and I can’t believe that I can spend my time like this. I feel grateful.

If I can cycle here – how can I be anything but happy?!

It’s almost 6pm, I am at km 105 and I am climbing. Somewhere in the mountains. The sun is in my back, not fierce anymore. When will it get dark? How long is the climb? I don’t want to loose the sunlight before I finish the descent. My body aches for a break but I push on. I don’t want to have to break because it’s too dark to see. A motor-tricycle overtakes me, the three kids on the cargo area spot me and get excited. When their dad stops to work on his field, they ask for his mobile phone and start walking towards this weird, sweaty figure that I am to bravely ask me for a pic and the girl takes happily a selfie with me.

I am at km 125. It’s only 25 more to Yanas place. I will make it – would be ridiculous to stop now that I am almost there.! . I was getting carefully optimistic when I left the mountains at km 90 not being aware that I would reenter them again. I am starting to get exhausted but I am having a runners high as well. It’s past 7pm and the last k I spent cycling along a huge lake, framed with mountains during dusk. A part of me wants to stop for pictures but another part of me wants to get as far as possible before dark. My phones battery is at 5% and it’s dark now. With shaking hands I search for my battery pack and eating fruits at the same time when two guys on a motorcycle stop to strike up a conversation. They leave and I watch bats while the last bid of sunlight sips away. If it’s possible I am even happier than before?

Happiness!

I am km 140. It’s dark, I am wearing my head lamp for extra light – to see and to be seen. I am climbing, it’s a slight climb but I am starting to feel the day through the runners high. I stop to gobble down eat my noodles from last night sitting on a big rock in someones deserted front yard.

Km 145.27! I message Yana. I am here. She is a lovely host, has prepared dinner for me which I enjoy after a shower and half a liter of water, offers use of the washing machine and invites me to stay another day. I accept even though I still feel the runners high. I know I will thank myself tomorrow!

Cycling in the rain? lets you look forward to a shower before betime!

Day 12 – Enjoying my life and being delighted in Peixian

Mantou! The triangle-ones are sweet ones filled with sugar!
Jiao-bing. My favourite kind of pancake

I simply enjoy hanging out a lot but looking at the pics I realize how much I experience everyday anyway.

I am writing – actually finished my second article for saporedicina.
I am Organizing my student visa.
I am relaxing.
I am learning new words. Huan is a great teacher. Very encouraging but strict on the pronounciation. Not teaching me too fast and keeps repeating the words and correcting me.
I am eating the best food. Loads of veggies and fruit as you can see on my instagram as well as the specialities. I feel like I am a person in one of these travel books I love to read.
I am sleeping. Sleeping in in the morning. Having a nap at lunch time. Going to bed early.
I do yoga and go for walks while everyone around me worries about me melting.

I am jogging around a temple in the evenings! How awesome is that?

If anyone would have told me 5 years ago, that I would do that in some Chinese village I never-ever heard of before in 2018…
I didn’t have anything to do with China at that time of my life. I was getting out of a bad relationship. Going through a really bad time and with some parts I don’t know if I would have managed if I didn’t have wonderful friends around me supporting me. During these awful and dark times I just had a glimpse, an idea, that my life will be better in one point of the future. I was just about to finish my college education and I am grateful I found the courage and reason to do so.

I am really happy that life led me this way – even though I would have prefered to fall in love with a country were the visa stuff would be a whole lot easier!

Day 11 – Xuzhou to Peixian

Huan wears a beautiful flowered dress as she stands at the corner of the street to pick me up. She is looking down the main road, trying to spot me. I approach her from the other side as I missed a turn-off and had to circle back. Seconds later we hug, happy to see each other again.
Our friendship began four years ago by now when I boarded my first flight to China in Helsinki. I was nervous when I got onto my seat. In seven hours this plane would land in Shanghai, where I knew no-one, where I had to figure out how to take a taxi that would bring me to the hotel my new employer had booked for my first two weeks in Shanghai. I knew pretty much nothing about the country and despite the language class I had attended, didn’t know the language either. I sink into my seat, notice the girl next to me and get my phone out. Probably to set it into air-plane-mode, when she suddenly says “Bist du aus Deutschland?” – “Are you from Germany?”
As it turned out, she was not only one of the most impressive Chinese girls I ever met, but a German-language-student who just returned from one year in North-Germany and a fluent German speaker. I felt so relieved, so less alone, so excited as we both fell asleep during the night-flight.
She had an amazing amount of hand-luggage with her – “I love books.” – and in return for me helping her, she helped me get a taxi, told the driver where I had to go and not to screw me over. Which he didn’t, even though I fell asleep on the ride. Just before Huan and I said good-bye at the airport we exchanged our email-adresses and as I had we-chat we started writing there.
We met up in different places in China – in Shanghai, where I lived; in Tianjin where she did an internship; and developed a deep friendship as we are two like-minded souls that love to discover the world.
And now – I am invited to stay with her family for a week! To cook baozi, jiaozi, explore her ‘little village’ that is about the size of Hamburg and meet her family.

Such a lovely welcome 🙂
The other half of the lake. My friend and her brother asked if I would join them on a short walk through their park at sunset. So I only took my phone with me as I didn’t expect to encounter so much beauty!
Lake in Peixiang – part of it is empty due to the heat
Emporer of China – Liu

The ride itself had been pleasent and short – only 60k on smooth roads so I was easily averaging 19k per.

Salty tofu-jelly-soup for breakfast.

Day 10 – Xuzhou

„No – it’s way too early to sleep.“ where the lasts words Yan uttered, seconds before falling asleep at 9pm. We had a rest day ahead and no riding in the heat to worry about. Beauty of the rest day. We slept in until half past 6.

Just like our rest-day in Nanjing – we were very lucky to have a cloudy day so we simply started walking around Xuzhou towards the big lake where a lot of touristy stuff is to be found. Xuzhou doesn’t feel like the industry city it once was. It has a lot of parks and lush, green hills. Through one of them leads a tunnel with an extra level for e-bikes, bicycles and pedestrians. The cars pass through the lower level and everyone else through the top one. The space along the road is full of stores – you can buy fruit, bicycles or clothes – a wine cellar and storage spaces that double as safe areas during hurricanes. They go deep into the mountain, are comfortably cool but wet. Fascinating to walk in and a bit scary to think about having to stay there with 5000+ people while a storm is going through the city.

Tunnel Wine Cellar
Fruit stall in the tunnel

We enjoyed the old and the new Han Stone Gravings museums and opted out of taking the cable car to the viewing platform as it was getting hot.

Old Han Stone Graving Museum. Basically a bamboo garden where they display 2000+ year old carved stones
Holiday drawing class in the Xuzhou Han Stone Graving Museum
Readers of the local newspaper – a lot of neighbourhoods have these billboards with the current newspaper. This one is right in front of the building of the Xuzhou Newspaper

Day 9 – Daluxiang to Xuzhou

The guy on the motorcycle stops right next to me as I am about to enter a store to get a cold ice tea. I greet him – we waved at each other before as he saw me cycling past and he passes me a bag with two bottles of ice tea he just got. I say my thanks – as there is not so much more I can say in Chinese – and we exchange WeChat-contacts.

We cycle through stone-country. Many places exhibit and sell this kind of impressive stones around here. A small one actually gets through my tire and I have the first flat of this trip. Apart from that, we just get our head down and try to get to Xuzhou.

When we get there, traffic gets heavy – of course – and I lose sight of Yan again on our last up-hill of the day. After check-in and shower we feel up to leaving the hotel – it’s less sunny and therefore less hot today. But we opt for busses and taxis. It just seems impossible to walk 1.1km to the – very interesting – Xuzhou Museum.

Before dinner, we even get a proper thunderstorm but it doesn’t cool down.

Stone country – one of these, very small indeed, cut through my tire and tube, causing the first flat
Three men working at Xuzhou Museum. They are actually live excavating a tomb!
I like how museums are a place to chill as well
Foooooood!

Day 8 – Wuhe to DaLuXiang

4:45 am. I leave the hotel. Instead of the freshness of the night, the air feels like a wet blanket. I sigh and get onto my bike. Wuhe is still asleep – hardly any traffic on the road, not even hawkers are selling their trade of mantou and soymilk at this time of the day.
I keep pedalling without breakfast then. Following the main road I leave the city centre behind as the sun starts to rise. This is going to be our hottest, but although prettiest day of riding so far.

Sunrise
Sunrise
Dinner leftovers for road-side breakfast!

The road is smooth, it’s a slight down hill and I am doing a good speed. Depending on the point of view despite the heat or because of it. Nonetheless it is 10:30 and awfully hot as we get to the first hotel of Daluxiang. We don’t care about much when checking in apart from the air-con and skip lunch, determined not to be outside again before the sun goes down.

She is selling fresh soy milk in Si Xian- you can see a packed cup on my handle bar

The town itself seemed rather poor, the store across from the hotel looked almost like it’s been looted. But dinner was at a surprisingly good at a muslim restaurant which had the air-con on and all fans running at maximum speed so it felt a bit like eating in the middle of a very refreshing thunderstorm.

Can you see the heat?

Day 7 – Zhangbalingzhen to Wuhe

A bunch of birds flies off as I walk past, pushing my bicycle, to get the most out of this short piece of fresh, lush forest along my way. I’ve been cycling for about 50km this day and my body is pretty happy about this change in the way of movement as well es temperature. I am still on the G-road but it leads through some dense trees for a few kilometers.
I don’t dare to really sit down and stop and temperatures are still rising and are supposed to get up to 36°C again and unfortunately this idyllic piece of federal roads ends soon, if I looked straight ahead I would see the sun burning onto the tarmac but instead I look to my right to soak in the beauty of nature while trucks and motorcycles zip past.

Wow – this pic looks like it’s hot and this part actually felt nice and cold!

Getting out of Zhangbalingzhen was some more undulating hills, longer even then before. In total, we will be climbing until Xuzhou, but do get downhills in between. The G-road 104 changes from wide, with a shoulder and everything to two lanes and no shoulder and back. It leads around one bigger city, past some smaller villages until we are there.

At 11:30h, 5 1/2 hours after we started, I finally cross the bridge into Wuhe, counting the meters to the hotel where Yan is already checked in. When the receptionists see me, of course, they know who I am and where I want to go, so a few minutes later I can start admiring the air-con.

Almost there! Just across the river
Who finds the house?
Food! In some deserted, touristy area next to the hotel. In front of the restaurant where two soldiers from the Terracotta army but inside was nothing Xi’an-style

Day 6 Nanjing to Zhangbalingzhen

Racing along empty streets, running most lights as there is no traffic yet anyway, enjoying the temperature at a comfortably cold 26°C – that’s how we appreciate our really, really early start at 4 am. No crazy, dense Nanjing traffic, just us, a car here and there, some motorcyclist and the first food stands at the crossings.
We arrive at the ferry dock to cross the Yangtze-River at 4:45 – a bunch of motorcyclists are also waiting for the first ferry that will leave in 15 minutes. Enough time to get some breakfast-pancake.

Pancakes!
Almost sunrise at the Yangtze

The rest of the ride is rather uneventful. We get past some factories, some fields, some smaller rivers – and some roadworks for about 20km. The same undulating hills that lead into Nanjing on one side, are leading out to the other.

And around lunchtime we made it to the nicest hotel so far. Rather unexpected. Over lunch the restaurant owners told us, that they do get a lot of cyclist here but hardly any foreigners. Only one french guy that married a girl from this city and me so far.

Day 4/5 – Nanjing

Since both of our live-stories are entangled with Nanjing we stayed for two days. Okay, in my case the entangled bit is overdoing it a bit. But my roommate’s from Nanjing and she was so lovely to set me up with her parents. A lovely, nice couple of Chinese teachers who invited me for lunch, showed me around the tourist area and explained a couple of the typical Nanjing-style things that were sold in the stores. So lovely, so awesome and they just kept talking despite my almost non-existent Chinese skills. I didn’t understand every single word, but recognized some and then there is always context, gestures and just feeling yourself into it while accepting you just understand some. I had a great time and tasted so many different dishes. Her parents were even kind enough to walk me to the metro and explain where I had to go. They double checked with their daughter to make sure I understood it. And I had. (At this point, imagine me smiling in a very, very proud way).

Yan’s live-story is much closer to Nanjing as it’s his father side of the family who lived there until the Japanese massacre which they had to flee. There is a very well done, very interesting, educational and foreigner-friendly as everything is written in Chinese, English and Japanese. It really gripped me to learn that the Japanese are denying this massacre. So of course the Japanese people aren’t very well-liked in Nanjing. As to quote a taxi-driver “Japanese and Germans are all fascists”. This goes as one of the Chinese sentences I understand without any further explanation.
Until the massacre his great-aunt had a leading position at the observatory which was opened in 1934 and was married to the man who was leading it. Nowadays it’s a great exhibition that shows modern equipment from the opening times as well as ancient, Chinese utensils to tell the position of celestial bodies. These had been taken away by German and Japanese troops in 1900 and eventually returned five and twenty years later.

The Observatory is one of a few tourist attractions on Purple Mountain. The Tomb of Sun Yat-Sen, the founder of modern China, is the one that is most visited. After we’ve climbed the many, many steps to go there, we went to an ancient one of one of the emporers of China who was much more humble when it came to the point of how much work you have to put into visiting his tomb.

Some of the stairs you have to climb to get to the Sun Yat-Sen tomb
Love the details and fierceness

From there we hiked towards the Observatory and I saw for the first time, Chinese people that were going for a swim in a lake in the mountains. If I lived in Nanjing I would spent many weekends there. The hike, even though exhausting, was what I enjoyed most on this mountain.

At a restaurant – notice how pretty her dress is while she’s chopping the veggies

Day 3 – Changzhou to Nanjing

Lost in the loneliness of beautiful mountains with impressive, Daoist temples in which’s shadows I hide from the fierce sun – what more could I wish for?

Sophias Mouse and I had a small photo session instead of lunch or fresh water. It was totally off-season and apart from the temples not so many people seemed to live there. So, no restaurants, small stores or gas stations. My initial plan was to hide in some restaurant and write and read around lunchtime but since I got lost on some disappearing X-roads I didn’t get back into any village until almost Nanjing so I dismissed this plan.

Out of the mountains I kind of followed an official green-way but it must either be given up or out of season. I came past a huge official information centre, really excited about finally getting water. I had none for the last couple of hours in 35°C but it was closed. There even seem to be some rest-places for cyclists but they were – even still in a good shape – deserted and the door broken into.

10k further down the road I toppled into a gas station and hardly ever had I been happier about a cold drink!

The last 30k or so were soft, undulating hills were I enjoyed the downs and loathed the ups as I was already pretty exhausted. Traffic in Nanjing was slow, a lot and annoying – if you can get there earlier in the day, try so.

Day 2 – Suzhou to Changzhou

Early start to try to beat the heat? Or be rested and better able to deal with the heat?
It was a late start and for me, it was great. The heat didn’t feel as bad since I was rested. Different for Yan though who really belongs into the arctic.

We finally got a bit outside of the big cities and followed the Grand Canal for a long time. So far the nicest part of the riding. We stayed on the river side of the road, ignoring the bicycle-motorcycle-way on the left hand since that side had all the streets coming onto our street. This way, we only had to worry about traffic lights if there was a bridge.

My first two nights wild camping

A post in the bicycle traveling women facebook group reminded me on my first night at the road side. On my fears and my loneliness and my non-existing-appetite despite having cycled all day.

I felt lonely. I don’t think I ever felt as alone as I felt that very first night wild camping. It wasn’t my Shanghai-to-Singapore tour yet, but the try-out. I had left my apartment in the center of Shanghai in the morning and cycled and ferried (is that a word? I took the ferry. I simply love ferries when touring. It’s like free kilometers) all day towards the wet-lands. My piece of forest was technically still Shanghai.

No-one seemed to life in sight of it. No-one saw me turning of the road. No-one was on the road anymore as it only let to the wetland park which was already closed.

I chose the spot wisely. It wasn’t too obvious from the (deserted) road, no houses in sight and it was already dusk when I set my camp up.

And still, I was so so scared. I hardly dared to turn on my headlamp. I even worried the screen of my phone might give me away.

What if someone sees me?
What if someone chases me away?
What if I get robbed?
Is that a dog? Somewhere in the wet lands? With me? Yes… someone is walking their dog. I hold still inside my tent. I better not breath. Please go away, dog. Go away. I try to do some magic thinking and of course, eventually, dog and owner leave the scene.
Should I lock up my bicycle? If I did, it’s harder to steal. If I didn’t it’s easier to get away. – I actually don’t remember my decision any more. It didn’t matter anyway as no-one came past what-so-ever.
What if, what if, what if…
How do I use the stove?
Did I stomp out all the leaves that caught fire?

Nuts and a cereal-bar proved as a sufficient dinner and I don’t remember falling asleep. But I must have and maybe even early. I had a book with me as well as a puzzle a student gave me. But I couldn’t use them as I was too scared of the light of my head lamp giving me away.
Eventually I must have fallen asleep. Sending messages to friends about my loneliness as well as my fear off all the above-mentioned and more simply wasn’t enough to keep me up very long after 80k or so of city cycling.

***

Later that month, on the first solo-night of my trip, I simply willed myself to sleep.

I was scared. But what was I to do? I was on my tour, it was getting dark, I did the k I had to do that day (seriously had to for visa reasons) and put up my tent at the side of the road.
So, I just did it. I didn’t have a choice. I was scared first. But then I decided to sleep anyway using pure will power to fall asleep, realizing that way I would at least be rested if anything would happen.

I trusted on my body to give me an Adrenalin rush if needed so I would be bright awake if anything DID happen. But nothing ever did. Apart from once, were people were offering me a room but that’s a totally different story and nothing to be scared off.

 

Park in the center of a Chinese City

Park in Beihai