The reams of hooker calling cards delivered to my hotel rooms daily.

The reams of hooker calling cards delivered to my hotel rooms daily.

I’m in Chinas former capital Nanjing with the final stint to the Bund in Shanghai being all that is left in front of me. It’s not been the most interesting week of cycling but Nanjing has more than made up for it with it’s rich history. A national holiday next week has thrown a bunch more problems at me, regarding accommodation in Shanghai mostly being fully booked, but as always I’ve got a plan…

After checking out the mini terracotta army in Xuzhou in my last post I returned to a stack of hooker calling cards under my hotel room door, see above. The further east I’ve gotten in China I’ve started receiving a lot of random phone calls in my room from sultry sounding women in the middle of the night. It actually took a couple of instances of this happening before I figured out what was going on!

In the morning I prepped up for a day on the bike by savaging the complimentary breakfast buffet. This was round one of two…

Savaging the free breakfast buffets in the hotels in China.

Savaging the free breakfast buffets in the hotels in China.

Yet another skill I have developed through much practice is squeezing the bike into hotel elevators. I have a lot of fun insisting on bringing the bike to the room, most places are fine with it but in the few that are not I employ a variety of strategies. Firstly usually one member of staff will be on your side, identify them and get them to argue the case for you. Secondly, my favourite, leave the bike outside as you check in. Once you are all paid up go get the bike and power walk through the lobby to the lift waving and smiling at the reception staff as they gesture for you to stop…

I'm now a pro at squeezing my bike in lifts.

I’m now a pro at squeezing my bike in lifts.

The climate is starting to get more humid, which when combined with the headwinds and the resistance in the drive train of my bike have made the days tough. I’ve resorted to the drink that got me through the deserts of Central Asia and China, Ice Tea. Avril Lavgine is still working hard to sell the stuff…

If you ever wondered what happend to Avril Lavigne... she's big in China.

If you ever wondered what happend to Avril Lavigne… she’s big in China.

I’m also back to siesta-ring out the the midday heat and tend to find some nice rural spots overlooking fields or small houses…

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The next four days were fairly dull cycling, long days grinding along against the friction that seems to be come from the haggard jockey wheels on my rear derailleur. The beeping of traffic seems to be frustrating me less as I find my spirits lifted by the approaching end.

Many of you who know me, or have been following this blog from before the bike trip, will know I’ve always had a preference for trips leaning on the extreme (Iraq, Somalia, North Korea etc.) and this has always stemmed from a desire to go on an adventure. Whilst all of those trips did a great job of treating the itch none of them really fixed the heart of the problem.

This desire is what led to the bike trip and I must say that right now I am all adventured out. As I cycle I fantasize about going on ‘normal’ holidays. A week in New York city or cycling around southern France are what I crave now, not slogging across deserts and over mountains in remote parts of Asia.

I’ve started to spot Christian churches now that I’m approaching the coast, I imagine a legacy of the influence of various missionaries in the Chinese foreign concessions that litter the port cities of China. Most are fairly drab concrete buildings but I stumbled upon this one in the city of Wuhe that wouldn’t look out of place in Central or South America…

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Later that day I was doing another round of grocery shopping and, after noticing that the supermarket had a lot more western goods than usual, realised I was in a Tesco. Oh what it would’ve been like to travel the world before the era of globalisation…

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Turning east I reached a major landmark, the Yangtze river, one of the largest in China. I got to ride over a rather interesting bridge, the Yangzi river bridge, that was decorated with various Art Deco style structures…

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Thanks to the smog the view of the river did not have much to offer…

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After crossing the 4km long span a final set of Communist statues marked the end of the bridge and the entrance to Nanjing…

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Whilst many Chinese city names sound wonderfully exotic to us westerners, the literal meanings of these names strip away the romance rather brutally. ‘Nan’ means ‘South’ and ‘Jing’ means ‘Capital’, an ode to the cities former status. As you may be able to guess Beijing follows the same principle and is literally translated to North Capital. There is some variation, Shanghai means “Near Water”.

Riding through the city gave a much more genuine feeling that many of the brand new cities I have ridden through in China. Nanjing, whilst still crisp and immaculate, feels somehow more lived in.

As I struggled to find my hostel I went past the 11th tallest building in the world, the Zifeng tower…

Zifeng tower Nanjing, 11th tallest building on earth.

Zifeng tower Nanjing, 11th tallest building on earth.

The hostel was located just east of the former presidential palace in a cozy area that reminded me of the old streets of Beijing. Ageing trees draped over the road added to that aforementioned feeling of the city being a bit more “aged” than the glossy jungles sprouting up all over this vast country…

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Nanjing is famous for many things but a few years ago my interest had been peaked by a darker period in the cities history, the Japanese invasion and subsequent massacre commonly referred to as “The Rape of Nanking”. The actions of a few foreigners in the city during this time have led to films and books. The story of one man has lingered with me in particular. John Rabe, a man referred to as “The Schindler of China”.

Both the story of the massacre and the foreigners who tried to intervene are not widely known in the west so I thought I’d do my bit on the small platform I have here to share the story. I visited several sites in the city relating to these events which I will include throughout the story.

John Rabe moved to China, from his home in Germany, in 1908 as a representative of the Siemens corporation. He fulfilled this role as well as being the local representative of the Nazi party once it became the ruling party in Germany.

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As the 1937 Japanese invasion approached the government fled instructing the population to stay behind, it being better to “die as marble rather than live as tile”. All but 22 foreigners, European and American missionaries and business people, fled the city too. The departing government went as far as to lock the gates of the city trapping hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians.

As the bombing raids begun the foreigners created the Nanking Safety Zone. A safe haven that they hoped they could use their home nations status to defend. John Rabe was elected to head up this committee as at the time their was an alliance between Japan and the Nazi party giving him more power to make demands of the Japanese.

Japanese soldiers began committing mass atrocities within the city walls on the thinly veiled grounds that they could not identify who was and wasn’t a soldier. In the following months 300,000 people were murdered and countless more tortured and raped (including girls as young as 11).

During this time Rabe famously used his status as a Nazi party representative to make requests to the Japanese to stop. These requests were only fulfilled temporarily but this still gave numerous people time to escape. John Rabe is accredited by various sources as being responsible for indirectly saving the lives of at least 200,000 Chinese civilians with these pauses.

Many people couldn’t flee and Rabe and his committee in the Safety zone managed to shelter 25,000 more people, Rabe sheltering 600 people personally in his home and offices.

Rabe returned to Germany with film and documents proving the massacre and attempted to deliver them to Hitler to urge him to request the Japanese to stop. The Gestapo did not look favourably upon Rabe’s accusation of one of Germany’s allies and he was detained and interrogated, his film being confiscated and was banned from discussing the matter. The intervention of the Siemens corporation prevented him from suffering a more severe fate at the hands of the Gestapo.

In post World War II Germany Rabe’s status an ex-member of the Nazi party voided him of the right to work in what was the British Zone of Berlin. His family became destitute. When news of these circumstances reached Nanjing the mayor personally travelled to Berlin ,via neutral Switzerland, bringing with him huge food supplies and financial help for the Rabe family.

The people of Nanking supported the Rabe family financially for many years until Rabe passed away in 1950. Once his story reached prominece after the publishing of his diaries in the 1990’s the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum requested that John Rabe’s headstone be moved to their museum, which is where it stands today…

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The museum was quite a tough place to visit, full of brutal and honest depictions of the atrocities committed as well as the story of the years of court causes that finally convicted many Japanese commanders of war crimes. One thing that stood out as surreal was the photos of the usage of the Nazi Swastika.

Japanese soldiers made a habit of going to the parts of the city where Chinese were attempting to bury people who had been killed. The soldiers would then kill the grave diggers leading to no-one being willing to do the job. The Safety Zone committee would make jackets for the grave-diggers with huge Swastikas on the backs and sleeves to prevent them from being attacked.

In a similar tactic buildings in the safety zone would have large swastikas marked on grass to stop Japanese bombers from attacking. It is rather mentally tough to process seeing one of human histories greatest symbols of atrocity being used to prevent events so similar to the ones that it also represented.

As well as the main museum John Rabe’s house has also been turned into a small museum detailing his involvement in far more depth…

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After what had been a quite heavy morning I perked myself up a bit by going for a wander around the presidential palaces and their ornate gardens…

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One section of the palace detailed the construction of the famous Yunan-Bhurma-India road. Based on the photos it was quite the engineering achievement, and rather intimidating to the eyes of a cyclist! Although I’d love to track this section down and tackle it…

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Well the end truly is near now! The next blog that pings into your inboxes will be to say I’ve made it, or that my bicycle has been stolen and I am crying in a ditch. If all goes to plan I will reach the bund sometime around midday on October 2nd. 364 days after leaving my home in London, feels nice to keep it under a year for some reason.

An unexpected problem turned up in that next week is national holiday in China, all 7 days of it, and as with most big Chinese holidays everyone is on the move and everything is booked up. Fortunately this led me to look farther afield and instead of staying in a dull old hostel I will be staying in an East German sleeper train that has been converted into a hotel which should be far more interesting.

If you’ve been following along and thinking about donating to the charity I support below, then this really is becoming the last chance unless you want to make sure I really do make it! 🙂

If you’ve enjoyed reading this then checkout my site 121degrees for more info and subscribe to this blog for more entries along the way!

I also want to divert the interest this trip generates towards helping out a charity that made a big differance to some friends of mine. Samuels Children Charity are a Lewes based charity providing support to families throughout the UK who are currently affected by childhood cancer. I hope to raise the sum of £5,000 from people who hear about this trip to help them continue their work, and to also keep me motivated throughout the challenges this trip will provide! If you’d like to see how the fundraising is going (or even better would like too donate!) then click here.

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