Funny Places

Its a Duck... in a bag

Fearghal

China- NangYang

Sometimes cycling on relatively nice smooth straight and flat roads for eight hours a day can be a bit tedious- who would have guessed. To deal with the tedium I find its best to simply let the mind go blank, not quite the imagine a candle meditation blank but close, I go to that place of Zen when I’m not really thinking of anything but not deliberatly thinking of nothing either. This is when I get my great ideas, if I ever do invent a revolutionary vacuum cleaner like that Dyson lad I’ll get my epiphany in one of these moments, I’m sure of it.

Trouble is, for the last two weeks, each time I almost get to that state, I’m reminded of something that was so funny I’m reduced to fits of uncontrollable giggles every time.

On our second day out of Shanghai, myself and Si stopped for dinner in a cheap noodlery. The girl serving us was studying english in college so we got chatting. We chatted about Ireland, and China. She asked questions about foriengers and we dutifully replied and it was all very cordial and amicable. The topic of conversation turned to sports and we asked what sports people played in that town. Then, out of the blue she turns to Si and, with emphasis on tthe last word, asks matter of factly, with a heavy chinese accent(obviously):

Why You Wear Your Hair Like That?

You Look…Terrible

I nearly choked on my chili noodles as I laughed solidly for nearly five minutes, Si said… “eh, thanks” and the girl just continued to talk about sport as if nothing had happened ignoring my guffaws, noodles almost coming out of my nose as I convulsed uncontrolably .  

I admit, some of the comediac value may be lost in the re-telling but it was singularly one of the funniest sentences I’ve ever heard an utterly unintentional put down; so inappropriate, so insulting, spoken in earnest, and absolutely, asmathic attack inducingly hilarious.

Now, several times a day when my mind is blank and I can sense a great epiphany rising from my sub-concious, that  fecking girl’s face pops into my mind and says; “you look… terrible” then I think of Si’s slightly insulted slightly bemused face as he tries to compute the verbal bitch slap he’s just been given. I loose control, and I’m chuckling to myself like a school boy.

I’m laughing to myself again now just typing this.

 

Sun and Rain

Mirror sunset

Simon

Hefei – China

The rain was falling heavily as we headed towards the town of Nanjing. The spray from the trucks soaked us through from head to toe, our socks squelching with each stroke, but at least it cooled us down. We pushed on through the rain, knowing that on the hot days we’d long for wet days like this, and we should be glad of the cool droplets running down our faces. The rain seemed to help my “prickly heat” rash which we’ve found is caused by excessive sweating. The only remedy is to stay in air conditioned areas and shower often, both a rare luxury for us!  

After following a circuitous route into Nanjing, we eventually got into the centre and with the help of many locals, we finally found the bridge that crossed the mighty Yangtse river. The next task was finding the way to Hefei and again, by asking locals every few hundred meters, we found our way out of Nanjing. The last guy we asked for directions, a young Chinese lad on a shopper bike, gave us directions then a few minutes later cought up with us saying that he’d head to Hefei with us. I wasn’t sure if he was serious, he looked like he was heading down to the shops, and was still wearing his flipflops. Hefei was 170km away, it’s like being in Dublin, someone asking for directons to Waterford, and going, “sure I may as well come along with you”. We couldn’t pronounce his name so we just called him Joe, and Fearghal was shortened to Fig since the Chinese can’t pronounce their R’s.

The road wound past padi fields and through lovely tree lined avenues, the soft dappled light a welcome break from the glaring sun. After waiting for nightfall, we camped in a park in the centre of the town of Chouzhou. It was Joes first time camping and I had to explain that it’s more common (and fun) to camp in wild open areas than in urban areas, but he enjoyed it all the same.

We woke with the sun at about 6, the heat already rising fast, and by the time we had packed the tents I was sweating profusely. The sweating only increased as the sun rose even higher and by noon, I was dreaming of torrential rain. I was digging into a huge bowl of noodles when a lovely chinese girl came up and started chatting to us. She had been asleep, but her mum who owned the restaurant, woke her and told her that there were some foreigners in town. Obviously they don’t get many foreigners there since she got of bed and came down, just to talk to us. She taught English at one of the local schools so we were invited to meet the students there. We were met by many smiling and giddy kids, who no doubt used our arrival as a break from studying. We must have looked a sight, filthy dirty, with sweat pouring down our faces, and in our logo’d lycra kit.

Mercifully, the sun relented and we finally made it to the outskirts of Hefei. Thinking we were nearly there, we stopped for ice cream and some snacks, but it turned out that Hefei is absolutely massive and it took another hour weaving past scooters, tricycles, taxis and missing manhole covers until we finally made it. We sat outside eating lovely spicy street food and drinking cheap beer. I felt the cool evening air on my face and savoured the feeling.  

Enter the Dragon

Solar Eclipse

Fearghal

China- Nanjing

On a very hot and muggy day we headed for Greystones 20,000km West of Shanghai, and into China. By the time we’d picked up fresh visa extensions, and taken some touristy shots of us with Shanghai’s towering cityscape in the background, it was already mid-day and the sun was high. As a result we didn’t make much progress. Early evening we stopped at a grubby restaurant for dinner exhausted by the heat, and managed to order several dishes through the medium of mime- the dellboy spanish of South America has been replaced with mute gesticulations that even Marcel Marceau would have been proud of. Unfortunately, while mime is an excellent medium for communicating the nature of what you’d like to eat, it’s not all that great for communicating quantities, and we began to worry when dish after dish continued to come from the kitchen well after the table in front of us was full. When we couldn’t eat another bite we nervously mimed for the bill and braced ourselves for the damage. Although we have a combined chinese vocabulary of three words, two of which are chow mein, we quickly understood that the meal was on the house as the girl who served us refused to take our crumpled 50 Yuan note. Our host then hoped on his electric scooter and took us to a park, a perfect camp spot, speeding off silently into the orange dusk leaving us sated and contented.

 We were up with the lark for our second day, determined to make some decent progress. The heat, however, put paid to that and we spent the day ducking into the air conditioned bliss of roadside petrol stations for chilled drinks every 45 mins before our overheated cores spontaniously combusted- at least, that’s what it felt like they were about to do. That night the heavens opened and the rains fell hard. We awoke to a steamy and sodden countryside, with freindly locals peering in into our tents.

At 9.30am the sky began to darken, and we stopped and looked at each other with puzzled expressions. We marvelled at this strange land with strange phenomena for a few minutes before it dawned on Si that this must be the eclipse that everyone had been talking about for the previous week. I felt like a bit of an eejit, as it was all anyone had talked about since I arrived in China, and an Eclipse is possibly one of the most impressive natural phenomenons, one guy in the hostel in Shanghai had travelled from Frankfurt to see it, and I was letting it pass me by without a comment. Fully informed, we marvelled with gusto as the sky turned black and then daylight returned again- reminded of the earth’s rotundity and our quest anew.

 

Update from Shanghai: distance since Greystones 9,585km

Shanghai World Financial Centre

Image: Living the High Life at the Park Hyatt in the world’s second tallest building -Shanghai. 

Fearghal  

This update comes from the brave new world of China. We originally intended to do these updates on a  monthly basis- then we hit the road, and were distracted by such natural obstacles as the Andes, and the virtual beaurocratic hoops that one needs to jump through for visas on this complex continent. We’ve resolved to turn over a new leaf with this new continent and file the monthly updates… every month. So, pop your address into the thingy that says Subscribe just below the big picture at the top of this page and we’ll send you a reminder when we do.

Before reading this you might want to read this first.

After La Paz, we headed for Cuzco in Peru passing Lake Titcaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. Simon ran the gauntlet of angry Peruvians for 40km as he passed their road blockades set up to protest against… well, we never found out exactly. In Cuzco we picked up a new revolutionary, Emma we all trekked to the mucho impressivo Machu Picchu before hitting the road for Nazca and the famous Nazca lines. After a few days of boring and hot desert cycling we reached Lima, where we found time for a few sneaky Pisco Sours.

On a grey foggy morning Simon and I packed up and headed North with a deadline and 3,000km to cover in 4 weeks. We stuck to a relentless schedule, and covered healthy distances through the coastal desert, pushing out a massive 212km day on one lonely stretch. Then, as it looked like we were on track to make our flights in Bogota on time, fate had other plans. On a mild climb I heard a crunch, and my rear wheel jammed- somehow my chain had gotten tangled and mangled my de-railler and the hanger on the frame. Simon pulled off a roadside bodging job that McGyver would have been proud of and we were mobile again- but this time I was down to one gear.

We plugged on into Ecuador, described by the Lonely Planet as the original Banana Republic, spending long monotonous days on a road flanked by the muggy banana plantations of Del Monte and Dole for hundreds of kilometres. Then, the road pointed up, and we had a two day 190km climb from sea level to Quito which is perched in the Andes at 2850m. On the steep  climbs it became apparent that we were not going to make Bogota with the bike in it’s current state, 1,000km of Andes down the road in time for our flight. Unfortunately, the rear hanger is a specific piece of kit, our from replacement from the KTM factory in Austria would never have arrived in time,  so we opted to finish in Quito and travel to Bogota using more conventional transport. 

 Now, six weeks later we’re in Shanghai, we psyche ourselves for the next big push- 10,000km across Asia to Turkey for Christmass.  There’s only 20,000km of road between us and home. Hopefully ten months more, thats only 300 revolutions of this green and blue planet until Greystones- the journey continues…            
      

Reading List

Reading List
Fearghal

We’re currently preping for the next leg to Turkey while we wait for our visa extensions ot come through. Today we built up the bikes, I fitted my new  rear de-railler and replacable hanger (thanks Chrisitan from KTM) and I now have gears again… woo hoo.

Along with the technical essentials, like new tights and waterproofs to replace the ones I mysteriously mislaid somewhere between Lima and Bogota, Si also brought some goodies on his return from the green island- Mum sent some lovely Valrhona Chocolate and some great books cheers mum : )

Problem is, I’ve now got way to many books and I can’t decide which ones to ditch. Normally I’m a horder, I’ve still got a whole wall of obscure cook books from my days at the stoves, the other wall of my room is covered with books on wine, I’m not sure if I’ll ever read that book on the lesser known wines of the Loire but I still hang on to it,  so it hurts to let any of them go. When you’re towing your book shelf the titles take on an extra quality,  in addition to considering their merits of interest, reference, and entertainment, there’s also weight as each one represents an additional 200g- hard backs are out of the question.

I’ve been ruthless with my possessions, no towel, minimal clothes, not much else, so I have to be ruthless with the books too. Some have just got to go. But which ones? The joke book? The poetry and short stories and the philosophy that are great for a quick bit of inspiration after a day of monotony? Or one of the novels, that provide entertainment when It gets dark at 7 and theres little else to keep occupied.

The problem is, each book is special. The one’s I’ve aready read remind me of the places I read them, and the fresh un-thumbed copies have so much potential to open up a new view of the world.

Still, something’s got to go…

An end of a beginning

Fearghal

Shanghai

I’ve just come across a great post on Tom Allen’s blog at Ride Earth;Tom reflects on the end of his two years on the road. It struck a few chords with me, as we’ve just spent the last 5 weeks off the bikes and in many ways it feels like we’ve finished one trip, and are about to start another. When we get our visas back we’ll point the bikes west for he next leg to Turkey. Harder, Faster, and Stronger than the two boys who boldly rolled down the mainstreet of Greystones last November. 

In the two years since I left England I have had plenty of time to think about how life on the road has affected me. I don’t remember experiencing any single life-changing epiphany, but when I watch back old videos, or read things I wrote, or think about things I said or did a couple of years ago, the experience is often amusing, and sometimes embarrassing. It’s also interesting to note how similar these feeling are to those of others who have undertaken similar journeys.

I’m far fitter than ever before. I was a below-average athlete in my formative years, unremarkable on the playing field or in the sports hall. But anyone who sets off on a fully-loaded bike is going to ride themselves fit in a few weeks. Fitness is nothing more than the natural response of the human body to the demands placed upon it by its owner. If you need to be stronger, then stronger you will become.

But I’ve found myself looking for bigger challenges as a result, more for to satisfy my own curiosity than anything else. I made someone laugh a couple of weeks ago when I said that my definition of a ‘long day’s bike ride’ was anything over 200km. Even a daily distance of half of that now seems rather casual!…. more

Image Credit: Tom Allen

Skyscrapers Galore

Jin Mao Building and Shanghai World Financial Centre

Simon

Shanghai – China

The Shanghai World Financial Centre (SWFC) stands magestically at 492m high and is the worlds tallest building to roof level. I reckon it should count as the worlds tallest building, the Taipei 101 building in Taiwan only beats it because it has a  long spire and sure, you could stick a really long coat hanger on the top of the SWFC and it wouldn’t be any more impressive.  The SWFC stands next to the very different but equally cool Gotham City style Jin Mao building. The Jin Mao buildings sharp angles are in contrast to the elegant curves of the SWFC which are reminescent of a champagne glass; though with the hole in the top, it also reminds me of a giant beer bottle opener. Of course, not all the buildings in Shanghai are elegant, on our way from the metro we spotted this ghastly building in construction, complete with fake Greek columns all the way up the side, uuurrggh nasty.

The SWFC is 101 stories tall, has 2 huge mass dampers to prevent major sway in windstorms and is topped with the highest outdoor observation deck in the world. The trapezoidal hole atop the Tower was originally a sphere, but the design was changed after the Chinese Government claimed that the Japanese Funded Building’s circular hole was too similar to the rising sun on Japan’s Flag.The SWFC houses the highest hotel in the world and that was where we spent a large part of yesterday afternoon.

We had heard as Marvin Gaye would say, “through the grapevine” that it cost 15 euro to go to the skybridge on the 100th floor but was free to go to the hotel bar on the 91st floor, so that’s where we headed. The lift took about 15seconds and the only indicator that we were climbing was that our ears started to pop. On entering the bar and seeing the view, both of us let out a gasp of exhileration, the view was absolutely incredible! Even though many of the surrounding skyscrapers would dominate the Dublin skyline, they seemed like tiny ants below us. To one side we could see the Huangpu River that meandered around us, and the wierd, Star Trek styled Pearl TV tower. As you’d imagine, the lush mocha and chocolate coloured surroundings of the bar were worlds away from our usual fare, but were welcomed with open arms, even if only for a short while.    

vView from the Shanghai World Financial Centre

We ordered our cocktails which at 9 quid a pop were cheaper than any Dub pub and they even came with some lovely candied almonds covered with Porcini mushroom powder and salt and pepper. Not a combination I’d ever think of but they were bloody tasty. After being guided to the elegant bathroom I came across what is probably the best toilet in the world. Not only did it have a bum wash facility, but by using the stainless steel control panel, I could adjust the pressure and position of the water jet, and even make it oscillate and pulsate! Then, when you’re finished it has an inbuilt hot air dryer to gently dry off your bum. As I sat there, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud, I’m glad there was noone else there.  

It was with a huge reluctant fall that I went to the grotty loo in the internet cafe later that day!