Chinese farmer makes an Olympian trek to Games
Updated: 2012-08-05 08:06
By Cecily Liu in London (China Daily)
Rickshaw wheels were occasional casualties of Chen's rugged ride across continents, but he saved them as souvenirs. Provided to China Daily
While tens of thousands of spectators are cheering for their stars inside London's Olympic stadium, Chinese farmer Chen Guanming is picking up litter on the London streets to support the Games in his own way.
Chen, 57, says he has traveled 60,000 kilometers from China through 16 countries over a period of two years on a three-wheeled rickshaw, before reaching London last month.
"I want to support the Olympics, so I came here," he says excitedly. Wearing a T-shirt with his name and the Olympic rings printed on it, the white-haired Jiangsu farmer looks fit and energetic.
On his rickshaw are a Chinese flag, an English flag and a curtain displaying photos of him posing in front of landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
"I hope that my actions would inspire people, especially encouraging them to respect their environment," he says proudly.
Four years ago, Chen spent three months picking up litter outside Beijing's Olympic Park. His action attracted the interest of a British journalist, who said to him after an interview, "London would be a better place with your company."
Chen promised the journalist that he would go to London. With no money for a plane ticket, he decided to fulfill his promise on the back of a rickshaw, leaving in summer 2010 with only 7,000 yuan ($1,099) and $100 in his pockets.
Every day, Chen slept in his rickshaw, which contains a mattress, some blankets, a first aid kit and some broken rickshaw wheels that he kept as souvenirs.
He hasn't seen his family since he left, although he makes phone calls home about once a month. His family, which includes his parents, two brothers and a sister, are still in Jiangsu, planting rice and other crops for a living.
"Of course I miss home, but my journey must not stop, I want to see what I'm capable of achieving," Chen says, blinking back tears in his eyes.
But his face quickly brightens as he narrates his adventures across Asia and continental Europe, passing through countries including Vietnam, Thailand, Pakistan, Turkey, Italy and France before taking a ferry to London.
Chen's travels cannot be independently verified, but a BBC video clip showed tourist-visa stamps in his passport from countries including Pakistan, Thailand and Iran.
A YouTube video posted in May shows him in Rome, surrounded by curious passersby.
His worst experience, he says, was being trapped in freezing snow in Turkey. "There was a layer of ice froze above the roads, on top of which was snow," he says.
Unable to travel, Chen stayed in his rickshaw for four days. When he took out a water bottle to quench his thirst, he was shocked to find that the water had frozen into ice.
"I had no option but to eat the snow. I grabbed a handful and put it into my mouth to swallow," he says.
The food he ate on the journey was not much better, consisting generally of bread mixed with salt. Vegetables were a luxury.
When Chen runs out of money, he uses his rickshaw to take passengers in exchange for small sums, and continues his journey after saving a reasonable amount.
Added to the difficulty is his poor English, which consisted of individual words like "hello", "thank you", "no", "toilet" and "Chinese embassy" in case he really needs some help.
"My journey would not have been possible without the help of so many kind-hearted Chinese people," he says. This ranges from a girl who filled in his UK visa form in Rome, to a man in London's Chinatown who offered him a cup of hot soy milk.
After London's Olympics, Chen says that he will go straight to Rio de Janeiro, without a chance to visit home. "I can't start something without finishing it," he says.
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