24 May 2008

The Long Wait

May 12-23—Ugh. A very long wait for the bikes, which were two weeks late getting into port. Very unimpressed with the planning or lack thereof for the shipping process. So we were in Beijing for a few days (in hotel in the middle of nowhere), then to Chengde (nice town, nice hotel in center), then…drum roll please…Shanhaigueng, a dump town where we stayed in a dumpy hotel in the middle of nowhere for a week waiting for the bikes. Basically, the first two weeks was a very expensive, second-rate bus tour of China, here we are:
Everyday, we heard, tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow, etc. Lots of recriminations about where bikes were, when released, etc. I don't want to get into the gory details, but the bad blood that arose during this part of the trip did much to spoil the trip, I think. The expressions on our faces in this shot says it all:I should very briefly describe the folks on the trip, so you understand more of the context:
Guides: We had two permanent guides, who I will call the Leader and the Assistant. Both very knowledgable about bikes. The Leader had led several trips for the Organizer, the Assistant was along as sort of a trainee guide.
Participants: There were ten of us paying participants on the trip:
--Me--no further explanation necessary!
--TJ (aka "Slick")--a year older than me. Good guy from Traverse City, Michigan. Sold his business a while ago, so he's basically retired. Travelling around the world on his bike, and travels in Airstream. We were roomies, got along pretty well. Really well, considering how hard it is to travel like this.
--Stuart--Retired Kiwi accountant. Not as boring as that sounds! Great guy, lots of fun. My main drinking mate on the trip. Here are TJ (left) and Stuart (right) with a new friend:
--Ed (numerous aliases)--retired Navy guy from Seattle area. Very good guy when in a good mood, but kinda moody. Lots of funny and rather bawdy navy stories. Typically rode on his own.
Here's a picture of Ed (left) and TJ (right):
--Mike (aka "Mike the Bike" or simply MTB)--Insurance agent from Atlanta. Good guy. Generally rode on his own, sometimes with unfortunate results. Had to admire his willingness to just get out there. Nicknamed "Mike the Bike" because during our prolonged wait in China he bought a bicycle and rode it around the town. Helge praised him for his great attitute (haha, that would change, stay tuned)! Here is Mike the bike at a Chinese gas station:--Terry (aka "Radar")--A retired banker from Minnesota. Remarkable resemblance, physical and behavior-wise, to Radar O'Reilly from MASH, hence the nickname. Here is Radar at the same Chinese gas station:--Henry (aka "Roadrunner")--Henry is a retired accountant from the Bay area. Probably the most well-travelled person I've ever met, much of it on motorcycles. Rode very aggressively, swooping in and out, braking hard, etc., so we called him "Roadrunner," usually accompanied by "beep, beep." Here is a picture of Henry (left) with the Leader (right):--Harrison & Debby (aka the "Duke & Duchess of Morton"). Very nice couple from Morton, Washington. They own a couple of motels, a gas station, and a subway in that small town, so as the major landowners (as far as we could tell) we called them the Duke & Duchess.
To give Stuart hi s due, I think he came up with all of the above nicknames (other than Radar), he had quite a gift for that. I think all of the nicknames other than "Roadrunner" were in place before we even got the bikes.
One unfortunate consequence of our long wait in Shenhaigueng was the formation of various cliques. The initial split was between those of us pissed off at being stuck in some crappy hotel in some crappy city in China without our bikes for so long (Me, TJ, Stuart, Ed) and those who thought that the poor planning for the shipping was a perfectly acceptable part of the adventure (everybody else).
These cliques were reinforced and exacerbated by the way the meals were organized in China--every night all of us sat around a giant round table with a big lazy susan in front of us, on which were placed all of the various dishes, beers, etc. Sounds petty, but just having to sit at one table with everyone and only being able to take the food as it came around to you led to some bad blood. People snapped at each other fairly often over the silliest things. Didn't do much for the team-building.
Anyway, here are some pictures:

Here is glamourous Shengheigueng:

A seamstress making a bandanna for me during our long wait for the bikes...

OK, here's some of the Chinese stuff we saw during our wait:
Here is where the Great Wall of China meets the sea:
Here are Stuart and I having beers where the Great Wall meets the sea:

One of the most treasured experiences from the trip: our hotel, appropriately enough, was for some reason the site of numerous "Chinese Fire-Drills":

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