A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Stephenhanlon

Han Long Ha Noi Bike Tours

Dragon's Fire to Finish

overcast 30 °C

HaNoi is the capital of Vietnam and yet another city of 7 million that we have visited on the Bamboo Road. Enjoying 2 rest days in this unique city has allowed us to truly explore a city steeped in history.

Some of our riders chose to visit the World Heritage Listed area of HaLong Bay, which literally translates to "where the Dragon decends into the sea". Its famous for the limestone outcrops which legend would have us believe were the result of fireballs from the Dragon. The Limestone outcrops are just like the ones we saw extensively as we travelled through Southern China.

Others choose an official day tour of HaNoi, whilst I was joined by Patsy from England (no, not "the" Patsy from AbFab), and Peter, the Elvis Impersonator from Sydney, on our own self guided, self ridden tour of HaNoi. Having visited here a couple of times before, combined with the advice of the front desk we decided to head off at about 9.30 and trundle around town.

Our first destination was to be Confucius' Library, the area of Great Intellectual Study in HaNoi nearly 1000 years old. Holy S$%^. Confucius say, dumb white folk who ride in HaNoi traffic deserve to die.

Don't they know the war is over? After turning out of our relatively quiet dead end street it was on. The 3 km ride to our first stop was like passing through Minefields, Sniper Nests and Napalm Bombing raids. Intersections are where 4 streams of traffic interact, all at the same time. Red lights are totally irrelevant. straight lines are meaningless and people, vehicles and any other mechanical device will turn whenever and wherever it damn well pleases. Your only decision is, can I get past the front or the back.

After our Confucian insights, and after a small altercation collecting our bikes from the parking lot. We'd lost our receipts and of course how could the lady be sure we were the 3 white people who had left the bikes with her 30 mins beforehand!! Given there were no other bikes and no other white people.

Heading to the Main Political Area which has as its main feature Uncle Ho's (The founding father of modern Vietnam) Mausoleum, Patsy did the quick dart across the traffic, which she was becoming quite adept at, and waited for us. As we manoeuvred our way across the traffic to this rather empty area to join Patsy we had at least 5 Soldiers heading for us from different areas of the compass. They could have been waving a warm Vietnamese greeting, but we decided that maybe HaNoi traffic was a better alternative to what was unfolding.

A ride through the old Quarter saw us pass Funeral central, street food which brings new meaning to the song "How much is that Doggie in the Window", and streets defined by the stuff they sell. The predilection to ignoring intersection controls resulted in me riding through a green light only to have a stream of Scooters coming from my left. As I went in front of two girls on a scooter they squealed when they realised they were about to hit me, jammed on the break and went down. Only one with helmet, but her holding her elbow, whilst her girlfriend was comforting her. That was close.

A trip around the famous Turtle Lake before returning to the sanctity of our Hotel meant that we had survived our self guided, self driven tour, but only just. Which brings me to the end of my story.

You see, my Bamboo Road must end here. I have been lucky enough to buy a business, Grandcucina.com, and I need to spend some time on it. The Bamboo Road will always be here, but GrandCucina.com, with some other opportunities, means I am cutting my trip short.

So my last observation was to be a post for October 31st. But I will leave it with you now. In the land of the Mythical Dragon, its been 4 years since I decided to Quench it's fire. Too many people's lives are ruined by the beast, and I chose to make sure mine wasn't going to be. I'm not being a Methodist preacher, we are all free to make our own choices, and ultimately these decisions come from within, but this vile, evil, insidious drug wreaks more harm than good. Thanks for following my blog.

Dragon's Fire

Warm, tingle
Inhibitions take flight
Freedom, relief
Dragon's Fire gives "life"

Ache, thirst
Fog of confusion
Empty, unfulfilled
Dragon's Fire takes life

Pain, hurt
Fight the calling
Daily, forever
Dragon's Fire...extinguished

Posted by Stephenhanlon 04:29 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Arse Cream, Lube and Strava

A language all of its own

sunny 35 °C

Cycling, like all sports, has its own terminology which to the uninitiated can at best sound unusual and, at worse, lead to raised eyebrows.

As we enjoyed a day off the bike in NanNing, a small city in Southern China of 7 million people, we ventured into the town centre which was dominated by shops, local brands and the infernal Starbucks, McDonalds, et al. The first building we entered was 7 floors of mobile phone and accessory stalls. Surely there were more phones than people.

Wandering the streets enjoying the sites, crawling up back alleys and going into shops for no other reason cause they were there was a nice break. I spent most of the day with the Kiwi and German, I like to hang out with winners, and of course conversation turned to how we were feeling.

"I need more Arse Cream", announced Phil. Rather than this being a conversation stopper we walked on as normal. Cycling is very demanding on the nether regions and no-one escapes the dreaded saddle sores. In fact, the standard morning greeting is not "Good Morning" but "How's your arse?". To which a mumbled reply gets a sympathetic nod. "Arse Cream" is designed to take the rough edges of such predicament and is a cycling essential.

Shortly after, as we sat down in the afternoon sun to enjoy freshly squeezed juice, Georg lamented the fact that his Lube had been confiscated at the airport. A similar lack of reaction from us, as Lube is used on your chain to ensure all runs smoothly and effort is translated into power.

At this moment 2 young adult girls approached us and asked if we could speak Chinese. My fellow riders volunteered my services and I spent some time answering their Chinese survey. After some confusion as my Chinese in their area of study is limited, I deciphered that their survey was into attitudes towards Homosexuality and Gay Marriage. They were seeking local and foreign viewpoints as a comparison for their college assignment.

After bidding goodbye we looked at each other and burst out laughing. These girls had overheard our cycling discussion, and are obviously unfamiliar with the terminology.

Which brings me to Strava, an online community where you can load all your efforts and share with people. You can follow others and see what they are doing, where they are going and how well they are doing it. It captures all the essential information of your ride as you can see from the pics, as well as your heart rate (for those not too tight to pay PC, RB).

Upon departing for this trip the overwhelming summary was be careful, either of others, drivers, motor scooters and other hazards, and, or, I hope your heart doesn't give out. It got me thinking, as one does have a great deal of thinking time each day. If my heart did decide to give out, it would make an interesting profile on Strava. It would be pretty rare that at the very instant it was all over, my heart rate monitor would deliver a flat line.

I reckon it would make a pretty impressive picture to hang on the wall."The day Dad's heart stopped!" Hopefully the girls would share it with you at my funeral and they can put it pride of place with all my other artwork they love so much!

Yes I know, sick. But when you're in the Hurt Locker, its 35 and steamy and you're watching the kilometers slowly tick over as you head towards Vietnam your head does go to strange places. But that's cycling. Strange. Arse Cream, Lube and Strava.Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 8.04.06 pm

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Posted by Stephenhanlon 01:01 Archived in China Comments (0)

WWII hits China - Update

The Kiwi Goat Farmer, Panzer Major and Captain America

sunny 34 °C

We all bring our cultural heritage to which ever part of the world we travel. We are as often defined by where we come from, in the eyes of others well before they even get a chance to know and understand. These preexisting ideas and stereotypes often create the need for us to look for behaviours that will re-enforce the preconceptions.

Australians are known for being brash and loud or humorous, "disrespectful" or forthright, wild or know how to have a good time. Whichever adjective is chosen to describe Australian's often says more about the observer than the observed. In my previous employment (oops, I still can't say that yet officially) we received feedback in a very French way, i.e.. not directly, that "in Paris, they have trouble understanding you". It turned out that, in spite of operating in over 30 countries around the World at that time, it was little old Australia, where the French could least comprehend what we said.

Our accent, combined with speed of our speech and topped off by the use of colloquial's, slang and humour, added up to a potent mix whereby a Frenchman, and in fact many people around the World, would look blankly at you after you had asked them a question. Of course, with time people start to tune in and look past the accent, speed and slang to hear the content and recognise that maybe these Aussies aren't a bunch of halfwits. Unfortunately some stop at the first part and never reach the second (especially the Poms).

So stereotypes exist, we all have them, as do generalisations. And I am about to deliver on each and seek no forgiveness for doing so, aside from the fact that, in admitting I'm doing it, if you are offended by them, then sorry but too bad. The International collection represented on the Bamboo Road is a great example of these stereotypes. The largest contingent is a group of Canadians, all representing the Ootdoors Type, some Africans, tough men who can wrangle a Rhino in their sleep, a Swede descended form true Viking stock, and an assortment of English.

The English carry their air of superiority in most cases knowingly, and those who don't are well described as been "lovely". Then that brings us to our main protagonists.

As the Bamboo Road had begun in ShangHai the original participants had developed the opportunity to work on the pecking order. From all reports there was some early tension between Phil "The Goat Farmer from Timaru" (with apologies to Gordon Bray), and George "The German Panzer Major". Both well over 60 these 2 gents are amazing athletes who can power a bike all day long. The first couple of days saw some stellar battles between them to see who held the upper hand. Germany one day, NZ (or should I say the Anzacs) the next. Until finally they achieved somewhat of a truce, with the Kiwi "allowing" the German to win, but occasionally putting him to the sword just to let him know that it was still possible.

With our arrival in Hong Kong, the Group effectively doubled. A new retinue of nations with an addition from the USA. Tom is a father of 4 and grandfather of 1, involved in real estate and kind hearted. He ensured he got to meet everyone and hear their story. Little did we know, the was a motive.

The morning of our ride departure in LuDing arrived and we all congregated in the foyer. As the lift swung open, the band struck up the star spangled banner and out strode Captain America. Replete in the Stars and Stripes, with a touching remembrance to our "Honor the Fallen" across the back. This attire would look splendid in any part of America, but in the World's largest Communist country? "Tom, do you think thats a good idea?". "Why?", he answered. A brief history lesson of America's role in Vietnam and Laos was met with a bemused expression which belied a sense of history.

As we departed it soon became clear that the previously arranged pecking order had a new challenger. As Captain America sped to the from and put on surge after surge the Kiwi and the German were not pleased. The unholy alliance had to work together to smash this American upstart. You could imagine the same sort of looks when the Yanks finally decided to join in the war, and the thrust and parry of the previous years suddenly had to develop a whole new rhythm. Mind you, the French probably didn't care, whomever was ahead in the moment seemed to have their support.

And so, over the next couple of days, the Kiwi and The German had to work hard to put him in his place, and, yet, Captain America still drags himself off the canvas every day. Over dinner it was suggested that maybe he didn't have to push so hard, to which he responded, "A mans gotta do what a mans gotta do." To which, Danie "Marathon Man" from South Africa said, "No Tom, Boys will be boys".

As a post script, 2 mornings ago Tom appeared in a new jersey, Cambodia. Proudly asking, "How's this?", he was surprised at the response, don't wear that near the Thai Border.

God Bless America

Posted by Stephenhanlon 01:39 Archived in China Comments (0)

The Discovery of a New Species

Some days you just feel like Darwin.

sunny 30 °C

Imagine that moment when it suddenly dawns on you. You may be the very first person to have made this discovery.

This plant or animal which you have been intently studying, watching for any particular points of similarity and difference between this and already known species. This can't be something new. Your starting position is "surely not".

This is a very fresh experience for a group of Australian and US Researchers who earlier this year announced the discovery a new Species of rat in Sulawesi, Indonesia. This new animal the Hog-nosed rat, Hyorhinomys stuempkei, has a pig style nose, long hind legs and hops around with large canine incisors. Imagine that thing coming after you hungry!

Of course the most famous of all was English Naturalist Charles Darwin, who, not only discovered innumerable new Species, but also built our understanding of evolution, not that the Creationists have had a chance to understand his writing.

Travelling the Bamboo Road through Southern China I too had my own Darwin moment. As I have travelled from YunFu to CenXi via LuDing over the last couple of days I have developed an understanding of the existence of 2 new species, in fact it is one species but seen through different eyes.

Cyclists, if that is the Genus, has number of Species. Some I have known previously, but only in the last couple of days have I realised that there is a new one, Cyclists Touristo. More on them shortly. For completeness the other known species are;

  • Cyclists Triathlonsauraus - a focused animal that has no pain threshold. Spend all their time focusing on "aero" advantage. Always look to ride solo as drafting is illegal in their style of racing.
  • Cyclists Roadnomys - absolute devotion to weight reduction. Well spend anything to reduce the weight of their equipment but often forget that the heaviest part of the bike is the engine. Shaved legs, expensive Lycra and Strava segments are some of their key features

And now the newly discovered species, for me anyway, Cyclists Touristo. This unique species is made up of hard core cyclists who seek adventure around the world. They have no bike envy issues, as there bike is just the essential tool they use to see the world, they dress in whatever they feel like, are not concerned with the pretensions of cycling and fix flats with patches rather than throwing away inner tubes.

Travelling through China, as I am, now a fully fledged member of this species, there is no doubt that too the locals we are a completely new species as well.

Standing in the foyer of our hotel this morning the security guard came over, bent down and wrapped his hands around my calf, mumbled something, and stood there staring. At lunch in a little village, a crowd stood around, touching our hairy arms as we tried to eat sandwiches, and an afternoon snack at a street stall turned into a congo line of photos such that our food was cold by the time we ate it. In the Street Market we road through yesterday where thousands of locals where buying and selling, it wasn't the sight of the dead Rats being sold that was strange, it was us.

In these parts of China, Westerners are rare, Westerners riding bicycles rarer and Cyclists Touristo the rarest of all.

Posted by Stephenhanlon 04:39 Archived in China Comments (0)

Is someone trying to tell me Something?…

Preparation, Tapering and Performance

overcast 25 °C

All great sportsmen reflect on their performance and consider what went right and, more importantly, what needs changing for next time. And when faced with circumstances they have never previously experienced they set themselves up for success through preparation.

The Australian Swimming team, 12 months to the day of the upcoming 2016 Olympic Games in Rio entered camp in Canberra. They changed their clocks to Rio time, planned their day on that basis, used artificial light to condition their bodies to the different time zone, and then held Heats, Semi Finals and Finals for all their events as if they were at the Olympics. In the lead up, they would have also worked on their “Taper”, that is, the change in their training load and intensity, which is unique to every athlete.

Who knows how well it will work, and, in reality who cares, as it is only performance in the moment that determines the effectiveness of everything before.

So you can imagine my challenge, as I prepared for my final week before hitting the Bamboo Road, how do I set up my Taper. Not having a team behind me like Swimming Australia, and, given the fact that using the term “great Sportsman” in the same sentence as my name has never and will never happen, I still had a plan.

After a few weeks of 250 - 300k’s in preparation, I was doing 40 on Monday, 60 on Thursday, and 50 on Friday. I knew that would have kept my legs fresh for the adventure.

As the Week unfolded, and the ache in my neck grew to a headache, my temperature rose, the hot and cold sweats swamped in, my throat became angrier and all I could do was fitfully sleep I thought…”Is someone trying to tell me something?”

No. I’ll be right. Quick visit to the Doc, I’m not going to die. One of the last things I decided to do then, was wash the car. As I replaced the foaming brush and stepped back to grab the Spray hose, and tripped A over T over the hose and fell into a freshly laid pile of foam…”Is someone trying to tell me something…still?”

So my planned taper ended up being a practiced stop. What affect will it have, I will know next week.

But if someone was trying to really tell me something, then he/she has a great sense of humour. Arriving in Hong Kong and jumping in the taxi, with the wipers going hard against the rain and the wind, the first song on the radio was Bicycle by Queen….”I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike…..” Taper or not, I’m here and ready to ride.

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Posted by Stephenhanlon 19:34 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

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