• Josh Garman

I walked across China in a straight line

I had arrived in Hangzhou the night before after a long day. It has stretched itself out giving me the opportunity for some well needed exploration. I was on the hunt for rainbow toast but never managed to find it. My spirits were high however and after waking up once again in a new location I was ready to try a new tactic for my days outing. I pondered to myself, probably having too much time on my hands. What would happen if I walked in a straight line for 24 hours?

I walked across China in a straight line
I walked across China in a straight line

So that’s exactly what I decided to do and I experienced some natural interactions I would of never had otherwise. The idea had come to me last minute, either in the morning or in a dream I can’t quite remember. I packed my bag, headed downstairs loaded up with camera supplies. My main camera and drone with me. With my idea rattling around my head I came to the bottom of the stairs and peered out the door to the outside world. I looked left and then I looked right. Right seemed like a good choice. So off I walked keeping in a straight line for the next 24 hours. Seriously I didn’t even veer off course.

I was testing the idea of planning during travel. Many people like to form a complex and narrow plan for going exploring. They know where their headed, what train they will take and so on but I’ve never found that much fun. For me it’s about spontaneity and living with an ability to change course at any moment, adapting to situations and having beautiful natural interactions with the local people as you go. As I walked along the pavement in a straight line I had no intention of getting anywhere in a hurry, no train or bus to catch. It allowed me to be more aware of things appearing in front of me and soon enough I noticed delicately painted electric boxes all along the street. They depicted Chinese girls in front of famous Chinese monuments and locations blowing their noses. I spent the next half an hour trying to figure out what they could mean. I think they had something to do with recycling.

After a while I could see the West lake in the distance. The main highlight of Hangzhou although entirely unintentional. I reached a boardwalk which meandered towards the water. On my way I passed a group of locals dancing to traditional music. They swayed back and forth like trees in the wind. 30 or so of them dancing as a form of morning ritual or exercise. It was interesting to sit and watch them, to take everything in about early mornings in China. I imagined people in England getting up to do this and found it a lot harder to picture. The woman motioned for me to come over and join them but I decided not to out dance the lot of them and instead went to the edge of the water.

As I sat on a bench I peered out to watch the boats coming by. Huge vessels cross the water. They consisted of a house or palace in the centre with multi-tiered floors of people all sitting on top of the body of a dragon. At the front of the boat was a golden dragon head leading the way. Smaller boats followed suit with intricate golden slated roofs as you would see on traditional Chinese temples. Smallest of all were the fisherman rowing their little boats out to the water and casting nets. Above them soared seagulls and off to my right people trotted along the boardwalk. In the centre of it all a jetty jutted out with a pavilion at the end. I felt like a painting had come to life and although cold sat there for a long while experiencing it.

It was time to get some footage so I took the drone off from the side of the water and up it went to the level of the birds. I flew around getting sweeping shots of the boats and out to the other side of the lake witnessing parts father away than my eye could see. I flew the drone back while seagulls tried to attack it on the move. Sure enough I somehow managed to bring it into land and a small crowd of locals gathered to watch it come down. They smiled as it pushed the leaves all around it from the speed of the propellers. They gave me a little clap before I packed it away to continue in a straight line. Okay so the smart among you may have realised that I hit water by going straight and couldn’t possibly continue. So I did the best with my situation. Went around the lake and continued on straight as if I had Jesused across the water.

On the other side there was lots of life. I noticed water birds ducking under the water and coming up with fish or eels. They are native to China and I have seen them in a lot of photos but to this day don’t know what their called. Boats were moored here so I could see the carved dragons up close. It was later in the day now so activity had begun to pick up. A group to my left fed doves and pigeons. A man seemed to be popular with the birds as 6 of them sat along his arms and two perched themselves on top of his head. Huge flocks of them gathered to eat seed while children ran between them. To my right a man had grown fond of a squirrel up in a tree and was attempting to feed it. He held his hand out at the base of the tree making a noise with his mouth to attract it. I filmed and watched as the squirrel came all the way down, spinning round the tree like a helter-skelter before eating the food right out of his hand.

I pushed on and joined onto a path that led me up the side of a steep ravine. As I climbed the stone steps higher and higher I gradually worked my way above the house being able to see across the whole town. New scenes unfolded once again over the terra cotta rooftops. On one roof two dogs leant right over the edge barking furiously towards the neighbouring house. Opposite them on the next roof lay a cat half asleep realising the dogs had no chance of making that jump. I weaved through alleys while the steps went up and down. Three women struggled along them in high heels almost toppling head first down. They held onto each other and somehow made it down.

Eventually I emerged into the most populated part of Hangzhou away from the outskirts I had come from. I walked over a large junction, cars and bikes flying past my ears. The road joined onto a long stretch of market street off into the distance. So I continued straight even taking escalators over parts to avoid walking round. I filmed myself talking about the experience which was terrifying but felt like my confidence had been gradually growing during my trip. I had become surrounded by market stalls. Everything from stuffed giraffes, crazy Chinese inventions, glass blowers, food stalls and art vendors. I meandered through the crowds of people, taking in as many stalls as I could.

I’ve never been once to buy anything from markets (except maybe food) but enjoy watching things getting made or prepared. Every food vendor in China seemed to have so much flair. Throwing food into the air, flipping it, fast chopping or sending flames up to the ceiling. It was exciting to watch.

I walked on fully intent on walking for 24 hours since I set off. I got further and further out of the city seeing more of the poorer areas on the edge. Strange shops popped up selling huge ginger/root like plants and mushrooms. The people seemed less friendly out here as if suspicious of me. I kept on walking growing a little tired but still noticing more unfolding. A traffic jam was going nowhere to my left and once I had arrived at the front of the cue saw an old man stood resolute in front of a bus. He had his walking stick in hand and banged it against the glass shouting something in Mandarin. I looked to the road ahead of us and could see a fast flowing motorway. I went to check it out and it was all that was left of my straight line.

I have to be honest and say that over a year on writing this I would probably have headed down the motorway for the sheer satisfaction. I wasn’t as bold back then however so decided to call it a day turning round and heading all the way back to the hostel. Somehow I had uncovered a new way to experience somewhere. Without any intention or plan I hadn’t missed out on anything. In fact I had seen a lot more than I could of imagined.

In my next blog I will be heading to China’s fake Paris. An idea city built to mimic Paris for locals that can’t afford to move abroad. Don't forget to sign up in the top right hand corner to comment and receive updates!

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