Osbournby adventurer starts new year in China after epic cycle ride from the UK

Nick Thomson with a new friend on a train travelling through China.
Nick Thomson with a new friend on a train travelling through China.
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An Osbournby man has embarked upon another adventure in China having taken the plunge and cycled half-way round the world to get there.

Nick Thomson, 26, set off early last year to cycle around the world, even though he admits he was never a bicycle enthusiast.

A mix of modern and traditional life in China. Photo: Nick Thomson

A mix of modern and traditional life in China. Photo: Nick Thomson

He crossed Europe and then hit some of the harshest environments in the world when he travelled across mountains in Tajikistan and desert in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

But on reaching the Chinese border towards the end of last year, Nick took a train to the large Chinese city of Chengdu where he has decided to stay on for a year. He is settling in with a job teaching English.

Nick told the Journal: “I work in a private English training centre rather than a school, so I mainly work weekends and weekday evenings. The classes are really varied – one lesson I’m teaching five-year-olds (running about the classroom teaching new vocab) and the next I’m drilling present perfect grammar with a 35-year-old housewife – I really had to brush up on my own grammar beforehand!

“You get thrown quite a few curveballs in this sort of work that friends working in public schools don’t seem to get, but it keeps things interesting.”

Snowy mountains in China. Photo: Nick Thomson

Snowy mountains in China. Photo: Nick Thomson

Nick gave up his job in London to take up the chance of a lifetime and has no regrets, although living in a completely different culture and country is not plain sailing.

He said: “Things can be difficult and frustrating at times, mainly thanks to the language barrier and ever-increasing restrictions on foreigners. For example, only one phone shop in town now can issue foreigners SIM cards. But you just find ways to dodge the rules, like get a Chinese friend to use their ID to get you one.

“It seems that rules and regulations in China are everywhere but are also universally ignored, compared to the UK where there are fewer regulations but (mostly) abided to.

“What I have found most surprising is that, in spite of the language barrier, the pollution and all the other difficulties that setting up shop in a new country entails, living in Chengdu feels surprisingly normal. I have a regular job and all the routine that comes with it, and I have an apartment with all the home comforts of my old place, and Chengdu has its fair share of international chains to supply foreigners with the home comforts.

“It’s a huge contrast to life on the road; for instance, one month I was sleeping in some abandoned soviet factory during a snowstorm in Kazakhstan, the next month I was choosing which cutlery set to buy in IKEA. It’s amazing how the mundane creeps back into your life, even when living abroad.”

Nick, whose parents still live in Osbournby, worked in marketing in London for a couple of years but says it was not for him. He also says: “I wasn’t really a cyclist at all before this trip, with the exception of my commute to and from work.”

Nick’s Chinese lifestyle is a massive contrast from the life he was living on the road when he would have to suffer freezing temperatures in the mountains and hide in the shade to avoid the high temperatures of the deserts.

While waiting for a visa to get into China, Nick looked into the possiblity of teaching English there with a view to settling down for a while and making some money to allow him to continue his journey on two wheels.

“When I was stuck in Bishkek I spent a long time researching about teaching in China and I ended up having an assumption that I’d need to do an online course or go through an organisation that sends foreigners to China to teach. But what the last two months have taught me is how much can actually be achieved by just turning up in a town and asking around. It saved me a lot of money and a potential trip back to the UK.”

Nick added: “I have every intention to get back on the bicycle next year for a longer period of time than what I did last year and need to replenish my bank account in order to do so. An interesting thing I found is that it is much easier to save money in China than in London. Thanks to the cost of living and having a separate housing allowance, I pretty much have the same amount of disposable income as I did in London, so saving money here is pretty effortless compared to the hermit-like lifestyle of giving up meat/the pub/much of my social life I ended up having last year.

“My advice to anyone wanting to save up money in order to go on a big adventure is this: start it a year early and move to China.”

Nick says he would like to continue on to Australia and New Zealand at some point, where he will take up work before, no doubt, hitting the road again.

As Nick says on his blog: “Is this the end of this trip? Definitely not. The next 12 months will be a continuation of this adventure, rather than a break, and all the while my bank account will be slowly replenished before I saddle up and get hit the road next November.

“Or I may not. I might leave sooner if I fail to suppress the travel bug or I might spend another year in China.

“This unexpected detour to Chengdu turned into a 12-month stay; who’s to say what will happen next year? It’s all part of the joy of destination-less travel.”