Posts Tagged ‘Huocheng’


Surrounded by bright lights with neon signs and Chinese characters screaming from all directions, I walk down the main street in Yining. Many a man (both young and old) parade past me with their shirt rolled up to around their nipples. Guts can hang out, and underpants can be exposed. Everything goes here in China!

Letting the breeze in

Letting the breeze in

I am in the far flung backblocks of China, and it feels like I have almost not left a metropolis. The smallest dots on the map are cities bigger than anything I have seen in the last few months – huge boulevards with high-rise buildings and neon signs screaming out consumerism. When I’m not in a city, I’m on a massive freeway or the very large parallel ‘alternate’ road. With the honks of horns and the whizzing past of cars, peace can only be reached when you stop. Talking to the owner of shops, and playing with the kids. All a lot of fun. It’s not worth trying to leave the main road to take a road through the villages. I did that, and the road fizzled out, as did all the side roads. Twenty kilometres later, I returned to where I started.

Lunch stop

Lunch stop


The transition could not be more abrupt. In Kazakhstan small farming villages dotted with small ‘magazins’ – what I have been used to in the ‘stans’. Over the border, a little city has grown out of the desert like a mushroom. Big shopping complexes in the making, wide streets, and a buzz of things happening that wasn’t over the border in Kazakhstan. This is the new China that is being built as we speak.

Shopping street

Shopping street

I waited in the ‘queue’ (mass of people) behind the green line to leave Kazakhstan. I had my cumbersome, fully loaded bike, and people were squeezing past me, ignoring my protests. A clash of cultures perhaps. I jammed my bike perpendicular to the queue and actively blocked any more queue-jumpers. Still, a woman breathed in and slipped past my bike, wedged against the wall. Probably with a low sugar level after cycling there without eating lunch, I was determined to remove her. I stared at her. And stared. And stared. She nervously looked away and I continued staring. For minutes. She glanced back at me and then away – looking anywhere but at me. I continued staring, not moving my gaze for a second. She talked to her neighbour, glancing briefly at my piercing stare from time to time. After 10 minutes she looked at me, and asked if she could return to behind my bike. I let her through to her rightful place in the queue.

After a 7km ride around a big loop road to return to 100m from where I started, I easily passed through Chinese customs, and am proudly now in the Middle Kingdom. I laughed with joy. A rush of pride washed over me. I have cycled here from Holland! There were Chinese characters everywhere, I heard Chinese spoken, and it all looked so different. Wide streets, lots of bustling stalls, high-rise buildings, many new ones still being built, and what looked like a massive shopping complex. How different to a kilometre the other side of the border river.

Time to use my Chinese language skills learned in my 6 weeks in Taiwan in January and February. I ordered lunch and chatted for about an hour with the kids at the restaurant. After fighting through with my inadequate Russian for several months, it feels good to be able to speak the language again.

Talking with the kids

Talking with the kids

And then, leaving the city, I ran into a German cyclist cycling the other way into Kazakhstan. After another meal with him (I just ate ice-cream), I decided to call it a day, and stop in the border town. Tomorrow I’ll cycling into China proper.