English Version 8
Laiyuan 8.50 a.m.
Yesterday nights hard rain is over. The crossing outside was more or less like a river. I almost got my feet wet when I waded across. The taxi drive wasnít long, so I decided to walk back, the rain had ceased.
The empty square outside is completely full of people. At least now. It probably looks like this every morning. Itís mainly sellers of fruit and vegetables and street kitchens that are active. Iíve bought something to eat and decided despite other considerations (now Iíve found G108 which I will be able to follow for the next 1000 km) to try to find my way up to The hanging Monastery, in the direction of Datong. My plan is to turn away from the main road and go for Lingqiu, where Iíll buy a Chinese map of Shanxi province in which Iíll be staying for a long time. Iíve had the girl in the reception to write Lingqiu in Chinese characters, so I can recognize the name on the sign.
In the market I draw attention. Itís not usual to see a Laowei (foreigner) here. All Chinese are able to speak one English word: Hallou. Iím not answering EVERY time.
14.45 p.m. Lingqiu
I leave the town at a moderate speed. Thereís much traffic. After 8 km it weakens a little. I remember my washing. Iíve made it an habit to wash my dirty underwear and socks with hand soap every time I get the opportunity. I pull it out and hang it to dry. Not the white until now, because the trucks are whirling up so much dust. One dangerous situation occurs: At the side of the road there is a big bump and so much gravel that the front wheel skids and I nearly falls into the ditch, which is of concrete. I get the bike back on track but almost falls to the inner lane. Luckily it turns out right. Must not happen again. Have to be more careful!
The sun is out. Itís still only to be seen through the mist, but itís much brighter than before. Itís a nice day of spring, a little chilly still, but I try to go dressed in t-shirt. Iím beginning to look like a wayfaring camp with washing, my cycling jacket and a bag of waste fixed to the straps at the back. The herdsman crosses the road with his sheep. There are coal yards all over. It doesnít seem to come from here, but it tells about the consumption. But the smell of coal smoke itsnít as bad as Iíd expected.
With my note from the girl in the reception I know exactly when to turn. And when the road shows up, thereís no doubt. The characters are there very neatly. 35 km. According to the map Iíll have to follow the river. The surface gets real bad for some distance and the rest of the way to Lingqiu itís not good. Meaning filled with potholes from the heavy traffic. The traffic is heavier than on the road I came from. Itís being used as a north-south connection. It makes a horrible noise when the big trucks with three set of rear wheels have to overtake through the potholes. The usual way of driving is to choose the part of the road that looks the best. So itís a common sight to see a 20 tons truck coming right against me in my lane. Being a weak road user I sometimes lower my speed or stops to let them pass. The road creeps up the river valley, which is pretty narrow. Itís more like a gorge with the mountains arising almost vertically on both sides. In the end itís as if the mountains get lower. It looks strange.
A last climb reveals a surprising view. I go on into flat land behind the mountains. Little forrests of poplar and birch.
A wide plain is up here and is drained by this narrow gorge in the
mountains. I go too far. Iím too busy following where the traffic is
heaviest. I realize my mistake and go back, unfortunately upwards. I
find the road to the right to Lingqiu, it canít be far away. The road
almost disappears. Mud holes all over. The cars are hopping and dancing
through at low speed. I actually overtake a lorry at one time, as Iím
better zig-zagging. Lingqiu shows to be a bigger town than expected.
There MUST be a book store there. I find a young couple to ask. Commit
myself to a whole sentence Ė excuse me, can you tell me, where the book
store is? They can. I understand as much as itís straight ahead and to
the left? I go on looking. Ask again. Still straight. At last I arrive
at a big crossing, and there to the left thanks God, it says: Book Store
in big readable letters. Itís on the first floor, I get my map, and
outside a crowd is gathering around me. I utilize the opportunity to ask
for The hanging Monastery, and have it drawn on my map. Iím in the right
direction! I just have to follow this main street, itís turns into S203,
which leads all the way to the monastery and even to Datong, where Iím
Ask for some place to eat. Itís annoying not being able to read the signs. There should be eating places both to the left and to the right. At last I spot a window and some tables and chairs in the opposite side of the road. The lunch is achievable. I try the usual trick: Ji rou Ė chicken meat. There is always a lot to say, that I donít understand. The food arrives after the restaurant has been stormed by young Chinese, who wants to look at the ďLaoweiĒ Ė and say hallou, and things like that.
I end up sitting by my own quietly, while a chickens head is staring at me from the plate Ė you canít be lucky all the time! My appetite disappears, and I donít eat it all. But itís not only due to the head. The dishes are really big.
The continuation is beyond expected. What seemed to be a dangerous experiment shows to be to exact right choice. I really had no idea, but thatís the way it often is. Not only have I come to this plain which means that the road doesnít climb and descent so much, the road is much better than the G108. It has got shoulders and the surface is fine.
Before I get out of the town Iím confused at a roundabout which is crossed by S201, which was the one I was following up through the gorge??
But Iím confirmed Iím right. It was just a road you could take IF you wanted to find S201.
Iím going at a good speed. Have to stop several times because someone just HAVE to say something to me. At last the plain turns into a narrow valley and turns north. We follow the railway, which doesnít fit the new map, so itís probably not bulletproof. There are also some distances in almost unreadable blue, which are hard to find out. After the turn to the north there are no buildings and itís almost 6 p.m. When suddenly some houses and cars are seen, amongst which the police I go over there to ask for lŁguan. A well dressed Chinese woman can speak a little English and end up (after having established that there is none Ė and the men want me to turn back) to say that in 3 km something should turn up. And before that in 15 kmÖ.
I thank them and go on. Through a window I see the bunk beds and estimate the sanitary installations to be un sufficient, so Ė go on. I aim at 100 km, but at the same time the red sun disappears behind the mountain, so itís mustnít take long Ė and here are quite deserted.
At last I arrive at some buildings. Immediately ask some young men on a motorbike. Itís all right, there is something. It costs 100 RMB!! But then there are granite tiles on the floor and the bathroom is higher standard than yesterday. But itís not very cosy!
When I look at myself in the mirror, I have to laugh. The light is better here and I see clearly how black my face is.
After having written this, I need a shower. Now.
About hotel standards.
In these Chinese hotels what is needed seems to be: a double bed, hard as a rock, 2 lís of hot water in a thermo, cardboard mugs, and sometimes even tea leaves, a thin towel by 25 x 50 cm (once even a thin bath towel), hot water where you as a rule have to turn the electrical power on yourself and last but not least a TV with all the Chinese channels. (Iíve given up knowing how many, but CCTV up to 15-16 and a couple of others).
Another thing I forgot the other day: In the area around Lou Cun I for the first time saw persons with crash helmets. So you can get them here, but theyíre an extra expense. That day in the morning I saw a three-wheeler coming racing with two persons dressed up with helmets. It all looked ludicrous. I came to think that they were recording the new film: "The Jedi returns to China" and that it was Luke Skywalker in his newest vehicle.