The rolling hills of Shaanxi continued as did the lovely warm spring weather as I made my way the short distance from Shangnan to Shangluo. This area is obviously very popular with Chinese cyclists and I’ve started seeing a lot more along the way however they always seem to be going in the opposite direction. This changed about 10km outside of Shanghluo as I ran into two young Chinese guys who’d been out for a days ride and were now heading back. We soon struck up a conversation and the next thing I knew I was handed one of their phones as we rode and found myself talking to a guy named Oliver in English. He explained to me that he was the leader of a small bike club in Shangluo and invited me to join them for dinner.
As it turned out Oliver was not only the leader of the bike club but also ran a small shop selling bikes. In addition he was a Chinese English teacher at the local middle school which accounted for his excellent English. More and more people turned up at the club and all went about snapping plenty of photos of me on their mobiles.
While I sat and drank Chinese tea in the small office which doubled as a storehouse and clubhouse Oliver unknown to me went back to my bike which I’d left outside the room tightened my breaks and also cleaned my chain; what a guy! Unfortunately he wasn’t able to join us for dinner but I promised to return after some food to chat some more.
The young guys from the bike club couldn’t have been more keen to help me. They took me to a hotel and then out for some more of those incredible dumplings I seem to be living off at the moment. Like many young Chinese guys they are always eager to test their drinking ability against a foreigner. They promptly went about popping the caps of a whole case of beer. I tried to explain to them that after a long days ride it’s probably better to rehydrate with water instead of beer but this fell on deaf ears as they continued to fill my plastic glass to the rim each time.
One of the things that has always amused me about drinking with Chinese people is the issue of offering respect when you ‘cheers’ someone. The idea is that if you or the other person for that matter consider yourself to be more important you should raise your glass higher than that of the other person when you bring the glasses together. What often happens is that both parties obviously not wishing to offend the other fight to lower their glass further than that of the other. It can be rather comical scene and I’ve been known to lower my glass to the floor before in an attempt to show respect to my hosts!
Once we’d stuffed ourselves full of dumplings and polished off the whole case of beer one of the guys indicated to the waitress to bring another. I quickly stepped in and stopped him explaining that I’d rather go to the shop and buy some water as I was getting a little bit tired. Three of the guys were what you might also call ‘professional smokers’ and were doing their best to chain smoke their way through the assorted boxes of cigarettes on the table. As per usual I was offered a cigarette every time one of them would light up and each time I declined explaining to them that I don’t smoke. It’s a respect thing and once again in order to allow them to ‘keep face’ you should take one cigarette and store in behind your ear which can then later be passed off to one of the many homeless people I keep passing; more about them another time.
After a quick visit to see Oliver again and look at photos from many of the clubs bike outings I was soon heading back to my hotel, slightly groggy from excessive beer drinking but more than ready for bed.
I’d once again been treated like a king by the locals and couldn’t thank them enough for the kindness they had shown me. We said our goodbyes and I think they were a little disappointed that I wasn’t going to stay a bit longer. I explained to them that I would be heading to Xi’an the next day. I asked them approximately how far it was to which one cf them replied around 130km, very manageable I thought however another of them then signaled with his hand in a rather steep diagonal motion accompanied with a rather sinister laugh which I assumed meant that I’d be mostly going up. No problem I thought, I’ve been up and down a fair bit already how hard could it be? Famous last words…….