Hawkes Bay NZ Water trail

Thursday, October 2, 2014

My new ride in China

Been teaching English here a month, so now feel confident I can handle the "drive in all directions" characteristics of sharing the road with Chinese motorists, mopeds, motorbikes, trikes, both motorized and not, people riding rust bucket bikes that seem sized for children, stray animals, and even the occasional hand pulled cart. It's a Dahon 8 speed folding bike. I think this model is for the local market only. With an OK helmet, cost me 3000 yuan. All my Chinese teacher colleagues think I'm completely crazy for paying so much. Yes, it's about $500. But this is a pretty well made model, not the 30 or 300 yuan bikes you of course can find here. It rides well and I took "Tongling the Red" out for his first trip today. We went to a quietly scruffy part of Tongling, where there are fish ponds, and a complex of stalled high rise apartments. Definitely a textbook case of old and new China, side by side. I turned back at lunchtime as the heat is back, even though it's fall.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Dry Pot in a Sichuan restaurant

Last night I had dinner with a fellow teacher and her teenaged sister. We went to a family restaurant in her neighborhood, where we had skewers of spicy garlic chicken (heat level 1 for me, as, in China, I'm not sure what "spicy" means yet), potstickers and a "choose your own ingredient dish that is made to order on a grill in the kitchen out back. We chose needle fish, quail egg, lotus root, potato and tiny white mushrooms that come in a clump. It's tossed with fried rice sticks, crunchy rice (maybe cooked rice spread flat and crisped in oil, then cut into pieces) with a garnish of peanuts, green onion and cilantro. All washed down with tart sweet plum juice. Cost me 100 yuan (about $US 16) to treat everyone. The restaurant's decor is a small room wallpapered with yellow and red signs handwritten by previous diners, who ate the spicy chicken at the most extreme level and survived. The comments are nearly all in Chinese, with a smattering of obscenities written in English.
All a bit greasy but quite delicious. The owner gave me a discount card, eat 3 more times, and I get a free dish on my 4th visit.
As if I'd ever be able to find this place again, without a guide!

My nearest bus stop in Tongling

I decided to take a photo of my bus stop, in case I got lost, and needed to tell a taxi where to take me.
It's 86 degrees today, at 9am on Mid-Autumn Festival Monday. I'm not teaching today, but downtown is busy and the banks appear to be open, so I will do some more foreign exchange if I can find a Bank of China.
I am very uncomfortable going out of my apartment each day, as I'm just not accustomed to people staring at me or chattering at me in rapid fire Chinese. My all purpose phrase is "wo shi Yingwen laoshi", which roughly means "I'm an English teacher." Unfortunately saying this to an older guy in the Botanical Gardens kitty corner from my apartment (a place I plan to frequent, as there are fewer people to stare at me), backfired yesterday. This persistent clown insisted I give him my Chinese cell phone number, then demanded that I accompany him out of the park (what on earth for?) then, giggling like a halfwit, he grabbed my hand, tight, which isn't what I'd read the Chinese do, and trotted down the path, I suspect showing off his new English friend like a new pet. When he started to kiss my hand, I stopped in my tracks, told him: "I don't know what the F you're playing at, Bub, but I'm outta here." Then I walked away from
Mr Crackpot, and bought myself a canteloupe from a nice woman with a truck parked outside the gate. I also checked that this idiot wasn't going to try to stalk me. If I start getting strange phone calls and heavy breathing my phone, I have this person's number and will ask one of the female teachers at school to report him to the police. I'm really not sure what was going on. I'm willing to write it off as some lonely retired guy (he told me he was a teacher, hmm not sure that's true) biting off more than he could chew by trying to communicate with the foreign woman.

What 51.40 RMB buys in a mini-mart in Tongling Center

I thought I was getting 21 eggs for 8 yuan. I didn't want 21, I only wanted 6, maybe a dozen, but the store clerk I think told me I had to take the lot. It appears that it's 8 yuan per kilo, so the eggs are 20.50 yuan. It's a good thing I like eggs.
I also bought some raw sugar, 2 forks and a "sunning rack". You clip your laundry to the clothes pins and then hang the contraption from a hook that hangs from a rail inside your window cage. I guess if anything falls off, you go downstairs to retrieve it. Good thing I'm only on the 2nd floor.
It cost me a total of 3 yuan for a round trip on the No. 6 bus. It should be 4, but on the outbound I watched other passengers put coins in the exact change box, and I'm sure they only put in 1 coin. I guess the driver didn't care.
As I had to take my tray of 21 eggs back to the apartment, I cut my downtown visit short. I guess it's BYO egg carrier around here, so a miracle I got them all back, unbroken.
I think I'll go back downtown later today and check out a big street market I saw in the side streets near the hotel I stayed in for my first 2 nights in Tongling. I'm guessing that's where I'll find vegetables and fresh meat.
Various bbq duck street hawkers ply my apartment block, but I'm not sure I can trust the cleanliness of hot duck being hauled around on the back of a tricycle in near 90 degree heat. Once I figure out how to ask the guy when he cooked it, and how much per slice or per gram or whatever measure they use here, I will try it. Survival Mandarin 101, and not in my phrase book.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

5:50am on Sunday Sept 7

This is the view from the window of my Tongling apartment. This cage is used to hang laundry, for pot plants and to hold drying mops, buckets and shoes. The cloud of smoke is engulfing a nearby apartment. The neighbors there thoughtfully chose 5:50am on Sunday morning as the time to explode a bunch of fireworks. I've just gotten up to close my windows before more gun smoke wafts inside.
I'm not sure why we are being treated to fireworks today. There is a national holiday tomorrow (mid Autumn Festival) where people give moon cakes as gifts. However, all week I've been hearing explosions at random times of the day or night. I don't think this morning's show is related to any festival. Perhaps someone needs to drive out a few personal demons or mark some event known only to him or her. It's quite amazing. No one is else is paying one bit of notice. No lights are coming on, nor are there any angry shouts from the apartments all around here.
It's all apparently totally normal.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

English as a foreign language in Tongling

Day 3 of teaching day 4 since I landed in China. My 16 year old students are a godsend. I've just moved into my apartment for the next 5 months, and literally can't read 99% of signage hereabouts, let alone speak with the locals. So I'm asking for help in how to say "I want to buy..."

Monday, September 1, 2014

An interesting sign

It's been a very tiresome day, my first in China, but I'm starting to notice some great Chinglish signs. These, on some slippery polished marble steps leading into and out of a subterranean walkway, are a good example of why it's fun to be an English teacher.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

First morning in China (Heifei)

Got in late so had the good fortune to get some sleep in an upscale hotel . Later this morning will get driven to Tongling.
I amused myself on the 11 hour flight yesterday by watching the multilingual inflight movies. I watched nearly all of La Grand Boucle, a French slapstick comedy about a bike store clerk who accidentally rides the Tour de France route and becomes a folk hero. I had to watch in French with Mandarin subtitles, as no English version. Just over 1 year ago I was looking at the Annecy TDF stage setup, with all the inflatable starting ramps, barricades to prevent the crowds colliding with the peleton,and exquisite alpine scenery all around. What a difference a year makes.
9 floors below, in the wide street between buildings, I can just make out a guy on a bike with a big cargo rack on the back, going about his business on a weekday morning.
I'm sort of curious to learn about the state of China's bike culture these days.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

China research

Laughable I know, but I'm studying 2 books from the wonderful Seattle Public Library. One a memoir from about 10 years ago, the other The Rough Guide to China. I am taking my Lonely Planet guide with me. It gives me something to start with. I use books from both famous adventure travel presses whenever I travel abroad. Coincidentally, In 2011 I met a retired British man in the Adelaide YHA. He told me his son is a writer for LP's China book. Sort of a small world at times.
I leave on Saturday.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Something new in Seattle's Olympic Sculpture Park

I haven't ridden along downtown waterfront since spring, so this addition is an arresting sight. No sign with caption to identify it, as far as I could see, so it must be a brand new installation. Generally I avoid this popular route in summer as it's crazy busy with out-of-town pedestrians who suddenly step in front of the bike, plus out-of-control toddlers in pedal cars that are guaranteed to turn right into you, so you have little choice but to go over your handlebars and crash to avoid killing both sets of obstacles.
Still, on this "bluest blue you've ever seen" day in Seattle it was fun.
This is the last time I'll be riding in Seattle until 2015. I'm off to China next month to teach English. This time, my suitcase will carry teaching swag, not a bike. But perhaps I'll get to rent some wheels once I've settled into my new digs. Once upon a time the #1 transportation device was the bicycle. Given all the tales I've heard of persistent air pollution, maybe one day they'll be smart and go back.
Since 2010, I've had the opportunity to travel outside the US every year. This teaching gig wasn't something I knew about until mid-July, so the decision to head out has been a lot faster than I usually like. Chances like this are "once in a blue moon" events. I reinvented myself as an English language teacher so that I had options to combine biking and meaningful work for which there's near term sustainable demand. Check, check. I sincerely hope it's a wonderful trip where I acquaint myself with the real China, teach some smart teens, and learn enough Mandarin to be able to get around with grace and confidence.
Access to the internet will take figuring out, plus I'll be working 5 days. No worries. My blog will continue.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Lopez Island from Sperry Island

What we all dream of in in San Juan Islands bike vacation. Get an eyeful of Mt Baker. Yesterday's weather. Hope it comes back soon.

My favorite part of San Juan Island

Weather's not ideal today but this part of SJI not that far from Friday Harbor never fails to please. Years ago it was unpaved. Views to the Olympics very nice today. And not a car in sight.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Bike commuting traffic very heavy for a Saturday

It's the solstice parade in Fremont

It's time for the annual parade of incomprehensible floats, musical cacophony, at least one speedo clad exhibitionist riding a longboard and lots of bicyclists dressed in p body paint and big smiles.
Fantastic weather today is a bonus. But I sort of miss the bad old days when the police used to try to arrest the nudists who used to gate crash the event to the hoots and hollers of the crowd.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The cure for "Juneuary" weather in Seattle

Weather is forecasted to be gray and grim for the weekend, depressing weather, as often happens, a week before the summer solstice hereabouts. So I've driven to the sun of Eastern Washington for a bike ride. I've enjoyed one heck of a tail wind ioutbound so that means I'll be fighting it all the way back on the Naneum Rd.
So I'm having a lunch break at the Thorp Mill before I turn my handlebars into to wind.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

My contribution to Bike to Work month

I'm not sure if I'll have any takers but you never know until you advertise.
My plan is to temper my ESL teaching schedule with a Friday treat. The college is adjacent to the Interstate and on campus parking is easier on Fridays.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Santa Rosa Road near Buellton

At bike leadership training occasionally we get recess and do a little ride.'

Monday, March 31, 2014

Mission Santa Inez

To check that I've reassembled the bike correctly I've ridden back into Solvang to eat my lunch at this historical landmark. It's a breezy and sunny day, the vineyards are starting to leaf out and the fields and mountains are spring green.
This is the miracle of California.

Plus, added bonus, I appear to have attached my pedals to the correct side of the crank arms.
That's also miraculous in my book.

Breakfast in Danish Disneyland

A nice place for pastry and coffee in Solvang. Now back to camp to reassemble the bike. I needed to let the dew dry out on the grass before I pull the cardboard box out of my rental car.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Buellton's landmark

I've just made camp at an RV Park here in Buellton, and gone out for dinner. Pea soup at Andersen's, which I realize I visited in the early 1980s.
It's going to be cool and clear tonight so this is just the ticket after negotiating LAX with my boxed bike and driving a rental car in stop and go traffic up HWY 101.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Galloping Gertie from Amtrak approaching Tacoma

The bridge with the green tower is the famous engineering failure from the 1940s. You get some lovely views of Puget Sound from the Cascadia train from Portland to Seattle. My bike is tagged and riding up front in the baggage car. I'm using my titanium road bike this trip, so it's so easy to hand it up to the baggage car staff. It costs $5 extra to reserve one of the 20 spots on this train, so I don't have to box the bike and this round trip cost only $58.
I like trains. Since 2011 I've been on the Ghan to Darwin and back, the Indian Pacific from Perth to Sydney and the Overlander from Adelaide to Melbourne in Australia. 2 Christmases ago I did the Cairns to Kuranda day trip. Last year it was various Deutschebahn trains in Germany, the SNCF in France, and the Eurostar through the Chunnel from Paris to London.

Tomorrow I fly to California to train as a bike tour leader. I packed my touring bike for air travel before I left for this conference. I hope I can fit it easily into a rental car as I have to get to Buellton for the course, then back by Friday to attend a faculty meeting before spring quarter starts the following Monday. The logistics are definitely a puzzle.

A nice thought from Portlandia

The weather has been challenging, sun breaks interspersed with downpours. I spent Saturday morning revisiting the waterfront, buying a catnip toy at the Saturday market and marveling at the crowd outside Voodoo Doughnuts. I'll have to leave my bacon and caramel frosted sample for another time.
Portland would be worth a return bike trip when it's a little drier.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Much better: Tasty n Alder

>>>> After dodging Portland streetcar tracks in the killer wet and road construction forcing into non bike lane streets, I'm cold wet and ravenous. Hmm. Look at that, a restaurant packed with people eating brunch type food. There's no menu in the window, so I trust my instincts. I sit at the window with a young couple from New York. The man is dressed in an interesting manner, checkered shirt the color of a bluebird, bow true and a twenty dollar bill pined to his lapel. They proceed to tell me this place is famous and they always eat here whenever they come. Not sure if that means much, but I order the right thing a chorizo omelette with poblanos and quest fresco. My instincts for food are uncanny. Plus this will cost the same as the stuff from the good truck.
Let it rain.

Almost Somewhere in SE Asia

A "pod" of food trucks near Portland State University. The air smells of grease so somehow I think today this type of dining is more fun in fantasy than reality. Also, unlike Asia nothing's particularly cheap. Hmm. Grease and expensive street food. It's starting to rain hard so the idea of al fresco dining is not appealing.

I heart my bike

My new best non furry friend. From this morning's meander out of downtown along the Willamette Greenway towards Sellwood Bridge. Rain showers sun breaks and the occasional pelting.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Getting oriented in Portland

Here's an elaborate fold out bike map I got from my hostel.
Rode the train for a 3 hour run through cloud, rain, blue sky and sunbreaks (typical spring in the pacific NW) alongside a stretch of Puget Sound you can't see from a car and got to PDX too late for happy hour. So walked the bike through the Pearl District to the HI hostel. It's a scruffy late C19th rooming house. I have a lower bunk in a poorly lit warren of rooms with 7 other budget travelers. I'll be perfectly fine. By now I'm a veteran of hostels in several countries so I select US ones primarily for location and pack ear plugs and an eyemask. If any of my roomies choose to be inconsiderate like some of the jackasses I met during last year's tour of Germany, well I have a repertoire of responses to choose from. If I have to deal with a repeat of the noisy sex of my roommates from Baden Baden, this timeout will show no mercy and I will toss their sorry behinds out of the room, irrespective of time. Baden Baden really was a nadir of budget traveling for sure. On the recommendation of the reception folks I had an inexpensive meal (bowl of brown rice, black eyed peas, collards and pulled pork at Laughing Planet, a noisy veggie, vegan and locavore place decorated with plastic dinosaurs. Sadly, my days of dining on an expense account are long gone, and in my bike knicker pants and riding rain jacket I fit right into Portland's alternative world. All I lack is an unusual hair color and piercings. I had thought of packing my joke tattoo arm warmers for the full fashion statement but decided I was plenty weird enough just choosing to visit Portland like this. The next 4 days are 60% rain so I'm just gonna deal with it. I need to study the map as I don't want to wipe out on the MAX tracks.

Waiting for the Amtrak Cascades to Portland

Off to try out Portland's famous bike infrastructure and attend a teaching conference.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The famous Frog Rock of Bainbridge Island

Everyone who ride BI knows this landmark. It's had a new coat of paint. Not long after I took this photo it started to rain ice chips. If you aren't a keen cyclist before signing on for Chilly Hilly, this ride would definitely cure you of any illusions about biking as a fun outing in the sunshine.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Chilly Hilly 2014

It's living up to its billing today. Here's the 7:55a from Seattle to Bainbridge Island. All bikes all the time on this one. Any cars would be crazy to try to board this one. At least it's not snowing, but I'm definitely a little cold in my volunteer post at the cashier table. Lots of good biker energy though with people champing at the bit to get riding.

Monday, January 6, 2014

It's time!

2014 will bring my first full year as an employed ESL teacher. Now that I'm back on an academic year schedule I have more $ security but less time. Hmm, I remember how this works!
So, I've signed up with a big touring cyclist club to learn how to be a trip leader. The requirements: have some experience doing long distance self supported touring (check) and be ready to learn management of group dynamics along with all the other logistics. Sort of sounds like my typical classroom management!
This March I will spend 4 days near Buellton, CA, in Santa Barbara County, north of Los Angeles.
This gives me a little motivation to keep bike commuting this semester.
I'll also need to relearn how to pack and unpack and repackage my full sized bike for a plane ride.