Ride to the Olympics

Chen Guanming at Dataran Johor
HAVE you seen a lone rider pedalling a tricycle fitted with an awning and waterproof curtains, on the streets of Johor Baru lately?  The tricycle's rear carriage covering has a full-colour portrait of Mao Zedong, so if you did hazard a guess, you're right because this rider is from China. 

And if you overtook him and had a closer look, you may have seen his sinewy limbs, shaggy beard and graying hair tied in a thin pony-tail.

This is Chen Guanming, 55, a fan of the Olympic Games. He is on a mission to ride to London, England, for the 2012 Olympic Games and then to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the 2016 Olympics. He will make his journey on his tricycle. This is not the first time he is on a challenging trip such as this.

In 2001, when he heard the news that Beijing had won the bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games, Chen left his home in the Jiangsu province riding a specially modified tricycle to travel around China.  To show his support for the games in his homeland, he rode 65,000km across mainland China to reach Beijing on July 30, 2008.  He spent seven years through hot summers and freezing winters living out of his trusted tricycle -- eating, cooking and sleeping on it.  It seems like a crazy adventure but Chen accomplished it.

Chen Guanming, adventurer on a tricycle
"I'm a poor farmer. I can't do much but I have a healthy body," said Chen who explained that he wanted to use it to show the strength of the Chinese people and the spirit of the Olympics.

His mission to promote a healthy lifestyle, a better environment and world peace, all in the spirit of the Olympic Games.  In his journey across China, he held banner-signing ceremonies to encourage people to do their part in support of the Olympic Games in Beijing.  To create a cleaner and greener environment, he picked up cigarette butts and items for recycling from the streets.

Chen, the eldest son with a younger brother and two sisters, did not have his parents' approval or support when he first started his adventure across China.  He was sad that they felt that it was an aimless mission and that he was not a filial son.
But as he completed the gruelling journey, braving all kinds of weather through provinces, regions and mountains, they realised that he was doing something extraordinary.  Now they are so proud of him.

Chen in his trusted tricycle on snowy trails

Looking at the battered-up tricycle, it is hard to believe that Chen has trekked through the Himalayas and slept in the snowy drifts for months or passed through remote regions like Death Valley where it's said that when 10 persons enter, only two will emerge.

He even travelled a lonely road for 15 days without seeing another human being. So it was heart-warming to hear about Chen's own Hachiko experience with a wild dog that joined him on a 560km route for 17 days.  When they travelled together, the dog remained at a distance and when they stopped for the night, it will stand guard and bark in warning if any wild animals approached.

Chen now travels with his mobile-home which is packed with daily essentials, bedding as well as tools and spare parts for his tricycle.  He even has wooden planks that can be propped across the tricycle's seat to create a bed. 

Among his meager possessions are precious photos and notebooks filled with approval permits, rubber-stamps and signatures of sports administrative officials and local authorities collected from across China and Asia.

He tried to apply for his visa at the Malaysian Embassy in Bangkok but was unable to fill the forms so he just gave the officials his name. Through Google, the officials found evidence of his adventures and approved a one-month visa.

Chen and his tricycle in Tibet

This gutsy elderly Chinese has been an inspiration to many.  Chen was so warmly welcomed by Malaysians who begged him to stay longer at each stop which made him go to Putrajaya to extend his visa.

At first, the officials refused to extend it but when he showed them his photos and newspaper reports, they made photocopies and attached them to his application before approving his visa for another month. 

It is difficult to understand Chen when he speaks in Mandarin, which is laced with a thick mainland China accent, but his enthusiasm for his mission is obvious.

Chen loves lots of chillies with his food!

After being on the road for years, Chen is ready to leave Asia, head for Europe and onward to the Americas.  Chen said he will pass through Yangon and the India-Pakistan borders en route to Europe.  After his trip to London, Chen will head for Canada by sea before going to Brazil.

Chen is aware that he must be able to converse in English and be Internet savvy to stay in touch.  He plans on learning English and enhancing his computer skills in the next few weeks. As for food, he can survive on just bread, garlic and salt.  And to ward off a flu or a fever, Chen eats lots of chillies.

If you happen to see a tricycle rider on the road, just wave and wish him well.
A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 18 November 2010


Our Chinaman rider to the Olympics was spotted en route to the Olympics!

Message from Cara on 16 July 2012:

Message from Alfred Yong:

Here is the latest link I got from France  http://www.huarenjie.com/thread-602662-1-1.html  



  1. Anonymous4/20/2011

    Nice write up....good luck Chen GuanMing

  2. He came to Rome too :) http://lacaravita.com/2012/05/23/chinas-secret-olympian-comes-to-rome/