The Road To Shanghai
Twelve thousand kilometres, eight countries and a near-death experience: meet the man who ran from Germany to China
A lot can happen when you set out to run from Hamburg to Shanhgai, as Kai Markus Xiong found out
KAI MARKUS XIONG had already run more than 11,000km when his life flashed before his eyes. An oncoming car veered towards him on a Chinese dirt road, so he jumped out of the way, but slipped and fell into a concrete water channel, breaking bones in both heels.
For most people, such an incident might prompt a lengthy period of self-pity and the abandonment of the journey. But then, most people don’t attempt to run from Hamburg to Shanghai. ‘I saw it as a chance put my positive thinking into action,’ says Kai. ‘I’ve got used to tough situations throughout my life: you need to believe in yourself, set new goals and be flexible.’ In this situation, that meant passing over running duties to his one-man support crew, Victor Neubauer, who had been following Kai in his ‘Bugavan’, a combination of a VW Beetle and a camping trailer. ‘We’re a team and we fix problems together,’ says Kai. And so they did, Victor completing the remaining kilometres while Kai recovered in hospital.
You might be wondering what possesses someone to attempt to run from Germany to China in the first place. For Kai, whose wife is Chinese and whose work as a management consultant means he regularly travels to the country, it has become something of a second home. ‘My ambition was for the run to build a cultural bridge from Germany to China and set an example by showing tolerance,’ he says. ‘To this end, every nine days, with the help of our spsonsors, 361˚, I took a rest for the purposes of cultural exchange.’
On their long journey the duo travelled across eight countries: Germany, Poland, Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China. The running would typically begin around 8am and finish around 6pm, with Kai covering 60-80km a day. While the daily grind took its toll on their bodies, their spirits were buoyed by the messages of support they received online. ‘Lots of [people] told me about their lives and say that through our project they’ve found the courage and determination to fulfil their own life goals or dreams,’
says Kai. ‘They told me things such as, “For the first time in my life, I’ve run three kilometres,” or, “At last I’ve made myself change and compete.” That was a great source of motivation for me.’
Their encounters on the journey were also a source of inspiration. ‘When Victor stopped at the edge of the road, people would come up to chat,’ says Kai. ‘That was great fun – and a fantastic feeling to talk to people about what inspires us, even if it means the breaks end up longer than planned. This is what I mean when I talk about building a bridge between cultures: connecting with people on the spot so that we can improve mutual understanding. I’m glad to be able to dispel a little bit of pigeonhole thinking.’
The generosity Kai and Victor enjoyed en route was overwhelming. ‘People invited us into their homes to charge up the trailer, offered us their own bedrooms and made way for us by sleeping on the sofa themselves,’ says Kai. ‘For us, it was an unbelievable gift, because we’re talking about people who had no sewerage system in their own house and hardly had enough income for themselves.’
The landscape also provided its fair share of highlights. The first time they saw the mountains of China from Pamir in Kyrgyzstan was a huge lift and ‘felt like being near home’, says Kai. However, the greatest compliments are reserved for Victor, who only agreed to come on the trip at the last minute. ‘I’m so proud of him,’ says Kai. ‘Not only did he make his decision to come for the whole trip, he has performed beyond everyone’s expectations, including his own. We are not just runners; we are dreamers.’
Kai and Victor have been taking stock of the journey and the lessons learned along the way. ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way to communicate,’ says Kai. ‘Given the current political landscape, it’s never been more important to build bridges, and the run has been a vehicle to transport this idea. Everybody can run and everybody understands running, wherever they are in the world.’