2017-04-27-環球時報英文版- Bike journey to the West：
Global Times （2017-04-27 P20） By Zhang Yuchen
Young Chinese girl shares her tale of cycling along the ancient Silk Road at age 6 in newly released book
That she was following in the footsteps of the Monkey King was all Sophie Chen could think about when she kicked off her bike tour along the Silk Road with her family in the summer of 2009. Only 6 years old at the time, Sophie saw the character of the Monkey King in the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West as her hero.
“That summer was a turning point for her because after that she was going to start school. So we decided to give her a special experience," Sophie’s father, Jack Chen, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
“She was crazy about Journey to the West at the time, so we decided to give her the chance to follow in the footsteps of Xuanzang by biking along the Silk Road."
The character of Xuanzang from the novel is actually based on a real historic figure from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) who set off on a pilgrimage to India in order to bring back Buddhist scriptures.
“My parents told me if I reached our destination, I would get to see the Monkey King," Sophie recalled.
Starting from Xi’an, capital of Northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, Sophie spent 76 days biking roughly 2,100 kilometers to Turpan in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, in the process becoming the youngest cycler to ever challenge that particular route along the Silk Road.
A year later, her parents published a record of Sophie’s journey, with pictures, in Taiwan. The English version of this book, titled Biking the Silk Road: Six-year-old Sophie’s Fantasy Tour, was published by the New World Press in January.
Chasing her hero
Both Jack and his wife Wu Cuei-hua are enthusiasts of self-guided tours. They run a café in Taoyuan, Taiwan. Before their Silk Road tour, they had already taken Sophie on several short trips, such as to South China’s Guangdong and Guangxi provinces.
One time while visiting Southwest China’s Yunnan Province, Sophie happened to catch an episode from the TV adaptation of Journey to the West on the TV in their hotel room. The first time the young girl had come into contact with this type of fantasy story, the then 4-year-old Sophie was immediately fascinated.
“I knew that most of the scenes in the show were shot along the Silk Road, so I made the decision to take her there. Unlike our previous trips, this would be the longest tour she had ever taken and the first time she would do it on a bike," Jack said.
An experienced cyclist who has broken several cycling records, Jack completed a 400-day bike journey around the world in 1999.
However, the journey along the Silk Road would be the first time that he had gone on such a long bike trip with his daughter. According to Jack, since one of the main goals behind the trip was education, he wanted to stay for a while at each stop along the way to Urimuqi so that Sophie would have the opportunity to interact with locals and get to know the culture.
Although Jack and his wife had ridden along the Silk Road four times previously, he said the trip with his daughter allowed them to see the ancient trade route through a child’s eyes.
“I thought that the two humps of a camel looked like the ‘M’ at McDonald’s and that the Yellow River looked like milk tea. There was also a big hole with paintings made by giants," Sophie, now 14, told the Global Times, noting that she later found out the caves with paintings were the famous Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang.
“Everyone I met looked at me as if I was a superstar. They took pictures with me, cheered me on and treated me to watermelon for free! The tour was really fun, even though I found out that the Monkey King wasn’t waiting for me at the end."
In the years following the tour, Sophie gradually came to understand everything she had seen on her tour. The teen occasionally smiled as she looked at the pictures in the new book.
Sophie said that her experiences on the Silk Road actually helped her a lot when she later went to school.
“When my teachers talked about history, I was able to quickly connect what they were talking about with something I had seen on the trip. I’m probably more familiar with the actual content of our textbooks than my classmates."
Even after she started going to school, cycling with her family still plays an important role in Sophie’s life. According to Jack, the family just finished biking along the Central Asia portion of the Silk Road outside of China during the summer vacation in 2016.
Aside of this, the family has also climbed the Nepal side of the Himalayas, Malaysia’s Mount Kinabalu and the highest peak of Africa, Kilimanjaro. Their bike trips have taken them to places like the US, Nepal, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia.
“This year, we plan on taking a bike tour in Europe. After we finish that, Sophie and I will finish our first global journey," Sophie’s mother told the Global Times.