Welcome to China!

For our first morning in China, we returned to the noodle shop we visited the night before, to have another bowl of the best rice noodle dish we have had on our entire journey. It was especially yummy, and Becky took a picture of the noodle lady (although she did not smile). She remembered us from the night before and prepared our orders as before.

Arriving in China, a couple of things hit us immediately – it is much noisier here with cars and buses constantly using their horns, and young children belting out karaoke songs from loud speakers on the streets in order to make money. It is also much smellier here: the smells of burning coal, cooked meat, flowers, and human waste hit you separately and mixed together as travel through this country.

Upon investigating buses to Kunming, we learned that it was a 10-hour ride and that we could book beds in a sleeper bus that evening. We chose the 8 pm bus, and then headed out to find a place to hang out for the day. The weather wasn’t the greatest, with intermitted rain showers. We eventually made our way to Meimei café, which had free wireless Internet and a variety of western and local foods – oh ya, and an English menu and a couple of staff that spoke excellent English. They allowed us to place our bikes under an umbrella, and we found a dry seat under the veranda. We spent the whole day there eating and drinking a bottomless cup of Chinese tea.

Now, spending all day drinking tea before getting on a 10-hour bus ride where the bus does not have a toilet was not one of the brightest things we’ve done on this trip! Becky spent the first 2 hours of the bus ride in agony waiting for the bus to make its first pit stop. The sleeper buses do not have seats, rather they have three rows of pretty narrow beds. Laying down with a full bladder was not an option, so Becky propped up her bedding and sat listening to her ipod and waiting for the first stop. Unfortunately, the roads on the first section were really bumpy, which certainly did not help her predicament. When the bus stopped, Becky followed a Chinese girl to the ladies room (this became a pattern with every stop, Becky following the same person to find the ladies room). We officially vote the bus station / gas station toilets in China to the most disgusting we have ever seen! They were much worse than Syria and that says something! Part of the problem is that it appears that in the evenings / overnight they turn the water off, so there is no way to flush toilets. This of course does not stop the folks on buses with full bladders and runny bowels from doing their business, so needless to say, by 3 or 4 am the places are pretty gross. OK… enough about that, we think you get the picture.

After a long night on the bus, neither of us having slept particularly well, we were both exhausted when we arrived in Kunming. Now that we have done the long-distance sleeper bus in China, we’ll try to avoid that experience again. Hopefully, the train will be more restful, as we’ll have at least 38 hours on the train from Kunming to Beijing.

After arriving in Kunming, we quickly loaded our bike having gathered a large audience. We do get much bigger audiences here whenever we stop. It is common to have 20-30 people stand around the bikes gawking and asking us questions in some dialect of Chinese, and us having no clue what they are saying. With miming and our experiences so far, we gather the two most common questions in China are “Does it convert to a regular bike?” and “how much does it cost?” We expected riding on the streets in the city to be a lot more chaotic than it is. Both Jinghong and Kunming are not as busy as we expected, and as a result the riding hasn’t been that difficult. The biggest challenge is the roundabouts, because they have a bike lane on the outside, but cars and scooters completely ignore it, so you must be constantly watching for the guy that will cut you off as you go around. Once you are on a street, there is often a bike lane that is separated from the main road, so cars cannot access it, and most scooters avoid it. There are occasionally pedestrians which you much avoid, and slow moving bicycles, but for the most part it is an efficient way to travel through the city streets.

We found ourselves a nice three-star hotel on the main street close to the train station. We are amused at how all the hotels we have stayed at provide condoms in the room (either free or as part of the minibar). Our room here even has female condoms! Neither of us recall this from our previous business travel to China. We wonder if it is a combination of HIV/AIDS awareness and the one child per family program here in China.

The lady at the travel desk in our hotel spoke pretty good English, so we asked her to help us get train tickets. With the help of Yahoo translator, we were able to get most of our questions answered, and purchase tickets for the train leaving on Sunday at 8:43 pm. We purchased the most expensive class available, two bottom bunks in a soft sleeper. The soft sleepers are in 4-person cabins, so by purchasing the two lower bunks, we are more likely to have a cabin to ourselves. After our experience with the second class sleeper in Thailand, we knew we did not want upper bunks, as you don’t have anywhere to sit when the folks on the lower bunk are sleeping. Plus there are no windows visible from the upper bunk (at least on Thai trains).

We also learned that we must bring out bikes to “consignment” a day before. Here we will pay 5 CNY (about $1 CAD) per kilogram for baggage. We plan to ship both bikes and one large bag containing most of our panniers. Hopefully they will arrive in Beijing by the time we do!

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