Dear English speaking friends,
Finally some English on this website! Until now we met so many nice people on our journey from The Netherlands to Thailand. Most of the time we communicated in English. We had a short or a long conversation, sometimes we travelled together for a day or so. In the end we gave all of you nice people our card with our e-mail and website. “Sorry there is no English on the website” we always had to add.
Until now! From now on all English speaking people will have their own spot on our website to read a bit and leave a remark if you’re pleased to do so.
We must admit: this spot is not a full blog and it’s not going to be either. Since our website is written and made for two groups of people in The Netherlands: kids and adults, it means we write two blogs every couple of weeks. Adding a third, English blog would be so much work we could better stop traveling altogether and set ourselves behind a writing desk.
What you’ll find here are some impressions of our journey. I apologise beforehand for the mistakes in the spelling. We try very hard to make as less mistakes as possible but both of us struggled in high school with the spelling of foreign languages.
That leaves us to say: enjoy the stories and the pictures. You can find them when you click on this link. Maybe you’re part of a story yourself. Long evenings talking with other travellers are some of the highlights of our journey. If you’re reading this: thanks for a great time together!
10 Questions about China we will probably never get a satisfying answer to.
If your neighbor is already selling it, why start selling exactly the same thing?
What we think: if your neighbor is making money out of it, why can’t you?
Howmany Chinese historical soaps are there?
What we know: almost every place we had lunch or dinner had an television. On there was not the news, a quiz or the weatherforecast. It was always men and women dressed old fashioned clothes from various era – although the late forties appear to be the favorite era.
Within a meal you would see tears, fighting (if you’re luckey a decapitation), lovers meeting or more often departing. Leading to more tears of course. In a hotelroom with the remote in your hand you can only conclude one thing: It’s a big part of Chinese television.
What do young Chinese people learn at school?
What we know: Chinese children spend a lot of time at school. Often 8 hours a day. In fact, we saw more adults playing (mah jong and cards for instance) in the streets than kids. So kids learn a lot? Yes, but different from us. We met young adults who had problems drawing a clock.
Very often they are using a calculator in their shops. We noticed that
Chinese people do not know how to use a map. A couple of times Chinese looking at our world map held it up side down! We can only imagine how little they know about their recent history. Mao was 70% good and 30% wrong is what they officially learn. We have the impression ‘the good’ gets a lot more attention…
So knowledge of the world is not a big issue. Physical education is, they sing in school and have lessons in painting. We recon a lot of time gets into learning to read and write. The Chinese themselves are not at all impressed by the enormous amount of characters they have to learn. In fact, they often think we can read Chinese as well. Thinking of western kids who often struggle to get 26 letters in their head we wonder what happens with a dyslexic child in China? Everybody learns to read and write we heard from teachers. But we don’t see many books or newspapers.
We hardly see people read.
There’s a lot of reciting and learning by hart. Creative thinking is not a big part of Chinese education or of Chinese society.
Why are matrasses in hotels 15 cm thick and feel like a thin blanket on the floor?
This is what we know:
Chinese people used in big parts of the country a Kang to sleep on. A
Kang is a clay or brickwork platform in witch a stove is build in. Nice and warm but it probably feels like a blanket on a floor. That’s what Chinese people look for in a bed. Than why make the mattress 15 cm thick?
That’s probably just a luxurious western look.
Howmany Chinese people saw their first westerners when the to of us cycled by?
This is what we know: probably a lot! Tourist in China tends to be….Chinese. Foreign tourist come most of the time only to the big sights and city’s. They travel by air train or bus. Provincial towns and villages of the beaten track don’t see much blondes pass by.
Did we eat dogmeat somewhere along the way?
What we think:
Possible, but not likely. We saw the dead dogs hanging on the markets. Picture is not included on the website because it’s for kids as well.
Dogsmeat is something special and we surely didn’t order it. We did order pigsfeet – yes the part with the hoof – although that was a misunderstanding and it didn’t taste that good.
Why can Chinese people make excellent quality roads, while everything else they make is……
This is what we know: Chinese roads where a pleasure to cycle on.
Extra, extra smooth, broad shoulders and little concrete signs next to the road to mark each kilometer (very accurate!)Furthermore, a lot of roadwork going on, and a lot of roads just finished. A complete army of people is busy every day to sweep the leaves and rubble of the tarmac.
But…. you don’t have to look far in China to see that maintenance is yet to be invented. So we wonder what all those great roads look like in ten years or so.
Howmuch money is someone earing whose job it is waiting around for something to happen. Leading to one or two actions a day? Or howmany people do have jobs that are very much useless – like drying the just mobbed floor of a supermarket by waving a piece of cardboard above it.
What we know: were afraid they don’t earn much, but we think enough to keep a person happy.
Chinese appear happy, being able to spend some money and often looking very relaxed at their jobs.
Why are women wearing sleeves over their sleeves? And while we’re at it, why wear a mouthpiece decorated with the picture of a little bear? Why wear the mouthpiece in nature, and why wear high heels on a hike? Why cann’t Chinese woman run?
What we know: Not much. Chinese women stay one of China’s mysteries.
Howmany of the 1.3 billion Chinese think they’re free? And howmany ever question their freedom.
What we know: A lot of Chinese think they’re incredibly free. They can spend their money on whatever they want! Compared to their parents or grandparents they are free and rich, so who needs to revolt? On the other hand; bloggers like Han Han are popular in China.
What do the Chinese people do with al the photo’s of themselves carefully posing in front of whatever?
What we know: Chinese people with a camera must have an enormous collection of pictures of themselves (especially woman). The pictures all look more or less
the same. The victory sign with two fingers is somehow crucial. If you ask them why, they do not know. A photo is just not complete without.
Historic sites are favourite posing spots, but not necessary as a background. Just a brick wall is ok as well. Posing with foreign people is always good.
A month ago we left Central Asia by taking a right on the Pamir Highway and cycled into China. First stop; Kashgar. A great Silkroad city. The old Uighur quarter is very lively. Especially after the Pamir where the landscape was unearthly beautiful but the small towns were very…sleepy. If there was a shop in a town they mostly didn’t sell anything else than cookies and toiletpaper. Even mineralwater was hard to get! Then Kashgar! Streets full of foodstalls, markets loaded with vegetables, fruit and all kinds of strange animalparts, such as chickenfeet, dried salamanders, snakes and hundreds of spices in a thousand colors! And that’s only the market. Neonlight and skyscrapers Chinese style are also present. And food! Such tasty food! We love all the different tastes. It didn’t matter if we ate at fancy restaurant where we paid 170 yuan ( +/- 20 euro) or at small foodstall where we paid 90 cents, it all tastes great! And it still does.
In China there are people everywhere and they are curious! But it’s totally different from Iran. No-one speaks English so contact with the Chinese stays limited. Especially when we stop in villages for a meal. The Chinese look at us, point as us, giggle behind our back or smack at our face but the feel is different. Maybe it’s because they respect our private space more than the Iranians did. Or did we change? Did we? Is that the reason why we are laughing about the Chinese waitress who can’t help us because she just can’t stop giggling with her colleague because there are two white people in front of her who can’t speak a word of Chinese! How did that happen?!
Oh, did we just say it was difficult to get into contact with Chinese people? Especially in villages? Well, we’ve got news for you! We are staying in a small hotel in a small town without a name (of course it has a name but we cannot read the Chinese karakters) and just had a talk with half the village. Maarten had to drink bottles of beer with all the men present and was asked to sing a song at the karaokestage ten times. (Line is the better singer of us two but Maarten wasn’t allowed to tell that fact to the crowd.) Among the people were some teachers from the local primary school, including the headmaster. Some of them speak some English. He invited us to visit his school tomorrow. An invitation with we are very happy to accept because Line is a teacher herself and it will be a great story for the children back home who are following our travel on our website.
So it’s back to school for us!
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We hope that by reading our website we can make you feel part of the adventure.
We are always ready to serve for you with all sincerity.
The Marco velo team
p.s. We have understanding you can get a belly of beer, but have you ever heard of ordering a bottom of wine? We did!
The Pamir Highway
If there’s a story to be told about the Pamir highway it has to be a story in pictures. Have a look at our photo album wich tells more than a thousand words. It gives a nice impression about the beautifull scenery and the rough roads we had now and then. It was hard work but worth Line had some minor problems with the altitude the first day we came above 3500 meters in the Pamir. Just a little wobbly on her feet and a little headache. But a good night of sleep was enough to deal with that. As we climbed higher (the highest pass was 4655 meters high!) it was all fine. You just get out of breath real fast. The bikes are holding up perfectly, amazing if you see the long decends we had now and then. Not even a flat tire after Iran. Can you believe that? Maarten now didn’t had a flat tire during the entire journey. Wich is 12.000 km now. So he better knocks on wood.
Due to the poor food you get on the Pamir we both had some days where,….. how shall we put this, our shit wasn’t quite up to Western standard. And that’s not really convenient when your cycling. Yeah, you must have got the picture by now; Us squatting in a ditch near the road. Luckily the Pamir is so remote that you have all the time in the world….We know that you don’t talk about these kind of things, especially not on your website for the entire world to read. But talking about our bowel movements has became a daily routine. We even go as far as talking it over with other cyclist we met half an hour ago. In detail! Colour, consistancy, smell etc. We found it makes some interesting conversation.
Maarten got robbed by the Tadhik customs at the bordercrossing with Kyrgyzstan. They pulled a smart trick separating him from his bag in witch he kept his wallet and when he came back the wallet was empty. About a 150 euros of gone… (All the Tadzhik sumonies we still had and some dollars we wanted to change into Kyrgyz sum). But we only found out when we where 60 km away from the border. Not that it would be anything different if we found out immediatly. Hi there mister officer, I just noticed that you robbed me of my money. Can I have it back please? Otherwise I have to press charges.
It’s one of those moments where you can just think: Shit happens. We were glad that they only took our money and didn’t take bank- or creditcards.
A can of Russian sardines
Dushanbe is the capital of Tajikistan and we stay here for a while because we are waiting for a permit and need to take a big breath before we will cycle the Pamir highway. That is the main attraction to cyclist around here because of the beauty of the landscape and the challenge it provides.
We have been cycling around Dushanbe for a while looking for the notoriously hard to find Adventurers inn, but now we are in the neighbourhood. We ask a local girl for directions since al we see is a purely residential neighbourhood. Nothing to suggest there is anything of interest for tourists here. She takes us to a small door in a high wall. When we open the door there’s a surprise. We look upon a courtyard with at least 8 tents and much more cycles standing around. There is not a lot of room so the tents stand close to each other. It’s a mishmash of camping and cycling gear. We immediately feel at home and we meet a group of people with some magical atmosphere among them. “Does anyone needs something from the bazar?” “Have the Danish gone to the embassy? Hope the consul is in a better mood than yesterday.” “Has anyone seen the owner today?” “I wanted to work in the office on our blog but I don’t seem to have an internet connection, do you?” We have a couple of memorable nights together. One is called vodka night but the memories about that one are a bit blurred.
Some people come from the east giving important information about the Pamir, road conditions, camping possibilities and so on. There is also a group that is going towards the east and the Belgians, the Danish guys and the Swiss are all about to leave together with us.
Len, a 60 year-old from Scotland declares it the “race to Khorog’ awarding a Russian tin of sardines to whoever arrives there first. He cycled the Pamir and he laughs that the road to Khorog is the last place you want to hold a race on a bike with luggage. Everybody agrees that it should not be a race. Some even delay their leaving that morning by smoking a cigarette or two and having an elaborate breakfast.
We are the first to leave, not eager to win, but just ready to go, and we don’t see any of the others until long after. We wonder where they are very often always on the lookout for any of them, trying to predict where they are based on stories from other travellers, and our knowledge about the road.
When we arrive in Khorog there is no one from the Dushanbe group in the hostel except Ian from Canada who travels Central Asia in his 4×4. When he sees us he says he has a surprise for us. He goes to his car and takes out a can of Russian sardines. Thanks Len!
The sniper story
We’re in Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is a police state and here in Tashkent this is very visible. We get checked at the metro every time we enter. Sometimes even twice. We’re standing near a main street where lots of policemen are standing at every crossing. We know the South Korean president is visiting the city today and we suspect the main road will be closed of sometime today. We’re looking for an ATM machine to get some dollars. Banks send us to the big hotels in the city centre, and although we have a map we can’t find the right street. The policemen aren’t speaking enough English to give us directions so we’re looking for a person who can.
We approach a man who looks a bit western with its casual trousers and shirt. He carries a black bag, big enough for a musical instrument, or maybe a tennis racket. He can speak English and he bends over the map to help us. Then he stops and asks us to wait a moment. He tells other people to stop walking to the main street behind him. Now we can see the traffic came to a stand still all around us. Then the man walks to a tree, standing next to it to hide a bit from view looking alert. He zips open his bag and gets out a big rifle.
At the crossroads the South Korean president goes by in a flash of big black cars. After that the man puts away his rifle. As everything starts to move around us again he walks back toward us asking: So to which hotel did you want to go?