May 01, 2002 GMT
How Pedestrian!

I'm still in Japan. Tomorrow, I head for Hong Kong, with a follow-on visit to Shenzhen, China to visit a company that has asked me to consider hanging up my helmet and consulting with them for a while after this tour is over. Little do they know I bought a BMW F650GS Dakar prior to leaving the States from the good folks at Ride West BMW in Seattle, WA, so that I'd have a smaller, "somewhat more nimble" adventure-tourer in the wings for future rides in the Americas, and maybe Africa! Helge, are you reading this (hint, hint)?

However, in the continuing flow of email leading up to our actual embarkation, the following gem of a thread manifested itself today. The "chat" is between our intrepid tour leader, Helge Pedersen, and Liu Lifeng, who works for the Chinese tour operator helping us with arrangements in China. To set the background, recall that Helge is perhaps best known for his excellent photo essay "10 Years On 2 Wheels" - a chronicle of his remarkable 10 year, 250,000 mile solo ride throughout 77 countries on his BMW motorcycle. Here is a verbatim cut and paste of email between Liu and Helge:


Liu Lifeng: We have got the number plates for all the bikes, but for the driving license, all of you are requested by the authority to take an exam on computer in English about some traffic regulations. The exam will take about 1 hour. We could not persuade the authority not to do this. So we might arrange this exam on 9th in the morning. There are only about 6 computers, so 12 of you will take 2 hours in total for the exam. That's all so far. See you. Best regards Liu Lifeng


Helge Pedersen: Liu, please let me know if there is any way that we need to prepare for this test. I would hate to have some of the people fail the test :-( It could be me and I would have to walk. Helge P.


Liu Lifeng: Dear Helge, I think none of you will fail the exam, don't worry. From my understanding, the exam is not difficult and maybe they only wanted to charge us some money, so if we pay, you will get the license. But everyone has to take the exam. If you fail, you can write a new book - One Month in China on Two Feet. Liu


And, although it has nothing to do with the journey, or the above, I've set a goal to try and include at least one image in every update. As I leave the land of ramen, wacky AC adapters, and in truth, the land of my birth (I was born in Yokohama), a final parting image of Aoyagi Risako-chan, in ceremonial finery, and a cultural lesson:


[Risako-chan is the daughter of my kind and incredibly generous hosts in Japan, the Aoyagi family - here she is in her ceremonial finery for "Shichi-Go-San" - the cultural lesson is below.]

Shichi-Go-San - the literal translation is "7-5-3". As was common throughout the world long ago, Japan suffered a high infant mortality rate. I recall once hearing that children weren't even named for a number of days after their birth, in case they didn't make it throught the first critical days of life.

Shichi-Go-San is a celebration of life. When girls are 3 and 7, and boys 3 and 5, the tradition was to dress them in the finery of the times, and have the family visit a temple near the place of their birth to thank the local gods for the children's continued good health. This ancient custom is still observed today. So, a picture of a VERY serious Risako-chan, dressed in her kimono, captured with a Nikon digital camera, tweaked with software running on a Fujitsu laptop, uploaded to this BLOG via the world wide web - a perfect blend of the old and new that very much mirrors Japan today.

Posted by Mike Paull at 09:35 AM GMT
May 02, 2002 GMT
Don't We Want to Go the Other Way?

Sometimes, reality surpasses even the most gifted author's attempt at fiction. For me, the Globerider's tour starts and ends in Seattle, WA - a WESTBOUND circumnavigation of the globe by plane, bus, and motorcycle (the latter of course, predicated on our passing our Chinese driver's license test, otherwise, it will be a journey by plane, bus, and ... foot!).

Today, we flew from Narita, Japan on Japan Airlines flight no. 733, bound for Hong Kong. From Hong Kong, we took a bus to Shenzhen, China. Imagine how bemused I was to discover the name of the bus line servicing this route - their ticket counter sign is shown below - I'm not making this up:


[I really hope they have bathrooms on their buses....]

I can only hope they don't own a hotel chain - could you imagine checking into the "Eternal Rest Hotel"?

Posted by Mike Paull at 02:44 PM GMT
May 04, 2002 GMT
Crouching Tiger, Blatant Bok Choy

Upon its return to the mainland Chinese government, Hong Kong became a special administrative zone. Entry rules are a little more lax (for foreigners at any rate). For instance, a US citizen can enter Hong Kong without a visa as it maintains participation in the visa waiver program, but, a visa is required to enter Shenzhen from Hong Kong. I had no problems at passport control, but the customs offical came scrambling out of her office when the two boxes containing all of my gear (see the log entry of April 23, 2002 - What Have I Forgotten ?, further below) went throught the security X-ray. I wasn't able to see the scanner's screen, but obviously there was a wealth of REALLY WEIRD STUFF that SHE had never seen before.

Since I could comprehend none of the torrent of Chinese being directed at me, I was fully prepared to go through the pain of having both meticulously packed boxes rudely opened, and their contents put to the most thorough scrutiny, resulting in a highlighted note of "possible subversive" entered into my immigration file. Fortunately, our Chinese host came to my rescue, and after a protracted exchange, I was let through unscathed. Nonetheless, the expression on her face made it clear she didn't believe for a millisecond that I was actually going to ride a motorcycle through her Middle Kingdom.

Like many of the emerging supercities in China, Shenzhen shows a jarringly modern face to the casual observer. Rather than uploading cityscapes that you can see from any postcard, I include two pictures of ....... vegetables. The first is a stunning example of what one can do with a giant carrot, a good knife, and a lot of time:


[I'm proud to present, Crouching Tiger.]

And, continuing the pun on the popular Chinese movie, may I also present:


[Blatant Bok Choy.]

At first, I couldn't fathom what a monster"statue" of a common member of the lettuce (cabbage?) family was doing resting on its side in the middle of a small park. Then, I noticed that it stood proudly in front of the Shenzhen Buji Agricultural Products Central Wholesale Market - apparently the largest of its kind in China (the market, that is, I suspect the same is true for the bok choy). It all makes a weird kind of sense. The thing is huge though - you can barely make out part of a freight truck in the background to get a scale of its size.

And, today's parting thought - in the hotel mini-bar, a 300ml bottle of Evian mineral water is RMB28 (RMB 8 = USD 1.00), a 300ml can of Tsingtao Beer is RMB20. Brushing your teeth with Tsintao's finest will be a great way to wake-up in the morning, and save some RMB to boot!

Posted by Mike Paull at 06:26 PM GMT
May 05, 2002 GMT
Hello, How Mao You?

I don't plan on flooding your mailbox with a daily update. Once we're underway, I suspect one or two a week is all I'll be able to manage. However, since I'm "idling" right now awaiting the arrival of the rest of the Globriders on 08 May, I'm practicing the creation and upload of these BLOGs in the shortest possible editing and on-line time. Several of you have asked what tools I'm using to do these, so first, a rambling "tech talk", then, an explanation of the bizzarre title of this update. If the BLOG process and tools are of no interest to you, scroll down to the start of the images - you'll get a kick out of the first one at any rate:

- To take the pictures, I'm using a Nikon Coolpix 990 digital camera, many of them taken using the wide-angle adapter designed for the series. The 990 has WAY more features than I know how to use, so I mainly use it in "full-auto" mode
becuase I forgot the operating manual at home. OK - actually, I remembered to bring it, but couldn't find it before I left ;<( These are transferred to my notebook PC using a Kingston Technologies 128MB PC Card flash memory card and adapter which jacks right into the notebook's Type II PC Card slot.

- In order to keep from bloating the server these BLOG images are stored on, I "downsize" the 2048 x 1536 images the Nikon captures to a smaller 330 x 248 size recommended by the host site using an ancient but legal copy of LVPro View 1/2B (image editing software). To show what a Luddite I am, this software was originally written for 386 PC's running under Windows(R) 3.1 becuase I'm too lazy and cheap to learn and purchase PhotoShop(R).

- In order to minimize my on-line time, I "compose" the text in another venerable piece of software - Microsoft(R) Notepad! The BLOG software that the images and text will ultimately be uploaded to likes super dumbed-down text, and Notepad is about as "raw" a text editor as you can find. Please note that Notepad doesn't have a spell-checker, and I'm also too lazy to transfer the text in and out of Word, so, my failure to win spelling bees when in elementary will manifest itself at times.

- The notebook PC I'm using is a Fujitsu Lifebook S-Series with an Intel(R) Pentium(R) III running at 800MHz, 256MB of RAM, a 30GB hard disk, and dual batteries. It weighs in at just 3 lbs. and has a magnesium case, both important features in my "buy" decision. The PC is running Windows XP which has been rock-solid stable since installation.

- My link to the world is Roam International, a global ISP that has points of presence (dial-up, local access numbers) in around 155 countries provided via iPass and the iPass dialer utility. They had dial-up numbers for China, Russia, and Slovenia which were the "acid test" for this trip. So far, it has worked everyplace I've been, virtually the first time. I can't recommend them highly enough!

- Finally, with the images sized, text completed, and connection established, I upload the images and text into the Movable Type(R) 1.0 BLOG (weB LOGging) software hosted on the Horizons Unlimited BLOG site. Grant and Susan Johnson provide this service free of charge! The software allows me to generate a mail list, upload and edit the new update, then automatically send a notification to all members of the list. The result is what you're reading right now. Cool stuff! Once everything is ready, it takes about 15 minutes of on-line time to upload and do a final preview and edit of the update (well, on a good day anyway).

OK - enough of that, what's with the "Mao Are You?" title? I believe the image below will answer that question most eloquently:


[I'm sure a giant, stern bust in cast bronze was what he would have hoped for, but, he should rest assured that these little jewels generate far wider exposure. The "Waiving Hello Chairman Mao" watches were sold in dozens of small tourist
traps that we passed in Shanghai. If you look carefully at the image, you might be able to discern The Chairman's raised hand is in a slightly different position on each watch - Chairman Mao waving once a second for eternity on hundreds of wrists throughout the world - who could ask for anything more?]

And, I couldn't help myself. Although the skies have been overcast since my arrival, the following two images capture the"looking backward and looking forward" nature of Shanghai today. Both pictures were taken down in The Bund area on the HuangPu River:


[The Present and Future Shanghai on the HuangPu River.]

And by virutally pivoting 180 degrees, the other face of Shanghai:


[The historically significant and preserved skyline of The Bund. But, that tower in the middle, Burger King Shanghai's corporate headquaters or what?]

These two ladies, Mei Mei on the left, and Ying Fang on the right, were amazing in their ability to negotiate the price of almost any purchase, tried on at least 300 pairs of shoes when we toured the shopping district, and, I'm in Ying Fang's eternal debt for her insuring we ordered Schezuan-Style Braised Fish with Spring Onions and Chiles instead of Steamed Silkworm Larvae in Oyster Sauce (the latter actually on the menu at a place I had dinner at!)


[Two sisters, Mei Mei and Ying Fang posing with yours truly - there's one in every crowd, no matter what country you're in.]

Posted by Mike Paull at 03:53 PM GMT
May 06, 2002 GMT
A Latte a Day Won't Keep the Bullets Away....

Today I spent the day being a tourist at Yuan Gardens (aka Yu Gardens). If the Bund is where all the foreigners go, then Yuan is where most Chinese seem to spend the day if the crowds were any indication. But before immersing ourselves in culture, we immersed ourselves in caffine as any good Seattlelite should:


[My best friend, and best man, Ted Aoyagi, and I, getting immersed in the Seattle version of a "Tall One" before our tour of Yuan Gardens.]

Unlike some of their brethren in the West, these Buddhists monks seem to have their priorities straight, and were relaxing at the table next to us. They insisted on having their picture taken with me.


[Obviously, not afraid to have their picture published....]

We then exchanged cards, and in return for mine, I received this:


[A good luck card with the teachings of Buddha etched on the back. Only a "small" donation was required in return. I will admit that their card was much more impressive than mine. Given that the "24K" gold seems to be rusting on the back, I think they got the better end of the deal (since, they got that nice "donation", which would buy the whole group lattes for the next few days!). I was assured that placing this charm in my wallet would cause great wealth to flow into it. More on this as it occurs (but, I wouldn't hold your breath).]

And, although the two indoor images above look like a corporate Starbucks anywhere in the world, the external packaging here is certainly not the same:



Rather than giving a tour narrative, I'll let the pictures speak for themsevles. Yuan Gardens is pretty cool, if you can ignore the fact that everything except the actual structures and plants seem to be for sale:






And, a final image for the day. After the peace and harmony of the Gardens, these trinkets seemed a bit out of place. I guess we should cheer the fact that they wound-up used in a manner entirely unintended by the original manufacturer, although the theme is depressingly the same:



Posted by Mike Paull at 01:23 PM GMT
May 08, 2002 GMT
A Close Shave!

Today, the Globeriders begin arriving in Shanghai. Helge Pedersen, Sterling Noren, James Hay, James Harding, David Stafford and John Shelton depart Vancouver, BC, on Air Canada. Roy Cox and Frederick (Rick) Wetzel depart San Francisco on United Airlines. Ian Wood arrives from Bangkok, David Wilde from Hong Kong, Michael Matthews and Bryan Clague from "parts unknown". I look forward to meeting many of my fellow travelers for the first time. Since most of them won't arrive until later this afternoon, I'll rewind to yesterday....

My fourth day in Shanghai. After three days of feeling like a tourist, on day four, I felt like an expatriate. Ted and I spent the day hitting a shopping mall, shot some pool in an outrageously ornate but smoke-filled "health club, had a fiery dinner at a Shichuan restaurant, a few beers at a karaoke bar, and called it a day. Since the high points of the day were lunch and dinner - let's talk about food!

Those who know me will confirm that I love international cuisine, in copious portions. My wife, Aillene, is an excellent cook, as is my mother. All of my family worked in the "food service" business at one time or another. My brother is a graduate of the CIA (that would be the Culinary Institue of America in Hyde Park, New York). I enjoy cooking myself, and we often entertain at home. When we have time for watching TV, my favorite show is Anthony Bourdain's "A Cook's Tour" on the Food Channel. China is a "foodie" heaven. The Chinese have been traders and merchants since long before Marco Polo's journey, and brought a wealth of spices, cooking techniques and styles back to the Middle Kingdom. On the flight over, the on-board magazine had an article on Chinese cooking - it contained a great quote - "The Chinese eat anything that points its spine to the sky". Good thing that our branch of the vertebrate family learned to walk upright early on!

There are restaurants here that seat thousands of people, with portions of the parking lot reserved for buses filled with eager patrons. Imagine the frenetic chaos that must reign in a kitchen where the most important goal is to get each dish (and there are many) to the table at its peak of freshness and flavor? The menus go on for page after page, and ordering is a long and complicated affair that sounds, to the untrained ear, like the prelude to a fist-fight. The notion of a romantic, hushed dinner here it totally foreign. The dining rooms are huge, brilliantly lit, with tables that seat 16 people, and a continual torrent of noise, laughter and happy conversation. I could fill volumes detailing the fine dining we've enjoyed, but, I find the food halls far more intruiging as the subject for a short photo essay.

Let me note that I've been in all manner of eating establishments in Mexico, Israel, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, Korea, Germany, Italy, France, Great Britain, Ireland, and Italy. So far, the only place I've ever suffered the trials of "Montezuma's Revenge" has been in the States - three times, all at fast food restaurants, which explains my aversion to anyplace that asks - "Would you like to super-size that?" I hope my good fortune overseas continues. The "fast food" here is plentiful, cheap (by US standards), and comes in a stomach-boggling variety of smells, colors, textures, and ingredients. You've read enough, below are some few shots from the food hall at the Carrefour's shopping complex in Shanghai. But first a single-shot lesson in dining etiquette:


[I don't know if this custom was picked up from the British, or something that evolved internally; at the table in China, the proper way to place your napkin is oriented like a baseball diamond (as opposed to "square" to your lap), with "home plate" in your lap, and "third base" up on the table held in place with a small plate. Makes a lot of sense really, but, extreme caution should be excercised when picking-up "home plate" to wipe your mouth, else you will score a "home run" of sauce, food, and cooking in your lap!]

And now, the food hall at a shopping mall. These are common in every country I've visited to far in Asia, although in Japan, they tend to take the form of a floor of restaurants, as opposed to an open food circus:







[The meal on the left costs about USD$1.90, the one on the left $2.40. Inexpensive by our standards, but, probably not to the average factory worker here, who earns around $150.00/month]

I saw a crowd around one of the kiosks - the universal sign of a good place to eat. As it turned out, they were watching a master at work shaving noodles into a giant steaming wok. Guess what I had for lunch?


[First, the dough is pulled, folded, and pulled again and again to bring out the gluten and make it nice and elastic.]


[Then, its rolled into a loaf, from which the noodles will be shaved.]


[The action begins. You can see the target in the lower left, a wok the size of a cauldron, where all good noodles go.]


[Even close-up, you can see he's workng so fast, his hands are literally a blur of motion. He's using a knife with a blade the size of a paper-back novel.]


[I finally had to resort to a flash to catch this single airborne noodle flying to its fate. You can barely make it out - that white curl in the lower left. The portions were huge - it took him about 10 seconds to shave enough for one bowl, yet from what I could see, all his digits were intact.]


Posted by Mike Paull at 05:45 AM GMT
May 11, 2002 GMT
Only From Failure Can Success Be Achieved!


LAT: N31.19031 LON: E121.35405


yihe hotel shanghai.jpg

[Hotel Yihe Longbai in Shanghai, China]



[7,343 air miles so far on Northwest, Japan, and China Eastern airlines, and not a single road mile driven yet.]



Today, the Globeriders are together for the first time, thus, I consider the tour officially started, and I'm going to change the format a bit. You'll note I'm starting off with the LAT//LON (Latitude/Longitude) of our current location or "waypoint", followed by a map showing that location. Next, is a second map showing the actual path or "track" that we've driven since the last update. The track is automatically generated by my Garmin MAP 176 handle-bar mounted portable GPS (Global Positioning System), and uploaded to my PC at the end of the day. This is followed by a few "stats" on the trip.

So why a statistic on AA batteries? So glad you asked, as that brings us to Today's Travel Tip! When selecting my battery operated widgets for the tour, I tried to take only those that used the commonly available AA-size disposable battery. That way, I only had to carry one size of spares, and if one widget goes dead (like the Nikon 990 digital camera, which seems to consume batteries at a prodigious rate), I can always swap batteries out of something else as a last resort. I know its not "green". I did investigate rechargable cells, but couldn't find a universal 110v-240V charger that didn't require a bunch of different wall transformers and/or adapters. Plus, the recharge times are too long. I did pretty well - my alarm clock, two flashlights, digital camera and GPS all use AA's.

Two goals were paramount on today's itinerary: (a). getting our Chinese driver's licenses, and (b). finding out the status of our motorcycles, which were last seen sealed into 40 foot China Shipping container in Tukwila, Washington, USA.

It was with great alarm that we learned prior to leaving Seattle we would be required to take an examination for our Chinese driver's licenses. No study manual in English was available, although we were assured the test itself would be in English. We hustled onto our tour bus and went to the testing place:


[Our first brush with Chinese officialdom. The testing bureau in Shanghai.]


[Helge pretending like he actually knows what he is doing. We were told the test would take about an hour - I don't think anyone spent more than 8 minutes.]

What a fine group of driving students were were. Every single one of us failed the test! Before you start with the disparaging comments, here's my best recollection of one of my questions:

You are involved in an accident involving injury to some persons or damages to property or business establishment. Although this matter has been presented to the People's Proceuratary Court for relevent consideration, an ending judgement is not to be obtained in the amount of judgement time stipulated by the govering regulation. It is likely that you would have not been at fault for the accident, but in such a situation, and in consideration of your obligations, you should:

(a). Pay 10% of the potential amount of damages resulting from such accident.

(b). Pay 30% of the potential amount of damages resulting from such accident.

(c). Pay 50% of the potential amount of damages resulting from such accident.

Bear in mind we had no study materials available. Having failed the test, we were nonetheless issued driver's licenses. We all suspect that this was simply a clever ploy to gain some hard currency, as examination fees were invovled, and to also insure that we were properly humbled before being allowed to run amok in the Middle Kingdom. First hurdle passed, on to find the bikes.

To make a long story short, we had apparently not been humiliated enough by having failed our driver's exam. The next 8 hours were spent riding in the bus from freight office, to custom's office, back to the freight office, over to the forwarding office, and round and round again. Yes, the container had arrived on 05 MAY, right on schedule. But, so sorry, one of your documents is missing. We also found out that the two bikes shipped from Australia over a month earlier had failed to arrive, the freighter they were on having been delayed a week in Singapore. It was a subdued group that returned to the hotel that evening.


Once again, we boarded our bus, and spent the better part of the morning and early afternoon running around tracking down documents and forms. To cut to the chase, the Globeriders (well, 10 of us anyway, the Australian bikes are still clearing customs) are MOTORIZED:


[I can't imagine how any more people could have been involved in opening a simple container. Uniformed officials kept appearing, a ominous mini-bus with police markings arrived and disgorged more uniforms. I'll bet former President Bush didn't have this much brass surrounding his visit here this week.]


[With all the officialdom, we expected the worst, and had no idea what was coming next. SUddenly, a cheerful yard worker appeared with the bolt cutters as long as he was tall, and the super-high-tech security seal applied by the US Custom's people in Seattle was unceremoniouslysheared off.]


[As the doors swung open, our guide, Mr. Wu, suddenly ran in front and raised his arm. I thought that some sort of blessing ceremony was about to take place. In fact, he was waving us back from the blast of gas fumes than eminated from the container.]


[The Globerider fleet, minus 2.]


[Helge, Sterling and I had spent the better part of the day on 16 APR loading the bikes and securing them for shipment. The conatiner was unloaded in about 10 minutes once we got the first bike out. This is all it took, some 2x4's, nails, and four straps per bike.]


[Mission accomplished - a German-made motorcyle, shipped from America, weighing-in at almost 900cc's OVER the legal displacement allowed, properly licensed for operation in the People's Republic of China! ]


[A very smug (and relieved!) Yours Truly, at the Shanghai container yard.]

Our first stop was at a gas station. We were supposed to ship the bikes with less than a gallon of fuel in the tank. This poor pump attendant couldn't beleive how much gas was going into my tank. It holds a little over 10 gallons/41 liters, probably more than many cars in China. She kept shutting off the pump. I kept urging her to keep filling:


Our ride back to the hotel was unbelievable. TO say that we attracted attention was a massive understatement. In front, we had our "guide" car, the tour mini-bus, running with all flashers on. We drove in staggered formation behind. Our chase car, also with flashing lights, brought up the rear. This is the ONLY way we are allowed to drive our bikes. No one is allowed to ride alone, or without the two vehicles present. All 22 days in China will be driven like this, and the maximum speed limit for us will be around 45 MPH. Everyone was staring at us. Cars honked, would pull up to look at one bike, accelerate to the next, slow down to check it out, and so on, right down the line.

Traffic police were at most of the major intersections. We were waived through every red light. As we approached one intersection, a turn lane materialzed to our left. Three vehicles were waiting for the light to turn green. Coming up behind was a mini-van, paying more attention to us than to what was ahead. He paid dearly. Like a scene from "Speed II", we heard the screech of rubber on pavement, the unmistakable crunch of steel smashing into concrete, and the mini-van hit the divider, shot vertically, rotated over the car in front, miraculously missing the other two, and landed on its roof. We were waived on though.

Less than 15 minutes later, all properly formed up on the expressway, the whole caravan was pulled over by a police car, lights flashing, loudspeaker blaring in rapid Shanghainese. Motorcycles are apparently not allowed on any expressway in China, unless it is the only way across a river. Then, they may use the far right lane, but must take the first exit after crossing. I guess our mini-bus driver and caravan leader decided to push his luck, with the result of one bus, 10 bikes, and a chase car pulled over in rush-hour traffic. I can just hear the conversation that ensued - "I don't have any idea officer. Of course, we did nothing wrong as a bus in allowed on the expressway. These nefarious foreign devils have been following us all day. I hope that you can go back there and convince them to return to wherever they came from."

I guess the patrolman didn't feel up to the task. With a lot of shouting and hand-waving, he made it clear we were to get off the expressway immediately, but let us resume. We made it back to the hotel without further mishap. 39 liters of gas, one accident, and a police incident on our first day. This tour has just become an adventure!

Posted by Mike Paull at 12:08 AM GMT
May 13, 2002 GMT
The Globeriders find Silk on the Road (but, not, unfortunately the Silk Road).


LAT: N32.08555 LON: E118.79480



[The New Century Hotel in Nanjin, China.]



[Shanghai to Nanjin via Suzhou, 205 miles.]



As I write this, we're in Nanjin, China, capital of Jiangsu province, and the final resting place of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, the founding father of the Chinese democratic republic. SUn Yat Sen successfully led a revolution which ended the reign of the Chinese emporers. It's actually 1:00AM the morning of the 12th. We have to hit the road on our way to Xuzhou this morning at 7:30AM, just a few short hours of sleep from now, but, BLOG geek that I've become, I'm prepping the files for my next update.

We left Shanghai yesterday morning. Our two Aussie friends from down under are still sans motorcycles. Their bikes are here, but they didn't clear Customs before the work week ended on FRI. They're hoping to get the bikes on TUE and catch up with us. We started out the morning in the parking lot behind the hotel, readying for our first road march. Helge gave us a briefing, then, we parked the bikes in a semi-circle for a photo shoot.


[The Globeriders motorcycles, parked for a "photo op".]

Driving in China is like playing Death Race 2000 at warp speed, and the stakes are about as high as you can get. The traffic here is not the worst I've driven in, that award goes to Manila, Philippines, where my lovely and understanding wife, Aillene and I have a vacation home. In Manila, there are no rules, but the sheer density of the traffice there results in continual gridlock, where fender benders, and not fatalities, are the norm. China may have the world's largest population, but per capita car ownership is extremely low. You'd think this would be a good thing, but, fewer cars means higher speeds, and we see three or four serious accidents a day. You must develop a completely different mindset here. One needs to be super alert, have good situational awareness, and be able to predict the actions of others around you. Everyone assumes they have right-of-way. The key is to maintain your momentumn. That truck driver isn't going to slow down for you, but knows that if you keep your speed up, he'll miss you by the requisite 12 inches - if you slow down or hestitate, you're going to center-punch him. And if you don't have a horn, you better park your vehicle.... So far, we've not had one mishap, but then again, we're only 200+ miles into a 11,000 journey.

We stopped for lunch at a silk factory, where the staff was kind enough to put on a Fashion show after another of the endless series of "round table" meals we've been enjoying- this motorcycle adventuring is hard work!


Our biggest problem to date has been the crowds we attract anywhere we stop. The people here have an insatiable curiosity. Whether it's at a gas station, a quick road-side stop to make small repairs or adjustments, or simply parking at a restaurant, people, parents with children, taxi drivers and local merchants will appear. If no one was around when we stopped, literally hundreds of people will soon be milling around smiling, asking questions we can't understand, and generally having a good time checking us out. It's hard to get used to. For instance, at one stop, I had to pull something out of one of my panniers. To get to it, I had to take out my walking shoes and put them in the seat. They were immediately snatched up by someone, and then passed around. Everyone scrutinzed them most closely, judged the fit and finish of the materials, and would them return them to me with a big grin and the universal "thumbs up" sign indicating that they had passed the scrutiny of some of the world's most savvy merchants and consumers. Anything we do is watched with microscopic intensity. People want to touch the riding suits and helmets we wear, poke at the switches on the bikes, and are endlessly fascinated with our gear - digital cameras of all makes, exotic tools and parts, the amazing GPS systems, and the bikes and riders themselves. I've never once felt threatened, or, worried that something might disappear - it's possible that we're the most interesting thing that's happened in a while at the small towns we stop in. Our guides told us that many of these people have probably never been far from the town of their birth, have seen few is any foreigners, and most certainly have never seem bikes likes ours. I now know that "BMW" in Chinese is sounded out something along the lines of "Bao Mah"!


[A small group of "quality inspectors" at a gas stop.]


[I'm not making this up. When we stopped by the road, there was no one here. After 15 minutes, there were easliy over 200 people, and the crowd had spilled over into the street blocking traffic trying to get through. This scene is repeated everywhere we go.]

We made it to Nanjin, frazzled by traffic and crowds, but unscathed. Some night shots of another beautiful city in China:




[I won't eat there, but even the Golden Arches have a special glow in Nanjin at night.]

And, a great and wondefully appropriate closing shot for today's log. Rick Wetzel hails from Oregon, and rides a BMW "air-head" motorcycle. He obviously has a whimsical streak - check out this fine "hood ornament" carefully velcro'd to his front fender. Globerider indeed!


Posted by Mike Paull at 02:11 PM GMT
Let There Be Light!

MONDAY 13 MAY, 2002

LAT:N34.25002 LON:E117.18950



[Nanjiao Hotel, Xuzhou, China.]


Much to my disappointment, fatigue has finally caught up with me. Somehow, I managed to delete today's track in generating the image for this update ;<(



Another fine rider and friend of mine, Dale Oliver in Fayetteville, Arkansas, emailed me a great quote that we heard on a backroads motorcycle trip we shared up in British Columbia a couple of years ago - "An Adventure is a vacation gone horribly wrong...."

No disaster has visited us yet, but yesterday, we all learned a valuable lesson, Read The Owner's Manual! Globerider Jim Hay hails from Atlanta, Georgia, and is the most upbeat, generous person you could hope to meet. An experienced rider and owner of several motorycycles, he chose to bring the capable BMW F650 Funduro on this trip. Immediately upon taking delivery of his bike here in China, he found that his taillight, headlight, and driving lights were out. Long story short, three of us spent the entire day yesterday working on his bike to troubleshoot the problem. After a good six hours of taking the bike down to it's frame and wiring harness, we were stumped, hot, sweaty, and frustrated, and had parts and tools strewn all over the parking lot of the hotel (along with a steady train of well-wishers and passers-by who stood to watch and comment on our progress (or, lack thereof)).

We had reached that agonizing stage when all has failed, and we might as well start putting things back together - I hate to leave a problem unsolved. As I was dazing at the bike, I saw an unusual switch on the right-hand handlebar control cluster, the like of which I've never seen before. A horizontal slide switch, it had little international light symbols above its detents. More out of idle curiosity than anything else, I asked "Hey Jim, what's that switch for?" His expression, priceless, as he must have immediately glommed on to the fact that this might be the cause of the problem - "I don't know, I've never seen that switch before. Where did that come from!" Since we had nothing to lose, I picked up the headlight assembly, and hooked it up. Jim turned on the ignition, and we slid the weird switch from the "dot" position to the "under a symbol for a light position", and, voila! Let there be light! And guess what? Sure enough, right there in the Owner's Manual was a note indicating the switch's function - to turn off the headlight. To be fair, the note also had BOLD TYPE indicating that the switch was only on European models, as all motorcycles sold in the United States must be designed such that their headlights cannot be turned off. Jim had ridden the bike from Atlanta to the shipping point in Seattle, and had never touched the switch. We figured that it must have been moved in the frenzy of unloading the container, when we had to muscle the bikes out by grabbing the handlebar and rear grab bars to turn them around. Read the manual. Check to connectors. Keep it simple. Lessons to be learned. Nice that we can all laugh about it now.

On the ride to Xuzhou, our guides wisely decided to stop at a small, roadside restaurant for lunch so that we wouldn't attract a crowd and have difficulty escaping afterwards. The Roadhouse on the way to Xuzhou is the subject of today's photo essay. To date, we'd been dining in large, well-appointed, virtually opulent restaurants, this was a fascinating and perfect change of venue for what was now offically an Adventure:


[The quintessential Chinese Roadhouse - dirt parking lot, no running water, rooms for let, pigs for sale, vegetables grown out back.]


[The cook's pantry and larder greeted us on the way in. Yes, those eels in the lower left are definately on the menu!]


[As I noted earlier, ordering is always an involved and heated affair. Our entire contigent of guides and drivers, headed-up by the ever affable Mr. Wu, all crowded in to the tiny kitchen to plan the menu.]


[They finally settled on 10 dishes, all of which were cooked on this two-burner propane stove.]


[Here is the cook's entire prep station and counter-space.]


[The results were fantastic! Rustic is the best description for the decor, but no one walked away hungry, and of course, a small crowd started to gather in the background in spite of our best efforts at "low profile".]


[East meets West - I had my notebook PC out to show some photos, but the owner had one up on me, his doesn't need batteries.]

Posted by Mike Paull at 04:20 PM GMT
May 15, 2002 GMT
A Road Less Travelled


LAT:N36.66594 LON:E117.03069



[The Zhonghao Grand Hotel in Jinan, China.]



[Xuzhou to Jinan, China, 230 miles in 1 day.]



Today finds us in Jinan, China, the capital city of Shandong Province and home to about 2 million people. Our itinerary claims that Jinan in also known as the "City of Springs" due to more than 100 bubbling natural springs in the area. They should rename it "The City of 100 Potholes" as all of them have apparently left Middle Kingdom en masse, and moved to the The Celestial Kingdom - we've been driving in solid rain for the last two road days.

The Globeriders are a well-disciplined group. Everyone has shown up for the morning pack and road march routine on time. But, things happen - just as we were ready to pull out yesterday, Rick discovered he had a flat tire. Helge had the tire off in minutes. Rick pulled out a set of three TITANIUM tire irons! The tube was replaced, and normally, we would expend about 350 to 400 strokes with a hand-pump to re-inflate the tire to get the bead seated. With great pride, I pulled out the USD$10.00 12V tire pump that I had purchased and modified prior to the trip based on a "how-to" article I found on the Horizon's Unlimited website. All BMW GS motorycles are equipped with a 12V accessory outlet. Once again, we had a crowd of admiring on-lookers watching as we wheeled the repaired wheel over to my bike, plugged in the pump, flipped a switch and Voila! Let there be air!

The pump was a standard, cheap widget purchased from Wal-Mart. Of course, it came from China. The plastic cases were removed and tossed, the air hose shortened, the switch bolted directly to the pump housing, and cigarette lighter adapter removed and replaced with a BMW accessory plug. The whole thing is about the size of a 2" thick passport, and I assure you, that $10.00 purchase was "priceless" on a rainy morning in China with 9 other riders ready and waiting to get underway:


[How to make a $10 tire pump priceless by throwing most of it away.]

The Chinese officials continue to punish us for all failing our driving tests by making us drive in Chinese traffic ;<) It was a very different group of riders that set out on our 2nd full day of driving yesterday, then that which first left the freight yard where we took delivery of our bikes. On day one, the group was disorganized, bewildered by the chaotic traffic, and extremely hesitant to cut in front of anyone. We kept doing stupid things like stopping for pedestrians and red lights. We foolishly beleived that that blinker actually meant something. We were uncomfortable to sound our horns.

Amazing what a difference one day can make. First, a word on traffic lights. The big cities have all-new infrastructure. Bright LED-powered signals exist at major interserctions. Also, on each signal arm, there is a large numeric LED display which actually counts down the time until the next signal change. The time hits "0", the lights go red. It starts counting down from "53", and when it next hits "0", the signals go green. Unlike the States, people know exactly how much time they have to put on that eye-liner until the signal change. The results are dramatic!

Much more confident now in traffic, the timer hits "0", and the Globeriders shoot out like pools balls on a clean break. Each rider chooses his "spot", carooms thru the intersection (because cross-traffic may or may not heed their red light), and magically forms up, properly staggered and spaced on the other side. In addition to split-second analysis of the traffic pattern, horns, turn signals and high beams are all used in a carefully orchestrated concert. The first few miles are the toughest, and the chance for a mishap greatest. We've only driven a fraction of our journey, but no one has had an accident. The Globeriders have fully lived up to the what was expected of our failing the driver's exam - we've learned that, just like the test, the rules don't matter - Darwin rules!

Paying attention is critical. We were motoring along a fairly wide and well-paved highway, when suddenly, the horizon moved in about 17 miles. Coming to a stop, we found the road ended in a high berm of dirt. Not so lucky, the driver of a late model car, which we found high-sided on top of the berm after hitting it at what must have been a high rate of speed. This accident happened at night. Like us, he saw no warning signs, as there weren't any; no indication of what lay ahead, and the highway was unlit. Giant holes magically appear in the best stretch of road. Detours are are filled with large rocks, giant mud puddles, small streams of silt-laden water, people, dogs, ox-drawn carriages, and every imaginable manner of petroleum-powered vehicle. We spent a lot of time up on the pegs, sitting down would punish not only the rider, but the bike and suspension as well. With is typical wry Norwegian humor, Helge assures us "It's good to get used to it, up North, they have a LOT of mud.!"


[A little higher bumper, better suspension, or a warning sign or two, and he probably would have made it.]


[As you can see, the other side was unpaved, but ready for it, wide, and covered with woven mats made of rice stalks - the road you're on can suddenly become the road less travelled!]

I'm closing today's update with the Three Stages of Chinese Traffic Acclimation:

(Day One) - This traffic is amazing! I've never seen so many different vehicles in my life, and the traffic signals are so cool!

(Day Two) - I can't believe these people! They're the rudest most insane idiots I've ever seen - that b**tard tried to kill me! I hate this place! There's no way you're going to get me on that bike again!

(Day Three) - What traffic?


[Motoring along the highway to Jinan in a driving rain and gusting crosswinds. I'm not complaining, with state of the art equipment, a capable bike, 41 liters of fuel, and as fine a group of companions as you could hope for, nothing could diminish my joy, wonder and the miracle of travelling the People's Republic of China on two wheels - No problems here!]

Posted by Mike Paull at 05:08 AM GMT
May 23, 2002 GMT
For This Globerider, The End of the Road....


LAT: N47.71617 LON: W122.37346



[My medical evacuation route, from Beijing, China to Seattle, WA via Narita, Japan.]



Among the many sayings attributed to the brilliant Chinese Taoist scholar, Lao Tszu, is the following: "The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." Unfortunately, I have added a corollary: "The adventure of a lifetime can be terminated by instantaneous deceleration."

On THU, 16 MAY, the Globeriders departed from our hotel in Jinan in good order. The agenda for the day was a 490 kilometer ride from Jinan to Beijing. Coming into Dezhou city, our guide car once again missed a turn (all the riders had GPS systems, but, for some reason, our guides hadn't yet grokked the beneficial capabilities of this technology). We needed to re-group and get people turned around. The rest of the group set out, and waiting for traffic to clear, I fell behind. Finding my opening, I entered the traffic flow. In catching up with the rest of the team, I began to maneuver around a small taxi. We were on a wide street, no cross-traffic, light misty rain, a wet, but newly-paved road surface. I felt a hard jolt as something hit me from the rear. The next thing I knew, I was down, hard, and sliding towards a taxi ahead of me.

Long story short, I was involved in an accident. The GPS track of the last few hundred feet looked like this:


[The GPS data shows I was going 33.5 MPH prior to impact, and you see the track the bike followed afterwards. I think the direction reversed after sliding into the car ahead of me. The "sliding speed" was about 17MPH, and 171 feet long altogether. The final data point shows "0 MPH". For some reason, the police were interested in none of this data. Apparently, there were no witnesses.]

I spent the first three days after the accident in a horribly primitive hospital in Dezhou. Although the equipment and conditions boarded on the nightmarish, the people, staff, and police officers were all unwaveringly polite, truly helpful, and greatly concerned for my well-being. It turns out I had a broken collarbone, multiple fractures of ribs 4, 5 and 6, and of greatest concern, a swollen pneumo thorax with internal bleeding and fluids collecting in my left lung. Three long and pain-wracked days later, I was stable enough for transport to a better hospital in Beijing. After an additional three days in Beijing, I was deemed stable enough for air evacuation back to the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, WA, in the company of my wife Aillene (who had flown in from Japan), and a air transport trauma nurse provided by the company that I had procured medical evacuation insurance from, MEDJET Assistance - without doubt, the best insurance coverage I have ever purchased in my life. A small plug here - these people were remarkable, and I hope to provide some further information about them in a future update. If there was ever a better case for "...don't leave home without it.", MEDJET Assistance is at the top of my checklist, no matter where I travel (and I hope to do a LOT more).

After I've healed and rested up a bit, I'd like to do a few more updates filling in some more detail on my experiences, medical insurance and procedures for future travellers, and what worked, and didn't, regarding the equipment and services I had access to. Of course, I'm thankful that I'll have no long-term injuries. My greatest disappointment is that I won't be able to complete the trip with the great riders I was with. My bike is on its way back via that proverbial "slow boat from China". I most feverently hope that I'll be able to complete this amazing journey at some time in the future. But at the moment, I'm thankful to be home, and have nothing but kind and warm memories of all the beautiful people in China who did their very best to help a traveller in need, refused payment or compensation of any kind, and wished me nothing other than a safe trip home and speedy recovery.

To my fellow Globeriders, I wish you a safe journey, and hope you'll send a few updates along the way. You embarrassed me with your kindness and generosity, and I hope to share the road with you again some day. I'll send a few more updates myself as I get back into the swing of things.

Posted by Mike Paull at 10:50 PM GMT

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