June 5-6

Yining Kuytun and Urumqi China

We left Sasha, our Central Asian guide, when we crossed the border into China. Sasha turned out to be "one of the boys." Sim, our Chinese guide, is more serious, less relaxed, more absolute, and clearly has more pressure working with China than Sasha had with the other republics. We obtained our driver's licenses on June 4th. Unfortunately the licenses expire the day we leave China (but maybe the Ohio State Highway Patrol won't notice).

We stayed at the Grand Hotel in Yining, an excellent hotel with dramatically different service than we experienced in central Asia. In central Asia, they did not like to disclose the location of the elevator. In China they want to show you where it is, press the button for you, and then wait with you for the elevator to be sure it comes. There is a big difference.

There were some hovels along the way, but the public buildings and the new buildings are well done and beautifully executed. The freeways are every bit as good as the best of our interstates and built through difficult terrain. The roads can easily sustain speeds of 130 mph. Some of the less reputable members of our group tested their speed against both their speedometer and their GPS. We saw large drainage culverts under the road, perhaps every 500 yards – they must encounter heavy rain and flooding. The roads have perhaps 4'-5' of gravel with asphalt over that – very well constructed, up to the best of U.S. standards.

Motorcycles do not pay tolls, but there is limited access for motorcycles on the big highways, and motorcycles are not permitted in the large cities. This is probably because there are so many of them, and they are trying to keep traffic congestion down. The Chinese drivers are quite different from their Asian cousins. They are very deliberate when moving into your space, sort of like the Istanbul drivers, and they are very friendly. At every corner someone flashes their cell phone and takes a picture. On the road to Urumqi, the pastures and farms were lush and well tended. There were rows of poplar trees to break the significant wind that blows from the steppes into the mountains. The gas stations were clean; the only complaint was that we had to drive in convoy (although not as controlled as we were in Turkmenistan). Apparently, this regime has lightened up with time. However, we got lectures on speeding. There has not been a great deal of effort made to conform to the speed limits (more like guideline than actual laws). But now apparently, if we go more than 50% over the speed limit, they will take our license and impound the motorcycle. I'm glad they don't do that in Ohio.

The Torch Hotel in Urumqi is the best hotel thus far. Tonight is the first night I have been able to get into my emails and return dictation to the office by email. It's a great relief, but I am weeks behind in my work. The "blog squad" has done a wonderful job cleaning up the past blogs.

Tomorrow I will work on fixing the anti-lock brakes on my motorcycle. There is a new way to re-program the brakes that Mike Paull, one of our leaders, has been able to download from the Internet. In addition, I need new brake pads to replace the ones in the rear.

At dinner tonight we were served a fish – a little bit frightening since we are as far away from water as any point in the world. One of the treats that we will see tomorrow is the largest windmill power station in Asia. The wind in this area blows so hard that it has blown railroad trains off their tracks. Today it was actually cold, raining virtually the whole day. It should be an interesting ride over the mountains and then into the desert. The balance of this trip is going to be extremely hot. I have to convince myself that wearing black leathers was the right thing to do.

This part of China is captivating because it is definitely out in the boonies and off the beaten path. But they are dedicated to populating the area with Chinese, and bringing it into the Chinese mainstream. I was hoping to meet more young people, but I have not had the opportunity to get out of the hotel and mix. Hopefully that will come later.

That's all for now.

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