Chen Guanming: The Olympic Chinese rickshaw rider's farewell to England

  • Published
Image source, Claire Barnes
Image caption,
Chen Guanming pedalled across England to get his rickshaw to Liverpool
Image source, Helen Huang
Image caption,
Mr Chen has little money, but "gets by with a smile", friends say
Image source, Helen Huang
Image caption,
Staff from ACL in Liverpool offered to take the rickshaw to Canada for free
Image source, Lee Chapman, ACL
Image caption,
Mr Chen could do it, but ACL staff eventually pushed the rickshaw on the boat
Image source, Helen Huang
Image caption,
He does not enjoy English food, but ate fish and chips with friend John Beeston

Three years ago, a Chinese farmer packed his worldly possessions into a rusty rickshaw, and, after pedalling 37,500 miles (60,000 km) through 16 countries and more than 1,700 cities, arrived in London.

A remarkable feat, but for Chen Guanming, a 58-year-old from Jiangsu Province in eastern China, this was to be just the beginning of his adventures in the saddle.

Mr Chen, a huge fan of all things Olympics, initially decided to pedal his rickshaw all the way from China to "promote the Olympic spirit" and secure a role in the London 2012 opening ceremony.

His phenomenal journey was well-publicised and, while he did not feature in Danny Boyle's opener to the Games, well-wishers got together to buy Mr Chen a ticket for the ceremony.

Road to Rio

Afterwards, Mr Chen decided one global trek to one Olympic venue was not enough. He wanted to do it again, pedalling his rickshaw to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil for the 2016 Olympics.

Media caption,

In two years Chen Guanming has travelled through 16 countries

He took a break from the saddle for a few months, returning to China to nurse his father through ill health - and then he was back.

Using tickets donated by an airline, he arrived in London in July and earlier this month set off on the first leg of a trip which will be at least 5,800 miles (9,350 km) - and that's as the crow flies.

His immediate mission was to pedal to Liverpool, where friends secured free carriage of the rickshaw to Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada, ready for Mr Chen's journey south.

'Nice' policemen

However, for a Mandarin speaker with only four words of English - one of which is "toilet" - negotiating England's highways in a rickshaw is not necessarily straightforward.

In Hertfordshire, police escorted Mr Chen off the busy A10 dual carriageway near Buntingford before helping him fix a broken pedal.

In Cambridgeshire he was stopped on the A14 when his rickshaw caused traffic jams and consternation among motorists.

Unperturbed, and refusing the police's offer of a map, he headed on his way.

Although Mr Chen was not breaking the law, officers told him it was not safe.

Near Stoke-on-Trent he again came to the attention of police, pedalling along the A50, a road heavily used by lorries.

They offered him an escort to "more suitable roads".

Asked why he insisted on using A-roads, Mr Chen said: "It's too complicated to use small roads because I don't have a GPS.

"I can recognise signs on bigger roads and know I'm going the right way.

"The police tell me it's dangerous, but they've all been very nice and helpful."

'Chinese takeaway'

It is not easy to explain road safety without a common language, but people who know him say Mr Chen "gets by with a smile".

Image caption,
Chen Guanming sleeping in his rickshaw during the London 2012 Olympics

He gets by with little else, sleeping in the rickshaw and funding his travels by offering lifts and doing odd jobs.

He does not get tired, he said, and has enjoyed almost everything about the trip so far.

Speaking through an interpreter, Andy Chen, he said: "The Olympics were very good and I enjoyed it all very much.

"I watched a lot on the television and especially liked the Paralympic wheelchair races.

"The countryside is beautiful, very secure and very enjoyable."

English food, however, is not.

"I can't get used to it. I prefer Chinese takeaway."

Insurance broker John Beeston met the farmer last year, and with a smattering of Mandarin has helped plan the journey to Rio.

He joined Mr Chen on Monday as they said goodbye to the rickshaw at the Port of Liverpool, but, unable to secure passage for Mr Chen, they took a detour to Oxford "because Chen wanted to go there".

'Never stop'

Image source, Helen Huang
Image caption,
Mr Chen's rickshaw shows wear and tear after years on the road

They found a guesthouse run by a woman from Shanghai and a Vietnamese restaurant where, Mr Beeston said, Mr Chen was "instantly recognised and much photographed".

With the rickshaw already on its way to Canada, Mr Beeston had to find a way for his friend to travel in its wake and eventually an airline offered an "affordable" flight from Heathrow on Saturday.

Mr Chen will then continue the next leg of his Olympian journey, with his friend tracking his progress.

"He wants to go through the Rockies to Vancouver, where there's a huge Chinese community," Mr Beeston said.

"He also plans to criss-cross America. I've told him about their cold winters, wolves and bears, but Chen's not fazed. He's seen them all before."

With his sights set on Rio, does Mr Chen think 2016 will be the year he finally returns to China?

"This is my job now, to tell the people of the world about the Olympics and about peace," he said.

"I will keep going. I'll never stop doing the job I love until I die."

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.