Alumni Report: Sarah Tillotson from China

Ni Hao! (What’s up in Chinese)

Alright, so as many of you know I am visiting China right now with a bike team doing the Tour of Chongming Island. We have been in over here since Sunday staying in Hong Kong before flying into Shanghai. As with any new travel experience the first few days are such a sensory overload. From sun up to bedtime every minute of the day is full of new sights, sounds and tastes. The older you get (and I just turned another year older while being here) the more fun the foreign is. Just when you think you have the world all figured out try immersing yourself in a totally new culture to totally baffle you. Better yet, try traveling in intimate quarters with a bunch of total strangers while everyone deals with the challenges and delights of a foreign country. Trust me, that really shakes things up.

Our first couple days in Hong Kong were lovely. Our team sponsor for this race is a man named Louis Shih who is the owner of a large bike clothes company called Champion Systems (love their clothes by the way). He lives in Hong Kong and made sure that we were well situated there. Hong Kong is a lush, tropical, group of mountainous island. It’s both rural and urban, sophisticated and traditional, I would move here in an instant if life allowed it. As a former British colony there is a lot of English spoken and the various races and ethnicities seem to live in total harmony. There is almost no crime in Hong Kong and must do with the very high standard of living that almost all of its citizens enjoy.

We stayed in a funny little sports complex outside a country park (like a National Park) which was an expansive swath of land along a chain of bodies of water that was part reservoir, inlet, and coast. The riding was gorgeous if not somewhat illegal. All the cool scenic rides we did were all down very narrow one way roads that were off limits to bikes. The first day we came upon a very old cemetery that could only be accesse! d by cli mbing up a steep overgrown embankment which we did in our bike shoes. The burial site was unlike anything in the States. All ashes were kept in urns in either cubicle compartments or these ornate stage-like things. The next day we rode past a reservoir and down to the ocean. There was a seaward wall constructed of these larger than life concrete jacks all fitted into one another. We rode along the inside of the jack wall and it made for a very surreal landscape.

In one day we had breakfast that consisted of hotdogs, macaroni soup, and McDonalds style hash browns and dinner at a fishing village restaurant where there were 50 or so tanks of every imaginable live sea creature that we, the diners picked from. The lobster, sea cucumber, starfish, scallop, eel or what have you was scooped up by an employee, put into a plastic bag and delivered to the kitchen for cooking while we patiently waited at the table. My chopstick skills are becoming much better as the week passes and I have yet to see a fork.

Yesterday we flew into Shanghai, a two hour flight, that actually resulted in about 12 hours of travel. Famous last words spoken by our director before embarking, ‘ travel never goes smoothly in China. Something always manages to complicate it’. Suffice it to say, things got complicated. At one point I broke down into one of those laugh/cries where you don’t know if you are crying because it’s so funny or ridiculous or hopeless or exhausting or all the aforementioned. Thank goodness that day has passed and things have stabilized. The race starts tomorrow. We rode the TT course and all seems to be running smoothly. The structure of the bike race is almost a welcomed reprieve from the wonderful upheaval of the last several days.

I will update again shortly but wanted to let you know a little bit of how the race experience in China has gone thus far. Another side note and possible topic of the next email: one of the girls on my team is trying to earn points to! go the Olympics at this race while another woman on the team just confided that she may have a cancerous tumor in her neck. (She had thyroid cancer a year ago and discovered this new lump before coming here but is waiting to have it removed because either way she wanted to come on this trip cancer be damned). As you can see there are many forces at play both macro and micro-ah, the joys of bike racing!

Talk to you soon,

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