Riding with Nancy

Zahariz Khuzaimah
December 31, 2011

The further I rode to the northwest of China, the more Muslims I encountered.


Exploring the world on bicycle (continuation from part 12)

After two hours battling in the heavy traffic in Xining to find a good and cheap place to stay, I finally found a good backpackers guesthouse in the middle of the city.

Unlike riding west from Chengdu to Tibet, where the word “Ni Hao” was slowly replaced by “Tashi Delek”, here while riding north towards the Central Asia, the word “Tashi Delek” was slowly being replaced by “Salam Alaikum”.

The further I rode to the northwest of China, the more Muslims I encountered.

Here in Xining, which is the capital of Qinghai Province, it is filled mostly by the Hui Chinese Muslims. Walking around the city, I feel like I’m back home in Kuala Lumpur. There were a few mosques around the city and I found two more big mosques that were still under construction.

The biggest mosque here is Dongguan Mosque, which attracts many tourists with its bright and colorful lights at night. I feel even more at home when I woke up with the sound of azan (call for prayer for Muslims) during the first light at dawn.

Sometimes, I even feel this place is more similar to the Middle East rather than Malaysia. During azan, I could see the roads fill with people walking towards the mosques to perform prayers. The Hui Muslims must be the majority here, since only around 500 meters away from Dongguan Mosque, there was another big mosque which was under construction. So the Muslim population here must be really huge.

The food here is also different than the one I experienced in Chengdu or any other smaller towns in Sichuan Province. There were a lot of stalls at the roadsides selling kebabs and bread.

People here were so friendly to me. Every shop that I went to, the shop owner would ask me to come back to their shop. Sometimes, while having a meal alone, the young locals will look at me and start talking to me, asking if I am a foreigner. Then, they will join me on my table and start to have conversation with me just to practice their English. Most of them were university students studying in a university in Xining.

I also had the chance to repair my bicycle at a good bicycle shop in Xining which provided repairing services. The show had all the equipments that I needed. After over 2,000km I had cycled from Chengdu, crossing the very rough terrain of Tibetan Mountains, I finally got my bicycle repaired and changed some necessary parts to continue cycling north.

I even changed a new set of tires since I will be riding another 2,000 kilometers before finding the next available bicycle shop which is in Urumqi of Xinjiang.

I quickly attracted attention inside the bicycle shop and people started to surround me and my bicycle after they knew that I cycled here to Xining from Chengdu. I guess they would want to ask more detailed questions from me but since I can’t communicate well in Mandarin, we had to limit our conversation.

Riding with Nancy

Another thing that I realized in this city is that they have more American-style fast food restaurants compared to Chengdu. It was their own brand but by the look of it, the style, the types of food and even the taste were a lot like normal McDonalds.

It was interesting to see that these American-style fast food restaurants were filled with local Chinese having breakfast eating burgers, hotdogs and coffee while at the normal Chinese food stalls at the roadsides, you can see groups of European tourists having breakfast eating traditional Chinese food.

After a few days taking a rest and exploring the city of Xining, I found another bicycle in my guesthouse. I began to feel curious and was excited to meet this other cyclist, so I waited at the lounge of the guesthouse.

I finally met the owner of the bicycle, a Chinese girl who was in her early 20s. I then approached her and started to have conversation with her. Good thing that she spoke good English, so we can really communicate well.

Her name was Nancy and another good thing was that she was planning to ride at the same direction as me, which was towards the north to Qinghai Lake where I will continue towards Urumqi in Xinjiang.

She is actually from Beijing but has been living for some years in Guangzhou where she studied in a university there and worked for a few years. She took two weeks off from her work and planned to cycle from Xining to Qinghai Lake which is around 120km and continue cycling around the lake which will take another 400km.

She told me that this was her first time to do a long distance cycling and she had zero knowledge about bicycles and about long distance cycling. She also told me that she never camped in the wild before and knows nothing about outdoor activities.

When asked, she gave me a familiar answer, where she felt really bored living the city life and wanted to do something crazy in her life. She was all alone and knows nothing on what will happen on her journey ahead.

I was surprised to meet her because she is a lot like me. I then told her about my stories as well, on how I started to this cycling journey and how I got the idea to do this journey. I could see the surprise in her as well when she heard about my story. I then asked her if she wanted to ride together with me since both of us were lonely riders and we were heading towards the same direction, as Qinghai Lake is part of my way towards Urumqi.

She agreed and we were both happy that we can ride together. It will benefit both of us if we rode together since she can be a great partner to me since she spoke good Mandarin and as a girl riding alone for a long distance, she will feel much safer riding with a partner where I will surely protect her from any dangers ahead on our journey together. Since then, we spent time together almost all the time while our stay in Xining.

On with our journey

We went shopping for extra wild camping accessories together, having lunch and dinner together and after a few days we became very close. We kept chatting and it was really fun talking to Nancy since we shared many common things and shared the same view on many things.

We stayed for two more days in Xining before riding together towards the north. Since she was inexperienced in long distance cycling, I helped her to get to the bicycle shop that I went in Xining to do some modification on her mountain bike.

Finally after both of us were ready, we left the city of Xining together. As usual, it was very difficult riding in the city since the traffic was heavy. Since it was her first time riding bicycle with luggage, I carried some of her luggage to make sure she can ride easily with lighter luggage.

The road was confusing with many turnings but we managed to find our way towards the highway G109 that will lead us towards the beautiful Qinghai Lake.

The beginning of our ride was unpleasant with many buses and lorries along the road. After about 20km out of the city, the road became clearer and we started to see some nice countryside views.

To be continued…

Zahariz Khuzaimah is a Malaysian who had enough of routine life and decided to leave everything behind. He pulled all his 40kg of luggage on his bicycle to explore the world. He chose to live his life on the road. The road teaches him things that he can never learn in universities.