Pedaling from the Black Forest to the Yellow Sea
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Category — China

Day 262 (China / Germany): Beijing - Frankfurt (one less bicycle in Beijing and you can do this in 10h instead of 10 months)

My apologies for the late posting of these last blog entries. There are a couple of reasons for this: my mother had no idea that I was flying to Germany a week earlier than I had told her and thus the surprise wouldn’t have been one. Now that I have been back for a few days, it seems that I have been putting off the blog entry of this particular day as I was shying away from closing this chapter. Well, it’s not really closed I know, but …

As I woke up this morning in Beijing, I knew right away that this was it. I would fly back to Germany today. The tour was now going to come to an end. It has been like this in fits and starts, but flying back is a pretty big step in the process I suppose. What happens on these days is pretty automatic I suppose. You pack up the rest of your things, you leave those things behind that you don’t think you need, you get a taxi, you hop on a plane, everything is driving you at this point and you are no longer in control of things. I guess that will be one of the biggest changes. During the tour I could pretty much do what I wanted, had the liberty to decide to go or not to go, stop or not to stop, turn my wheels this way or that. Not so much any more.

But this wouldn’t be China if things didn’t turn out to be at least a little bit complicated. Packed up the rest of my things and left this behind.

Matthias had organized a driver to get me to the airport and when I saw the car I was a bit shocked. This was not Matze’s fault at all, but they came with a small car. The driver was all: “Sure, we can fit things in here and so on.” Not so fast. In the end and after some discussion they got the minivan that Matze had ordered (yes, we will pay the extra for it, no worries) and we were on our way. Not without saying goodbye to Matze who screamed in by taxi to see me off. I was glad to have company in the process - it was extremely relaxing to know that if things were to go wrong at the airport that I wouldn’t just have to leave the bike behind. Thanks, G.!!!

On the ride to the airport, I had another reality flash. This really was it!!! Hard to say what went through my head during the ride, but it weren’t the most untroubled thoughts for sure. Now, at the airport it was all about getting this bad boy onto the plane. I had prepared as much as possible. Remember I got six different answers from Air China, ranging from: “No problem.” to “Bikes are not allowed.” with “1kg over 20kg will cost you 40EUR.” In the end I had written the German office of Air China and had gotten confirmation from them that all would be well until 30kg, including a bike box. A printout came along and then … I got in line, the guy asks me about the luggage and I point to the box. His eyes go wide. “What is this? A TV?” Nevermind that I hadn’t watched much TV as of late, but: “No, a bicycle.” Quick answer: “No problem, just put it on the scale.” I did and knew it would be just at 30kg and then things moved along nicely. We packed things up, threw a couple of more kgs into the box before taping it shut and having the white plastic bands attached and then left it at the oversize luggage counter. Easy enough.

And then the waiting game starts … here you go (and yes, it is a Starbucks cup with very yummy hot chocolate inside).

Then it was time to bid farewell and hit the little skytrain that would get me to the terminal. This now was super-eerie land. I felt entirely out of place. Once in the terminal (you go through security where you rate the border agents with four buttons - I gave mine a double thumbs up), there was this strange rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fare from the Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme album. A melancholic song for those not familiar with it. I saw the usual crowd of laptop carrying and shiny, latest generation cell phone clad people milling around and felt - of all places - rather lonesome. It seems to happen more in places with crowds rather than in the deserts of Central Asia or Western China. It was right here where a deep void seemed to be opening up in front of me as I was heading down the gangway to board the plane. And which only widened the longer the flight lasted.

And then you sit there and can not help but reminisce over the last 10 months. And I won’t go into this. But you also think that it is pretty perverse that you can fly back to the place you started (at least sort of) within 10 hours. And no, you don’t need 10 months for that. But, on the other hand - I wouldn’t trade the experiences over the last 10 months at all. Not at all.

Fast forward to the tarmac in Frankfurt. We were taxiing towards the gate. Melancholy was washing over me and was starting to take control. Nope, I decided. This was not going to happen. I resolved that the next few weeks were going to be exciting in their own right and I certainly have nothing to complain about. And after waiting for a long, long time for the bike box, it appeared - albeit somewhat hammered up. But all was well and I rolled out of the baggage area. Not without being asked whether I had anything to declare. “No, nothing.” “Are you sure?” “Yes, this is a bike, which I have ridden from Germany to China and there is nothing else in there. Just my equipment. Please don’t make me open the box.” “You did what?” “Yes, I biked there.” “So, the bike is not new?” “Well, that depends on your definition of new.” He smiled and let me out. Had anything happened, Stephan would have been there, a judge at Frankfurt and good friend who was kind enough to pick me up at the airport.

This was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. I wasn’t alone and couldn’t be drooling all over the place about being back and no longer under way. And there was no reason to be down. Stephan and Sandra are wonderful people and made me feel right at home. Fun stuff that the cab driver was Iranian and joined the conversation as I was telling Stephan about the stolen money in Iran. He felt offended that someone would do this to me and apologized. But also relayed that he plans to do a trip by car or bike to Iran some time soon.

We put the bike back together that night so that I could be heading out the next day (and yes, as Stephan pointed out, there were screws in various places). After long conversations we all turned in, except that I wasn’t able to sleep until 1 am. It was still a strange feeling to be back. And a feeling of uncertainty as to what would happen in the next few days. But that is nothing new.

December 10, 2008   No Comments

Day 261 (China): Beijing (looking back in Plan B)

Really, not much going on. I was busy all day long preparing the presentation that I was to give at Matthias’ bar - Plan B. If you are in Beijing, you should check it out. Good place. This being the last day, I finished packing up before heading to the Plan B. This and choosing the pictures took up most of the day.

At 8:30 pm we started out with what I had hoped would be brief, about an hour. But there were just too many pictures and so it took much longer. But people stayed on with a couple of exceptions. It was a fun crowd … though during the presentation and while preparing it, I was reminiscing about the trip a lot. But more about that at some other point. Doing the slide show was a lot of fun though.

I was interviewed by China Radio International following the presentation … and for those able to understand German, here is the link to the interview (note that Firefox 3.0 might not deliver the audio portion on the site, IE and Chrome seem to be doing the job).

And thanks to Matze for everything he has done in Beijing …

December 9, 2008   No Comments

Day 260 (China): Beijing (Forbidden City and trying to fit my life into a box)

A stroll into the Forbidden City they say is a must when you visit Beijing. They (who are they after all?) also say that you must visit the Great Wall. And I can see heads nodding in front of screens right now. But I have to disappoint some of you. It would have sure been pretty to see the Great Wall, but I decided that I would forgo the running around Beijing like crazy after this long trip and slash the trip to the Great Wall and take things easy.  Having said that however, the Forbidden City seemed like a good place to go. Especially after I had seen it from the hilltop to its immediate North. Its vastness is impressive and I did want to know what things would be like inside. Plus, it would give me the chance to see Tiananmen Square - which I wanted to see for obvious reasons. And this had nothing to do with its size, which is also impressive. But rather with events having taken place, say almost 20 years ago. On the brighter side of things, it also gave me a chance to snap the-picture-that-you-can’t-do-without:


And here is one without me in it …


The number of policemen is quite impressive here - these are only some of the guys that are visible. I am sure there are tons more that I have no clue about.


Here is where I met Jaakko, a Finish economist who had been working in Beijing on technology transfer and so we decided to tour the Forbidden City together. Its vastness that I could see from the top is equaled by an impressive inside. And all of this for one single person …

And there aren’t many hills, but the ones that are there - even these - you are not allowed to climb.

At night, it was all about packing up. I had intended for this to be a trial run, but in the end I decided that I would leave the bike in the box after all. It was all a very tight squeeze and I was about to give up at one point or rather at several points because it seemed that the box was simply too small, though I didn’t really think so. In the end, everything was fit into the box rather snugly. Which was good - because it means that things won’t move around all that much.


It was yet another step to wrap things up it seemed. An important one … and a bit sad.

December 8, 2008   No Comments

Day 259 (China): Beijing (art galleries … fun stuff)

Hm … so it was time to delve into a little part of the Beijing arts scene. I had heard about this area in Northeastern Beijing that I should visit, called 798. It is located on a former factory area part of which is still operating today. Imagine walking through a factory setting with steam spewing out at random places … I am sure some people (and particularly one Brussels reader of this blog) would have had a great time there.

Didn’t take too many pictures overall, but here are some:


The place also boasts some cats (of which I had seen surprisingly few in China I should say and I don’t think that the stories about pets and pots are correct).

And here is my personal favorite:

December 7, 2008   1 Comment

Day 258 (China): Beijing (more sightseeing, blueberry chips)

More sightseeing in the center of Beijing … including some of these critters. And no, I didn’t eat any of them.


This was in the center of the city, which looks pretty much like any other city that you can imagine with all the glitzy stores and fast food restaurants that you would imagine in a lot of other places around the world.

I took a look at the Forbidden City from a hilltop not far away - the whole of which is a non-smoking zone according to this map.

This is the view from the top - a full 360 panorama. The view is pretty amazing and you get a good glimpse of the Forbidden City itself.

And it’s nice to know that this particular camera store has some limited stock:

At night I did an interview on creativity with Veronika who had heard about my trip through Matthias. I will post a link to it once I have it.


And then this … Blueberry chips. What is going on in this world?

December 6, 2008   No Comments