When I first heard about this idea, I thought, “Hey, I want to do that!” Some locals were raising funds to film a bike trip in China. Initially, I thought it related to the Beijing Olympic Games, and one of my travel dreams was to visit those Olympics by bike.
My trip never happened, but the guys looking for funding found it, and the result is “Man Zou: Beijing to Shanghai,” a documentary about their ride.
Continuing my winter travel series that started a couple of weeks ago with , I want to share some details of the Man Zou movie, which has two upcoming screenings.
- View it with a bunch of cyclists at the flagship REI store in Seattle this Friday, Feb. 18, at 7 p.m., part of the Cascade Bicycle Club’s monthly REI series.
- See it on our local PBS television affiliate, KCTS/9, on March 3 at 10 p.m. It is repeating in KCTS’s “Reel NW” series, where it premiered last December.
I saw the 86-minute film in December, and I was most impressed with the affability of the four Seattle-area guys who took the trip. With an engaging Chinese guide, Doven Lu, interpreting and making arrangements, they set off on the 1,000-mile trip in the fall of 2008, shortly after the Olympics. They had no support vehicles, so they labored with heavy luggage and camera gear on their bikes.
Director Jason Reid says, “I have always felt that bicycle touring is the best way to see a country because of the level of access that you get by traveling 3 feet off the ground, at 10 to 15 miles per hour.” Well put!
They saw the nation’s two largest cities (Shanghai and Beijing), but also hundreds of miles of countryside, from mountains to coastlines, farmland to industrial wasteland. Reid says one of the project’s goals was to examine the “contradictions that exist in China today: old versus new, rich versus poor, development versus environment.”
Their footage from Beijing, for instance, shows a sparkling city, the result of years of preparation for the Olympics. China is famous for its urban air pollution, but Beijing sported blue skies and very few people wearing the white filter masks so common in Asian crowd pictures. But other scenes show heavy smog that left a coating on bare skin, so Beijing seemed to be the exception.
The massive development -- soaring skyscrapers and highways filled with cars -- leads inevitably to a discussion of China’s fast-changing economic and social situations. While most of the film shows the team on their bikes, there are two notable interviews: one with environmental visionary Ma Jun (named as one of the "100 most influential persons in the world" by Time magazine in 2006), and another with China urbanization specialist Kam Wing Chan, a geography professor at the University of Washington.
But it’s their experiences on the ground that really drive home the topics, which even the movie’s name acknowledges.
"Man Zou" is a common farewell phrase in Mandarin that translates literally to "walk slow" and suggests mindfulness on your journey.
On the 27 days of riding, the team experienced scores of friendly, helpful locals; jockeyed through traffic with its constant horn-honking; and handled flat tires, snapped spokes and other breakdowns.
One repair scene showed the ingenuity of an old-time welder, a local man who fashioned a new camera mount for one of the bikes out of junk in his little shop, for which he charged the equivalent of $3.
The guys enjoyed some traditional tourism, too: walking on the Great Wall, touring China’s burgeoning cities, taking to the sea and rivers on ferries and sampling traditional food along the way.
Part travel film, part message, “Man Zou” is somewhere between a Rick Steves exploration and Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” In a place as complex and important as modern China, both ends of the spectrum are fascinating.
B-G ‘Missing Link’ Update
On Feb. 10, the Seattle Department of Transportation announced the results of an environmental review of the proposed Burke-Gilman Trail extension through Ballard’s industrial area.
“SDOT has determined that the project is unlikely to have significant impacts on the environment,” said Mark Massola, SDOT senior environmental analyst.
The Determination of Non-significance, done in accordance with the State Environmental Policy Act, puts the trail one step closer to construction, which could start as soon as this fall. The proposed route now runs along the railroad tracks heading north along Shilshole Avenue, then turns toward the Locks just before the intersection of Northwest Market Street and 24th Avenue Northwest. It would complete the 18-plus mile trail from Shilshole Bay to Bothell, where it joins the Sammamish River Trail.
This “missing link” project has been opposed by industrial businesses in the corridor, due to loss of parking and concern that the bike trail would interfere with commerce. I expect that opposition to continue. People can make comments on the DNS until Feb. 24, and file appeals until March 3.
Bill Thorness is the author of Biking Puget Sound: 50 Rides from Olympia to the San Juans. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.