White Monkeys

As a foreigner there are an unbelievable amount of opportunities for work or even experiences. Once you’re an expat you find out these opportunities are usually referred to as White Monkey gigs.

The very unfortunate keyword here is WHITE. There is a premium on that milky skin, blond hair and light eyes. Y’know, Hitler’s wet dream type. But, seriously, you see advertisements for WHITE only.

These are widely varied, for example, I was offered the opportunity to be cast into a Chinese movie based in Tibet from a true story. I would play a race driver that was injured and helped by a Tibetan family.

More recently, Dwight Howard is coming to my city and they needed some foreigners who could play basketball. Unfortunately, I’m too short. Which is the deal breaker for most things here for me. I’m not tall enough and too beardy for their likes!

Many others are based on appearing and your appearance. So modeling or pretending (I won’t say acting), my friend went to some international dairy convention for a company and pretended to be a foreign expert. Being a white person at a dinner event, store openings, being a foreigner in a club or even just being offered free drinks all night to spend your night in the bar.

So in the end they are pretty helpful if you’re here already working and need the extra cash or experiences. Otherwise, you’ll probably be here on some other visa and going between gigs to make money while staying here illegally. Which, I don’t recommend that route, but is completely normally here it’s somewhat the wild west of work culture.

So the why –

There is a huge respect for western culture and the influence it has had. Although the Chinese are wildly proud of China and nationalistic values run deep they still love foreign products and aspects of our various cultures. Usually, they are consumers of luxury goods and with that there is an association when foreigners attend events. Especially in smaller cities, the bigger ones I can’t really speak for, but throughout the smaller cities, you can find more and more.

In many of the smaller cities, foreigners are quite a new thing still. We are a novelty! Often you’ll hear choruses of “laowai” or “waiguoren” the Chinese for foreigner. This is also met with camera phones and staring. Likely, people will engage you in conversation and practice their English. Or ignore your lack of Chinese and just plough through. There’s your second reason why these opportunities exist.


Why I’m in China

If you’re curious about why someone comes here, I’ll tell you why and how I came to be here in China.

It all started as I passed through China on a 4 day layover on my first trip to Australia. A friend was living in a smaller city, Changsha, and had asked me to spend Christmas with her and her boyfriend.

My short time here, I went to parties, rode on the back of crazy motorbikes, and ate so many new spicy foods. It struck me, that, I felt life in China as a foreigner was incredibly like my time at university, only everyone around me had no responsibilities and hell of a lot more money (well, most)!

As I left and headed onwards to Australia, it really stuck with me that I could live and work in China at a super high standard of living. It was my plan to explore Australia and decide if that would be the opportunity for my next life choice.

I couldn’t shake the feeling China was the right move. I had roughly planned to move to Australia for a year, then to return to my studies looking into all the opportunities for me to study palaeontology either there or in the UK/Europe. China offered me the opportunity for making and saving money to fund my postgraduate studies, learning the language, travelling and making some serious connections. It became more solidified as I convinced myself that, although I’m academically sound – I’m no stand out, so having Chinese connections and language skills could be the difference to my future work and studies. (I’m really into flying dinosaurs, all the best fossils are Chinese)

So I substituted China for Australia after thinking long and hard. The opportunity was better for me at the time, I was with no savings and no real opportunities in the UK. I had not much to lose in trying. In the end, I came for the money, the language, the connections and the life/travel experience. I know plenty who come for culture, girls (so many do), partying, and easy living.

As to WHY I am starting my 3rd year here?

While I had reasoned that, with China’s low cost of living and my high salary, I could easily save 100,000rmb in a year and still explore and enjoy my time. This is totally accurate AND reasonable…However, what I did not expect, is how woefully ill-prepared I was to move away and how much bad luck I’d have right off the bat!

I wrongfully assumed after some anecdotal stories that my bank account flowing with a few hundred pounds would be enough to last me until my first pay-day and everything would be hunky dory. In China, they expect you to pay a month’s rent as deposit and 3 month’s rent upfront. Well, this accounted for more money than I had in the bank. (This is the first session of pointing out the obvious. That researching a new place is a good idea. My blasé nature isn’t the best for this process)

So getting a big advance from my work I was able to fund everything, but money was running out quick as I paid 4 months rent, then a completely empty apartment needed pots and pans and towels… You can see it drained me. Day 3 in China, I left my phone in a cab never to be seen again. I was paying the maximum amount back to my company each month from my salary. In December I was finally free from their debt, but RENT AGAIN. In China it’s almost always 3 months at a time… So this kind of stuff carried on throughout my first year. But also, I took the opportunities I had to travel, which was the only positive aspect of the not-saving-train.

And who would think it, but Chinese is REALLY, REALLY, hard. After one year living in China – I could barely get by! I had odd bits and pieces but I was nowhere near a strong or confident user!

I had a dilemma in deciding what to do next, I didn’t have enough mandatory money in the bank to head to Australia, but I was getting there. I had no real level of Chinese and because of how poor I had been, I wasn’t able to take advantage of all the free time to travel. And now, I had a personal reason to stay and a new, better, opportunity in a new city!

Chengdu, Sichuan, the Panda city! I had the opportunity to work less (by about 20hrs) for a slightly smaller salary in this more developed, exciting place. I’d visited plenty with work and came to really love.

So I decided: I’d move. This depleted my savings a chunk as I had to move my things and again… New apartment, but this time I used an agent so I had my usual 3 months upfront, 1 month as deposit, but one month equivalent as an agency fee… So you see where this is going.

And on to why am I still here:

My Chinese is still terrible and I’ve finally begun to save some good money. However, now I have a huge goal. I’m planning to cycle from China to Australia, creating YouTube videos and two documentaries. Though I hope to gain backing to help offset cost of new cameras and equipment, I’m entirely prepared to fund it myself.

So for now, my reasons for staying another year are simple.

Chuanxi Ride

**Disclaimer: WordPress has been crashing every time I try to post… So it’s late coming

Chuanxi – 川西

A few weeks ago – months really let’s not lie about how badly I’ve been keeping on top of this blog – my friend Jacob asked me if I might be interested in a ride he was planning with our other friend Larry. It would be about 120km total but would include two mountains of 4500m and 4100m. This would be solely for their businesses; Natooke (best bike store in Chengdu), Source Cycles (totally rad bamboo bikes) and Bike China (killer bike tours).

We’d go out and grind on these hills with two support vehicles, two photographers and Larry piloting the drone now and again.

I asked about the steepness of these roads to which Jacob made a gesture suggesting a gentle time, whereas behind him Larry seemed to have joined the Third Reich with the angle of incline he was flashing me. But it was settled, I was in and the last person to join this fellowship. I felt like a Hobbit about to storm Mordor.

Eventually, the day arrived where we’d meet up and get into a van and ride out into Western Sichuan to a nice little hotel, which actually wasn’t the hotel we were staying at because the guy neglected to tell us that he was closed for refurbishing and would put us in his friend’s hotel… Standard China.

After settling the roommate situation we then all met in the little dining hall and chatted, waiting for various local dishes to arrive. As we ate, we began to discuss the plan for the next day. Would we want to leave real early, get riding before 7… or we could leave it a little later and have a more casual start to the day. We decided to get up early then see how we felt.

Day one of the ride began early, around 6.00am packing the van up by 6.30am, we followed that up by getting some breakfast at a little local shop eating some baozi, a kind of stuffed steamed bun, and rice soup.

Bellies filled, we piled into the two vans and rode a few kilometers away to the start of the day’s climbing. We began by passing along this beautiful river and amazing mountainous scenery, gently climbing upwards. At the start I knew I was the weakest on a bike and also with the heaviest bicycle I was expecting to be keep up the rear. The going was slow for me but not very difficult.

We got ourselves up to a beautiful rest stop, where I really began noticing I was sucking pretty hard and starting to feel the early pangs of a headache. We rested, snacked and took some pretty beautiful photos. Well everyone else did, which I’ve stolen for this purpose! After a bit of deliberation it was decided me and Charlie would hitch a lift because we weren’t really keeping the pace to finish in the ideal time. We rode in the van about 6-8 kilometers and hopped out and immediately began climbing. It had probably only just passed noon at this time.

Progressively, Charlie and I were spending more and more time off our bikes walking up. We didn’t feel tired but the altitude was getting to us. We were over 3500 meters up and our heads felt like they were being cracked in two.

It was real nice getting to know Charlie while suffering, I think it gave us a bit of a better bond! However, while bonding, we both were breathing heavily, barely keeping our balance and experiencing what would be akin to migraine. In the near freezing weather we were bitching about the very weather making an already difficult task, more difficult. It was practically a white-out, we were unable to see very far ahead of us. Now I’ve been at altitude before and know I suffer pretty quickly from AMS. In mountaineering, I’ve never experienced anything like this in the Alps so it was a little worrying.

Eventually, Charlie and I were laying in the road surrounded by snow, gathering our energy to stand up and walk another 5 minutes or so. To our joy, the van came around to corner to grab us. Apparently, there was a miscommunication between a driver and the group – we were right behind the others! So at the 4500m summit they were chilling out waiting for us.

The remainder of the ride I was a little in a daze, watching the other race downhill as we chased them in the van. Soon I was asleep trying to recover from my own mini ordeal. When I woke up we had arrived at our next hotel, which was a really nice place I can’t remember the name of! But I was rooming with my buddy Jacob possibly the strongest rider on the trip and all around good dude. I flopped down in the bed and tried to get warm and drink all the water possible. Eventually, I risked the shower and my fear of the cold air outside of my clothes and blanket was invalid. It wasn’t that bad really.


Dinner was a traditional Sichuan mix of spicy dishes and rice. We ate it up, enjoyed some drinks and then went out on a hunt for snacks and trinkets. I successfully avoided buying unnecessary things that I knew weren’t cool, but felt super cool at the time. Also, we all bought 1 jin (1斤) of Yak jerky (牦牛肉干)。Those of you unaware, 1 jin is 500g and a common way to measure out any raw goods. We finished up the shopping and returned to the hotel. After a few rounds of games we called it a night.


Day 2, Keith’s Revenge!


I’ll be honest, when we woke up early to take on the next day’s 4100m mountain- I was not up for it at all! I was bravely saying that I’d give it a go, 80% sure that after at most 1 hour I’d be toast. But during breakfast I took a few painkillers and set off ahead of the group with Charlie. We passed a beautiful little lake and very soon were back to climbing! Unfortunately, Charlie was still suffering and had to drop off. I took off feeling real strong and the scenery and weather was perfect.


For a weak climber I was feeling strong and unstoppable. I spent the majority of the day solo apart from maybe 30min with Devon a bicycle BEAST taking some photos and chatting. But the snail’s pace wasn’t his style, so soon I was alone watching Devon disappear up the mountainside.

After several hours of climbing I was out of water and suffering. Cursing the slowness of the support vans, expecting them any minute as I was heading up! Eventually, as I rested before the last push up to the top, two Chinese ladies stopped and gave me a few bottles of water.


I continued on, my strength rapidly leaving my legs, when the van arrived to film me riding a bit, but after some time with them following. I had to give up, so close but I was only going to be walking up to the top.


When we arrived it was very exposed and snowy! The wind was whipping up around us and these little ladies were sitting up top cooking little skewers of meat! I FEASTED, even though I’ve been trying to avoid eating a ton of meat! Waiting on Larry and Jacob it was great watching them tackle the top, pumping their legs pushing through the wind and snow!


Finally, we began the descent! It was 30min of high-speeds and hairy corners (for me)! Two occasions I was a little close to wiping out! One would’ve just been painful (barbed wire), but the second probably would’ve been real bad (huge drop). But it was so worth all the hard work climbing up! Jacob, Devon and I chilled out at the bottom waiting for the others to come along and collect us for the ride back to Chengdu. The next 6 hours of driving and sitting in traffic was improved with lots of yak jerky and my ereader.



Photo credits all go to these guys and their instagrams







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10000km, The Ride

“The Ride” just kind of fits doesn’t it?

Now, referring to my upcoming trip with such a dramatic title may be silly. People spent years riding bicycles across the world. But they aren’t me, and this is going to be the biggest feat I’ve ever undertaken. Certainly, it isn’t small.

But, The Ride is going to be somewhere between 10000 and 11000km (roughly 6200-6800 in American). Australia itself accounts for over half of the distance. It’s hard to judge distance by using Google maps, since large sections aren’t mapped well. And it certainly doesn’t account for altitude gained and lost on the route. If you estimate that I ride 100km a day (I wont) it will take me 100 days. I’m thinking a minimum of 6 months, including rest, relaxation and getting lost. The Ride is going to take me from my current home city of Chengdu to Sydney. Yes, I’m fully aware of large bodies of water in the way; thank you, jackass.

The Plan

The first thing to know is I’m planning to build my bicycle for the trip myself, entirely out of bamboo. Chengdu is kind of famous for pandas and bamboo, so I want to take a part of that away with me. Also giving myself a greater sense of achievement.

Beginning in the Chinese province of Sichuan, I’ll aim to ride south to Yunnan to see Kunming and organise a few important visas. Next following southwards through Honghe to cross the border into Vietnam. I’ll begin a southeastern route towards Laos crossing at Tay Trang. Through Laos I’ll continue this same direction rising more northward to cross into Thailand most likely at Huay Xai. I’ll then move south across northern Thailand (sounds, like an oxymoron) towards Myanmar, crossing at Mae Sot. I’ll continue southerly crossing back into Thailand at Kawthaung, and keep this direct route to Malaysia. I have two options either Sadao or Pedang Besar each having it’s own unique advantage or disadvantage. Finally, I will cross Malaysia into Singapore over the one bridge accessible to bikes in Johor.

Not quite done yet, I intend on a ferry crossing to Indonesia to ride across to South Sumatra and another ferry to Java and carry on until I reach Bali where (hopefully) my first airplane ticket will be purchased. Me and my little bike will be carried to Darwin where the intention is to detour to explore Kakadu before heading down into Katherine. Probably head down the 66 to Rockhampton (or Townsville to include Whitsundays) and from there follow along the coast seeing Brisbane, the Sunshine coast, the Gold Coast, and finally arriving in Sydney.

Throughout the trip I’ll let myself rest for days or go off to explore exciting local things. The journey is real important, but also what I see will be unforgettable and needs to be appreciated.

The How

Pedalling, obviously.

I intend to have on the bike; front and rear panniers plus one handlebar bag. I want to travel lightly, so that also means stinky. I’ll have minimal clothes and extras packed away. Basic camping equipment included; varying my nights between tent, guesthouses and possibly friendly people’s homes. Piled in every place will be equipment for filming, charging, entertainment and health! Food can get stocked up on every few days as you cross through small villages so it’s not so necessary to have it stockpiled. Snacks and emergency food, however, will be critical. I’m a snacker you see! There will without a doubt be plenty of miserable days due to the minimalist approach. However, I think the effort saved on packing, unpacking and lugging around too much stuff will be well worth it.

I’ll be doing the majority of filming myself, since at this moment; there will be no crew and no partner coming along. So I’ll have to be thinking carefully about shots and locations.

Before leaving next year, I’ll give an in-depth look at what’s in the bags and what probably should get left behind (that wont).


There are a ton, in drafting this blog; my list here exceeds anything from the lists above! They could even be subcategorised, which I probably should do, but I think it looks weird.

The most pressing challenge is my birthday and my personal goals. I’ve wanted to do the Australian Working and Holiday visa for a long time. The cut off is 31 years old, if I turn 31 before the visa is granted I’m out of luck. So if it is coming too close, some section, however regrettable, will be getting cut out. I don’t want to give up that opportunity; it won’t lessen my achievement at all. Though… maybe numerically it does!

Visas are possibly the most awkward part of this trip, only 4 countries require me to get a visa. However, due to the nature of my trip it gets complicated. Normally, American passport holders get 30 days in Thailand without having to apply for a visa, for me crossing by land with no onward departure evidence… 15 days. The first section of Thailand is about 900km, which means I’ll probably have to “cheat” and get on a train or hitch a lift. This is a theme throughout the Asian leg of my journey fighting visa time-constraints. It’s all part of the adventure

The dangers I guess are the next real challenge; unsafe riding conditions, theft, injury, murder, mayhem, alien abduction… Again these are all part of the adventure. I’m actually only fearful about theft and injury, I’m going to be carrying quite a bit of fancy kit with me while travelling in remote places. So preferably to make the situation the most ideal, I’ll manage to have partners or a crew for the majority of the legs.

Boredom and loneliness will go hand in hand. Hopefully, I’ll have human company for the majority of the trip, which will really help with loneliness and boredom. I’ll have with me some type of e-reader and about a million books. I’ll have my notebook for journaling/blogging… Additionally, you can expect me to vlog a bit and film the things around campsites and exploring areas.

Getting lost, probably will happen, however I’ll be doing my best with a GPS map and laminated printouts of trickier areas to ask locals. Falling back on a compass in emergencies.

Funding this trip, well, this is the hardest thing. I don’t really want to spend my own savings to support it. Though it’s completely expected I’ll have to pitch in. I hope to convince enthusiastic people in this great wide world to fund me with a crowd-funding page, my goal of about £5000. This should be able to cover all of the electronic equipment and majority of visas and food costs. I hopefully will get a sponsorship deal from a drone company because they decide “Hey, you’re alright! Have a drone you cheeky devil!” … For the kick-starter I’m thinking offering the funder’s name in the credits of the documentary for the first tier of donation. Tier two includes the credits plus early copy of the documentary, the final tier would be inclusive of the first 2, plus your name engraved on the bicycle.

Oh! Electricity you shout! Well I’ll be using a dynamo hub to generate the power for the various bits and bobs I am carrying around. Plus a solar panel, I will be living the dream! Endless power! Nothing will stop me! Apart from the fact the drone I want isn’t able to connect to USB ports right now… More challenges!

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The image above, obviously isn’t my route… Mine will be way more wiggly.

As always, I’ll keep updating you closer to the set off date… Thanks for getting on board.

Why “The Ride”

The Ride. I guess it’s the only thing I can call it for now.

Inspired by Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright’s antics in their Sufferfest videos… I began thinking of how I could do a pretty low budget, low impact, “old fashioned” adventure.

I really just wanted to have a challenge that is wildly out of my depth, a challenge also accepted by great friend who can share in the suffering. All the while documenting the kind of pain that will later be fondly remembered, alongside the genuine camaraderie and humour that comes with a friendship tackling an epic together.

Slowly my plan evolved, from motorcycles back to England, to riding bicycles to Kathmandu via Lhasa (so much trouble with entering and crossing Tibet as a foreigner…) to finally riding my custom bamboo bike from Chengdu, China to Sydney, Australia solo. Solo isn’t ideal, but I’m not backing out for anything!

In beginning to really think hard about the trip, I thought what does riding my bike for a few months and several thousand kilometres actually do for me? It can’t just be all about me! So I will be inviting the crazy people I know for legs or if someone can come from start to finish, they can. Yet, I wasn’t done thinking. Now, importantly, I feel that not giving back in some small way would be a crime. Whether highlighting any issues with health, environment, or supporting sustainable tourism. This trip is sustainable trip, using a handmade bamboo bike and bringing money into the local communities buying goods and sharing their lives to a wider audience, which may highlight any issues we can help with.

As these thoughts blossomed, development of the documentary started processing in my mind. You can’t just film aimlessly for weeks and put it together. It’ll be absolute shit.

So a new challenge arose, what would the purpose be of filming my trip, if it’s just me riding a bike week after week? So again I had to search for a better reason than just me, my experiences and development will still be a large part of the story, but it has to appeal more widely. Too much thought was going into the creation of a story to tell with the documentary, and it was obvious the whole time: How to have an adventure and deal the challenges faced while doing it with a whole lot of cultural education.

Showing people the process before undertaking something, that you don’t need to spend ridiculous amounts of money, that a lot of planning still goes into simple ideas, and the fact the adventure comes from just pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Combine with these ideas with my own personal story, my self-development alongside my friends who will (hopefully) join me for legs or the whole tour… and also the fun interactions and dramas that come from remote challenges in other cultures… That’s where you get your entertainment!

My goal with the documentary is to help show others what little is required besides some effort and a little confidence (I’m still not so confident in my cycling stamina), share experiences, and to educate viewers on the human issues, cultures and places I cross. In addition, I will share the sights that only are found in Nat Geo… Drone shots, action shots and pieces to camera. And even live streams are possible with a little phone data and a drone!

My goal with the trip is to challenge myself completely, be completely out of my depth from start to finish and then also to see what it takes to complete this trip. Along the way I want to explore other people’s reasons for trips like this, through conversation with friends accompanying me or with other souls that are making similar trips! See if maybe I can develop a philosophy for myself about life and fulfillment.

Now maybe, these reasons aren’t strong enough for some people to accept as for why I want to do something like I’m doing. But it’s what I want to do, and being able to find a deeper meaning and purpose to a challenge like this, to me, is better than “Because I want to”. I’m still figuring it out for myself, but that’s all part of the adventure.

In a few months, when I’ve planned more thoroughly, you can expect a better description and pitch with a link to a kickstarter page. I reckon I’ll just need enough to cover the millions of SD cards and paying someone to edit for me. But it will be a visually beautiful documentary considering where the trip will take me and my current vision.


Few shots from other adventures… Italy and a lot of China.

CNY Part 3: Revenge of the Bike Seat

After the most deep and full night sleep we’d had on the trip, we decided due to the unknown problem with Ruth’s derailleur we’d take the train from Zigong back to Chengdu. The problem was resulting in our inability to climb steeper hills because her chain jumped off the cogs and lodged themselves in between the spokes and hub. The distance between Zigong and Chengdu is about 200km, but there are some rather large hills (mountains) spread through the area and no direct route by train, so it would be 6hrs

Zigong was pretty close to us still; we’d definitely make it on day 6. We’d checked the timetable and could get the overnight train back to Chengdu. So we’d take our time enjoying the route but still had to get to the train station for about 6. As we rode along we crossed through many small roadside towns and we decided to grab ourselves a last helping of water before Zigong. We stopped at this store full of people, a family, eating outside and very friendly. They also had an amazing looking little special needs puppy! It was so inbred and ridiculous! It was enthusiastically falling over itself and winning me over with it’s antics.

We had quite a number of small arguments throughout and when our turn of bad luck returned. We arrived at the train station and it looked very, very closed. I started asking around, enquiring whether the station was open or not. Fending off all the usual chit-chat questions and conversation; “Where are you from?” “Your Chinese is really good.” “What do you think of Sichuan food? Spicy?” “Where are you going?” … I was fielding many questions from various people while asking all my own. Ruth got impatient and wandered off to go into the station and check. The security guards didn’t raise a question to her, which is why we hadn’t attempted originally!

After establishing with the folks outside that we would have to return early the next morning to get our bikes onboard. I went into the station to tell Ruth the good news. I found her sitting after having spoken with the ticket man who just told her no no no no. With the information I knew from locals and the fact there was a baggage/freight office at the station we’d be able to take our bikes.

I had a turn at the window, speaking to the man and then another woman, we established that what was meant that it would be impossible to get the bikes on the late night train because the other office had closed. So I returned to the line and dealt with Chinese people and their frustrating cultural difference of “me first” so cutting in line. Thankfully, my Chinese has improved enough I can have small arguments and make it very clear I know what’s up. Successfully purchasing our tickets for the 9am train I went back to Ruth.

We had another falling out, because she wanted to find a place to camp, but my argument was we couldn’t camp in the city very easily at all and leaving city limits to try and find a camp would also be so difficult. So if we didn’t get a cheap nearby hotel we could all night it at the station. We did have camp mats and all the things to have food and stay comfortable. Very reluctantly, we booked a hotel nearby for the night.

The next morning we were up early and at the station before they opened. Checking our bikes into the train put my Chinese past its limit! After some round and round discussion, we paid 60rmb total and were told we weren’t going to be able to get the bikes right away at the other side and ride home. They would HAVE to be delivered to my home.

Another small bit of trouble occurred when we decided to keep hold of our gas canisters hoping to get away with it. NOPE. Berated in Chinese and then my passport photographed we were away!

The rest of the trip was a little boring and lonely, since my partner in crime became very quiet. This wasn’t so fun as the trip was still long way from done.

After about 2 hours I hear “外国人 -Waiguoren…” and I replied “不对,我是中国人 – Budui, wo shi zhongguoren” … The little girl looked shocked and ran away, she kept coming back and forth before deciding to show me her English homework and we ended up speaking for over an hour. She didn’t have an English name and I gave her one, Joanne. Her name was Jiu Yuan, so it worked! But bless her she was telling me she didn’t have many friends and her classmates called her ugly!

When we arrived in Chengdu, I rushed up to the freight area and spoke with the guys about how to get the bikes at the station rather than wait. They told me where to go, Ruth and I were soon back on the road sleepily and quietly riding back to our places. Mostly silent, we got back and said our goodbyes. I immediately ordered a take away and sat down and began considering washing my stuff and unpacking.

About Me

About me


My unnecessary quote comes to you from Henry David Thoreau:

“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.”

Well, this is probably the wrong time to do an “About Me” … but I have never been interested in doing things how they should be done (at best “kinda” or in Chinese, chabuduo “close enough”)… Oh well! Let’s continue.

I was born and raised for the most part in the United States of America… I wanted to full name it, because it has been rather naughty lately. The latter half of my life in England having lived in London, Essex and Man(couchCREWEcough)chester… I will always identify as an American, however, I do prefer the lifestyle and social outlook of the life in Europe.

At 14 I moved to London and my life was forever changed. CLICHÉ ALERT! I went to a high school, which had academic standards beyond what I was accustomed to and was nearly kicked out a few times for poor grades. My friends were from all over the world, either very wealthy or parents in government. I was not. I hadn’t lived in a place were public transport wasn’t called “Mum” and “Dad”… I was surrounded by very intelligent, successful people, who could do anything they wanted. At least, that’s how it appeared to me. This would cause me endless issues in confidence and expectations of myself throughout my teens and early 20s.

Through these experiences I became driven for success, enthusiastic for travel and learning, and very jealous. Though, I had not yet discovered how to channel all of these things positively they were my strengths.

Skipping all the over-sharing and needless paragraphs of self-discovery, the result is the guy writing this now. Sublimely confident, self-motivated, self-disciplined, unreasonably positive and irrepressibly happy. I’ve discovered that you make everything yourself, someway, somehow… If you want it enough, you figure it out and it doesn’t have to be fast. I’m still years away from reaching my dreams, but I do now have a path. It only took me to 26 to realise what made me happy and how I might achieve it. Some people aren’t so lucky, look around, many people don’t really know still!

So now I travel. Not enough, I’d say, but way more than most. I used to travel to just tick things off a list! Believe it or not, just to say I had been there. I didn’t have a reason. Then I discovered skateboarding and I got pretty good too. So I wanted to visit the best spots in Europe. As I got older still, I rediscovered my passion for nature and that is what still drives my exploration. I want to go and experience these wild places, test myself in them through climbing or paddling… Pantheism, the belief that reality is akin to divinity… That is why I go. I have to understand the world you see, but I have to do it myself. In some other part, I don’t feel like I yet have home, I have yet to be someplace I could call my forever home.

Boring you now, I’m sorry. Let’s talk about dreams. I want to live my life playing and having fun. And now I’ve discovered exactly how I want to live my life.

Before leaving the UK I was doing some work with TV producers, doing some big shows too. But I would be pigeonholed. Red Bull TV. However, inside I want to be Attenborough. I want to share and encourage education and learning. So to stand a shot, I need my masters. So with gentle persuasion, I could apply palaeontology (my childhood passion) with my degree at two universities in England.

Fast forward to: an opportunity to work a lucrative job in China came before me, I saw it as a chance to increase my life skills and learn an important language. So now I’m here, almost two years on, learning Chinese and saving money, and using the overly high salary to explore Asia.

The next step is taking advantage of the Australian working holiday (after 2 big adventures; 3 weeks on a horse in Mongolia, followed by a bicycle commute from China to Sydney)… Afterwards, I will hopefully attend either Edinburgh University or Bristol to read my MSc in Vertebrate Palaeontology while working on my presenter career in various societies and clubs and attending castings in London… The end goal is to be a lecturer who gets to write and make interesting and exciting programmes for TV. And in my free time have some adventures. Oh and speak Chinese. God damn it I will!

The only advice I’ll offer in my blog, well, life advice:

I think it’s critical to success and happiness to ever at most have a rough plan. Don’t fill it with details, because you’ll never be able to break from the script. You’ll be too focused on the next thing. Just do what you want, when you want or can… Or at least that’s my feelings. I’m not here to tell you how to win at life, just it’s working for me!

Chinese New Year… Pt2

I had a hunch we weren’t in too much trouble, but we still opened the tent door as quietly as possible to get a better look. The light had been coming from directly in front of us, which would have meant we could be seen dead easily. However, besides the path, which we were next to, in front of us was a steep hill where a tall brick wall lay to keep people out of the very scary Scooby-Doo-like factory. Relieved that we weren’t going to have to move, or deal with any late night language barriers we got back into our sleeping bags and got back to sleep.

I was aware of Ruth getting up and getting out of the tent, but was soon dozing again, as it was very late still.

“KEITH! KEITH! THERE’S A DOG!” Ruth shouted, at the same time I was being scared that she was about to be savaged outside the tent, her voice clearly scared the dog who replied with a flurry of barks and yips that were growing ever fainter. This was the ideal result as I was mostly undressed, completely dazed and half tripped out of the tent as Ruth returned. I certainly couldn’t have fought a vicious man-eater to the death.

Officially waking up to day 2 was just as hard as day 1. My little fitness tracker started vibrating and I sleepily told it to “fuck off mate”. Slow to start again due to the night-time shenanigans, we did start. Me as the groggy grump and Ruth with the sore legs. Honestly, I was so happy Ruth constantly turned down my offers to help with food, so I used the breakfast time to pack up and organise camp a bit.

Finally packed and ready to go at about 10am we started walking down the bumpy train back to the road leading to Pengshan. Arriving in town we made friends with a woman who led us to a quieter path to Meishan. This road though, blessedly empty of traffic, was also the longest and most boring section of the entire trip! It was about 50 out of the day’s 60km covered.

Meishan was pretty nice and relaxed, but to find a safe camping spot we’d have to keep going and get outside the city limits. We started passing through a smaller town with several lingongyuan (tree parks) and decided to pull up at a bus stop across from what seemed the best location. Many tall mounds of earth, away from the road and lights, it would be perfect for stealth camping.

One problem though: Grandpa. As we sat at the bust stop next to his little workshop, we prepared our meal and waited for it to become darker so we could get stealthy. Grandpa, however, seemed to know something and stood outside watching us. He crossed the road and walked through the trees to a small house in the distance then back… But he was always watching. To score our campsite, we had to outwit gramps.

Together we cleaned and packed away our cooking stuff, still under grandpa’s watchful eye, and prepared to set off. It was now very dark so we used our mighty strategic brains, turned on our bike lights and started riding down the road until we were far enough away, turned off our lights, and crossed the road and returned. Grandpa was fooled! We hurriedly rushed into the park and laid out the tent. Our tent, a Vaude Hogan Area, was super quick to set up and with an olive flysheet we blended in pretty amazingly. Suddenly, we heard shutter doors closing and saw the flashlight of grandpa coming over the road through the park! We dived to the ground like some super lame special forces commandos and let him pass. Great success! We finished up and like the night before- asleep by 10.

“Keith!” Ruth’s anxious voice woke me up, along with her CPR skills, “There’s a motorcycle outside and I don’t know what he’s doing.”

For the third time I was “awake” trying to process what was happening and what was likely TO happen. We decided to wait it out, our valuables were with us and our bikes were locked together very securely. In the end, the bike moved on and there was no further drama.

Day three was another early planned start, the only successful one, however we did not leave until late still. As we set off, we were discussing our plans for that evening. We would be reaching the first city on the trip, Leshan, and had to decide if we would find a place outside the city or stay in a hotel for the evening. I suggested that it was best to get the hotel, so at lunch I booked one that was cheap and when we arrived we were really (I think) pleased with everything. We had our first showers, rinsed our gear and went out for a restaurant meal! After just snacking on some seriously greasy food, we got back and got into our nice comfy beds.

When we first got into the city, crossing over a bridge, Ruth was starting to have a few issues with her bike. We stopped to check the map, realising we had missed our turn suddenly Ruth’s bike was done with us. The chain kept popping off if she went below 4th gear, very challenging when we were surrounded by hills!

After an evening in the city we headed out at our now standard 10am after having, possibly, the worst free breakfast I’ve ever had.

This was by far the most frustrating and tiring days. Up, up, up. All day we just were working up a steady gradient, passing through many similar roadside towns. People were obviously surprised and excited to see foreigners. Some were a little over enthusiastic, so much so, that Ruth left a store because she felt uncomfortable.

As we left one town I saw a little ball of fluff as we pedalled past. I pulled up for a snack break and to check on the little puppy. He was a little scared but decided that Ruth’s bike would be the best shelter and protection. I was looking at him and we gave him a bit of food. As we left I was really sad to be leaving this pup, if I could’ve safely taken him with me on the bike I’d now have a little white fluff monster.

As the day got later it was feeling harder and harder to push on. It was also starting to feel like finding a comfortable/safe place to camp would be impossible. It was really late by the time we found a place it wasn’t ideal but it also was the best we’d find before the sunset and the roads got dangerous. It was directly across from a family home, on a busy road and amongst a patch of bamboo. Besides all these things there were a huge amount of small ditches and hard earth everywhere so it was a challenge to pitch the tent. Handily, the bamboo had shed a lot of husks that we were able to use to level out and soften up sections of the ground!

The evening passed by a little uncomfortably with many people passing in and out of the house across from us. Followed by the late night passing of lorry after lorry, the road vibrated both physically and audibly. Sleep was fleeting and it was morning all too early. Achy bones ached as we sat eating breakfast. We blankly went through the routine of packing up camp and began our climb up the hills. We really were struggling, the kilometres passed slowly… one… two… four…Suddenly, down, down, down! The freezing wind whipped through my clothes as I had layered myself for being hot from climbing! 16km we rushed downhill.

Oh man, it was so worth it! All that climbing the previous day, being able to cruise down winding mountain roads, completely validated the pain. We arrived at the bottom of the mountain and hurriedly I threw on my jacket to keep myself from dying. As I did this Ruth was checking our location to be sure those 16km hadn’t been in vain!

Relieved we weren’t lost, we began to pedal slowly trying to find a nice spot to stop for our lunch. We finally found one, more or less in someone’s drive, and settled into the routine of cooking.

The following road was about 120km to Zigong, our next big city. No turns, not a bit of interest along the route. As we passed through the roadside towns, hearing “Wai guo ren” called our behind us, we could smile because these folks were so puzzled as to why foreigners were coming through. I got pleasure in shouting out to people in Chinese, which also got a lot of laughs either because of my joke or they were so surprised this white fella was speaking their language!

Ruth and I shouted back and forth in the wind over our plan for camping that night. In the end we decided from 4.30 we’d start looking for the perfect spot! AND! Would you guess what? By 5pm we were setting up our camp in a small bamboo forest and finding the joy in stealth camping again. Relaxing on our camp mats, reading books and drinking hot chocolates… it was amazing.


There and Back Again… A Cyclist’s Tale Pt.1

A couple weeks before Chinese New Year, my friend Ruth and I were talking and both had our reasons for not being able to leave China (passport stuff)… so we talked about maybe doing a bit of a bike tour during the holiday.

Now, I should probably set the scene for you reading. The time frame is the final week of January, Chinese New Year, possibly the single largest human migration at any time in the world. So the cities empty at a post-apocalyptic level, the national sites are overrun like some Resident Evil movie. Imagine hordes of people teeming around towns, villages or parks with even the slightest value to Chinese heritage. If you’ve never visited China, or lived here, I can best sum up the Chinese mentality in these situations; Me > you. Me first. Move faster. Personal space? Never heard of that.

Firstly, we didn’t make the 7am departure time. At 8am we were still feeling rather comfortable. I was dozily imagining the frustrations yet to be endured by departing Chengdu in “normal” hours…

As we departed at about 10am, we were greeted with the standard chorus of horns and bells from everything on the road (or sidewalk) that can make a noise. For those inexperienced with China, bells and horns are not last resort “Move-the-fuck-out-of-the-way-you-idiot” as we know them. They are sharing the “I’m-here-please-oh-please-don’t-just-pull-out-you-fucker” feelings of the vehicle operators.

Early on we had frequent stops to work out the route, Chinese maps are notoriously inaccurate at times and where really built up rather unclear. After about an hour and a half we had passed through the Chengdu south toll-gates and were off!

Fortune was in our favour, we had uncharacteristically warm and sunny weather following us all day. Our first official stop on the trip came after powering down the highway a few dozen kilometres. We stopped for lunch, which was a total DIY noodle + vegetable combo in a little nook next to a road works fence. Complete with a poo just sitting in the corner keeping us company.

Arriving in the first larger town, apparently famous for strawberries, it was necessary to use my alarm call “HEY, MOVE! NI MEI ZHANG YANJING MA?!” or “BEEP!BEEP!HONK!”… The number of people and vehicles aimlessly moving across the roads was a little staggering. Almost immediately I was over it. I really just wanted to get on and out back onto navigable roads.

Hills. Oh the beginning of a strong -session of swearing at hills. (Spoiler, we got mountains later… so by comparison, fine times!) Alongside the road ran very deep ditches, about 2metres deep, v-shaped ditches. Across these sporadically were small bridges crowded with strawberry sellers.

This created the real problem with hills. Regularly cars would suddenly cut us off, to pull up to the sellers to check out the strawberries. Often this meant we’d have to stop and get going again on a steep incline or awkwardly pedal out into traffic that was already rather chaotic. Eventually, I created a bit of a gap between Ruth and myself, so it seemed like a good time to pull up and wait for her while eyeing up some delicious looking strawberries. After a bit of a misunderstanding we had nearly 3kg of strawberries for 70rmb. And worth every single mao, so delicious!

Pushing off and upwards we kept riding, fatigue getting to us after nearly 60km when the furthest we’d probably ever rode was 20km in a day. This time laden with gear and food! We weighed my bike in at 40kg so I was good and ready to find a place to settle for the evening. We scouted out a place nearby this big river crossing and decided to wait for it to become a little darker before wandering off to find a campsite. We crossed back under the bridge we had come over and started pedalling down this underused dirt road that was crossed behind, what appeared to be, an abandoned industrial estate. As we got further along we found our path unexpectedly blocked and overrun with goats. Lots and lots of goats. The friendly farmers cleared us a path and we kept going. Eventually we found a nice little spot that was hidden from sight from 3 out of 4 directions.

With complete confidence we’d not be disturbed, we started setting up camp and got dinner cooking. Ruth whipped up a sort of on-the-road version of a pad thai curry. It hit all the spots!

At the beginning of our trip, I had foreseen just sitting in camp or laying in the tent reading, the actually truth… Ruth and I were far too tired so fell asleep almost immediately!

Suddenly, there were CPR-like compressions on my chest. Ruth was hissing at me about a flashlight shining all over the area and the voice of someone talking loudly. As my adrenaline pumped I started clearing sleep from my eyes and taking in the situation. It was incredibly bright outside the tent and the man was very loud.

Mountains of the Mind

So I’ve written one poem type thing in my life. Here it is;

Fear not the loneliness of self

Instead treasure it, it’s your wealth

The terrifying wonders and wilderness between ears

Are the mountains to clamber up and pacify fears

Looming high and daunting, masterfully crafted

A beautiful monolith every route yet drafted

For those who are brave, these are peaks to climb

Challenges unfold, trails are blazed all of which sublime

These trips are wild, insightful and bold

Fear not, you are strong, your power untold

Blaze upwards unbound, believe in yourself and you will find

Safety from the storms, a shelter all yours these Mountains of the Mind.