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  • Jamie Shannon

Reunited with my bicycle and searching for a police permit with a man called Brian

8th November

I arrived safe and well in the city of Lanzhou having survived my 42 hour train journey. In the end everything went well on the train apart from a woman whom joined the train after 6 hours and slept opposite me. She had the most annoying habits like eating little bits of chicken and dropping about half of what she picked up on the floor. Pretty filthy if you ask me. She’d also eat with her mouth open and she became irritatingly loud, so loud in fact that I put in some ear plugs to drown her out. I just had to remind myself that here in China, things are done a little differently than back home.

I had sent my bicycle ahead of me two days in advance and was assured by the guys who picked it up that it would be waiting for me when I arrived. I gave them the address of the hostel I would be staying at so that they could have it delivered there but upon phoning the hostel to make sure they were on the ball, I was told they didn’t take foreigners. Stupid Chinese rules. They said that they would however hold onto the bike until I arrived.

So two days later, I headed to the train station with seven bags stuffed in the taxi. It was no easy feat walking from the taxi to the station with that lot on I can tell you. Three body scans later, I had my luggage put through the x-ray machine and was promptly told to lay out my bags for inspection. Now I did know you couldn’t take knives on-board and so had stuffed my large hunting knife in my shoe (at the suggestion of the hostel owner) but had the other one stuffed inside my bag. I was told it wasn’t possible to take on board but somehow, after pleading that I would have no way to cut my vegetables, the man looked sneakily around and shoved it to the bottom of my bag. Nice fellow.

Then I had two hours to wait.

The only thing worse than waiting two hours for a train is waiting two hours for a train in a Chinese train station as the only white man. Everything I seemed to do roused inquisitive looks in my direction. Look – he’s getting out something to read. Lets all watch. One man even decided it was completely fine to walk past and bend over to see exactly what I was reading. It was unnerving. This is something that I would just have to get used to. They say travelling in China is hard for someone with a backpack. God only knows how difficult it will be for me as I move through rural China.

The challenge begins I suppose.

Arriving in Lanzhou, I got my first taste (after a six year absence) of just how big these cities were. It was quite simply a sprawling metropolis. The energy and sheer volume of people and traffic astounded me. I thanked my lucky stars that the only hostel in town that would accept me was but 600 metres from the station. I checked half my bags in the left luggage room and set out to see if I could decipher a Chinese address. I could not. It took me one hour of walking around the area where I knew it to be before someone could point me to the correct entrance.

Well I was quite impressed by what I found. It was one of those Japanese type capsule hotels but the ‘rooms’ were in fact quite spacious. I found a friend there too who goes by the name of Brian and spoke pretty good English. Time and time again, he would become my saviour over the following four days.

I was lovingly reunited with my bike later that day. Brian came with me which was probably just as well as I never would have found the hotel otherwise. Everything seemed in order. I had taken off the pedals so it couldn’t be ridden by anyone and also removed the mirror and some other things. The only thing I forgot to remove was the front light which inevitably was stolen. All in all though I was pleasantly surprised by its speedy and safe arrival. Twenty quid didn’t seem so much for having travelled 3000 kilometres.

I did intend to leave the following day as Lanzhou, although a huge city, didn’t have much going for it in terms of sights. Besides, I wanted to get back on the bicycle again. It had seemed like a lifetime ago that I had last been on the road and taking the train had merely increased my restlessness. On the other hand, I felt happy to wander the city stopping occasionally to eat delicious food and people watch before returning ‘home’ and watch a movie in a warm and cozy environment.

Realising that you need a permit to buy petrol in China - the quest to find fuel!

The longer I stayed, the more difficult it became to move. One day turned into two which turned into three and when I realized I needed a police permit in order to get petrol, three days turned into four.

Brian and I tried two gas stations only to be turned away because of my apparent un chineseiness. Three police stations later, we were still twiddling our thumbs as none of the chain smoking officers wanted the responsibility on their shoulders should I decide to make petrol bombs.

When I decided that the only way forward was to venture to the large PSB building the next day where people extend their visa’s, Brian had an idea. Quite why he didn’t mention this before I couldn’t say but I was happy with the outcome. As he worked for a car manufacturer himself, we could go to the large office the next day and retrieve some fuel from one of the show cars.

Thus the following morning we caught the bus for the two hour journey to his work where I was promptly greeted by a very welcoming bunch of people who managed to give me two litres of petrol which would hopefully last me a month if I used it sparingly. As I now planned to eat out a lot, I hoped that this would be enough. Time will tell of course.

I caught the bus back to the hotel but with it now being 13:00 thought it best to stay one more night. I needed to get out of the city limits by sundown in order to camp and with Chinese cities being such a huge urban sprawl, it was sensible to move early on and thus four nights turned into five.

From Lanzhou, its about 3000 km’s to the border with Laos. Huge swathes of mountains and challenging terrain lie along the way and so, although I hope to be in Laos within a month I think it will take a good deal longer.

Three day's into the journey

I’m 250 km’s south of Lanzhou as I write this and the last three days have been incredibly hard having slogged my way up 3000 metre passes and camped at freezing temperatures. The mountains are difficult but the freezing temperatures are infinitely harder to deal with and for this reason, south is the only way I’ll be travelling from now on. Warm temperatures much surly wait around the corner.


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