The difference over the border was one of separate eras and mentalities between the dusty and decrepit town of Zamiin-Uud in Mongolia and the gleaming Chinese city of Erenhot which was grid-split by 3 lane roads lined and laden with immaculate flower displays. The sand and dust whirled up on the Mongolian side seemed to stay in place and ordered in China, here the landscape reflected the people. We passed through metropolis after metropolis in inner Mongolia and Hebei province many of which by population would have served as the UK's second city. Yet most Chinese through the rest of the country would not necessarily have known these cities by name.
Yet between these nameless testaments to the miracle growth of the Chinese economy, there were still wide dark spaces open and away from pollution of all sorts. Throughout the steppe leg in Mongolia, the moon had been in its largest and brightest form, taking centre stage on the night's sky, the stars had played their demure but ever-present part. But now on the steppe of Inner Mongolia, this egoist moon had wasted away and given way to the other actors in the spectacle. These nights in China showed the full dome of the starry web, the milky way arched across the whole sky from horizon to horizon. It seemed as how Saturn's rings might look from the planet's surface. Getting into the confines of canvas each evening took an extra hour each night, for as an absorbing spectacle: even the most mesmerising fire place bows to the ever-astounding night's sky in perfect illumination.
The days were still long in the sad though meal times were no longer to be endured also, stacks of Bao-ze bathed and sharpened in acidic soy set up a morning's cycle like little else. The roads were long and surfaces perfect, with light traffic, whilst the weather was clear and predictable. The usual grievances and obstacles to a seamless mental state were removed after a minor plague of punctures, and time flowed as smoothly as the asphalt under the tread. The road has become our home day and night: office, bedroom and kitchen. After days pounding the pedals along every inch of its face, we then set to camp in it's belly in storm drains. Occasionally we can find a real state of luxury. Late one night we had pulled into a mapped service station expecting a cafe, a shop and the usual fare. A newly-built husk of a building was all we met, but the large public toilets were the best bedroom we'd had for days. Access to free flowing water and solid walls has become a fine luxury, how long will this loose tolerance remain when static 'real life' resumes its usual course in West Europe.