In what can only be called an Olympic feat, a Chinese farmer, Chen Guanming, bicycled on a rickshaw about 60,000 kilometers (about 37,282 miles) from Beijing to London. Chen tells the BBC that he traveled through “16 countries, overcoming floods, war zones, mountain passes and temperatures of -30C (about -22F). The odyssey took Chen two years.
Seeing London mayor Boris Johnson accept the Olympic flag in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium at the 2008 closing ceremonies inspired Chen to undertake his journey. Chen arrived in London on July 6; a British businessman John Beeston found him looking “completely lost and downhearted” on Lower Regent Street. Fortunately, Beeston knew some Mandarin and Chen “burst to life” when spoken to, showing his rickshaw emblazoned with mementoes from his journey.
He told the broadcaster he had to wring sweat out of his clothes in Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand, where he was also caught up in deadly floods.
When he was refused a visa to Myanmar, he simply backtracked and cycled to the mountains of Tibet instead.
On reaching Turkey via Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, he found himself snowed in for four days.
Describing London as “especially beautiful,” Chen said that he “wanted to come here because [he] wanted the whole world to support the Olympics and be part of it.”
Beeston described the appearance of a Chinese farmer pedaling a rickshaw “like telling people that a Martian has landed in the garden” and compared Chen’s travels to that of Marco Polo.
Even in the times of the ancient Olympics, people traveled from all over. Olympia, the site of the ancient Olympics, is readily accessibly by sea. People came not only from all over the different city-states of Greece (which was not a unified country in the ancient world) and from colonies where Greeks had settled, as far away as modern-day Spain, the Black Sea, or Egypt.
Beijing is about 5,000 miles from London but, of course, finding roads to bike on means the “most direct” route was not, for the most part, an option for Chen. No word yet on his plans for biking back to China.
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Photo: Screenshot from BBC video