Posted by: viaprograms | April 23, 2010

Putting Cross-Cultural Exchange in Motion… One Revolution at a Time

Visit the VIA office and you’ll see countless staff bicycles stacked together; if you’re on campus at Stanford, it’s also still possible to bump into Dwight bicycling around campus. 47 years earlier, I imagine the first VIA vols were also eager to go for a ride on a bike– down alleyways or along dirt paths beside fields of rice paddies. The bicycle serves as an essential metaphor for the adventuresome, die-hard VIA spirit, today still presenting a passage into the daily life of the local people.

That’s how it started for me anyway, when I was a VIA volunteer in Guangzhou from 2006-2008. The school had an old bike that the foreign teachers could use. Even though the wheel rims were warped, the seat wasn’t high enough, and the pedals would fall off occasionally, the thrill of being able to travel leisurely to out of the way places and adventures lured me out of the school gate countless times. I used my trusty, rusty old bike to travel across the Pearl River to visit the old XiaoGuan alleyway neighborhoods and markets, or to FangCun village, or even sometimes to the Starbucks’ coffeeshop on Shamian island. But the best ride of all was the route to nearby Sun Yat-sen University, which followed the length of the Pearl river, an easy ride along the elevated pedestrian/bike path that runs for several miles through central Guangzhou. Many times I would ride by myself. Sometimes I would ride together with students or teachers from GETCH, the school where I taught.

Carrying memories of riding in Guangzhou after I returned back to San Francisco in the summer of 2008, it was not until spring 2009 that I recognized my pressing need to get on a bike again. While hosting one of the teachers from GETCH during a Dept of State-sponsored trip, we arranged to visit a Berkeley-based non-profit organization called BORP that coordinates adaptive sports and recreation programs for people with disabilities, and includes an adaptive cycling drop-in center. The GETCH teacher rode an adaptive cycle and I rode an old rusty road bike; we both enjoyed a beautiful day, riding along bike-paths hugging San Francisco Bay. What a rush! We both thought how perfect it would be for the school in Guangzhou to also have an adaptive cycling program like BORP’s. It was then that the crazy seed of an idea started to take root.

On September 26, 2009, BORP held their annual fundraiser: the Revolution ride (25/65/100 miles). I needed an excuse to ride, and fundraising for a hand-bike for GETCH seemed like a crazy enough idea deserving of an equally crazy ride – I signed up for 100 miles and encouraged friends to support me according to how many miles I completed. The amount to raise was $1500-2000 for one hand-bike.

Race Day: Healdsburg, north of Santa Rosa. Temperatures rose up to 103 deg F. To make a long story short, I made it to the finish line (steel frame, 10 speed bike, no spare tires), we were able to purchase the hand-bike and it was safely delivered to GETCH in March. A million thanks for the amazing sponsors and supporters who helped along the way and without which would none of this would have been possible!

But the cycling adventures neither start nor end there. Future VIA rides include:

  • Joe Chen, GETCH student who participated in VIA’s 2008 AUSL Program. Since returning to China, he joined the 2010 Asian Games as a volunteer. During spring/summer he will embark on a 4-5 month bicycle ride across China, visiting about twenty provinces and areas along the way, including Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hunan, jiangxi, Anhui, Zhejiang, Shanghai, Shandong, Beijing, Liaoning, Jilin, Hei Longjiang, Inner Mongolia, Tibet, Sichuan, Yunnan, Macao, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Macau, Taiwan, as part of a campaign to promote the 2010 Asian games in Guangzhou. They are setting off from Guangzhou on 4th May. During this trip, they will promote Asian Games and collect some art works from many famous painters and calligraphers which they will auction, and use the money to bring 100 Sichuan orphans to Guangzhou and join the Asian Games opening ceremony
  • Takashi Matsumoto, participant in VIA’s 2010 ESI Program and student from Keio Business School in Japan, is planning a trip across the US in fall 2010. He is planning the route from San Francisco to NY – San Francisco, LA, Grand Canyon, Albuquerque, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, MD, NJ and to NY. He wants to buy a solar panel with the funds earned in this trip and after that start a non-profit business to sell the electricity from that solar panel and to invest or donate to any voluntary activities, organizations, or social entrepreneur
  • I’m planning to ride in the Revolution again on October 15, 2010, to raise funds for another handbike for GETCH. Please let me know if you’re interested in becoming involved!

If you would like more information about any of these upcoming rides, or if you have any past/present/future VIA cycling stories to share, please contact Ben Strong (ben@viaprograms.org).

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