June 03, 2008

GP08 China, Race 4, "Goodbye Again, China" part 2

This was the last sunset I would see from China. How the days had torn by, each one rolling and tumbling into the next, and then before I knew it, before I could realize the full weight of what was happening around me in Great China, it was time to leave.

In the last china post, we had left you while traversing up Huai Hai road, Felix lugging his overloaded computer trolley through the crowds on tiled concrete sidewalks. Sure enough, the handle broke on the trolley, and the amusement we got at this fact lasted for several blocks. "Llegado en China, Muerto en China - Born in China, Dead in China." Felix had just bought this a year ago, at the last Chinese GP, and now we were officially on a mission to get another one. The only problem was that I had led us up a luxury goods road, and finding a place to buy cheap knock-offs didn't seem like it would be easy. For some reason, China (like other parts of Asia) has this fascination with collectable books and making albums. As the people become more westernized, it's a sign of wealth and status to have dual weddings, traditional and "black and white". Felix got a kick out of taking these shots, so thanks go to him for several of the photos you'll see here.

I was really surprised by the amount of "marriage planning" stores there were.

Through some harried phone calls trying to get directions from Scott, and not knowing how to read the roadsigns (they were all in Chinese), we made a rough plan to meet near the "top" of the street in front of a recognizable department store. About this time. the fancy places started thinning out, and we were joining what I like to call real china - shanty type communities in simple concrete buildings, separated by plywood (or worse) materials. About as basic as you can get. Occasionally you could see an air-conditioner hanging out of a window, and I get the feeling these were people who had "made it". These were the dark streets, and just outside, guarding the little alleys that would lead into these converted family apartments, these showrooms for replica goods, there would be guys standing on the street hawking fake handbags, watches, pretty much everything. We got to our location a little earlier than I anticipated, and when someone started following us and watching Felix' broken trolley with interest, I knew we had found someone who could sell us the fake luggage we were looking for.

We talked to him with just a few words in English, and he was certainly excited at the possibility of making a sale, so we cautiously followed him into the back streets and out of the light. Barred windows let you know what kind of area you were in, and when we finally arrived at the first of many little showrooms, I was surprised at the amount of people "working" there, or just hanging out playing cards and wasting time. It was nine-something at night, and it was time to get down to business.

I went into the back room to check out the fake watches, noting that almost all of the false goods I have witnessed in China are of the lowest quality that I have found. Typically, everything false is produced in China, but outside vendors will come in, select the best material, and sell it on other markets, all across Asia. Most of the better watches end up in Kuala Lumpur, and it's pretty common to see members of the paddock wandering through Chinatown in KL looking for deals. Meanwhile, up front Felix was doing his best to haggle, and this is where I came in. Normally, I don't care at all for fake stuff, because I believe you always get what you pay for. However, when it comes to bargaining, I'm able to channel something from my mother, and I love getting into it because I know that as foreigners, we're automatically paying up to three times the normal price for a Shanghai-nese , at that's at the sworn "lowest price". Anyway, I am usually the guy who plays bad-cop, and always advise my friends and team mates to walk away, there's a cheaper place, I saw it cheaper somewhere else, I know the local price, etc, etc. We arrived at a decent deal, and heck, considering how much weight Felix lugs around, and how much he uses the dang thing, it is kind of incredible that he can get a year's worth of use out of something so cheap. He started swapping contents immediately, digging up documents, medicine, stickers, and all sorts of stuff. The local guys just stood and stared at him, taking some stickers and putting them crookedly on the walls of their place. As soon as he was finished transferring over everything, they grabbed his old bag and started making comparisons and analyzing its construction.

We then ventured to a few other little stores, checking out false dvd's and other miscellaneous garbage until Scott called and let us know he was in the area. Yes! We navigated our way out of the little maze of corridors, and met up with Scott on a street corner. Walking a few short blocks we were in search of some authentic Chinese/Shanghai food, but when we got close to one place, Scott mentioned that his wife, Kay, had some fantastic Hong Kong-nese grub there. We were so hungry, and tired from trudging through the streets after our long day+ of travel, that we immediately jumped inside and started ordering away. In a normal place like this, you don't even look at the prices or consider what you're getting, because it's insanely cheap by European or American standards. Lots of catching up took place, and I was bummed because I really enjoy spending time with Scott and Kay as a couple, because they're people that I admire and they're adventurous and committed. Kay was on a business trip that day, and in fact had been away from Scott for about three months. Scott said that Kay would be back later that week, though, so schedule permitting, I was hopeful to spend time with them later in the week.

After dinner, we decided to grab a beer, and Scott gave us a little tour of his neighborhood. It had restaurants galore, and these little all-purpose convenience stores strewn throughout. These mom-n-pop places are all over, and you can buy things like hand soap, motor oil, bicycle locks, and all kinds of odd-ball building materials, including all the plastic water/sewage piping you can see here. Not to mention the stack of toilet seats!

Almost to a street with a couple bars, we passed one of the coolest bikes in China, a 750cc replica of an old eastern European marque. I want to say it's a BMW, but I don't remember definitively, despite having read about them some years ago before I even made it to China.

Aside from seeing Scott again, this bike was a great highlight to the night, because it wasn't some shined up thing trying to look pretty, it was rough and well used, like a true workhorse should be.

Just pop off the lid of the pot to get to the air filter, and while you're at it, bring me a distributor from an old car and throw it on there, haha.

Felix dared to enter the sidecar, but I couldn't bring myself to touch another man's (p)ride. I never have.

We had a couple quiet beers, talking about how weird it must be to live so long in Shanghai without speaking Chinese and constantly being mistaken for "local", meaning everyone speaks with them in Chinese and they nod their heads in agreement and point at pictures on the menu. Actually, Scott and Kay have started picking up some phrases, so they're doing much better than the last year I saw them. Calling it an early night, Felix and I jumped in a cab and whisked ourselves back towards our faraway hotel, about an hour away, give or take, on the bad directions and road construction between the city and An'ting. As soon as we got a cab, the first thing to do is hand over the hotel's business card (complete with mini-map on the back) and point at the phone number until the cabbie calls the hotel. It was outrageously expensive by Chinese standards, but I don't know of any other place you can ride a cab for more than an hour for 20 bucks. Up early the next morning, we headed towards the circuit, spying these giant Pramac billboards. After all, it was the Pramac Grand Prix of China (I'm sure you all saw the Pramac logo's around the track during the race).

Once more into this huge monument to a sport the people here don't understand. It snowed here earlier, causing these reverse umbrellas to fill with heavy deposits and crash down onto the grand stand seating below. Oddly enough, this large banner/poster had two images of TE24, and none of SG50.

Most of the other teams weren't there when we arrived, save for the lone Kawasaki parts guy, Rob, who was diligently unloading his crates and shuffling them around so the team would have less work to do when they showed up later that afternoon.

Did I mention that AXIO is sponsoring the Factory Kawasaki racing effort this season? You should see all the neat stuff they've got this year, and I'm really proud to have brought Axio in to MotoGP so they could ride the wave with the fastest bikes on the planet. This is the spec 2 Swift pack, and it's got all the updates and improvements I'd suggested after a season of use with my team last year. Try it, I think everyone will be really surprised at the functionality of this new model.

We worked through the day into the night, and because we didn't have a hospitality unit set up (no one does on the fly-away, outside of Europe races), we went searching for a little known restuarant in An'ting, the German one. It wasn't in the same location, so we gave up and just started caravanning around until finally our driver got so fed up he called his boss and got directions . . . . taking us to a place we never would have found that was, in fact, the german place. Here you can see the local ketchup, Tsingtao beer, my requisite coconut milk (when in China), and a couple team mates who look ready to eat anything.

Mornings at the hotel were a mix of our team, some 125/250 guys, the Clinica Mobile folks, and a smattering of continental breakfast items interspersed with a veritable ton of Chinese fast food and dim sum. I was loving it, chowing down more than I usually do in the mornings. I even managed to get some soy bean milk to dunk my donuts in, haha. Unfortunately, they never did figure out how to make a cup of coffee, so that was always trying.

Most of the team dinners were at the german place, but one night a couple of us were too tired so we went straight back to the hotel instead. We had been hearing stories about the hotel's restuarant, and a thai or taiwan noodle soup. When we ordered, we learned they only had enough noodles to make two soups, and the rest of us settled for strange chicken sandwiches and goofy dishes. The next night, we made sure to go back to the german place.

Later in the week after Kay had gotten back, I finished relatively early and headed back into Shanghai. It was already fairly late, so we opted for two drinks and snacks at a trendy and chic night spot called the People's Lounge, or something like that. I was really looking forward to seeing her again, because she's an incredibly strong woman whom I admire very much. Invariably, as I spend more time with my friends who are married, I find myself exploring their relationships with their partners, asking questions and taking my time to fully understand their dynamic and what makes them work so well. Kay and Scott regaled me with stories of their tough first years, living apart, constant fighting, but always staying committed to the idea that through it all, they would put in the hard work to reap the benefits later. It's funny, but both of them were so frank and blunt about certain subjects, perhaps the most telling thing they told me was that after fighting so hard and so much, eventually they got to a point where there was no point in fighting about anything anymore. Life is full of compromises, just like the bikes.

Everything about this place was just a little bit different, like the entrance to the restaurant/lounge which consisted of this optical lock. You had to place you hand under the lights in the correct sequence or a false door would slide open (star trek style) and reveal a giant mirror. Uber Sci-Fi.

Eventually, we made it inside!

It was absolutely fantastic to catch up with this couple, as they are both involved in pursueing different dreams that have carried them across the world, from their home in SF, to Korea, Japan, and now, China. I spent my time asking them about how their relationship worked so well, and they spent their time asking me questions about my girlfriend, Michelle. I gotta say, it really put a smile on my face to be telling them about her, maybe one of the few smiles I had that week. China was a rough one, but speaking english with people from back home in the bay area, talking about girls and boys, men and women, it was simply great. I know Scott was cranking away at his job designing video games in Shanghai, and Kay's fashion business was really taking off, starting straight at the top at prominent LA fashion house, Fred Something-or-Other. WOOT! Here's wishing them the best of luck and good fortune in their respective endeavors :)

We had some dessert.

Another off thing about the place? The bathrooms! I took Scott over, just to take pictures of him trying to figure it out, as I had stumbled through when we first arrived. Here are three bathrooms.

"The door won't budge!!"

"What the *(&# is going on here!"

I think this is one of the funniest designs/tricks I've ever seen in my life, and I'm surely going to do something similar in my own place one day. AWESOME! More photos from Scott's camera will be in another post :)

Raceday came around, and it was a mixed bag in the morning.

I stood on the grid, thinking about 2005 when I was in these very seats looking down at the start of the race and promising myself that one day I would be there.

I thought about my dreams and hopes, and how dreams can change. Hope lives eternal. I think about how lucky I am to have made it here, how special and rare it is to be able to see the world from my vantage point, traveling with the circus and seeing all these places, these people, changing with the years. My carbon foot-print is huge, and my world view is even bigger, and it's truly remarkable to be able to do what I do (with a little help from some good people at my side). Not to mention I get to watch the greatest motorcycle racers do their thing week in and week out.

And then they were off.

While watching from the box, I knew my people back home were watching live, as the complete time difference on this end of the world put us perfectly in sync with the west coast. Friends that had travelled to China to see the race and meet with me once again dropped by as we were frantically packing up after the event. I was sourcing cardboard boxes from various teams to ship back material that would be re-painted in preparation for the French bike scheme of Le Mans. John F. popped by to wish me a good season.

My friends from Mito, Japan (Motegi) also came by. Take is one of the chief designers of the Nissan Z series, having worked on them since the inception of the 300Z up through the current model. He promises the next one will be even more spectacular, haha. I will likely see him again in Japan this year.

Vanessa was here from Australia, working the grid for NH69, but with our busy schedules, we only had time to say hello and goodbye. I'm looking forward to spending time with her aunt and uncle (and the rest of the fam) in Phillip Island later this season.

Look! A mini-motard! Fairly trick bits and frame on this one.

Then it was time to see the sun set, and finish packing up the garage. We were flying out later that night, so everyone was in a mad scramble to get finished with the flight containers. When everything was about wrapped up, we started heading to the offices behind the paddock, hoping there was enough time to take a 2 minute shower and wash away all the sweat. The last thing you want is to sit on a flight for 12+ hours stinking of the track, but luckily everyone made it and then it was time to rush through traffic on the two hour or so drive to the airport.

Everyone checked in and separated to go shopping or eating. I stopped for my last meal in Shanghai, appropriately some simple soup, dumplings, and vegetables. I couldn't ask for more. Thinking back on China, there's so much I'll never be able to get in to, so many memories and experiences that I can't translate into this website. These are the kind of life movements, a shifting of the spirit, that you have to see for yourself. It's for this reason that I am always trying to get my friends to travel abroad to see the races, because there is so much more to the story, so much more to life, than running around in circles.

Fireworks were set off to announce our leaving China, some small ones the night before at the german restaurant.

I'll miss you, China. Good Luck.


Very beautiful man. I agree with the one who said you have a special skill to express things and make them kinda cinematic. I am evious of yer style hahaha!!

Hi Liam,

The bike is a chiang jiang, a copy of the russian copy of a bmw from the 2nd world war era :-) You can buy new or old ones in China.


Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)