Going Solo

By Zhang Xin Source:Global Times Published: 2017/10/26 21:44:06

Traveler seeks to open minds with round-the-world bike journey


Yang Xiaolong (middle) meets two travelers from China and France at the border port of Khorgos in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in July 2016. Photo: Courtesy of Yang Xiaolong

Yang Xiaolong, a driver in a rented car for a ride-hailing app in Jiaxing, a small city in East China's Zhejiang Province, has no idea when he'll make enough money to continue his journey.

The 27-year-old first set off from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in June last year. After traveling by himself on a bicycle through several countries in South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, and then changing to a motorbike for large parts of Russia, he returned home for a break. The year-long journey and tough conditions had taken their toll. Besides, he had run out of money after spending all of his savings as well as funds from his supporters, who had read about him in media reports.

"I won't stop here. My plan is to travel around the globe by bike and leave the footprints of a Chinese in every corner of the world," Yang told the Global Times on the phone.

Beyond joy

Yang had been working as a delivery man for six years, and would have been happy to continue in the job until he witnessed a car accident that left one person dead. He had tried to save the injured person but was unsuccessful due to a lack of help from passersby.

The incident made him realize how helpless people are in the face of death. He told himself that he should use his life to do something he really loves.

Being a fan of the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West, Yang decided he would follow the route taken by Xuanzang, a Buddhist master from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) who made a pilgrimage to India by himself to collect Buddhist scripts.

Using a second-hand mountain bike that cost him 500 yuan ($75), Yang traveled for three months through Kazakhstan, Pakistan, India and returned to the Tibet Autonomous Region in Southwest China in September 2016.

Instead of concluding his trip at that point, Yang continued his trip to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, then to Turkey and the border areas of Syria and even parts of Africa.

It was his love for traveling that prompted him to take the journey, but when he completed the trip, he found that its significance went far beyond joy or the fulfillment of a dream, Yang said.

"I discovered a lot of stories on my journey. I tried my best to help those in need. And I'm inspired by the experience that I and the people I met always tried to help each other," Yang recalled to the Global Times.

Many Chinese people feel it's risky to be a Good Samaritan, said Yang. When he tried to save the life of the injured man in the car accident, no one was willing to lend a hand because they feared they would become too involved and even be blamed for it.

Yang sees his trip as something that will help spread the spirit of helping others, and this makes him feel he's different from other people who travel around the world.

Hospitality and danger

Yang recalled that when he was in Pakistan the local people gave him a lot of help. One of the most impressive instances involved a Pakistani border guard named Amulan Khan.

Yang met Amulan when he entered the country. Amulan not only invited Yang to stay in his house, but also taught him some of the local language as well as English, and gave him suggestions on how to keep himself safe. When Yang had to leave his village to continue his trip, Amulan Khan gave him two guns for protection.

As a Chinese, Yang said he received all the friendliness and hospitality one can get from Pakistanis. In return, he saved as much money as he could from his limited budget to help the impoverished people he met, especially children.

"All the places I traveled to suffered from poverty and war. I even lived in slums. I believe that this is more meaningful than traveling to rich and developed countries," he said.

But this courageous attitude sometimes put him in danger.

He recalls being robbed twice in India and once in Russia. In Pakistan, he witnessed bombs exploding just a few kilometers from where he lived on many occasions.

He was even suspected of being a spy and put into jail for half a day with a dozen refugees by the Syrian military when he tried to enter Syria from Turkey.

Facing reality

When he returned from his trip, he found it was difficult to communicate with his peers, Yang admitted. Experiencing the lives of ordinary people in poorer countries, especially those of the downtrodden, made Yang feel a deeper concern about international affairs, while his friends in their twenties threw parties and talked about practical issues like making money, getting married or buying a house.

"They don't care about what's happening outside China," Yang said.

Because of the many media reports, his friends consider him something of an Internet celebrity, and like to take pictures with him and post them on their social media. They thought Yang was crazy when they found out he didn't even get paid for interviews.

This is something that frustrates Yang. "Most people in this country only see the world from the Chinese angle. What they should do is look at China from an international perspective," he said. "I hope I can change some people's minds with my travels."

Yang has his fans, who support his travels and follow his updates on the journey. He is in direct contact with more than 10,000 of them, he said.

Sometimes they also give Yang financial support. Around 60,000 yuan of the 130,000 yuan in funds for Yang's trip came from his supporters. Some of them even offered him work when they found out he was back in China to raise money, but he refused all of these offers as he didn't want to be tied down to a routine job.

Yang said he's planning to publish a book about his journey in the form of a travelogue with pictures he has taken along the way.

Though he is firm in his resolve to complete his global journey despite the difficulties involved, Yang is not completely sure what exactly he is after.

"The trip left me with so many ideas, but I don't know how to express them," Yang admitted after puzzling over the question for a few seconds. "Maybe I can figure it out later."

 "One thing that I'm most concerned about is that I cannot go back to reality [after the trip]," he told the Global Times.


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