Crossing Khorgos border, I arrived in Chinese immigration at the dark. As I heard, they would close the border after the dark. But thankfully they were still working. Actually, I was the only customer there. It seemed that Kazakhstan and China border connected the system so that they can wait for the person who just crossed the border. The immigration officer asked me many things and I had realized she was just so curious about my traveling. Once I left immigration’s property, suddenly many guys exchanging money came to me. Thanks to them, I could exchange left Kazakhstan money to Chinese money.
Cycling on the Chinese main road, I was just so touched, moved, and impressed by the fact that I was back to the continent where I was belonged to. I left home in 2010 and I lived in Canada for a year with a working holiday visa. And then I had cycled over five years through North America, Latin America, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia without going back home. I am not from China, but Korea. But still, I was so excited that I was back in Asia! I was not sure what kind of feeling I would have when I am back in my country, Korea.
The road was well paved and so clean. My first image of China was “Clean and Tidy” at the border town. But it was weird that it was like a ghost city that there were not many cars or people.
I had realized suddenly two hour was different from Kazakhstan. China is a huge country but they have only one-time zone. For example, the country like the U.S or Brazil had different time zones at the inside of the country. However, China only followed one-time zone. In the past, they used different time zones as well. But they decided to use only one-time zone to unify the country as a communist. I heard the western Chinese followed their own time zone. But in reality, they followed mostly Beijing Time zone. So I decided to follow also Beijing Time zone to not be confused.
Actually, it was a big benefit for me, a cyclist traveler. For example, I started cycling at like 10 am. When the sun goes up at 7 am and goes down at 5 pm, I could cycle only for seven hours (cycling from 10 am to 5 pm). But when the sun goes up at 9 am and goes down at 7 pm, I could cycle for nine hours (10 am to 7 pm). So as a person depending on the sunlight, it was super awesome that the sun goes up at 9 am in this area.
I was already in the city that it would be difficult for camping. So I was looking for a hotel, but all the hotels were expensive maybe it is because of the border city. Luckily I found the hotel for $15. It had a bit bad mold smell and the paint on the wall came off. But I was still happy that I had a safe and warm place to sleep.
It was just around 10 pm, but the street was really quiet and most of restaurants were already closed. Thankfully there was one restaurant opened. And this was my FIRST MEAL IN CHINA!!!!
It was hilarious that to use chopsticks was so challenging. I kept missing noodles. I had only few times to meet Korean or have Korean food last a few years. But I guessed the main problem was the material. It was very thick and slippery and noodle itself was slippery too. Korean chopsticks were metal and very thin. Someone told me Koreans were only Asian using metal chopsticks. I searched for it and the reason Korean use stainless chopsticks were that King was afraid of getting poison in the past. So when they use silver chopsticks, they can see it is poisoned or not. But silver is very expensive so normal people who wanted to live like a king used stainless chopsticks. It was said stainless chopsticks is cleaner and more hygienic. But I heard Korean chopsticks were more difficult for foreigners. But for me, Chinese chopsticks were too hard. Even I had the pain on my hand that I tried stretching my hand while eating. By the way, the taste was really amazing that I was so happy to find this restaurant.
At that time, I made several vlogs. This was the video about crossing the border.
I was about to buy a simcard before leaving the city. But it was difficult to communicate that I used google translator. There were three main telecom companies in China. As I heard, it could require lock phone or local address. So I decided to use China Unicom. But WOW! This was the most complicating sim card I’ve ever used that I could never understand how it worked. When I wanted to have top up, they said I had to make a new sim card. So I made a new one, but then I found I could have top up later. But then I could have only the same amount as first. But then next time I could top up different, but then other time I couldn’t and so on. Every time I had serious challenge to charge money.
To buy a simcard meant connecting to the world for me. So I was relaxed after having the simcard and I cycled to get out of the city. It was interesting to see the traffic board that they used two different languages.
I had a very clean hotel with the same money I paid for an old hotel in the border town. They just opened the hotel, so everything was clean. But there was one weird thing. The hotel’s owner asked me to close curtain after the dark cause the police can see it. I was thinking maybe they didn’t have a license to accept the foreigners.
Vlog about my first day cycling in China.
I had stayed two days more at the hotel. At the next day, I walked around the small town. Usually, for one or two weeks at the country I just entered, I felt like I was walking around Disneyland because everything was new to me that I was super excited to see them.
Video about my first Chinese Street Food
Having some street snacks, I wanted to have a proper meal that I went to a restaurant. I didn’t know how to choose the food, so I asked for the same food as other people eating. It looked similar to Lagman, Central Asian food.
He showed me how to it. Somehow it was very different from Central Asian one. They served noodle and sauces separately. It was juicier and chewy with lots of vegetables and meat. I really loved it so much. I must stay this was one of the best noodles I had. (I want to go back one day to eat this noodle.)
Next day the hotel’s owner asked me to join the wedding ceremony. They ordered lots of food and introduced me. But I couldn’t see the wedding that it seemed it would start very late. While having lunch with them, I had learned how to count the number with a hand because Chinese counted the number very different way with the hand. I was very confused that I didn’t know how long it would take time to remember. There was one funny thing that I watched North Korean defector counted the number with Chinese way on YouTube. The reason was they usually waited in China three to four years to make money to go to South Korea. So they were used to Chinese way to count the number with the hand. But I was curious that North Korean people in their land used Chinese way or just normal way.
It was the end of October, but everything was already covered by the snow. The landscape was very beautiful but I was a bit worried about cycling.
Although I came to a new country, I still saw a yurt which I saw from Central Asia.
Definitely, the best scenery was the snow for me.
I was not sure when they had all this snow. My favorite car was a snowplow in the winter. I loved you so much and I thanked you so much ever!
I was hungry and cold. So I stopped to wear one more layer of socks and a jacket and to eat some cookies
It seemed I had to cycle on that bridge. But how?
In the first year, I didn’t like raining or cycling on the mountain. As time went, I was used to it. But I had never liked a tunnel on my trip. When a car passed, the sound is too loud and echoing. It was like the monster chasing me to kill. I was too nervous that I fell off. Luckily there was no any car behind, so I stood up quickly.
The worst part of the tunnel was when a car honked a horn. It was like the Grim Reaper shouting “Yo What’s up. I am here to take you!” THE HELL SOUND TOO LOUD!
Unbelievable! I couldn’t believe that I was on the bridge after the tunnel. Sometimes we already got there without knowing how to get there.
WOW CHINA! This was a really long bridge! They didn’t want to make the road on the mountain, so just built the long long bridge.
Oh my goodness. Again tunnel?
After the tunnel, this time the stunning scenery surprised me.
I was not sure where to sleep tonight. There were some yurts. I didn’t want to set up my tent on the snow and I didn’t want to crash their house. But the next town was too far to reach today. So I decided to go back near to the tunnel because I saw some building there.
It was like a small old hotel. There was no electricity, running water, and a toilet inside. But the room was $30. It was too much. But thanks that I could set up my tent at the inside of the building after paying $5. Setting my tent, I realized that I forgot one pole at Kyrgyzstan local people’s house last time. However, I could still use my tent with only two poles. The inside of the building was still very cold. But it was better than outside with the snow. The best part of today was I could buy a nice hot meal.
Vlog (I found this video was a bit more interesting than other vlogs)
I wore layers to start cycling.
Fingers were really cold that I covered the hand with my rain jacket to protect from the wind. I wanted to buy special gloves which I can install like a winter glove for a scooter. But I was not sure where to buy.
The scenery was so beautiful that it was such a big morning gift.
I had lunch at the restaurant just next to the road. But the meat was a bit different. When I was about to pay, they asked me almost two times more money than the usual meal. I thought they were cheating me and I got annoyed. But then they pointed their finger at a horse picture. I realized it was expensive meat. Even if they cheated on me, I shouldn’t be angry or upset much. I thought the lack of thing on my trip or maybe in my life was patience. I wish I am more tolerant.
Having self-reflection on a nice paved road, I saw some weird creature.
It looked a bit horse somehow. But it was the Bactrian camel, living in Central Asia and North Asia.
“Wow you look so weird!”
“You too! You looked very weird too. You have a very short neck! Can you see well around?”
“Yeah it is okay. But wow you have so many furs on your neck”
“Hell! You don’t have any fur?? Aren’t you cold?”
“Yeah it is freezing cold. So I wore many clothes.”
“Never mind. Take care!”
“You ugliest, take care too!”
It was really long downhill that my fingers were frozen. I cycled over 130 km (80 mi) until 10 pm because it was too cold to do camping and the hotel was really far away.
Vlog of the day.
At the next day, there were endless cotton farms with the sand.
It seemed it was a very dry place?
Cotton was stuck on the ground for so many km endlessly. I thought it was waste.
I was about to buy petrol for my stove at a gas station, but they denied. There were many restaurants near so I went to one of them. I did love it so much. It was so yummy.
Again I was struggling with Chinese chopsticks. Then the owner gave me the fork although I didn’t ask. It seemed they even could see I was having a problem. haha.
It was a bit warmer than the day before so I wanted to have wild camping. But I really didn’t know how I could do it because there was a guardrail next to the road and then there was a fence as well. I could lift all my bags and bicycle to go over a guardrail, but it was impossible to go further because of the fence.
The next city was too far that I decided to put my tent around exit because a car cannot see me easily. I moved all my bags and bicycle to down road and set up my tent.
At the next day, I succeeded to get the petrol. The staff asked me why I needed it. I explained it was for cooking by using a translator. Then he went out to the entrance and put his social id or driver card(?) on the machine. Then he put his card again on the machine when he put petrol on my stove’s bottle. It seemed it was not simple to give petrol. That’s why I was denied at the other day.
I was really hungry but there was no near restaurant that I just had snacks at the gas station. Thankfully they gave me soya milk and orange as a gift.
When I was about to the enter the city, I saw the truck tip over. I did remember this car because when the car was passing me, cotton was flying around like flowers flying in the air. I did hope everybody was okay and the car was okay too.
At the next morning, I had a big problem that I couldn’t take any money from ATM because it was empty. There was no other bank I could use with my foreigner card. I had only $1 left. I went to a market and bought a tomato, onion, mushroom, and rice for 75 cents, which I would use for a dinner.
On the way back to my bicycle, I saw people playing a traditional board game. I knew how to play because I had learned it from my grandfather.
I kept seeing people picking cotton.
But I saw this big machine to collect cotton. Then why people picking with their hands?? I was not sure why it was like this.
There was no doubt that cotton was very unique, beautiful, and useful plan.
I was not sure where to set up my tent tonight. Then I saw some broken fence. So I tried to go far away from the main road. I cooked my dinner with what I bought on the day. I added soya sauce and salt. The juice from the vegetable made the meal so yummy that I did enjoy my dinner at my tent.
It was a really cold night that I wore more clothes during the night.
There was frost because of the cold night. One of the hardest things to sleep on the tent in the winter was to go out from a sleeping bag in the morning. It was just so painful.
It was difficult to find a restaurant that I had a very late lunch. It was so yummy that I was so happy after the meal.
While I was cycling happily, I saw one adult picking cotton with a child wearing cute clothes. I knew I shouldn’t judge people with just what I saw. But suddenly I thought so many things. I didn’t work hard for a long time. I just updated my blogs and did small things to look for small money and I had traveled for so many years and had such an easy life. I didn’t really struggle for money much. So when I saw people working too hard like just next to a street or foreigner worker such as in Dubai working Monday to Sunday without such a human right, I felt very shame about my life.
I did know the life is not fair because we started differently and chose different thing. But this was really shame to see people working hard while I just enjoyed my easy life. Someone told me we all are different that I didn’t need to feel shame, but enjoy my life cause my job was to share the story with people. Yeah, that’s true. But how come I can be happy while ignoring someone struggling for their dear life. It was not possible to ignore for me because I believed we live on the earth together and share the life together. But I really didn’t know how to make it the earth better. I was thinking about so many things, but I never made the action. It was just too shame. I hope one day I could devote something to make the earth better so that I didn’t need to feel shame when I introduce my planet to other creature in other planets.
It was easy to find a place for the night because I was cycling on a small road. I believed that nobody would come. Actually, I was not sure why I did wild camping often in China. Maybe the first reason was I was a bit used to it after doing wild camping alone in Central Asia. The second reason was I felt actually safer in China. People didn’t look dangerous and even I thought I could fight against them if something happened. Of course, I would lose if I fight in real. But I meant I was not much afraid in China. It was not because they looked the same. If I travel to Japan, I would be scarier than in China for wild camping maybe. Other European cyclist told me a similar thing that they felt very safe to do wild camping in China as well. On the internet, people said you would be kidnapped and lose some organs in China. But actually, I felt quite safe in China.
I went to a city at the next day but the hotel in the city center was very expensive. So I went back to the entrance of the city. I heard sometimes foreigners got rejected at the hotel. Someone told me maybe one of the reasons was people at the hotel couldn’t read a foreigner’s passport. So I prepared my name in Chinese. But I found another problem was that they must scan ID card to register the room at the hotel I found. Then reception girl asked another guest to borrow his card to register me. I felt thankful that she didn’t reject me cause I really didn’t want to cycle more at that day.
The fire was not enough strong last time when I cooked. So I decided to clean and then suddenly it worked well. If you have the problem with MSR stove, you should clean.
The air was keeping coming out. So I decided to fix it. I bought this tire for 3?4$ in Turkmenistan and I didn’t have any flat tire in even dirt road in Pamir Highway. I didn’t know at that time it could stay strong this much. I was really lucky.
When I arrived in Urumqi, I felt very special because I really didn’t see the big city for a long time. Maybe the biggest city I saw last time was in Dubai, five months ago. In Urumqi, there was no any cheap hotel where foreigners could stay. Fortunately, there was a cheap hostel that it was no problem to stay.
Vlog to Urumqi
I had a city tour with European and Chinese traveler which I met at the hostel.
Thanks to Chinese traveler, we didn’t have any language barrier. We went a local restaurant to taste Urumqi food.
It was quite spicy.
When I was in Ukraine, I had exactly the same food at Uzbekistan restaurant. But when I was in Uzbekistan, I didn’t have a chance to eat. So it was very interesting to have it in China. Honestly, I didn’t like the taste because it was too sweet with raisins.
It was a bit similar to the noodle I loved. But it was spicier.
We were about to hike near the mountain where we could see the city view. The message on the board was interesting; No Climbing, Love Life.
What an impressing view! I really didn’t see this kind of a big city for a long time.
People in this area was similar to Central Asia. So I felt like my trip to Central Asia was not finished yet.
I could keep seeing Arabic, Mosque, people wearing Central Asian clothes.
It was cold that we went to a tea shop to warm up. The tea was okay. But Chinese friend told it was just water. I couldn’t understand what she meant. Water is transparent, not brown.
But then we got real tea later. It was the best unique tea in my life that the tea had a sweet and special taste. I understood why Chinese friend told us the first one we got was water. In North West China, they always gave free tea like the first one. So there was no point to pay money for the first one.
Late night we went out to have street foods.
It was my first skewers. But once I tasted, I felt something very weird on my tongue.
We drank our beer with skewers and I was thinking why it had weird taste. (Later I had learned my tongue was numb by Sichuan province’s pepper.)
Vlog of Urumqi
I went to a big shopping mall to buy winter gear after farewell with European and Chinese traveler at the next day. China had Decathlon, European cheap sports shop with very good quality.
But something happened, which I couldn’t understand. None of the people understood when I asked where Decathlon was. I wrote Decathlon on my phone and showed them. Even the worker at the information center told me she didn’t know. I was confused that Chinese cannot read English. But actually, they must know English spelling cause they must need English alphabet to type Chinese on the phone. For example, hello is 你好 in Chinese and it sounded like Ni Hao. If they want to write hello in Chinese, they must type “Ni Hao” and choose Chinese character. It meant everybody must know English to type Chinese character. But then how come a girl from information center didn’t know Decathlon spelling? There was a huge letter outside of the shopping mall with English. I guessed they didn’t care about English and only read Chinese letter.
Actually, it was just the beginning of a language barrier. In my trip, I had the biggest language barriers in two countries. It was Russia and China. But at least when I went to a hostel in China, young people spoke English. But most of the time nobody spoke English. So I felt very lonely all the time and I always tried to look for a hostel cause I really wanted to talk badly. I tried to study Chinese but then people didn’t understand when I spoke because my accent was not right. It was the most difficult language and I had a huge language barrier except in the hostel.
Anyway, I found the shop after a long walk in a shopping mall. I bought winter shoes, gloves, thermos, and others. It was a really big money that I had spent $230. It was better to spend money than cut fingers and toes with frostbite.
There was a big museum that I could see many different things.
Maybe in the future, we would see only aboriginal life in the museum. I watched a very interesting documentary in Korean about an aboriginal people in Russia and China. In Russia, the government must send children to the school by helicopter or some kind of snow truck. From 6 or 7 years old, they can see their parents only during school break. But after graduating from school, some of them decided to settle down in nature with their family even after having experience of hot water and electricity in a school. They said they had everything like reindeer, house, and family in the nature.
But some of Chinese aboriginal was a bit different. Chinese government gave them a house and many civilization things as well. And aboriginal teenager thought his family was really poor and he didn’t want to be nomad anymore.
In Canada, the first immigration treated aboriginal people like uncivilized people as saying ‘You eat raw meat and you hunt brutally. Stop hunting. Stop uncivilized thing.’ They also put children in the school like Russia. But maybe the difference was Russian government let people just leave in nature after school. But in Canada they didn’t allow aboriginal life, but just gave money. Then they lost purpose to live and became alcoholic. When I lived in the north of Canada, there were many aboriginal people. Sometimes drunk aboriginal people came from early morning at the shop I worked. Even I saw aboriginal people handcuffed at the library, which was my first time to see people with a handcuff.
I think we should let aboriginal people live with the way they want. When I watched the documentary about aboriginal people in Russia, I was so surprised that they can survive without any modern gear even under -40. We could learn from them about how our ancestors survive. And it must be forbidden any tourism visiting them. We can just watch them in a documentary so their life is not spoiled by tourist like me.
Sometimes people asked me what I thought when I cycled. One of the things is just above. I think about the social issues, politics, history, and so on. Actually, I don’t want to think too much because it is too tiring, I feel frustrated with the fact I cannot do anything for changing, and people don’t like to listen to the serious things. But I cannot stop it. I love to see our planet is getting better and better for everybody.