14degrees off the beaten track
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July 29th, 2008 | categorizilation: all categories,China (Qinghai),highlights

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Today’s distance / ???????: 44.4 miles / 71.4km
Average speed / ????: 9.5mph / 15.3km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 4h 40m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5506mi plus 377mi (?) / 8861km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 400m
Descent / ??: 885m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N38° 10′ 26.10″, E100° 14′ 53.90″

Today I had two choices. The road forks at O-po. To the direct south, Highway 227 continues directly on to Xining, 200km away. To the west, there is a longer detour of nearly twice that distance, 380km, along Qinghai Provincial Roads 304 and 204. Highway 227 to the south I know is paved all the way. I also know that there is a 3,800m high pass in there somewhere.

The longer detour however is not so certain. Most people say that it is all paved, and the highest pass is 3,400m.

In the end however, there is not much argument about which road to take. From the direction of Highway 227, there is a constant stream of jeeps and cars. From the direction of Provincial Road 304, there is nothing but the occasional motorbike with a warmly wrapped up Tib*etan in traditional clothing gripping the handlebars.

Provincial Road 304 it is.

It begins with a rough start…literally.

Loving the minor road 304 from Erbou to Chiling, Qinghai Province, China

The dirt road is smooth however, and a slight downhill and tailwind aids progress on the slightly spongy surface.

After 5km of dirt, the pavement resumes with only occasional road works. The pavement is not as smooth as Highway 227, Provincial Road 304 being mostly moderate chipseal.

Province Road 304 in Qinghai Province, China Yaks are my constant companions in Qinghai Province (304 road from Erlou), China

I am in my element however. How long have I put up with busy roads?! My original intent when leaving Japan was to get off the beaten track. Ever since I got onto this skateboard, I have been well and truely on the beaten track. For the first time in well over a year, I feel back in the environment I love the best. Away from it all. An environment where the road is the intruder. An environment where the environment itself holds dominance, not human influence.

Winged falcon on Highway 304 near Erlou, Qinghai Province, China

Towards noon, I spied an interesting looking structure surrounded by some low-lying buildings. Upon closer inspection, it was the Arou Tib*etan Buddhist Monastery. I rolled up for a closer look, and soon became the center of attention.

The monks of the Arou Buddhist Temple in Arou, Qinghai Province, China

The younger monks were naturally very interested in the longboard. I waited in suspense for one of them to get their robe caught in the wheels, but thankfully they escaped their test-rides unscathed.

Tibetan Buddhist Monk tries out the skateboard at the Arou Buddhist Temple in Arou, Qinghai Province, China Tibetan Buddhist Monk tries out the skateboard at the Arou Buddhist Temple in Arou, Qinghai Province, China

“How old do you have to be to become a monk?” I asked one of the monks who could speak Chinese.

“Ten years old, and you can become a monk,” he replied.

As we were chatting, a few of the monks had their mobile phones out, taking photos of us talking.

I was given a tour of the fantastic monastery. Photos do much more justice than my words ever could.

Arou Buddhist Temple in Arou, Qinghai Province, China

Hanging cloth in Tibetan Buddhist Temple near Chiling, Qinghai Province, China Arou Buddhist Temple in Arou, Qinghai Province, China

Prayer wheels in Arou Buddhist Temple in Arou, Qinghai Province, China

The monastery’s claim to fame is the world’s largest (Guinness Record for 8 years running) yak fur tent. The whole thing is made from woven yak fur.

Guinness World Record largest tent made from yak wool at the Arou Buddhist Temple in Arou, Qinghai Province, China Guinness World Record largest tent made from yak wool at the Arou Buddhist Temple in Arou, Qinghai Province, China

World's largest (Guinness Record) yak fur tent in Arou Buddhist Temple, Arou, Qinghai Province, China

Guinness World Record largest tent made from yak wool at the Arou Buddhist Temple in Arou, Qinghai Province, China

It was not until 2pm that I made it out of the monastery.

The monks of the Arou Buddhist Temple in Arou, Qinghai Province, China

I continued skating west along Provincial Road 304, along the wide descending river plain.

Open river plain on the way to Chiling, Qinghai Province, China

About 10km out of Chiling, my destination for the day, it began raining. The smart thing would have been to put on my waterproof trousers. I kept skating.

Wet roads near Chiling, Qinghai Province, China

The road into Chiling was gritty and covered in a fine silt that was flicked up onto my clothing. I arrived in the city a sodden dirty mess, but stoked with a great adventurous day!

Rain near Chiling on Provincial Highway 304, Qinghai Province, China

Arrival in Chiling did not spell the end of adventure however. After checking out a few cheap hotels, I finally found one that gave me a room for 30RMB (3 Euro). It was a small family business, and they were delightful.

“You came from O-po today?! That is so far. Look at you, you’re all dirty and wet. You can pay once you’ve got all cleaned up. Here is your room…”

In the evening I visited the local internet cafe to upload photos. I was there two hours before two police officers arrived.

“Can we speak to you a second, please sir?” they asked in Chinese.

At this juncture, I should have just played the “I can’t speak Chinese” card. However, the day was going great, and I wanted to be friendly.

“Sure, just let me gather my things,” I replied in Chinese.

I followed them to their car just outside the internet cafe.

“Where are you from?” they began.

“Where are you staying?” they asked.

It was here that I knew I was ruined.

I told them that I was staying at a place up the road. No, I can’t remember the name.

“You can show us the way,” one of the officers said.

There was no way out, so I directed them to the small, clean family-run travel inn. We parked outside, and after just one look at the outside of the inn, they said “you cannot stay here, we will show you to another hotel.”

This was all I needed. I cracked. I got annoyed.

“This is rediculous! The place is just fine. It is clean and new, the staff are helpful! All my gear is there, I am comfortable. It is 9pm, and it will take time to go to another hotel. Plus, I have been on the road for 2 years. I cannot afford to stay at expensive hotels!” I said very firmly.

“How much can you afford?” they asked.

“20RMB, and no more,” I replied.

“OK, we will find you a good hotel for 20RMB,” they replied.

No way that would be happening I thought, but I had to go with it. We dashed into the travel inn and removed all my gear, me none too happy about it, and the owners of the travel inn also giving the police an earful about how they should not harass their guests.

The police took me to one hotel, and sure enough, it was 100RMB a night.

“100RMB?” the young officers asked incredulously. Obviously they were not expecting it to be this much.

One of the officers made a phone call on his cell phone. “Hello sir,” I overheard him say. I did not catch all of the conversation, but did hear the words “two years travel, needs cheap place to stay, New Zealand”.

It appears that their boss was understanding towards my plight, and told the younger officers to take me back to the original inn. I continued to show my displeasure at being uprooted and driven around the town, and they left me at the original inn, them apologising profusely.

What a palava.

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    Permanent Link     Comments (11)

Comment by Eric — August 4, 2008 @ 5:03 am | post a comment

why did they care where you stayed? were they concerned for your safety at the cheap motel or was it becuase they thought you should be paying tourist prices?

Comment by Steve Ruelle — August 4, 2008 @ 5:07 am | post a comment

Good on you for making your case like that and succeeding. I'll be rooting for you that these kind of hotel incidents are few and far between.

Comment by Rob Thomson — August 4, 2008 @ 7:50 am | post a comment

Eric, it is best not to ask why questions in China… :)

But I think it's because they want to show a good image of China. Get all the foreign tourists to stay in flash hotels, and they'll all go home thinking everything is all nice and peachy in China…keep the foreigners away from the dirt and grime…

Comment by Jean — August 4, 2008 @ 4:09 pm | post a comment

Hi Rob,

I'm curious about the picture of the falcon – great photo but how did you get so close?! Was it hurt?

Nice to see you're having more adventures and enjoying things again, after all that flatness.

See you,

Jean Anderson

Comment by andrew morgan — August 4, 2008 @ 4:14 pm | post a comment

rob, thanks for this post—i know posts like this take some time to put together, with all the pics and all. but in they end, they end up packing a big punch for your readers. so thank you!



Comment by Mum — August 4, 2008 @ 6:34 pm | post a comment

I think you are right re the Chinese attitude to foreigners. They do not want to 'lose face' by being seen to be poor in any way. The image they want you to see is that they are right there with the rest of the western world in their hotels and housing. Of course it's entirely another picture in the rural villages.

Comment by Rob Thomson — August 4, 2008 @ 8:18 pm | post a comment

Jean, yes the falcon was hurt. It was not a happy chappy. It must have been hit by a truck or something. It was on the ground just staring menacingly at anything that went by with its big blinking eyes. Amazing creature…pitiful tho.

Comment by harydial — August 5, 2008 @ 6:32 am | post a comment

Hey Rob…its harydial again……and your highlights so far…has been really interesting….

I finally got the G9 basen on your feedback previously…thanks…its a great camera what a beast!

I just would like to find out from you whats the difference between WC-DC58B the wide angle lens on canon website compared to CNG7FSHEY the one you are using? I know the price is a big difference…..but are there really a big difference in the quality of the shots taken?

Also is Fish eye lens = wide angled lens…are they the same thing?

And finally the 2D shots of the grup picture (you and the monks) is super….! Is that a fish eye lens? or a wide angled lens? Thats a really cool effect….

and finally again…sorry do you use any software for photo editing before you upload them….?

Thanks heaps Rob hope I am not bombarding you with too many questions…..

Safe Travels


Comment by Rob Thomson — August 5, 2008 @ 8:06 am | post a comment


A fisheye lens had a distinctive 'bubble' like effect, as you can see in the picture with the monks (yes, that picture is taken with a fish eye lens). It is like looking through a peep-hole in a door in a house.

A fisheye lens is a type of wide angle lens. A normal wide angle lens will give you a wider angle on your camera lens, but will not distort the image, like a fish eye lens does.

So the difference between the Canon wide angle lens and the fish eye lens that I am using is the 'wideness' of the lens, and the amount of distortion. The Canon lens will give you a much 'cleaner' image with little distortion of the image, while a fish eye lens, due to the wider angle, will give more distortion, and is often blurred at the edges of the photo.

I use a fish eye lens mainly because it captures so much of the area I want to capture. That is, often when I take pictures or video of myslef on my skateboard, I am only taking the shots from arm's length. The extra wide angle of the fisheye lens makes sure that my shots get plenty of background in the picture, not just my face.

There certainly is a difference in quality. A good quality digital wide angle lens of up to 0.75x will have much less distortion than say a 0.4x fish eye lens.

When I talk about distortion, I am talking about the edges of the photo. If you take a photo of a doorway for example with a normal lens (no wide angle), then the for frames will be straight in the photo.

WIth, for example, a 0.75x wide angle lens, the door frames will be ever so slightly curved.

With a 0.42x fisheye lens (as is mine) then you will get very heavy curvature of the door frames.

I know you can get up to 0.2x fisheye lenses, which capture a huge angle, and have a neat affect. These are best used very sparingly however!

I don't know very much about the mm eqivalents of wide angle lenses as used on SLR cameras…I know they use a different system than the point-and-shoot type conversion lenses on the likes of the G9 camera.

Before uploading my photos, I like to run a photo colour/contrast correction filter on them using Google Picasa Software. I usually don't have much time to play around with them much, so just use the auto correct feature on Picasa.

Hope this helps…

Comment by Aunty Les — August 5, 2008 @ 2:30 pm | post a comment

Isn't it odd that foreigners can't choose where they stay. I mean, if you had turned up in a flash car it would make sense being asked to spend money in a flash place but I would have thought your modest gear and apparel would make it obvious you needed a cheap place to stay in. May be Chinese bureaucracy considers all 'white' foreigners rich and thus obliged to shell out money for expensive lodging!

Comment by albrecht schulze — March 25, 2010 @ 10:14 am | post a comment

Hi Rob,

last year in October I made a bycicle tour starting from Lanzhou through Labrang, Tongren, Xining,Xihai, Qilian (you call it Qingling, Obo,Menyuan, Minhe to Lanzhou again. The situation in Qilian was similiar to yours but even worse. A private fandian didn't accept me and sent me to a expensive hotel. There the first action was a call to the police. They "mercifully" permited a stay for one night. Same procedure as in Xihai. But the road is now in a excellent condition: paved all the way.

So far

best wishes


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