During my last visit to China, in 2004 just over a year before I embarked on my life-changing motorcycle exploration of our planet, I was eager to blast out of the madness of the SARS-paranoia of Guangzhou to the countryside and home to the minority-populated Guangxi province; specifically I wanted to visit Guilin and Yangshou.
That journey, perhaps equally enlightening as my epic three-year journey, provided me with just a glimpse of the China I’m now experiencing. What’s more, traveling with a film crew and laden with a firm deadline and, in some way, objectives and deadlines, I’ve been taken back, ruffled, and my balance a tad upset.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, I’m quick to admit. It’s a thing, nonetheless.
Beyond the difficulties and disappointments of importing my motorcycle and other failed promises, I’ve learned, in my years of travel, the importance of practicing patience and arming oneself with the perspective of positivity and practice of perseverance.
Those who know me will attest to my tenacious ability to do such—with passion!
While in Suzhou and Shanghai, in the company of new and eager friends, I was happy for an invitation to speak, and to be translated by Chris, to an exclusive event in Yancheng, often referred to as the Chinese “Salt City” due to its proximity to the salt harvest fields which have been harvested for nearly 2000 years.
It’s hard not to notice the massive development and infrastructure building in cities such as Yancheng, Suzhou, Ningbo and onward. I usually play a game with myself—as I travel alone in developing countries: how many cranes can I count that dot the skylines of such cities. In China, I lost count. More than I care to admit. I’m told that the 10-30 story buildings built in the 70’s and 80’s, now are all but being torn down in the guise of new development and a showing of economic prowess, and were not equipped with elevators. The new buildings replacing and amending the old, are fitted with “lifts.” The svelte physiques of the struggling stair-climbers of the past, I’ve heard, may give way to a less fit and belly-burgeoning population of China’s future.
Truth or speculation, it doesn’t matter. China is changing, and the cranes the crowd the city skylines are just hints of evidence.
Though I travel via a fossil-fueled, gas-powered motorcycle, it’s hard to find the same in the scooters or motorcycles scuttling the streets of major Chinese cities—a far cry from those I’ve seen in Rome, Cairo, Bangkok and beyond.
Electric bikes are the norm in China, as new cities are born and old cities re-born, the sputtering internal-combustion engines of old are rapidly being replaced by the hum and whir of electric motors and the batteries that power them. There is a norm and familiar layout of most Chinese cities, the wide e-bike lanes separated by a strip of foliage or billboard laden medains—at least they have their own lanes, sort of.
Though it seems that everyone has an e-bike, or electric scooter; if not, they walk. Getting a license plate for a “true” motor vehicle in the bigger cities is something only those with connections or cash can acquire. Yet pedestrians and e-bikers run the biggest risk of injury or death — or, perhaps, deafness.
The horn is king in Chinese cities. Despite the efforts of many to post signs and levy fines for the overuse of such things, the Chinese use horns much more than they choose to use brakes. One elderly woman crossing the street, was nary alarmed as the huge diesel powered horn blared within a meter of her, then nearly knocking her flat to the curb. Me, just 20 feet away, nearly jumped out of my skin, found myself yelling at the driver, “Be careful,” yeah, right. Good luck, Allan.
Yet, even with the chaotic road scenes, burgeoning development and seemingly madness pace of city life, I found a tranquilly, and peace in the homes, alleys, or hutongs of Beijing or other cities. I soon learned not to judge, but rather to adapt, to learn, and to embrace—to embrace a culture and spirit, that’s not my own, and not mine to judge or ridicule, but rather mine to learn, and as difficult as it might be, to enjoy.
So as I rose early one morning in Beijing, to hang with the locals, in the park aptly known, for hundreds of years, Temple of the Heaven, I enjoyed and learned to “let go” and embrace those things that can help in such endeavors: tai chi, dance, and music.
I’m coming back. I’m in China, and here’s the peace and solace in the midst of the chaos and madness. Let go, let live, and love.
Please check out the photo gallery below.