# 1: Setting out from Hong Kong to Chengdu, China by bicycle — 2013

Entering into The People's Republic of China. The people here have been very helpful.

Entering into The People’s Republic of China. The people here have been very helpful.

I arrived in Hong Kong on 2/14/2013 with plans to visit briefly, buy a bicycle, and then ride out north, passing thru Guangzhou. From there I would turn west to Yunnan province, with my final destination being Chengdu, in Sichuan Province. My goal was to attend the wedding of a former student, Yimei Lin. Yimei had been one of my best graduate students. She has been working as an auditor at a major accounting firm and has kept in contact with me.

In the past, I have attended other students’ international weddings. South China was on my bucket list of places to visit, and so I thought ‘Why not?’  So here I am, going into the world’s most densely populated city, in the world’s most populous country.

I was greeted at the airport my Michael Metelnick, the brother of a close friend of mine in Bloomington. I could not have had a better welcome. Michael had made many arrangements for me, including getting me an ‘Octopus card’. This was a magical piece of plastic that you just needed to put near anything to pay for it. When it got low on money, you just added to it via credit/debit card or cash.

My gracious hosts Paulina and Michael, showing me the incredibly modern, efficient Hong Kong subway.

I was near amazed at the efficiency, cleanliness, and general excellent service the their MTR (subway). The cars were well crafted, the service inexpensive, and very frequent.

I managed to finally find a decent mountain bike in Hong Kong. I fully dressed it up later with vertical grips, lights, dual mirrors, and fenders for grand total of $250. This is very cheap for touring. But it is here where these bikes are made, so I could expect them to be reasonably priced.

My new touring bike. It is a Mongoose mountain bike. It should be adequate for my trip.

But one look at the traffic on HK’s streets scared me off. Non-stop vehicles racing by. The bicyclists here told me that the drivers did not respect bicyclists much either. I became afraid to ride north, straight into the ten million people in the city of Guangzhou, next to Hong Kong. I feared becoming roadkill.

There must literally be more than 500 apartment complexes in Hong Kong that are over 40 stories high. I have never seen such densities of people in my life. The lyrics of Eleanor Rigby kept ringing thru my head; “All the lonely people, where do they all come from?”

Hong Kong packs them in. The world’s most densely populated city, with 7 million on 3000 square miles. And 2/3 of those miles are empty.

So what to do? I tossed my bicycle into the trunk of a taxi and I took it to a ferry that went 30 miles west to Macau. Macau is the old Portuguese colony that is now a special territory, like Hong Kong. When I disembarked from the ferry, I found that they still spoke some Portuguese here. I can speak some of that, much better than Cantonese, of which I speak near zero.

Well, actually, I was NOT planning on joining Falun Gong, now that you mentioned it

Macau is the world’s largest gambling resort. There are estimates that it rakes in double of all of Vegas. From what I could see, it was every bit as extravagant at Vegas too.

Well, I have zero interest in gambling. I am against it to my core. “A voluntary tax on the really stupid” my dad once said. So I mounted my bike and pedaled it north, to the The People’s Republic of China.  I had a three month business visa for China. This did not come easy. I also had a few hundred business cards presenting myself in English on one side and Mandarin on the other. Along with that, I had two letters of introduction in Mandarin from former students and a wedding invitation.

But would they let me enter China with a bicycle? This was highly unusual for tourists, so I could never be sure. When I went thru the massive customs at the Macau/Guangdong (Canton) border, the agents immediately questioned me about my bicycle. I presented them with the letters written in Mandarin from my former students. They read them with great interest. Then they smiled, gave me the thumbs up, stamped my passport, and helped carry my bike and gear thru the customs area. I loaded up my bike and pedaled across a massive plaza. I would be seeing many more things on simply massive scales here.

As I moved my bike thru the masses of people, I quickly saw vendors along the sidewalks selling all sorts of animal parts that would be highly illegal in the western world. This really disturbed my day. Take a look at these:

She tried to sell me what she said was a young tiger skin. When I got my camera out, she hid behind it. Other vendors threatened me because of my camera. I saw over 15 of these within 400 meters. There  was nothing furtive about it. This was business as usual.

The vendor said this was a tiger claw. Please excuse the camera strap in the picture. But I had to hide my camera to take this picture.

Tomorrow I continue my 1500 mile bike ride. I am taking my time, and being as safe as I can. I have mounted dual lights and rear-view mirrors on my bike. I am  avoiding high traffic areas wherever possible. If I feel that this journey has become too dangerous, I grant myself the freedom to change my mind. I do hope I can make it to Chengdu, Sichuan.

I have been touched with the helpfulness of the Chinese people. My bicycle touring mentor, George Christensen told me that was his experience. My experience thus far confirms it.

NOTE: Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China. So all of my posts will be on dwightworker.com  I will have a friend post pointers on Facebook. But I will not be able to receive or respond to any Facebook postings while I am in China.

 

14 Responses to # 1: Setting out from Hong Kong to Chengdu, China by bicycle — 2013

  1. Marie Metelnick

    Bon voyage at last, Dwight!

    I’m glad the border crossing wasn’t problematic. And I hope you don’t run into the severe air pollution near the cities you will cross like friends have reported up near Beijing.

    Explore and be safe.

    • dwight

      Marie
      I choose this route out of Hong Kong specifically to avoid pollution and traffic. Traveling west from here, there is much less industrialization. I will be finding out shortly.

  2. Steve

    Good to hear from you…and you’re looking good, too. All’s well here…Zambo and Ruby had a good day together Sunday (17th). Still too cold, but 40s highs and 30s lows next week, so showing signs. Take care and post as often as you can.

  3. Dave Stewart

    Another Adventure!! I look forward to the posts, Dwight. Best wishes!!

  4. Renee

    Great photos! Good luck!

  5. Dennis Howard

    Looking forward to your travels

  6. lanny wells

    Love reading of your adventures Dwight! Keep us up to date!

  7. Mark

    Safe travels DW!

  8. Pat

    Dwight, I can’t tell you how much I envy, and am even in awe, of you. Even though it’s not my wedding you’re attending, I’m touched you’d travel so far to attend Amy’s. Make sure and remind her of the American custom of recognizing the wedding guest who has traveled farthest to attend. 🙂

    I wonder if you’d be able to take and share videos. I realize the challenges; like I imagine you would probably bandwidth-challenged if you’re anywhere that’s not metropolitan, as well as the fact that even taking still photos in China is enough of a challenge, so short videos would obviously be much tougher. I just figure it would be awfully interesting to see the forbidden country from the perspective of a friend. Don’t put yourself in any additional risk for it, though.

    I look forward to reading your future posts, Marco Polo Worker.

    • dwight

      Hi!
      I have taken videos, but you are correct about bandwidth. Sometimes I feel like a digital beggar, walking around with my netbook, looking for a hungry byte fix. This connection here is very tenuous too.
      The worst part of the trip is the signs, and my total illiteracy of them. I am literally navigating by compass rather than map right now.
      I feel very safe. The people are kind and helpful. I am not worried about violence.
      But after all the hassle is stripped away, I have a sense of wonder and awe each day. And I do love that feeling. To be doing this at my age, well then, maybe I am not that old after all. I will take care, and you too.
      ps. You understand that I have no twitter or FB here, do you?

  9. Dwight: Glad to hear the Chinese remain helpful and cordial. People are friendly wherever one travels by bike, but the Chinese were exceptionally so during my visit two years ago, much mor so than just about any placeI’ve been. Time and again people went out of their way to do me a favor or give me some small gift. They were continually looking out for me. That ought to remain the case in areas not too frequented by Westerners. I look forward to all the instances that you’ll be able to share with us.

    • dwight

      George, the kindness is overwhelming. They are most curious and helpful. The worse frustrations are the signs! Their maps and roadsides simply do not agree. I am navigating by compass rather than maps! I am heading in a northeast direction, which I know is correct. Eventually I will meet up with the highway I am looking for. And leaving Macau, I had 25 miles of protected, walled-off bicycle lanes. If only we could have that in the US.
      My body is feeling good. I am out of bike shape, so I am starting at 40-50 mile per day, to avoid strain and tendinitis. The mongoose mt. bike is working just fine. Local Chinese admire it hourly. I kind of like the fat tires for the bumps in the road and to not pick up flats. Despite having a netbook, I am rolling light. A sleeping bag, but no tent. My daily struggle is to find a guesthouse. Not easy for an illiterate like me. But it is good to be on the road again.

  10. Susanmeyers

    Hi Dwight, hope you have a great trip! I am really enjoying your journal. I was wondering about food? Do you cook your own? Good luck! Susan

    • dwight

      Hello Susan. No I do not cook here. 1. I do not want to lug the gear with me in my bike. 2. There is so much wonderful street food in the stands.
      It is freshly made in front of you. One cannot beat the price or nutrition. Loads of veggies in many forms. I prefer these because I can point to what I want. Since I do not know what they are called, my finger builds my plate. I have had serious fine meals for a dollar.

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