A visit to China never entered my head until the American Youth Hostel
Association, working with “All China Youth Federation,” scheduled the first
ever bic~ycle tour in that Communist country.
I joined the second tour, along with 15 other U.S. cyclists and our leader.
Two Hong Kong interpreters and two representatives of ACYF accompanied us in a
bus which also carried our extra luggage, We were in Hong Kong two days and
then pedaled 11 days behind the barbed wire border.
China had been closed to outsiders for 20 years. In the late 1970s,
international pingpong players were among the first outsiders to go there. Few
Chinese hotels had modern plumbing and kitchens, so it required some hurried
changes before tourists could be accommodated. President Richard Nixon’s group
was entertained before our 1981 bicycle tour and we stayed in some of the
hotels used by his party.
Bus touring professionals saw mostly China’s “front door” -- the show places
-- while we bicyclists were elbow to elbow with the working people. I also
spent a five-hour afternoon, alone, in busy Canton.
“Hello,” I said, to an older man who sat on a stool in the sun mending
shoes. He smiled and we tried to talk but laughed at our futile attempts. We
enjoyed a 10-minute visit by pantomime, pointing, nodding and laughing. He
takes his stool, shoe last and tools home before dark. He pays no rent and
makes little money, but it’s his only job. We’re friends. I offered him a corn
cob pipe from Missouri, but he wouldn’t accept it.
A woman operating an umbrella repair shop on the sidewalk, worked at a bench
amid a dozen hanging, broken umbrellas and many repair parts. As we
“visited,” a crowd of people stared at my bright clothing, funny eyes and
listened to my strange way of talking. We laughed together, each talking in
our own language. I could tell that the repair woman was thrilled that I
wanted her photo, but she kept laughing and shaking her head “no.” The
bystanders urged her to pose and urged me to take ~the photo when she was off
guard. I did and, still laughing, she shook my hand with a firm grip, although
Chinese are reluctant to touch another person.
On our last day of cycling we rode 53 miles in a warm rain on slippery
blacktop roads. At mile 50 the bike path turned sharply left and the bike
behind me slammed into my rear wheel; I went sprawling into the nast~y muck!
As I got up and looked the situation over, I determined that my bike was OK
but I was bleeding from one knee and leg. First aid was impossible in the
rain, my ankle hurt and I had landed on my back but was able ride the last
three miles to the hotel.
I’ll not forget the looks on the faces of people who saw me riding, covered
with muck and blood. Insurance required that I go to the hospital for a
doctor’s report of the injuries. After paying the 35 cents for medicine and
exam, the interpreters asked, “Do you want to shop with the others at the
“I’d prefer to stay around here and see you at dinner time.”
They approved, not knowing that this would be against the rules. I had them
write the h~~~otel’s address so I could return by taxi and was on my own! I
will tell more about this adventure on another Tuesday.