On August 23rd, 2005, Fang Wen Guang, Wang Ray, and Brad Weinberg completed a two-month, 5,000 kilometer bicycle/volunteer challenge across China to raise awareness and research funding for autism. Over the course of this two-month journey we raised over $10,000 and volunteered at eight schools in China for children with autism promoting awareness of mental disablities.We could not have completed this journey without the incredible support of new and aold friends along the way.
We encourage you to continue to spread the word and view the photos and tour updates from the trip. You can call our Tour Director, Mathew Farkash, at 401-935-5985, if you have any questions or need additional information.
Thank you for your support,
Brad Weinberg & Fang Wen Guang
Tour Leaders, Bike Across China
Korgaz -- Tue, Aug 23, 2005
Today is my brother's birthday and I was biking for him. I miss him as well as all of my family and friends. It's been a wonderful, but long month and a half, but we have finally made it 5000km across China.
It was a very fitting day -- a mix of bitter cold and awe inspiring views and a little sweet honey to top things off. I set off early in the morning and the winds were still blistering through the mountains of Salima Hu. It was the coldest weather I have ever biked in and I was in absolute pain for the first hour. But around me as I glided down the mountain were incredible moss covered peaks, unspoilt beauty that is hard to find in the world today.
To take a card out of the Passover book -- the cold and beauty were symbols. The cold symbolized the difficulties that others face (the salt water and parsley per say). The things that you and I often take forgranted, being able to communicate, to understand, to live the lifes we live. And the incredible landscape represented the purity of helping others -- of choosing your values, your morals and living by them. Ok yes I'm getting too deep, but go with me here for one more line. And together they represented "sweet pain" -- you have to give to get, etc., etc. ....
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JingHe -- Sun, Aug 21, 2005
What does that title mean... Well today was the second longest day and it was a beautiful one. Sadly my camera has broke so I'll have to share the images with words.
A good portion of the road today was still under construction, but the road itself was perfect. So I more or less had the road to myself. Snowcapped mountains on the right and prisoneers finishing the road on the left. At first it was a bit disconcerning to pass guys with M-16s on my bike. I had images of them gunning me down after yelling out to me and not hearing them over the drone of my mp3 player. Now I am assuming these were prisoneers working -- but I don't see much reason for the boss to have an M16 otherwise... although some managers might disagree with me...
And the red peppers: now imagine the mountains surrounded by arid grassland and then all of a sudden a bright, glowing patch of red off in the distance. It was mezmerizing -- what was this incredible bit of color in this five-tone landscape. Well it was drying red peppers. The farmers would spread huge patches of red peppers on the ground to dry them out and it would create an incredible blend of colors on the landscape.
I know its not as good as the pictures but its the best I can do ;)
TunHe -- Sat, Aug 20, 2005
I'm back to biking solo -- making the last stage by myself -- in large part because of one Chinese mother, Mrs. Fang. Now I have never met her, but from what I have experienced of her through Fang Wen Guang, she is an amazing, albeit interesting woman.
First I must mention that she has done an incredible job raising two boys after her husband died so suddenly of a heart attack. She is a market vendor -- there's millons of them in China and they are all selling the same damn things. But she seems to be one of the few that innovates. She focuses on one food product and tries to change it ahead of the curve, right as it gets popular and other people are not selling it. Right now she sells jellyfish... Supposedly she has been pretty successful for a street vendor.
But she wasn't too hot on Fang Wen Guang biking across china. As any mother would, she was worried about her little boy. And I must credit Fang Wen Guang for doing what I've have found most chinese children won't do -- do something their parents don't fully support.
But as time grew on -- instead of getting more comfortable with her son doing great things half way across the country, she got more worried. The issues began to roll in over the phone and the phone calls became a....
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Urumqi -- Fri, Aug 19, 2005
We have now spent eight days volunteering at schools for children and young adults with autism across china (Shanghai, Nanjing, Hefei, Zhengzhou, Xi'an, Lanzhou, Jiayuguan, and Urumqi). The following is a summary of some of these experiences and the impression they have left on me.
1. 5000km on a bicycle is a joke compared to what some of these organizations have accomplished. Fighting bearacuracy and a lack of community support to provide the only outlet of support these children have.
2. China is making incredible strides in terms of awareness of mental disabilities but it still has a long way to go. America deserves a pat on the back in this regards but can't stagnate and needs to push the boundries of research.
3. Inclusion is a great thing. If you own a business -- an incredible deed would be to hire someone with a disability. It's a large responsability but an even bigger deed to society in helping give someone a sense of purpose.
4. Mental disabilities are facinating -- they are so varied and complex. We have so much work to do -- even in terms of termonology to specify what we are really talking about. I believe we need some paridigmn shifts in how we think about autism.
5. People really desire access to medical information in developing countries -- a great service if someone can figure out how to provide it. For....
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QiKeTai -- Sun, Aug 14, 2005
Chinese is a pretty easy language to become 2-year old fluent in -- that means being able to say 100 words so that people pretty much understand you (with a few hand gestures if necessary). But after that it becomes tricky.
See it's a tonal language meaning you can say "ma" four different ways and it means four different things. This can create some interesting situations...
So we had just arrived at our "hotel" for the evening. I needed to head to the backyard to do my personal business (remember toilets are not necessarily included in the room fee...), but I didn't have any toilet paper. Confident in my 2-year old vocabulary I waded over to the grouchy inn keeper and asked "Yo Mai Yo Xiao Jie" -- what I thought ment "Have don't have TOILET PAPER".
But I got an unusual response -- the lady looked up at me and sparked (in chinese of course) "You just got here and you want Xiao Jie. There are many Xiao Jie downstairs. Wash up first."
I looked at her with a glazed look, wondering why she seemed so angry that I wanted toilet paper. I persisted -- maybe they just didn't have toilet paper -- "Wo Ca-ee Mie Xiao Jie Zai Nar" (Where can I buy "TOILET PAPER")
At this point Fang Weng Guang runs out and says, "Brad, you just asked where you could buy....
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Dunhuang -- Tue, Aug 9, 2005
Today we spent the day in Dunhuang -- famous for its sand dunes and incredible landscape. We decided to have some fun and rented a jeep to take us deep into the desert; dreams of getting stranded in the desert should begin...
As we headed to the shop to get supplies, the Jeep promptly stalled -- a sure foreboding of what was to come. But he hoped out -- took some newspaper, lit it on fire, through it into the engine, and we were off again.... how's that for a starter.
We went for about two hours, through desert graves, barren desert, dunes -- only with about 10 stops to adjust this gasket or that lever... but I started to become at ease because our driver seemed to know how to solve all -- a regular McGuiver. Then, just before he was going to let me drive (thank goodness I didn't), something blew and a gushing noise flowed up from the bottom of the car. We all jumped out of the car and took a look at a pool of oil sinking into the desert sands -- we weren't going anywhere...
We were in the middle of the desert -- luckily with plenty of water, but with little shade unfortunately. It was about noon and there were few places to hide and under the car was off limits. Two hours (!) later, a car came to pick us....
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Yumen -- Sat, Aug 6, 2005
Let's just say I don't remember much about this day. Another case of the "my bowels will not accept any form of nourishment -- liquid, non-liquid or otherwise". It makes biking somewhat difficult. Let's just say I wasn't too pleasant today and flicked off way too many (or just enough -- depending on your perspective) chinese truck drivers.
I finally got to Yuman after 10km of some of the worst roads we have ever had (albeit topped by 30km of such roads the following day and the next day). After throughly damaging my ass, intensines and right frontal lobe -- we arrived at the hotel and I promptly went to bed. I wasn't in good shape -- we'll see if Cipro can do the trick again.
Jiayuguan -- Fri, Aug 5, 2005
This volunteer day was different than the other volunteer days. As far as we know, there is not a school or organization dedicated solely to people with mental disabilities in Jiayuguan. We had to contact the local governmental organization that deals with all people with disabilities and see if they were interested in helping us meet with some parents with autism or other disabilities. Our hopes we're not high (government beauracry in China doesn't usually work on a Bike Across China time schedule).
We got to town and went directly over to the governmental organization. We we're greated by a man who was anything but happy to see us. He promptly told us that autism was not a mental disability and went to the bathroom. I had warned Fang Wen Guang about this, but I wasn't really clear I guess. The Chinese government puts autism in the "social disorder" basket and it is not a "disability" -- so we have to be clear with the government that this is a "mental disability" thing... somthing we learned from the Special Olympics in China.
So we cleared that one up and he begrugingly agreed to go check with the boss -- but not before barking out "Where is HE from?" He neither seemed pleased or displeased that I was from America, thankfully Wen Guang didn't say Japan.
Then things turned 180, a nice woman greated us and jumped right into plans....
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Zhengye -- Tue, Aug 2, 2005
I was warned against talking politics while I was a teacher in Shijiazhuang. Never directly -- but subtly, it was made clear that politics and religion where pretty much off limits. I decided not to be a crusader and keep my lips pretty much shut for four months. As anyone that knows me, a pretty tough feat for me.
But now after biking for one month with Fang Wen Guang and Wen Ray -- the politics card hit the table. It came in the context of a discussion of vigalante justice -- supposedly still an all too common thing in China -- and spilled over into a discussion of Iraq, 9/11, and the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1997.
Let me just note that the political discussions with the "people on the street" have grown considerably since Xi'an -- highly correlated with the growing muslim influence. Bush has become less popular and Iraq isn't a very friendly topic...
So back to the dinner discussion -- the take-away is that even though most Chinese won't come out and say it, they don't think very highly of American foreign policy. Iraq is motivated by "money, oil, and military strategy"; 9/11 was greeted with cheers (unoffically) by most Chinese people; and bombing a Chinese embassy is not a good thing...
Not remembering much about the Belgrade incident -- I read up on it and it seems like a pretty bad....
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Zhengye -- Mon, Aug 1, 2005
Today we dropped into the desert -- finally out of the mountains (although they will surround us for another 500km) and passed through the Great Wall. Isn't that cool -- we got to bike along the Great Wall for about 10km.
Now this isn't the Great Wall you see in the pictures -- the Beijing variety. It's the western Great Wall -- the crumbling, earthen Great Wall that keep out the hordes of "barbarians" for so many years. It is made of mud, stone and wood -- is probably 20ft tall with towers every 500m and has many broken spots where the wall has worn away.
At the point where the road passes through the wall there is a little tourist site at which I was kindly greated by two locals and absolutely no vendors trying to hawk me "my piece of memorablia" from the wall. They walked me personally through the tourist site -- turning on the lights as I walked from room to room. I am not sure if this place was really open (Fang Wen Guang and Wen Ray didn't get to go in), but they seemed pleased to have me there. I got to see some old scroll paintings, an explaination of how the wall was built (in Chinese though) and the highlight, a mummified body (don't ask me why it was their though).
My opinion -- the Great Wall in Beijing is nice, but nothing....
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Small Village -- Sun, Jul 31, 2005
This is not a story for vegetarians -- sorry... please close your eyes.
We were supposed to bike 170km today -- well according to my plan -- but we didn't make it and it turned out to be a really interesting blunder. We had to stay in this small village -- the last one before 70km of desert that would led to Zhangye.
As I fixed a flat tire, Fang Wen Guang and Ray Wen looked around town. They reported back that they couldn't find a restaurant but there was a guy that was willing to let us stay at his "motel". I was biking to the other village (ie the stores just across the highway...), pondering a dinner of crackers and a packaged bolonga like substance, when I was stopped by a herd of lamb.
I jokingly said to Fang Wen Guang -- "how much do you think one of them lambs is". He looked at me and said -- "are you serious"? I told him just to ask. The sheep herder responded, "170 quai". Now that is a handsome some to a sheepherder and many Chinese -- maybe 1/4 of many peoples monthly salary. We taught for a second and then ran to catch him -- "Sold".
We spent the next four hours, selecting our sheep, watching it be killed, skined and de-gutted, and then fryed right up in front of us in the farmer's home.....
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WuWei -- Sat, Jul 30, 2005
I don't mean to complain but sometimes you just need to point out the differences in this world. Have you ever seen a picture of some chinese guys waiting around in a squating position. When I was in 9th grade, I saw this and wondered how they could do this -- try squating for 30 minutes, legs all the way down, butt barely off the ground.
Well, I found my answer. You can make this position comfortable, by practicing it almost everyday of your life. Why would you do this you ask? Well what if you didn't have a toilet seat -- but instead had a porcelin hole that you did your business in everyday. Well then the squat comes in handy (as any camper knows).
So if you spend any time in China -- you will probably get used to the squat (as well as some great smelling facilities...). But biking 150km and then doing the squat, adds a whole new dimension to the game. You are posed with some difficult decisions: Do you go for the backward arm support? Can you stay down, do you do the down and up?
So whenever you see a picture of a Chinese guy squating -- just think how nice it is to have a toilet seat ;)
Lanzhou -- Tue, Jul 26, 2005
As I have mentioned earlier -- when we stop for drinks, food, really anything -- a crowd of 20 or more usually forms within minutes. The type of crowd varies: there is the staring type with little interaction like I am some sort of facinating creature from outer space; there is the aggressive/non-communicative type pushing to touch the bike, pinch the tires, play with the computer while not asking or saying a word; and then there is the questioning type. Sometimes its a progression, they start out staring, then a brave soul sends out a question -- usually one of six.
I have become very good at answering the six questions. There are sometimes others but I just have to shrug and say I don't understand. But the six questions -- I know them well:
It usually starts with (1) Where are you from? America I smile. They smile too. They like America. They don't like Japan...
Then after the obligatory compliment of my Chinese and my canned response of yes I speak a little but very poorly they may ask (2) Are you a student? Nope, not a student; I am a teacher, I say proudly. It's fun to be a 24-year old university professor. They love teachers in China so its a good gig to have.
Ah, a teacher they ponder -- still warming up, not wanting to be....
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HuiNing -- Mon, Jul 25, 2005
This is a question that I have been asked in every press interview and I am sure a few of you are wondering. Even more specificly -- what does biking across China have to do with you? We've got two reasons for you:
If you are in America -- this actually has a lot to do with you. First, pat yourself on the back. The strides we have made in America in terms of Autism awareness and support are light years ahead of many other areas of the world. When other countries are struggling just to make people aware that there are people with mental disabilities (really, this is true); we are pusing to implement inclusion programs and to expand support services in business and day to day life.
But don't pat yourself too much -- we still have a lot more to do. We still need to push ahead with support services and awareness, especially in certain areas. But moreover, it is time to put significant resources into autism research in the US. We are still at the beginning stages of understanding autism (a broad classification for a spectrum of what are mostly likely developmental and or genetic neurlogicial disorders), but the first steps have been taken. Researchers and making new discoveries on the genetic front as we speak and the progress is encouraging.
You can help change the lifes of millions of children by helping....
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Zhumadian -- Tue, Jul 12, 2005
We have had stories published (newspapers and radio) in Shanghai, Nanjing and Hefei about our trip. This is really exciting because it gets the message out in China. Below is one of the clippings that was sent to us.
My nickname in China is Mianbao -- meaning bread -- my students aptly named me this after being confused of why their teacher had such a strange name. In the picture, I was teaching the kids sport names in English -- send me your guess from what sport it is in the picture...
This is the rough translation of the article:
"To help raise awareness of people with autism in China, Brad from America, is leading a team biking across China. Yesterday, they finished their second stage in Nanjing, and then went to see the students at the Boai Service Center in Xuanwu Suojin Village. He taught them English and played games with them. Brad's younger brother has autism and he deeply cares for people with autism. This photo shows Brad and the children."
Xin Yang -- Mon, Jul 11, 2005
Biking wise, it was a quick day and the sun finally came out again.
Today I learned a lesson in photography and "Chinese law". I just got back from a 2 hour ordeal, with the police and a moderately angry crowd of people. Here's the background -- there was this large fire in the middle of the side walk with people wearing white bandanas standing around it. I thought it would make an interesting photo... they did not. I later found out that they were mourning someone who died and taking a photo may take the person's soul into the camera, not a good place for a soul to be.
They quickly told me to delete it, which I did, and the apprehended Wen Ray -- although I'm not really sure what they wanted. As I told Wen Ray and his brother to run for it -- Wen Ray and the group mutually decided to let the police solve this. I was a bit nervous but more afraid of the guy with a big stick to my left...
Long story short, I didn't break a law, but Wen Ray put it well saying that "not all laws are written in China". They praised the group for being kind and not starting a fight. The police were satisified by seeing my passport -- which Wen Ray had to go back to the hotel to get. ....
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