Tuesday, 27 October 2009

On fools on touring bikes

My parents lent me a DVD of "Asiemut", a documentary by a couple of Quebecers about biking from Mongolia to Calcutta. My reaction is that I am not terribly impressed with the pair. They strike me as dangerously unprepared and naive with regards to their trip. In particular, I suspect that they pulled a hell of a stunt with regards to China on their journey. This stunt could have cost them very dearly.

To begin with, their route took them through Tibet. It is not clear exactly when they went, but it obviously within the last five years or so. What with the Western media's adulation of the Dalai Lama of late, China has been very sensitive about foreigners wandering about Tibet. From the perspective on China I have gained from Margo and Chris' experience, I suspect that their initial efforts at planning their trip were probably either naive or possibly half-baked. I see this in the fact that they arrive at the Mongolian-Chinese border and are dismayed (and in the case of the woman, devastated) to find out that the authorities won't allow them in. I am suspicious that either they stated they wanted to travel through Tibet or that they were so vague about their plans that it aroused official suspicions. Alternatively, it is possible that they failed to sort out their visa before they set out. Their reactions suggest that the possibility that they couldn't cross the border had simply not been sufficiently taken into account and they weren't properly prepared with practical and emotional backup plans.

They eventually managed to get into China by paying what they describe as a lot of money to a tour guide. What do they then do? They bypass checkpoints and villages to stay under the radar as they travel into Tibet despite the fact that they aren't supposed to be there! They had the luck to only run into one set of officials who cheerfully posed for pictures with them. Had they run into less pleasant individuals, they could have been chucked into prisons as spies.

Their comments on Tibet are fundamentally trite and lack a serious background knowledge. They repeat what amounts to a cliché that during the Cultural Revolution "tens of thousands" of Tibetan temples were destroyed. This being an assault of Tibet culture. My contrarian impulses scream to point out that in the same period, the same thing was happening to temples everywhere in China.

The pair made it to Nepal without incident. However, I can't help but feel that their cavalier approach, especially with having made a biased movie about their trip, has only made China (especially Tibet) a harsher place for cycle-tourists. As such, I am not very impressed with them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Daniel, Thank you for your Blog. I found the movie quite fascinating for the some of the same reasons you were critical. Their naiveté allowed them to meet many people along the way which a more au courrant couple might have approached with stronger prejudices. But especially the landscapes were super. Popsylou