Tomorrow, I’ll cycle the final 50 kilometers of this trip and reach Beijing – some 20,000+ kilometers (in fact, if previous trip to Cape Town would be added, equal to a circle around the Earth) and 405 days since leaving Stockholm. The journey has been much different from last one – from the obvious that I went single, to that that the countries and regions which I now passed through had much more of history, religion and a place in current world events than any of those which I’d previously visited.
From where Lucy was found at the foot of the Ethiopian highlands, to the Peking Man. The latter has since long been dismissed as any evidence of a human cradle, but is nonetheless pretty old at 250,000 years and an important reminder of how short our recent history is.
From northern Iran to mid-China, the ancient (if now tarmac) Silk Road with towns such as Bukhara, Samarkand and Aksu still showing off relics from their hey-days.
As for my travels in China, I enjoyed it more the further East I came – partly because I finally left behind the last of the at least half a dozen deserts that I’d passed this trip, but also as I found people more communicative; more interested in social interaction. I visited a couple of more ‘sights’, but the neon lights lining the entire outer wall of the 14th century fort at Jiayuguan took the price.
Instead what amazed the most was cycling along the Great Wall for several days – its lesser known mud-version exposed to the elements; beautifully crumbling. Taking a midday nap in its shadow, my bicycle looking surprisingly small against that massive backdrop of mud, I thought to myself that, would I ever think that I had achieved something, then that very shadow would be sufficient to change my mind.
For China, I’ll late forget the enormous team spirit which seems to inhabit most of Chinese people. China as a nation sometimes feels as intertwined as an Arab family.
I’ll think of that mix of pride for their own culture and heritage, and that longing eye towards the West: commercials on TV for domestic wines with names such as ‘Chateau Sun God’, in which old, white-bearded European men declare it their new favorite wine; that Chinese war movie in which a scene from ‘The Platoon’ had been copied entirely – the haunting music (Adagio for Strings) of Samuel Barber mixed with one of the characters as narrator, and pictures of bodies being carried away; the frequent TV advertisements for creams which make ones skin lighter; the V sign which kept appearing ever so often when I asked to take a photo of people. Though regarding the copy-past of today’s China, I guess the West can’t complain too much. After all, what would we be without having copied writing, the compass and the gunpowder from the Chinese many centuries ago?
I’ll remember the peoples’ unrestrained smiles – revealing every single teeth, even when facing a camera lens.
As I’ve made it closer to home, I’ve also started to feel anxiety. Anxiety over once more allowing myself to be swept up by the currents of career, living for the pleasure or acceptance of others; the somehow race for an ever-distant perfectness which has gotten the upper hand of our modern lives. A current so difficult to ignore. I wish I could.
My plan now is to stay in Beijing for a few days with Spanish friend Edu, before taking the Trans-Siberian Railway to Moscow, from where I’ll continue to Stockholm by bicycle.