Posts Tagged ‘Zharkent’


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.


Back on the road with cycling companions – David from Germany and Isabella from Poland. And it was a straight road – a hot straight road. Lying on my bed in the border town – I think of my next country – China. It’s size is daunting, and the first part is hot, flat and endless. I shudder.

David and Isabella on the endless straight road

David and Isabella on the endless straight road

‘Eta adin?’ people ask – ‘Are you alone?’
Yes. How do I feel about that? My hand pauses over the keyboard. For quite some time. I don’t know. I like cycling with people, sharing the experiences, and planning the route ahead. The challenges ahead seem surmountable with others. Night falling and a campsite still not being found is less of a problem with others. A companion means conversation that is more than where are you from, where are you going – and are you alone? This conversation is often followed by a shake of the head – an expression of either admiration – or of pity.

I have heard so much about China – so many differing views. It is a country that is intricate and complex, and standing on it’s edge as a foreigner, approaching people not knowing how things work, the gulf of understanding can result in a ‘mai you’ (no). I have been in Iran where people live under the shadow of the state. How will China be, I ask myself. I hope the understanding gulf will be reduced with the Mandarin I have learnt. Now there is just one way to see how it will be – go there.

China, here I come!

My companions for the day

My companions for the day