Don’t be scared to ask for help and graciously accept when assistance is offered.
(Unless the “helper” is a Mongolian rascal that lives in Hulun Buir and drives a motorcycle with a blue fuzzy seat cover with the Beijing Olmpic’s icons on it and has a ring finger with gout.)
I don’t know what happened or how I developed an awful habit of not asking for help. Maybe I thought it was a sign of weakness or a true character flaw if you couldn’t use resources to figure it for yourself. There are some people that truly do think this – I have met a couple. These are the same type of people that don’t seem to try anything new either – maybe for fear of failing because they refuse to ask for a helping hand.
When I first began planning this trip, May of 2009, I thought I could use all the books and maps and resources possible to get concrete answers and just move along my way. Sure, maybe I’ll have to ask for help on my ride, but heck, I can figure this out…right? WRONG!!!
Within a week or so I had sent out dozens and dozens of emails. Hey! – you cyclists that think I have it “easy” because I have gear sponsorship – think again….hundreds of emails…HUNDREDS!…many go unanswered.
It’s not the most awesome feeling to ask for financial or additional support. Especially coming from a Western culture where money is not discussed. Here, in good ol’China – people just come right out with it. No taboo or qualm about it at all.
In my very VERY early 30’s – I have this idea that I shouldn’t have to ask for financial help from friends and strangers…shouldn’t I be self sufficient. Well, if we want to play the “be normal” game…shouldn’t I be married, own a home, and be on to my second child. Yeah, don’t even let me meander down that road…………………..
When I first started along, I was a little shy about asking. That shyness broke real fast! I was traveling along the Grand Canal taking roads that weren’t even 2 meters wide and I’d be lucky to even see a bicycle pass. I just followed the compass in one direction until I hit a populated area. Stopping to check a compass became too time consuming so I just began to read direction by the sun – or by the which side of my calves were burning from the late afternoon sun. (For some reason, the giant blue work trucks will throw the compass off if you are too close. You can watch the needle swing like a pendulum as the trucks drive past too).
Rolling up into a small town or village, some will run right up to you and ask where you are going. And in China – EVERYONE likes to give their opinion and advice. Within in seconds people are pointing and debating which way. Often times looking at my map and telling me what I already know. How difficult can it be to ask for help in a country where nearly everyone WANTS to help you.
It’s kinda AWESOME and really helped teach me that it’s okay. It’s really okay to say, “Wo milu. wo yao qu ….” 我迷路。我要去。。。
(Traveling in China…DO NOT ASK cops for help…more trouble than it’s worth. UNLESS, you find yourself in a village of about 30 people in Hulun Buir and he is strolling along the dirt road. Those coppers enjoyed posing me with some other coppers and taking a photo together examining my Passport/Visa.)
Besides asking for help, I’ve always had a difficult time accepting the offer of a little assistance. Why? Heck if I know…maybe I think it will make me lesser of a person…weak, inferior, etc.
Well, when you are exhausted, hot, hungry…you learn to accept all the handouts you possibly can.
There is one major exception – MY BIKE! At first, I was a little tolerant of people wanting to help hook up the panniers. But then it just got out of control with big ol’ man sausage fingers being stuck in between my spokes (that sounds a little perverted). Finally, I broke…the biggest sausages and the most aggressive stranger to approach outside a hotel to “help”. I pushed his hand back firmly and looked him straight in the eyes and said, no I can do it! (No quotation marks because it was in Chinese). Usually I let girls and women give it a go because they are less aggressive and harsh with things. The last thing I need is a broken bag. AND, females pay MUCH closer attention to how I do it so they do it nearly perfect themselves. The men…oh THE MEN………….OH….they have their own way to handle.
(Dear Reader, can you sense the feelings I have for the opposite sex here? This is for another very VERY long essay in the future. In small towns and especially villages, the men are generally harmless and kind…but start getting into “cities” – it’s a whole ‘nuther story. That will be also included in my “Rules of the Road – Women Edition”. I’d love to write a research paper on this subject but I think it may be a little one sided as 90% of my sources would be women. Does the problem lie with the fact that there are no men in the education system as teachers? Children are raised my women generally, where the boy is coddled beyond belief? Where are the role models? Probably working, making money to support their family…I don’t know – it’s stuff that swims in my head every single day.)
I don’t know if “solo” is the right word for my trip. The amount of help and advice I have been given, and still receive, is beyond belief. Every day, for nearly 5 months, someone offered me help of some sort. Whether it was handing me water out of a car window, offering me a ride (no way), route advice, etc.
What I’ve really realized is that when you, me, us, ask for help – we open up ourselves to others. And with this relationship wonderful things can happen and evolve. Sometimes, after riding for hours without any human contact or communication, I would pull over and ask a question I already knew just to see where it would lead me. Okay, yeah yeah yeah…once it lead me to a dangerous place…but you get what I’m saying.
So, I went from being afraid to ask for help to just going up to strangers with questions that I didn’t need answered just for human interaction.
I have more about all this written in my journals, which probably sounds a little more poetic, but I thought I would share now.
Every day I wake up wondering where I would be…I check the weather every evening to see how cold it would be getting in the NW. Every time I get on my cruiser or road bike here, I get butterflies in my stomach. When I road Lieutenant home from the train station a couple weeks back – I have a feeling towards it that I have never felt towards an in-animate object in my life. She/He has a life of it’s own and when I gaze at her/him, I feel like he/she is gazing back with the same thoughts, memories, and experiences. Weird, bizarre, crazy…maybe…it’s kind of my best friend and an extension of myself.