'It was a dream to push mum across China'
Fan Meng won praise for taking his disabled mother on a 3,500-kilometre trek. Despite injury and polio, he calls it a normal family trip
Fan Meng, 26, made headlines across the mainland recently for pushing his wheelchair-bound mother, Kou Minjun, more than 3,500 kilometres in a three-month odyssey from Beijing to Yunnan. His dedication touched many and some media outlets even described him as a new model of filial piety. The Beijinger said he was just taking his mother for a long vacation.
It's an unusual choice to travel by foot. Was there any particular reason for that?
I was at a low point in my life. I'd had surgery on my left knee. My grandmother had died. A relationship went bad. My job was difficult. Even though the doctor warned me that I needed to pay special attention to the knee until August, I took off anyway [on July 11]. I felt I would die if I didn't get out for a change. I was not a fan of trekking but I felt like a long vacation would take the pressure off my mind. It's like a test for me. Now I feel so much better and the trip has transformed me. I think I can handle difficulty more calmly, like there is no hardship I can't overcome.
It's also unusual - and quite a feat - to push your disabled mother in her wheelchair the whole way. Is there any reason for that?
At that time there were only the two of us staying together. I asked my mother whether she would like to join me on a trip to the big grasslands of Inner Mongolia. She said yes, but wanted to go to Xishuangbanna in Yunnan instead. She had never travelled that far before because of her polio. We thought about it and discussed it for a day-and-a-half and then we started the journey. We only informed the others after we were on the way because we were worried the family would object to it. My friends said I took their dreams with me as well.
How well prepared were you?
We bought a wheelchair and some stuff needed for staying outdoors, such as a tent, damp-proof pad, a backpack, compressed biscuits and water and some essential drugs. My mother suffers from hypertension and diabetes, but she is able to travel. We laid my mother's crutch across the wheelchair and put the stuff on it. I didn't have any training before taking to the road.
Was it a difficult trip? At hard points, did you regret your choice?
We walked along the national road, from 6am to 6pm every day. At best, we walked 72 kilometres a day and, at worst, less than one kilometre. The more we walked the better we felt. There were some very difficult moments, but I never thought about quitting. We didn't have any trouble with wild animals. I had heatstroke once and my mother had a gallstone attack. She recovered after taking some anti-inflammatory drugs and lying down for several hours. The challenge was mostly dealing with the physical conditions. My feet developed blisters and my whole body was in pain. I had expected some muscle pain but never thought it would be that painful. Half of my soles were covered by the blisters. After 10 minutes of walking my feet were numb, but luckily they got better within two weeks. My hands have calluses from pushing the wheelchair. Then there was the heat. We took off in July and spent the hottest days of summer on the road. Sometimes we had no option but to hide in the shade.
Did you sleep in a room at any time on the trip? What did you eat?
We took many steamed buns and pickled vegetables with us in case we couldn't find restaurants. When we passed a market we would buy a lot of cucumbers and tomatoes. The first night on the road we stayed in the tent in Beijing's Daxing district. After we reached Henan we found there were cheap, small inns along the road meant for truck drivers. We spent many nights there.
Did you enjoy the trip?
The scenery was great. Every province was different. When we were in Hebei and Henan every household had a field in front of the house. The fields changed to duck ponds in Hubei and Hunan . We also met some very interesting people. Some were walking from Shanghai to Lhasa, others bicycling around the country. They told their stories and were lovely, interesting and real. They believed the real scenery is always on the road. We met a guy in Foshan county in Yunnan who decided to walk with us. He's been walking with us for 12 days.
People have called you a new version of the traditional 24 filial persons. What do you think?
It's got nothing to do with it. Would you call yourself a person of filial piety if you took your mother to a park? What I did was just a longer trip. I was close to my mother before we took the trip. The trip did not change anything about out relationship. She would ask if I needed to take a break, but nothing else. She was thrilled when we reached Xishuangbanna.
Many said you turned down help along the way. Why was that?
I didn't turn down all the offers of help. I happily accepted those who treated us to dinner or water. After I reached Yunnan, some local authorities gave us a package tour, including food and accommodation. We accepted. I just turned down those who offered money or a ride.
What's your plan after returning to Beijing?
After reaching Jinghong , our destination, we will spend a month travelling in Yunnan - Dali , Lijiang and all the interesting places - and we will be able to use transportation. We will get back to Beijing at the end of November. I haven't thought about plans for the future. Why bother when we are still having fun?
Have you been asked to endorse products due to your fame?
No manufacturer has come to me with a product for endorsement, but I guess I would be very selective if they do. For example, those companies embroiled in the melamine-tainted milk scandal in 2008 would be out of the question. The shoes I have been wearing were very good and if they wanted an endorsement I would be very delighted to recommend them. I am just an ordinary person, so I would not endorse something I did not know well.
What changes have you noticed after the trip?
I've shed 15kg and I'm tanned. I didn't shave for three months as a reminder that we had not reached the destination. The beard was let go after we reached Xishuangbanna. I am tired all day because of the long walk.
Could you tell us more about yourself. What is your background?
I was a soldier in the air force for two years until 2006. I became a security guard after I was discharged and then learned computer technology and worked for an IT company. My next job was in a food company and the last one was in sales for an e-commerce website.
Fan Meng spoke to Zhuang Pinghui