Thursday, April 05, 2007


Photo 1: Channing, from the Cyclowns, with Bo, our friend from Kunming. 2. Channing and Rocio doing their show at "Speak Easy Bar". 3. View of Kunming.

Kunming is another Chinese city that has evolved into a sort of annonymous modernity, featuring tile-and-glass towers, MaDonalds, Starbucks and some traditional neighborhoods which are being gradually demoolished to give way to the tidyness of pregress.. In comparison with foggy Chengdu, the weather in Kunming was radiant, justifying its title of Spring City.

I was expected by Bo, my Hospitality Club ( local contact. Bo is 24 years old, and has recently graduated from the Medical College. Felling right in step with China’s fast pace, he is already working for the Medical Solutions’ department of Siemens China. In other words, he sells X-ray equipment. My surprise came when he confessed he went to work every morning with scorn. Even if he has a salary well over the average Chinese, he feels unsatisfied to be working for a big corporation instead of helping people in more esential levels. In those days he was medditating the possibility of quiting the entire thing. He is the first Chinese fellow I meet that questions the worthyness of the rat race.

Bo is a Christian by choice. Acccoring to himself, what beckoned hijmmore of Christianity were Jesus’s words: “I am the way, the light and the life”. He adds, as he gets emotional (and Bo always speaks with a big smile) “Not even Mao has ever said something like that. This guy –Jesus- is either mad or he knows what he says”

My original plan was to stay for a few days. Destiny had, however, other plans. (The first plans of destiny were that I would catch an Influenza-Avirus and stay five days coughing and shivering). By e-mail I had got to know that Rocio and Chaning, two of the Cyclown Circus were bypassing Kunming in their way to Laos, where the rest of the Circus was. Before internet could anticipate us, chaos made us run into each other in a party held by expat students in Kunming. A crowd of Westerners study Chinese language in Kunming, some of them even paid to go there by their companies in Europe or the US.

Pablo –the Argentinean guy with whom I had cross Tibet- and I had entered the flat in a centric neighborhood of Kunming slightly afraid that the party wouldn’t be more than a small gathering of students talking about their difficulty to learn Chinese. We had even feared our two bottles of Tequila would turned to be an excess. After crossing the doorstep, however, we learnt that the bathtube was full of ice and bottles of any drinkable kind. The Gospel of San Pablo Olive, verse 34: “Tomorrow the police will have to drag me out of here”. Bo ended up sleping in the sofa, somewhat drunk. As I tried to steel some kisses from a Boston girl, Pablo was negotiating his way to the simpathy of one of the Italian girls. I guess there was an edipic conexion with Boston. My parents had lived there in 1960. I can remember myself as a child coming across old white framed photographs showing Bunker Hill, or a park inhabited by sociable squirrels. But none of these affairs were the highlight of the night. The encounter with Rocio and Channing, from the Cyclown Circus, instead, was.

We had met for the last time a year bedore in Capadoccia, Turkey. There, we had agreed to met again in Mersin, Southern Turkey, but we had missed each other, since they were cycling and I was hitch-hiking. Instead, we had run into each other in a party in Kunming… For a year, the Circus and I had traveled different roads leading to the same meeting point. The had spent the winter of 2005 in Cyprus, afterwrds they have pedaled their way to Georgia onto Russia, from where they had taking the Transiberian Railway to Mongolia and China. On the other hand, I had crossed Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan on the way to India, and afterwards had traveled north to Tibet, from where I had reached Kunming at the same time as them!

But who are the Cyclown Circus? It’s a group of musicians, jugglers, clowns, violinists, whateverists that travel the world on double deck bikes they build themselves. The bikes consist of frames wielded vertically, with an extra set of pedals in the upper frame. They perform their shows of Jazz and circus in streets of cities and villages, bars and orphanages, beaches and parties. In order to make money they sell their CDs, but when in villages they often trade their entertainment for food and lodging. A real caravan.

Besides the artistic dimension, they also feature a light enviromental activism that matches them really well. One of the bikes has indeed a sign that reads: “Cycling against the oil wars” Another thing I love about them is the fact that they convey the idea of an absolutely alternative lifestyle to the people they meet across the globe. For many, it is a wake-up call. Matter of fact, Bo was soon going to leave his job at Siemens.

On the afternoons we would gather to drink mate in Silvia and Eva’s place, our Italian friends. At other times we would go to Green Lake Park, where Rocio and Channing would make their show, They needed some money to catch up with the rest of the group that was already in Laos. Some people would put money into the hat, while a few would even put food! When foreign tourists would approached, I would offer them my book “Harmony of Chaos” that I have recently started to sell again after a long break.

It could be said that the magic for me started in Kunming, a city that had only been a point in the itinerary but now was starting to show its real consequences. It was a split second and it was obvious to me that I should join the circus! It seemed to me a much richer opportunity that continuing to hitch-hike alone around the world. It wasn’t an easy decision, somehow part of me was stoic and commited to follow my original plan of a solo trip. In the end, the prospect of travelling the world with a family of artists, a furtive caravan, beckoned me more.

At Silvia’s house I spent a whole afternoon with fever, drinking lemon tea and looking at the album of Channing, the poliglote and accordeonist from Texas. The book related the journey through Turkey, Cyprus, Georgia, Rusia, Mongolia, and China. The pictures were glued in the pages of an old accountability book he had found in the streets of Turkey, and the stamps of the commercial transactions revealed the fact it dated from 1957. With a colorful script, Channing had retitled it: “Yeni Circus Kitabi” (in Turkish, the Book of the New Circus) After turning the last page, I was convinced that it was a life style I was interested in experimenting.

Joining the circus would mean abbandoning Hitch-hiking for a while and taking up the bycicle, which I still have to build. I will maybe start to travel paralely by thumb. Rocio gave me an axis for the bike, the very first piece. While in Kunming I had learnt to ride the “tall bikes” and was now sure that I wanted my own. Of course there is still a question: What I am going to do in the circus? That was all together another question, sincce I am no musician and less clown. Poetry will have to find yet another reincarnation to match the circumstances. I have managed to convert poetry and literature into something that can pay for my trips, by selling my books. Now I will have to find a way to make poetry explicit and entertaining enough to share the stage with something as vivid as the tunes oozing out of Channing’s Weltmeister accordeon….


William Smith said...

I am also learning Chinese by a special and innovative service in Beijing Chinese School. I like to learn in live class with teacehrs from Beijing directly. I also like to practice Chinese with volunteers freely everyday. Watching Chinese learning TV on CLTV is also interesting and helpful to practice listening and learn more about Chinese culture.

Anonymous said...

hey, there's no Starbucks in Kunming... yet...

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