June 3-4

Almaty to Zharkent Kazakhstan

On June 3rd we rode through Kazakhstan from Almaty to Zharkent. Part of the ride included a jaunt down into the "Grand Canyon of Kazakhstan", which is small by US Grand Canyon standards, but had an extraordinary number of tourists. (Why would tourists flock to see that canyon when they could see the real Grand Canyon?) We spent the night in a classic old fashioned hotel where the faucet for the shower swung over and doubled as the faucet for the sink. The plumbing was exposed and nothing worked – another Soviet style hotel.

Clearing the Border

The next morning we left very early to arrive at the Kazakhstan border with northwest China before it opened. The road to the border was in bad repair. Hundreds of trucks lined up on the Kazakhstan side, waiting to cross. The Chinese side had an enormous building dominating the skyline, a symbol that you are entering a very big and important country. There was no manual entry of passport numbers and vehicle numbers – everything was computerized. The officials had sleek well pressed uniforms and would often run to their duties, a vast improvement over the Soviet "minimalist service" model.

It took the better part of seven hours to clear the border. The biggest problem was importing the motorcycles into the country with plans to export them later in the month. There were concerns about taxes that would arise if the bikes were sold while we are in China. We have to obtain Chinese licenses and plates to drive in China, and had to provide in advance a picture that met the Chinese photo criteria. We proceeded to the police station to get our licenses, and they came across nicely laminated. We did not get our license plates – we have to save that for tomorrow when we will take another shot at the Chinese bureaucracy.

China

We entered China from the northwest (not the eastern border), an area that includes the Muslim Uighurs. China is reputed to be concerned about these people; they are potential dissidents due to their ethnic and religious heritage. The people look different. They are of Kazak stock, but have not been contaminated by the Soviet influence. The women look frumpier, more professional, more in the model of a serious working woman. On the organizational chart of the police station, there were many women in the lower range, although none on the top of the chart. The scale of construction and the complexity of the villages and towns in China far exceeded Kazakhstan. However, the number of draft animals pulling carts was higher in China than in Kazakhstan. The average per capita income in China is still only $1,500, not as high as Turkey or several of the other central Asian republics. That is the crux of the Chinese problem. They are in a race to more equitably share the largess of the Chinese economy with their rural brothers and sisters, so they can be worthy of being the most significant socialist economy in the world. Currently, the income concentration between the "haves" and "have not" is far greater in China than in the U.S. The hotel we are in is western in style, but with a little bit of Chinese influence. Tomorrow we attack the license plate bureaucracy, and hopefully we can cover the 250 miles on our itinerary.

My Motorcycle

Somehow the sciatica pain in my back has returned – I think it's from long hours leaning over the motorcycle during repair and maintenance. The repairs have worked well. The fuel pump adaptation has been nearly flawless. This involved taking a BMW automobile fuel pump and placing it rigidly inside the fuel tank of the motorcycle, rewiring it and re-plumbing it. The major difficulty is the amount of vibration and shock load that the gas tank handles, but it seems to be working well. The float that drives the gas gauge is no longer working, thus I keep track of mileage to estimate how much fuel is in the tank. The GPS is no longer working. A fuse underneath the gas tank is blown – not a good location. I will try to change that in the next couple of days when I can get near an automobile supply store. Because of my motorcycle's great turn around, I have had a formal ceremony to name it Bucephalus – after the horse belonging to Alexander the Great. The horse is noted for a great turnaround, from being flat on its back to up and running again.

The Group

The people in our group continue to be a fascinating lot. I have been talking with Vincent, who runs a commercial diving company out of his home in Vancouver. He started his business by ordering a booklet, "How to Get into Commercial Diving." Initially he cleaned the bottoms of yachts with a hydraulic scrub brush, and then gradually worked up to barges and commercial ships, then became a surveyor. Now he also does significant repair jobs on boats that require the moving of plates on the bottom of a boat while it is still in the water – repairing propellers and propeller seals, etc. It sounds like a fascinating business, but it is even more fascinating to hear how they have developed their businesses. I will include more about them as we continue.

That's all for now.

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