Eco-Friendly China: Biking Your Way to Inspiring Places
A lot of American’s have some pretty strong notions about China. When I told some friends and colleagues that I would be going on a trip to China, generally people were surprised that a young American woman would travel to China (of all places!) alone. Across the board, people assumed China was cramped, crowded, and polluted. When you put it that way, why would anyone want to go there? But the truth is China is a huge country– just a little bit smaller than the US in terms of actual square miles (largest countries in the world by area: Russia, Canada, USA, China, Brazil). The diversity of the geography is vast, and just like here in the US, you have major cities but also rural areas (and no, they’re not all polluted). Think of it like this: New York City is known for being expensive, cramped, rushed, crowded, and concrete; but drive one or two hours north, east or west and you’ll find yourself in beautiful rural areas. Some of these areas have pollution (like certain parts of Pennsylvania– from its former coal days and its current fracking days) and others are pristine (like Harriman State Park in New York). Similarly, in the US we have a diversity in ecosystems that is similar that of China– both nations have desert, temperate rainforest, grasslands, wetlands, and even tundra. Like the US, China has amazing diversity in terrain, stunning landscapes, and and there are people who greatly value this landscape and want to protect it.
Likewise, ecotourism is a growing area of travel. The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as, “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” I think it’s something that everyone can get behind (though it’s actual practice and implementation can be difficult): checking out natural areas, appreciating their beauty and the human lives supported by the area, and engaging with and supporting local communities. You have to be careful though– some scientists and academics have pointed out that “ecotourism” in South and Central America has potentially led to more harm than good. So be smart and do your research!
Cue Bruce Foreman. He has started giving bike tours in the areas surrounding Xiamen and Yangshuo, two beautiful areas a short flight or bullet train ride from Hong Kong in the southern half of China. According to Bruce, there is an excellent benefit to biking tours: “It struck me like lightening, that the best experiences in China are those found whilst riding a bike, and that whilst people complain about the touristification of the sites — it is actually as easy as just getting on a bike to find that older, more charming China — linked up by feng shui, the peasant wisdom of the earth and the seasons, and the history of a place… With bikes as part of our methodology in assessing the landscape — and accessing remote areas in an ecologically low impact way — we look at how we might spread the positive impacts of tourism — and ameliorate the negative.”
Bruce’s tours aren’t just for adult expats living in China or foreigners looking for alternative tours; he’s also given his tours to young international students living in China in order to help them learn more about the history of this region and the importance of ecological preservation. According to Bruce, “On our school trips we encourage eco-conciousness in the students — firstly, by getting them on bikes and highlighting the notions of visiting a place without necessarily changing it — but also emphasizing the benefits of sharing the wealth that tourism can bring by going to lesser-known places. We give them chopsticks to re-use and encourage them to refill water bottles as part of a discussion about minimizing our footprint.”
Not only are these areas beautiful– they are full of awe-inspiring history. West of Xiamen, in the Fujian province, there are fortresses called tulou that date as far back as the 12th century, in which whole Hakka villages lived in. According to Bruce:
‘Hakka’ means guest people in Chinese — and whole clans up and left war-torn Central China from about 1200 years ago, seeking the protection offered by the wilds of the Fujian interior. So even back in the Song Dynasty there were conflict over resources and related environmental issues.