Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Xian Day Three

[11/4/09. Posted by JP for GC. China blocks blogs.]

Friends: Even though Xian is another Chinese boom town with bustle and construction on every front, it may be the only city of its size, in the four million range, without towering skyscrapers sprouting all over, as it is intent on preserving a semblance of its heritage and not upstaging many of its ancient relics.

Beijing ranks as China's premier tourist destination with the Forbidden City and nearby Great Wall and Tienanmen Square and other attractions, but Xian ranks just behind with its Terracotta Warriors and intact old city wall and moat and other centuries old sites. Since China has designs on becoming the world's top tourist destination within the next decade or two, it shows occasional restraint, as it hurtles forward industrially, out of consideration for those tourist hoards to come.

Here in Xian the government has restricted the height of buildings so they don't dominate the skyline, allowing it to somewhat retain a feel of being less than a commercial and industrial juggernaut. It has an abundance of open and green spaces, around the walls and in a handful of parks, including a vast concrete park/plaza comparable in size to Tienanmen Square containing the towering Big Goose Pagoda built in 652. There are arcades of the plane trees that are so ubiquitous throughout France, lining boulevards and parks. I'd find Xian agreeable even if I weren't staying with such a great friend who would brighten any place she happened to be.

Julie-Ann is looking after me so well I gave in to her insistence that I see a dentist to look at a tooth I cracked a couple of weeks ago restricting my chewing to one side of my mouth. I have been coping just fine, though I have to be painfully careful not to bite down on that suspect tooth.

She hadn't needed a dentist in the six months she's been in Xian, but there was one just around the corner from her apartment who looked respectable enough. We stopped in this morning on her way to work. The younger of the two dentists was able to put me immediately into his chair. Julie-Ann stood chair-side like an able assistant providing translation.

A quick probe of the tooth revealed that it was so loose that it needed to be extracted. That's exactly what I feared. After some minor preparation he dove in with his forceps. As he pulled he discovered it was so loose because it had fractured just above the root. He broke the remainder off with a minimum of effort and pain. Leaving the root, he said, was my good fortune, as it could be built on. His fee, thirty yuan, even less than the $7 Stephen, who I will be soon meeting up with, recently paid in India to have a cavity filled.

It is a relief not to have to pay attention now when I chew. It is just one of the many things I can thank Julie-Ann for. I will be sorry to say goodbye tomorrow, but leave I must, as I have a much-anticipated rendezvous with Stephen fast approaching. We are both approximately 600 miles from Wuhan, I to the north and west, Stephen from the south and west, having just crossed into China from Vietnam several days ago. Our tentative meeting point is one of the eight McDonald's in the big city of Wuhan at noon on November 16.

Meeting that deadline and finding that McDonald's will be a challenge, maybe not quite as great as putting a man on the moon, but it might be cycling's equivalent. Wuhan is another huge city of some five million. It straddles the Yangzi River. There are more variables at play than either of us can predict or be aware of--the weather, road conditions, the mostly indecipherable road signs, mechanicals, our strength and health, and so forth. We'll be in contact in the days to come via email following each other's progress. We both would like to be the first there, hopefully arriving a day early so we're not under any last minute frantic pressure, and also to allow us to explore Wuhan a bit and get a breather before our final push to Beijing, 770 miles due north.

I am as excited and eager to meet up with Stephen as I was to see Julie-Ann, though in a different manner. Stephen will be thirteen months and one day into his round the world bicycle trip the day we come together. He set out from Telluride, high in Colorado's Rockies, where we met at the film festival. This is an adventure for him, but also a means to raise awareness of epilepsy ( Stephen has a mild case suffering usually just one seizure a year. He offers his trip as proof that such a condition shouldn't keep one house-bound or prevent one from leading a normal life.

He has suffered two seizures on this trip, the last a couple weeks ago in Laos. As long as he keeps up with his medication he's fine. Both instances he managed to overlook his daily dose. The other seizure occurred in Portugal just after his trans-Atlantic flight. Both occurred while he was on his bicycle. Both times he woke up with good Samaritans surrounding him.

Although I have kept up with his travels through his website and personnel emails and his parents, who are also Tellurideans and good friends, he has much much more to fill me in on. I anticipate we'll be gabbing away non-stop for days, debriefing one another as only fellow touring cyclists can. He has biked many of the same roads I have in the U.S., Spain, France, Italy, Croatia, Greece, Israel, Egypt, India, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and more. It will be glorious for both of us to have such a knowing audience for our impressions and experiences. As someone in his 20s, he's much more Internet savvy than I am. I may at last learn the ease of posting photos with my writing. He has many sensational ones on his website.

Later, George

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