Frequently Asked Questions

CN
Here are some of the answers to some of the questions I have been getting over the past few years. Some of them are directly from interviews with the media. I figured I might as well post them here:

- What do you do?
I am a student of China Studies, Russian Literature and Modern History. I am back at my old university, and I signed a book deal. Writing and studying are keeping me very occupied, and I think that writing might be even harder than walking. Pick up a pen – and write. Put on some shoes – and walk. Both sound very easy, but they are really not.

- Where do you live?
Munich, Germany.

- What were you doing in China before the walk?
I did one year of Chinese and one year of Cinematography at the Beijing Film Academy (北京电影学院). It took me one
year to prepare for the journey. Naturally, many of my thoughts revolved around questions like: Will I be able to do it? Do I really want to do it, no matter what the cost?


- When did you start walking?
On November 9th, 2007. It was my 26th birthday.

- How did you get the idea for the walk?
The idea of walking home from Beijing got implanted in my head while I was studying at BFA. I had walked from Paris to my home in Germany once in the summer of 2003 – a little walk of about 800km that took less than a month. But there was something special about that walk. I remembered being on the road, thinking: Where will I sleep? What will I eat? There were no metaphysical questions, no big worries, just pragmatic problems to solve. It felt good, and it felt meaningful.

- Anything else that makes walking particularly good?
I like walking because it makes you own your way. Whenever I walk somewhere, not only do I remember the way, but I also feel like I have a legitimation to be there. I visit a place by train, and I am a tourist, I walk to the same place on foot, and the place is suddenly mine, we belong together, I don’t feel like an alien anymore. I like that feeling. I think buses are the worst. I hate them, because I am too tall to feel comfortable, and you can’t even read a book on a bus without getting sick.

- Does walking have some kind of spiritual meaning for you?
No. Maybe some people like to travel in their minds, while others feel the need to walk around. But it is still just a journey.

- What state of mind were you in when you were walking? What were you thinking about? Or was your mind empty? Or in a chaotic state?
It was just the way it would be on any normal day. Sometimes you think. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you worry about passports, dangers, pains, relatives and loved ones, and at other times your steps are light and you sing songs in the desert. Sometimes it is boring. And sometimes you feel at peace.

- When did you stop walking?
On October 25th 2008. That’s when I decided to stop.

- Why did you stop?
I wanted to gain back my life. I had to regain control over myself, eliminate the inner boss that was telling me what to do. A lot of people look at the video thinking “I want to be free like that guy!” – but they don’t realize that I was driven by something, and maybe I was losing control over it.

- How many kilometers did you walk?
4646km in total.

- How many hours did you walk each day?
That depends. Sometimes more, sometimes less. You can cover 5km in 1 hour. I would usually feel comfortable walking 20 to 30 km in one day. That means I would have to be constantly moving for about 4 to 6 hours. Put in some breaks for picture taking, eating, resting, peeing, talking to people, wondering about the way, etc. – and you can see that I would basically be on the road most of the day.

- Did you really walk ALL the way?
Yes. However, there was one instance when I had to jump on my brother’s bike for a few minutes.

- Why did you seem to be sitting on a plane in the video then?
I had to take care of a few things. Mainly passport problems.

- How did the walk change your life?
I learned how to walk, and how to stop walking. What more could I want? :)

- Did you read books or listen to music while you were on the road?
Mostly music, couldn’t go without. Books were to heavy to take along, so I read only very little.

- Is your beard a symbol of some sort?
No.

- What was the most beautiful place you saw on your way?
I think I would have to say it was the Tibetan highlands with the famous white yaks.

- I want to get a website like yours! How does that work?
It’s an adapted WordPress theme hosted on a private server. I had someone help me with design and coding.

- Why did you decide to publish your walk on the Internet?
I had previously walked before, from France to Germany, in Italy, and in China. But this time, I wanted to document it.

- Did you knew you were going to make the video when you started walking?
Yes. I had seen Noah and Dancing Matt on YouTube, and I had gotten the idea to combine the two ideas into something new.

- Who is Teacher Xie? Why did you dedicate the video to him?
谢建光 (Xie Jianguang) is a brave man who has been walking all over China since 1982. I ran into him somewhere in the desert, and we have been friends ever since. He has taught me some valuable lessons.

- Why is the video dedicated to love?
I think it is important to know what we value most in life.

- Are you planning another walk in the future? Will you continue walking home from China?
No plans right now. I did continue my walk for a couple of hundred kilometers in September 2010, but I don’t have any new plans right now. Gotta do things individually, one at a time. ;)

- You said an article about Roman Armies inspired you to walk, what kind of article was that? Why did it make you want to walk?
I remember it was in a National Geographic Magazine or something like that. The article was about a Roman military reform that enabled soldiers to carry their complete equipment and walk huge distances without having to rely on supply carriages that were bulky and slow. In the article, it said that Roman soldiers had to walk everywhere, sometimes up to 50km a day. That’s when I was living in Paris, thinking about a way to go home (bus? Train? Plane?), and I remember suddenly thinking: How about I just walk like the old dudes from Rome?

- What obstacles/difficulties were you facing before your departure?
Fear is a big factor. Of course I would worry about all kinds of things before I started walking. And then there was the opposition within my family. They didn’t like the idea of me walking around the world at all. But I felt that I had to listen to my inner voice. That inner voice told me to go, so I did.

- What drove/supported you to keep going? Was there a moment when you thought that you might be torturing yourself?
I am not sure what was driving me. Sometimes you develop an inner boss who tells you what to do. And yes, sometimes I was wondering, somewhere in the back of my mind, if I wasn’t just torturing myself. But then I would just keep on walking.

- What music were you listening to? How did you choose your soundtrack? How did it affect your journey?
I had a large collection of mp3s that I could choose from. Basically, I enjoyed punk and metal for the night hours, when I was prone to feeling scared and tired, and the elements where tough. Try walking through a sandstorm with Sepultura in your ear, and you will know what I mean. ;) At other times, I would listen to slow music, or no music at all. It really depends on your state of mind.

- You said in an interview: “the most challenging thing was my ego” – so how did you converse with your ego? Do we have to imagine you splitting into 2 Christophs?
It is not easy walking around carrying a huge backpack, two cameras, a tripod and all that stuff. But if you are going to burden yourself with the additional weight of an ego that gets in the way of things all the time, then it only gets that much harder. I have a pretty bad temper, and I always dreamed of shaping a smoother character by walking. But I am not sure if that has worked out like I planned. ;)

- Along with your hair and beard growing, I guess your heart and your soul have also grown. How? And according to some interviews, the walk taught you how to prioritize. How did that happen?
It is important to know what one wants. If you know what you want most of all, then you can fight for it – but what if you don’t know? At the beginning of the walk, I felt that walking was my number one priority. At the end of the walk, I realized that my priorities had shifted, or maybe they hadn’t been what they appeared to be in the first place? Anyways, I knew I had to make some changes. And I was grateful for it.

- Were you looking for a deeper meaning in the journey? Did you find what you were looking for? Or it turn out to be different than you wanted?
I love the journey, all the pain, all the confusion, all the happiness of it. It is a year well lived. More than I could have ever asked for.

- Why you name your video the “longest” way? Why did you use Olive Tree (橄榄树) on the soundtrack?
Actually, I wanted “a long way home” – but that WWW-address was already taken. So I took on “The Longest Way”. I used Olive Tree (橄榄树) on the soundtrack because it was the first Chinese song that I really liked, and also because I related so strongly to its lyrics: “why drift around?” (“为什么流浪?”).

- Which camera did you use?
Two bodies of the first generation Canon 5D. One with a 16-35mm 2.8 lens, the other with a 70-200mm 2.8IS. If you want to know more, please check this post: misc07 – about heavy-ass cameras

- In what situation you would choose to stop and take self a photo? How did you choose the background?
Random situations. Whenever I felt like it, I snapped a picture. Or several pictures.

- l How many photos did you take in total – and how many of them are used in the video?
I took more than 30.000 shots, and I used 1.400 in the video.

- Did you get a lot of feedback after you put up the video? What did people say to you?
Yes, a lot of feedback, and a lot of it very touching. Sometimes I feel like I am a cheater though, because I can sense that people are seeing something in me that I am really not. I am not some sort of cool, free-spirited, outdoor-kind-of-guy. I am probably just someone who felt like he had to do something. So I did.

- Did you really wear sandals across the Gobi?
No, who told you that? (I really didn’t do that very often!)

- Did you suddenly laugh out loud on the road when you realized that you were following your dream?
Yes, this is true. I danced and I sang and I laughed.

- Air, Sea, Road, Trail or Rail? And why?
Trail. Because I enjoy slowly walking towards the horizon, never knowing what’s ahead.

- Your biggest surprise on your travels?
That you are not free just because you walk through the land. Many people look at the video and think “hey, this guy can do whatever he wants!” But in reality I was committed to walking. So that’s all I could do.

- Where are the special places you have stayed and the one that disapointed?
Stayed outdoors, in temples, in private homes, in large hotels, stayed in a town hall, in a mine and even in a power plant. Some places had pretty disgusting loos, which was a bit hard to bear. But hey, no disappointment.

- What’s on your travel wish list?
Wish I could walk to Samarkand one day. And Istanbul, Constantinople, Byzantine!

- One tip to take from your experiences?
Take it easy and remember: you are your own boss!

- How many times did you wash your hair & beard during that long walk?
Hard to say. Whenever I got the chance. Sometimes almost daily. Sometimes I stayed dirty for like a week at a time.

- Did you have many people trying to stroke/touch them out of curiosity?
Nope. Nobody would dare.

- Which was the city where you got most stared at, patted at the back, cheered at, in that order?
Dunno.

- What did you pack in your backpack during the walk?
I only remember it was about 30kg total, there were 2 cameras and a laptop involved, and I always had my electrical toothbrush! :)

- Any scary experience walking at night?
Yes, and during the day as well. I am easily intimidated though.

- Were you more popular with the men/ladies, children or old folks during the walk?
I like kids, and I think I got along best with them. And with the older folks.

- Most beautiful experience?
Group of maybe a dozen kids weaving beads of flowers for my hair – in a small village in the desert, an oasis of happiness.

- Did you ever wish that you’d considered other modes of
transportation?

Nope.

- Best food you had during the journey in China?
Most of it. I love Chinese food.

What was the funniest incident that met you there?
There was so much stupidity involved on my part, the funny incidents lined up like pearls on a string.

- The best Chinese word in your dictionary? Please translate in English for us.
I like the word… 蛊. It’s almost absolutely useless, but I love the concept behind it, as well as the sound „gǔ”. It’s about a sort of voodoo, involving poisonous bugs. Awesome stuff.

- When’s your next walk? Where? Why not India?
Haha, dunno yet. I hope I can find the time to walk around a little. If I did walk at all, then it could only be along the originally planned route. India, like so many other excellent places, is unfortunately not on that route. :(

- Will you accept a walking companion? If yes, what are his/her pre-requisites?
I’d have to think about this one…

- Many people all over the world have seen your video. How did you promote it?
I did not promote the video at all. I am very happy that so many people seem to enjoy it though. :)

- Your beard seems to be the main character in the video, after you. What came first, the idea not to shave your face, or the idea to take a photo of yourself every day?
The photo idea was first, and I had meticulously planned it. The beard then came naturally, I was lazy at first and proud later!

- I suppose walking in China would be extremely hard without knowing a language. Where did you study it?
I did 2 years of Chinese in Munich – China Studies was my university major. then i studied at the Beijing Film Academy for 2 more years, which really helped me improve on my language skills.

- How often did people offer you rides? How did you explain your plan to them?
Haha, good question! So many people wanted to give me rides, I can’t even tell you the number, just too many!! Most people just seemed to think I was funny, like these 4 dudes on a motorcycle.

- What things made you feel better during your trip, and what things made you feel frustrated?
The PEOPLE were the best on the trip, especially the little children and the nice old folks. They cheered me up, were good to me, gave me food and shelter, and made me happy!

- Initially your plan was to walk from Beijing to Bad Nenndorf. What served as the “crucial point”? (I mean, not “why did you stop walking”, but where were you, and how were you feeling at that time)
I was near Turpan (吐鲁番) and Ürümqi (乌鲁木齐) in the Gobi Desert of Western China. There were sand storms all around me. And sand, lots of sand. I knew I had to change something in my life, but i wasn’t sure what it was. It sure wasn’t easy. :)

- Where did you grow up?
Bad Nenndorf, a small town in the North of Germany. 10.000 inhabitants, everybody kind of knows what the others are doing. I have a little sister and a little brother. A cat and a dog are there to brighten up our days.

- Are there any books, albums, or films that have been landmarks in your personal development, i.e. have inspired your own development?
I have to admit, I like Charles Bukowski’s prose. Not so much the profanity and the drinking, but his use of language and his humourous outlook on life. Besides that, there is a German journalist who died in the 80s, the name’s Michael Holzach. He published a book that recounts his walk through Germany without a penny to his name. Very interesting stuff.

- Do you hold to any political ideology or religious belief?
Roman catholic. I like going to church when there is no service going on. Just sit there, with the big guy.

- Can you describe the process you undergo to prepare for a walking trip?
I prepared for a year. Basically, it’s all about getting as smart as possible, concerning the places and the people on the way. I talked to German embassies all over the world, stumbled through map archives in several libraries, and read books, books and more books. Then I got equipped. Then I walked.

- What physical repercussions did you experience after your walk?
Don’t like to wear sneakers, feels uncomfortable. Sometimes my back hurts a little. I think I’d best take up swimming again.

- Can you describe us a little further how bureaucracy affected you?
Oh it was mainly passport issues that could have been avoided. It was difficult during the olympics to get a visa, so I had to take a few trips back to Beijing. Besides that and some photo restrictions and forbidden hotels, bureaucracy wasnt really that big of a deal. I thought it was cool. Another reason I had to take a plane one or two times was for love. The best reason in the world.

- How much did the trip cost you?
It took a piece of my heart. I dont know how much that could be worth. Besides that, it cost me a part of my small inheritance. For more details, please check my post about the dough.

- What did you use to think of China before the journey, and what do you think now? Did something change?
Well, I had lived in Beijing for two years when i started my walk. It didnt change much of my perspective on China. Except for the fact that I have met even more fantastic people out in the countryside, on dusty roads, and in the mountains out there. They are the best!

- At the end of your film, you ask the question “was it really me?” which can mean a number of things. What does it mean to you? And how have you changed from the person who started the journey?
I remember it very clearly, when I was about to start walking in Beijing, this whole thing had an immense importance to me. I was ready to put everything on the line for the walk, and I got into huge fights with my family over this. Looking back now, I think that maybe it had to be that way, but I am looking at that face on the starting day, and I recognize something strange in those eyes.

- What’s the best part about having a wacky beard?
Finally a question that’s fun! …well, the best part about having a wacky beard is of course the look! I don’t think it made me very attractive at all, but I have always had a strong kind of sympathy for that goofy hairball in the mirror!

- Are you glad to be home or do you have itchy feet?
Both. What can I do?

- Did you not consider keeping the beard?
Oh no, I liked myself wearing that beard, kind of in a Forrest Gump way, but I didnt think it was very attractive. There are beard times, and there are non-beard times.

- If you were put before a committee to convince non-traveling people to travel, what would say to them?
I would not want to advise them to travel. Everyone is different. Maybe they are perfectly happy where they are.

- It seems that you prefer to travel by yourself. Why is this?
I travel by myself not as a matter of principle. Maybe nobody wanted to accompany me on The Longest Way.

- Do you really have some sort of inner peace? One of your blog entries suggests that you do.
Please read that post again – you will see that it means something completely different.

- Do you have any tips for people who are on their own search for peace?
I am not very good at this. There are brief moments when I am feeling at ease, but they usually don’t last very long, and then the wolf starts to howl again. However, I think age and experience probably helps with this. You have to know your priorities.

- What was the hardest, most challenging moment of your trip?
There were many moments. It wasn’t so much about the physical challenge, even though the Gobi can be a pretty unforgiving place at times. But I think the hardest thing for me was that I had to realize that I was somehow not my own boss anymore. I had established a set of rules to live (and walk) by, and that was about all I could do. Weird.

- You rode a bike for a few km once. Looking back on that time and knowing what you know know, do you feel that you cheated yourself from walking?
Actually, it was really no big deal. My little brother was riding that bike (or rather the Cucumber, as we called it), but he couldn’t see, because we had had a sandstorm the day before and his eyes had gotten the worst of it. Then our dear Cucumber lost both of its brakes, while the wind was pushing us forward and we were approaching a long downhill slope. At that point, I told my brother to hang on tight, then I jumped on the bike and steered it through the wind for a couple of minutes. It felt weird to break the path of footsteps that I had created, but the feeling of “cheating myself” was really just a notion that went by pretty fast. There was nothing else I could have done at that point anyway.

- It seems like Teacher Xie really helped you on your journey. How important do you think it is for people to have a teacher in their lives, and do you have any advice on how they can find someone to really move them?
My dear Teacher Xie was and still is very important to me. I think we as humans have the gift of being able to learn from others. That obviously doesn’t mean we will stop behaving like idiots altogether, but maybe learning from others can help make our lives a bit better. So yes, teachers are very important. Not every teacher will stand out as clearly like Teacher Xie, and we probably might not even realize at all that a person is teaching us something important. But if we keep our eyes open, then maybe we can find out more about each other.

- If you had a time machine and could do the trip all over again AND know everything you know now, how would you do it differently?
I would definitely try to be more relaxed about it. I would try not to get into senseless arguments with people, and I would make sure I am not hurting anybody. Sounds easy, but sometimes it’s not.

- How did having the website influence your journey? Did it make it more challenging (aside from the tasks of keeping it updated)? Do you have any advice for a traveler who is going to start their own travel blog?
Well, it was a LOT of work. But it also helped me stay organized. And I learned to focus on my little stories and my pictures on the way. Some of the commentaries on the site were useful, either in a practical manner, or in a way to encourage me. If you are going to make your own travel blog, then I think one major rule is that you want to be honest with yourself and with your readers.

- You obviously met a lot of strangers as you traveled. Do you have any trips for travelers who want to meet people and make friends in new places?
For one thing, I always used to go by the rule: NEVER DECLINE AN INVITATION. You know how, when someone is offering you something, like a cup of tea or whatever, you are almost always inclined to politely shake your head and say “thanks, but no thanks”? I tend to do this a lot anyway. But it’s not a very good way to make new friends and enjoy oneself, and most people will probably not even consider it very polite, but rather cold and distant. So the rule of never declining an invitation is definitely a good one. Of course you can’t possibly accept every cup of tea that comes your way, but you can at least try to. And that, my friend, is the start of being a happy traveler.

- What major advice do you have for someone who wants to do their own dream, epic, travel adventure?
Sounds tacky, but here it is: Take the first step!

- I didn’t see the name of the song that is at the beginning and ending of your video. Could you let me in on it?
The first song is “橄榄树” (“Olive”) by 朱逢博 (Zhu Fengbo) from China, and the second one is “L’Aventurier” by The Kingpins from Canada.

- In the video, is the other guy a friend of yours from Germany who decided to join you for part of the trip?
Oh, that is my little brother! You can read about our trip here.

- Had you carried on to finish what would have been your route (countries that you would have passed through)?
Well, plans change, as do international politics. An area that seemed alright to pass through at the initial time of planning might not be so safe anymore once you get there, so you might want to stay a bit flexible. But anyways, for my initial route, please refer to The Original Plan I devised in 2007. I even came up with a basic map! :)

- What did you do the first week of you arrival in Germany after walking for a year?
It was horrible. I was strapped of my beard, of my hair, and – most importantly – of my mission, and I felt utterly lost wherever I turned. It was like a bad dream, and waking up every morning felt like being pushed under water.

- What would you say was the biggest change/impact on your life after your adventure?
I had to learn to get my priorities straight. Like Kenny Powers put it: “The quest is nothing if you’ve got no one to brag about it to.” :)

- What was the biggest impact/change after the film started to be shown around?
The film started a sort of wave that eventually hit me, but in a good way. First there were newspaper articles, then there were publishers that asked me if I could be interested in writing a book about the story behind that video. It was a new challenge, something that was possibly even scarier than walking.

Any good stories about some interactions with your fans?
A bunch. I fucking love it when people tell me that they are going out to chase whatever dream they have, and that they are just kind of waving at me while they are rushing out the door. Cycle through Asia. Walk through Africa. Move to China. Get enrolled in a foreign exchange program. Quit a job and get a new one. Buy a camera and start taking pictures of stuff.
I like things that come from the heart. No “let’s-all-celebrate-our-happiness” type of outdoor enthusiasm, but the chasing of dreams.


- What did you do this last year? How hard was it go back to school?
I was in school this last year, trying to get my degree. And at the same time I was trying to write the book that my publisher had asked for. How “hard” it was to go back to school? It felt like a huge gut-wringing machine, not particularly nice or interesting.

- How often do you shave now?
When it comes to beards, I am definitely more of a George W. Bush than an Osama Bin Laden. What I am trying to say is that my beard comes in patchy, and I don’t have to shave very often. :)

- Any idea for a trip in the coming years?
Sometimes, when I feel like this pastel-colored world is getting to me, then I look at the map, and I dream of Samarkand, and of Istanbul.

- Do you like Russian literature? If yes: who is your favorite Russian writer?
Yes, I do like Russian literature very much, but since I still have to read translations, I honestly don’t dare to say that I can appreciate it fully. One of my favorite books when I was younger: Mikhail Bulgakov (Михаи́л Булга́ков) – “Heart Of A Dog” (“Собачье сердце”).

- Have you or do you plan on going through Iran? How did you plan for traversing hostile states like this?
I was planning on going through there. That was in 2008 though, and the German embassy there told me it should be okay. I was more worried about Turkmenistan and the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan. But now I don’t know how it would have turned out. ;)

- Did you take photos and write stuff every single day or did you only document the things that you found important?
I took pictures and wrote stuff in my blog every day. Besides that, I also kept a personal diary. :)

- I saw in your video you wore the same top for quite a bit of your walk, how did you manage to wash your clothes each day, or did you wear them for a few days at a time before washing them?
I used to just wear them for a few days, then wash them whenever I would stay in one place for a little while. Except for socks – I had 8 pairs with me and changed them on a daily basis, no exceptions.

- How did you keep your cameras, laptop and phone charged for the whole walk?
I had enough batteries with me to last up to a week. 3 batteries for each camera, a whole bunch for the GPS. And I would need the laptop only when I was working on the blog, so it could wait until I was in a hotel or something.


 




all content ©2011 Christoph Rehage