In China, people are dancing in the streets. In parks, in squares, in the parking lots of grocery stores. We bumped into them in Beijing and in all the cities we passed through.
They go out with a big speaker that runs on batteries and they do choreography on traditional music, pop, something that everyone would like.
Sometimes conflicts come up between rival clans of dancers, they fight, they compete with the young skaters for the public spaces, the Party wants to set them in order, but no one has the illusion that they can be stopped. There are over 100 million of practitioners, according to the official estimations.
Dancing in public places has been historically attested for thousands of years, even since the time of Emperor Yao. The revival that’s happening now comes on a wave of nostalgia for the age of Mao. Most of the female dancers were young in the time of the Cultural Revolution, when dances were part of the propaganda apparatus.
But I also saw a lot of young girls, boys, children, it’s super catchy!
I danced a little myself, I can’t lie to you 😛

În China, oamenii dansează pe stradă. În parcuri, în piețe, în parcările magazinelor. Am dat peste ei în Beijing și în…

Posted by Vlad Ursulean on Saturday, October 1, 2016

I took a moment to reflect: when I walk around Bucharest and have stuff to take care of – how do I communicate with the people I meet? We exchange some practical information, and the next second we forget about each other, and mind our own business, as if we spoke through the intercom.

Here, it’s the other way around. After a few frantic days of running around to buy supplies for our bike journey, I had forgotten almost everything I did; I remember only the people. For example, I explain to a Chinese lady that I want some mice (plastic necklaces, biker’s bread). We begin a ballet of gestures through which we study each other and try to figure out who is this person, what could he want, what would make her understand, what…

After a minute of pantomime, we stopped symbolically exhausted and started laughing. We didn’t sort it out, but it’s as if we’ve known each other for years. And then she shows me something next to my right shoulder.

It’s the mice.

Rare Birds


On a street in Shunping, Hebei province, 8 cages with songbirds hang in a tree. On top of one of the cages there’s a tape recorder. It plays recordings of birds singing.

As I take a photo of it, a man comes out of a shop, sees me, goes back inside, returns with another man who flashes his smartphone. They take a picture of me.

We’re all rare animals somewhere.

There are nine million bicycles in Beijing ♫ only if you count all the trike cars, electric scooters, the tricycles that carry, like ants, mountains of stuff, cars as wide as bicycles that transport an entire family, the travelling food stalls that fry shrimps on the go… all these vehicles are like bicycles and take up much less space than it would have been possible if each person had driven a large car. About half of the city traffic happens on the bicycle lane.

Therefore, each street has bike lanes, usually 10 meters wide, and sometimes wider than car lanes. Car drivers behave like sheriffs, do not give right of way, and honk all the time… but there’s a lot of space and the logic behind traffic is fairly easy to learn, so we now roll somewhat safely.

We struggled for four days to find trekking bikes. You can easily find city bikes or mountain bikes; long-distance biking is not quite popular. We checked out about 20 stores and markets and found some gems at only half the price you’d usually pay in Romania, but none were what we needed. Eventually, we managed to find two previously used and seriously muddied bikes in a store for foreigners. They were considerably more expensive than what we’d seen, although slightly cheaper than those in Romania. It took us another day to equip them for the road ahead…

And so we began our journey…

Sunt nouă milioane de biciclete în Beijing doar dacă pui la socoteală toate troșcoletele, scuterele electrice,…

Posted by Vlad Ursulean on Sunday, October 2, 2016

Every Breath You Take


Yes, so far we wrote about dancing and how open people in China are and how easy it is to communicate. But there is also this: The pernicious pollution. Yesterday we passed through a region, on the way from Shunping to Quyang, about 250 km south of Beijing, you can not exaggerate how dirty it was.

Your eyes burn, the heart races, the nose runs, you feel like you want to spit out every minute. And it’s not just us who feel this way. There is no getting used to this.


On the street you see people wearing surgeon masks or Robocoplike protection shields on their heads, even inside cars or buses. The faces of old people are lined with trenches from decade long squirming, kids use thumb and index finger to block their nostrils from the reek, the fumes of cars, charcoal, factories, manure, burning waste and tires and open fireplaces and fertilizers and chemicals.

We were really hungry and had bought something to eat, some pastry on the street. But as we rode our bicycles into that region we didn’t just lose our appetite but it just felt preposterous to eat anything under this sky. Or to just expose anything you want to eat to this air.


The smog was so thick you could hardly see 50 meters ahead, the sun, on a day that would have been clear and bright normally, reduced to a sorry tangerine pinhead, the air so saturated with toxic stuff you could almost cut it in pieces.

In fact I wondered whether the air at some point can be so saturated with dirt that its gaseous form turns into a solid form. That’s it then. All of us here being stuck forever in a huge stinking jelly.


So, yes, Beijing was dirty to a degree that made you think it’s actually negligent to live here for a longer time. But what we’ve seen yesterday, that makes you think of the end of the world.


The Chinese are the sweetest people I’ve met until now, but it seems that taxi drivers are from a different species.

One night we missed the last subway at 11 pm and, along with some other people who were late, we got into a beef similar to what was happening in Romania in the ‘90s, when they would take your money, laugh at you and also smack the back of your head.

The subway would have cost us 5 yuan. They were asking us for 200, even if usually the Beijing cabs have moderate fares. They got angry because we refused them, they started shouting at us and poking at our shoulders – “Letz go!”.

In the end, we got hold of an Uber, which cost us 50 yuan for 20 km, that is, from downtown to a neighbourhood.

What a monster city!

Comrade Mao and his friends: Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tzu…

I met them near Lingshou, in front of one of the hundreds of tiny factories that have been terrorizing our lungs these recent days.

The boss there was very proud of their legacy. He pulled us inside the courtyard and gave us a tour of China’s history in cement.

One thing I didn’t understand though was why did Mao have such short legs, since everybody knows that Pops only spoke the truth…


Today we saw the sun.

So it was that I was walking down a paved road in the middle of a field with lots of Chinese who were planting coal. They stop whenever I pass by, they pull out their smartphones and take pictures of me.

At some point, everything around gets a copperish hue. People’s skin mirrors the color of the ground they are digging. Could it be because of the fairy-like moment?

We look at the sky and see a window opening up in the smog, then the yellow sun replaces the reddish slop from the past days. We warch it happily and take deep breaths, it’s almost as if it dosesn’t even sting anymore…

Vruuuuum! An infernal rumble breaks the spell. It’s a high-speed train that runs across the field on some giant cement structures. It’s swallowing the horizon in a few seconds. If you don’t look up right away, you’ll only catch a glimpse of its tail.

Every other minute a train swooshes above the farmers who are working the fields; above the elderly who play GO under the bridge; above the women who are searching for raffia bags in themi rubble.

They all look tiny, minute on the background of highways, factories and gigantic apartment buildings that sprout on the field. It’s as if somewhere some giants are playing Civilization, and after drawing the infrastructure on the map they sprinkle it with people who fall between the cracks.

I think about all this while riding through the dark on a deserted six-lane highway, that rolls down a hill and then suddenly disappears; I realize I’m doing 40 km/h on the field. I slide 30 meters and my ideas disappear in a cloud of dust. The sky is red, in the distance some factories are burning. It smells of watercolours.

We reach a small half-a-million-people town, and no conventional hotel is willing to take us in. The receptionists chatter smilingly for about ten seconds, and the translation app states robotically ”We don’t host foreigners”.

I don’t understand how these things work, in some cities people are so chill, in others they are super paranoid. They send us downtown to the hotel for foreigners; we thank them and then search on Baidu Maps for Mr. So-and-So, who pulls us in his guesthouse with our bikes and all, and locks the gate behind us as if we are smuggled goods.

Today was a good day. We walked 100 km, we’ve seen the sun…

We see the Sun


We’re driving past the flashing skyline of another million-mile city, directly into the brown fields that blur into the endless smog. Everything here feels like a photo that was accidentally double-exposed. You might think for a moment that you’re alone on the road through harvested cornfields, but here they are, as if from nowhere, farmers emerge as ghosts on the bicycles, a rake on the shoulder, a dog-end in the mouth. In a Buddha temple we are taught to pray.

A high voltage mast buzzes. An old man is sleeping on the trunk of his tricycle. On the track above us thunders the heavy “Harmony Express”, like an airplane flying close to the ground. Compared to this train, the ICE looks more like a tram. In just four and a half hours it connects the metropolises Peking and Shanghai, a railway distance of 1318 kilometers, built in three years.

“What grows on your field?,” I ask a woman. “Not much,” she says. From a bucket she spreads blue fertilizer balls. At an intersection, some old people sit around a board game and ignore us.

Children either almost fall from the scooter, when they see us, or are awakened by their mothers, when they do not see us. A fat man hits me on my shoulder and wants a selfie. In the evening, in the town of Xingtai, we eat at tables placed on the pavement. Noodles are fried in a wok placed over a burning bin. The hotel, in front of which we have steered, takes no foreign guests. There is garbage everywhere.

w1000_fvgd8bzwdhwufid1qsmqbya0qal4wjgaizeceseire0As we eat, several men gather around our table. One of them rolls his shirt over his stomach. The cook gives us hotel clues. We are again rejected. With Baidu, the Chinese Google Maps, we manage to find a tavern for 8 euro a night. Toilet in the corridor. The next morning the hotel owner asks me to take a picture of his wife.

And then, for two full hours, the sky opens. For the first time in two weeks I can see the sun. We drive further south.