Around the World on a Bicycle

In 1884, the 29 year old Thomas Stevens set out from San Fransisco on the 'modern mechanical invention' of the Penny Farthing to circumnavigate the globe on his 'big wheel'. His book - "Around the World on a Bicycle" - was published in 1888 and his writings are presented here in blog form. Read more in the archive.

Chinese Embassy

On Tuesday I make a formal descent on the Chinese Embassy, to seek information regarding the possibility of making a serpentine trail through the Flowery Kingdom via Upper Burmah to Hong-Kong or Shanghai. Here I learn from Dr. McCarty, the interpreter at the Embassy, as from Mr. French, that, putting it as mildly as possible, I must expect a wild time generally in getting through the interior of China with a bicycle. The Doctor feels certain that I may reasonably anticipate the pleasure of making my way through a howling wilderness of hooting Celestials from one end of the country to the other. The great danger, he thinks, will be not so much the well-known aversion of the Chinese to having an "outer barbarian" penetrate the sacred interior of their country, as the enormous crowds that would almost constantly surround me out of curiosity at both rider and wheel, and the moral certainty of a foreigner unwittingly doing something to offend the Chinamen's peculiar and deep-rooted notions of propriety. This, it is easily seen, would be a peculiarly ticklish thing to do when surrounded by surging masses of dangling pig-tails and cerulean blouses, the wearers of which are from the start predisposed to make things as unpleasant as possible. My own experience alone, however, will prove the kind of reception I am likely to meet with among them; and if they will only considerately refrain from impaling me on a bamboo, after a barbarous and highly ingenious custom of theirs, I little reck what other unpleasantries they have in store. After one remains in the world long enough to find it out, he usually becomes less fastidious about the future of things in general, than when in the hopeful days of boyhood every prospect ahead was fringed with the golden expectations of a budding and inexperienced imagery; nevertheless, a thoughtful, meditative person, who realizes the necessity of drawing the line somewhere, would naturally draw it at impalation. Not being conscious of any presentiment savoring of impalation, however, the only request I make of the Chinese, at present, is to place no insurmountable obstacle against my pursuing the even-or uneven, as the case may be-tenor of my way through their country. China, though, is several revolutions of my fifty-inch wheel away to the eastward, at this present time of writing, and speculations in regard to it are rather premature.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Tuesday 21st Apr 1885 (16:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

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