Interview – solo female cyclist
Minka Hsieh – Biking 14.000 km back home
Minka was born in Taiwan in December 1983.
Until five years ago I used to be the kind of person, who seemingly only lives to work. Then I left my home on the little Island of Taiwan for the first time and spent some time in Australia. I realized that this world has so many more beautiful places, and that I needed to travel more to experience and understand it. So during my one-year-stay in Germany, I decided to go back to Taiwan on a bicycle. A long slow, intense trip back home was what I wanted – home being Taiwan – but also the world as a whole.
So far I have cycled through 10 countries (Germany, Austria, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, China). Around 11.000 kms until now. I left Germany 9 months ago, in November 2013.
1. You chose Germany as a starting point. Why Germany? And how did you like my country as a cycling destination?
I applied for a Working Holiday Visa in Germany. So I did work most of the time (in Wuppertal and Munich), but also did some traveling. That’s why I started my 14.000 km-trip back home in Germany.
Cycling in your country is very easy and comfortable. There are excellent bike paths nearly everywhere. I also felt it’s very safe riding a bike in Germany, because you always see clearly where you can ride and where not, thanks to the good traffic signs and lane markings.
2. Now and then you met other cyclists and you had the opportunity to cycle with them for a while. What do you like more, being solo or sharing your experiences?
Ummm… actually I like both. I enjoy riding solo because I think it’s easier meet different local people and participate in their daily life. Now I have some good friends in all the countries I passed through. We are sharing our lives with each other; I constantly write in my blog, they send me messages and tell me about what happened in “their world” after I left it.
But I equally enjoyed riding with other people, especially with two guys, that I shared a lot of kilometers
with. Vali is German and Raimon is from Catalonia. We met on the road and rode together for around two months in total.
Initially, we met in Iran; we cycled together for a couple of days and then said goodbye, we reunited in Uzbekistan, said goodbye again and then, finally, in China we rode another couple of hundred kilometers together. We share the same style of traveling, easy going and enjoying the moment. I learned a lot from them and could also learn more about local people’s lives thanks to them; that would have been harder if it had been just me, as a woman alone (especially in Iran). I
In my opinion, riding solo or with other people (but you really need to meet the right traveling partners); both can teach you a lot. It’s just two different ways of enjoying your trip and your daily life; I like both in a different way.
3. You went to Turkey and Iran. Did you feel comfortable? Did you have any problems there?
I really enjoyed my time in Turkey. People are very cool and friendly. I did a lot of couchsurfing there and met a Turkish cycling group, who eventually joined me on my trip for a few days. As a woman, obviously I didn’t like some of the “customs” and religious rules in Iran, like women having to cover their body or even their hair, but I had to respect that. I like the Iranian people, even though I had the most critical situation there during my trip. I was almost forced into having sexual intercourse with a married man.
Thankfully, nothing happened in the end. I wouldn`t say though that this kind of incident is a typically Iranian problem. While in Italy, it happened to me twice; some freaks followed me for more than 15 minutes, trying to show me their XXXXX.
4. You are in China now. As a Taiwanese woman, cycling in China might be not so easy. How do people treat you? Are there any problems for you?
Well, actually Chinese people are very curious about people from Taiwan. They are very friendly to me, and always ask me if I have ever seen any Taiwanese superstars on the streets in Taiwan (Taiwanese Singers and actors are very popular in mainland China).
They also love to ask me which country (China or Taiwan) is richer now. Some of them get overly excited and tell me I am the first Taiwanese they have ever met in person. Of course, sometimes I also met a
few Chinese people, who were very rude – telling me that Taiwan is a part of China.
A few times I showed them my middle finger and left (I know I should control myself, but in some cases they are very rude and simply won’t accept that someone might have a different opinion, and I can’t help it). But most of the time they are really nice and help me a lot.
5. You might have had some doubts before you started. Where they unreasonable or did anything that you were worried about happen?
I didn’t have enough money to finish my trip, so I was worried about the money. And I didn’t have any experience riding a bike for such a long time. I was also worried whether I really knew how to camp, how to cook on the road, and how to stay safe, especially as a woman. But over the course of the trip I learned a lot; I started selling self-designed postcards, I put up my tent with ease and I cook almost every day. I enjoy every single moment of this journey.
6. Which country is your favorite?
Italy. Because of the food: pizza and pasta!!
7. Which was the biggest problem you had to face?
I think it`s always been money. Because I know that if I run out of money my trip is over. So I had to constantly think of ways to ensure that I have enough cash to keep going.
8. What was the happiest moment for you so far?
This might sound strange, but it was probably the third day of my trip. Because I failed the first day, I cried and turned back to where I had started in Munich. I hit the road again on the second day and I didn’t turn back again. So the third day when I woke up, I just knew I could do it; I knew I would ride my bike and go back home.
9. In some areas there is a lot of traffic. How do you deal with it?
You can’t really do anything except to be extremely careful. Sometimes when some stupid, inconsiderate drivers put me into real danger, I got really angry and…(See the End of my answer to question number 4 – haha).
10. If you had the chance to do it all again, what would you do differently?
I am very happy with what I’ve done so far, but actually I kept changing my plan and my route all the time. So if I did it again, I think it would turn out differently, but I´d still be happy with it (Hopefully, haha.)
11. Your trip is coming to an end soon, Taiwan isn’t very far anymore. Are you a bit sad that it is all over or are you looking forward to getting back to normal life?
Both. I really enjoyed all those days out on the road on my bike; I loved the people I met, I love the landscapes and places I passed through, I love this feeling of freedom, this lifestyle. But yes, I am also very excited to meet my friends and my family again, because I haven’t seen them for about two years. I don’t know what’s going to happen after I finish riding the last kilometer;
I only want to enjoy the last moments I have on this trip. When this chapter of my life is over, I will find out soon enough what’s waiting beyond the next corner.
Please visit Minka’s interesting blog Minka Hsieh