Go Grandriders woman recalls epic Taiwan scooter trip
Scooter rider, 77, recalls Taiwan trip with fellow old folk as film of it shows in HK
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With her helmet fastened and wrapped in a wind jacket, silver-haired Zhang Cheng Ying-mei grips the accelerator of her scooter as she prepares to set off on a 1,178-kilometre road trip across Taiwan.
A crowd applauds the courage of the Taiwanese woman and 16 fellow riders at the starting point in Taichung city, west-central Taiwan.
Together, the team members' ages add up to 1,377 years - or an average of 81 per person.
Two have battled cancer, four need hearing aids, five suffer from high blood pressure and eight have heart disease.
And their 13-day journey in November 2007 was recorded in an 80-minute documentary, Go Grandriders, that hit Hong Kong cinemas from last week.
Cheng, 72 at the time, was the only woman in the group.
Together with her 71-year-old husband Zhang Hong-dao, she and the others cruised out from the west coast, down to Kaohsiung, then turned back up north to Hualien in the east and Taipei before returning to their starting point. The road trip was organised by the Hondao Senior Citizen's Welfare Foundation.
"Don't you think it was a lot of fun?" said Cheng, who was in Hong Kong for four private screenings of the documentary last month, one of which was held during the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival.
"The trip was intended for the elderly, and there were many people in the group. The weather was nice during autumn, and it's so cool [to ride a scooter]."
Before she embarked on the adventure, Cheng had ridden the scooter only while shopping for groceries.
"Taiwan is pretty mountainous, and we had to go uphill, drive round corners and avoid vehicles coming from the opposite direction," she said.
The most dangerous part was making their way through dim tunnels in the east, she recalled.
"It was getting dark when we entered the tunnels, and there was a little bit of rain. Most of the vehicles on the road were huge trucks, and they did not give way to us."
Despite the stress and fatigue, she had no regrets about taking part. "When you grow very old, much inconvenience sets in and you have to depend on family.
"But when you are still in the initial years of your retirement, you should shine on a stage."
Having battled two bouts of cancer in the past, Cheng was determined to live life to the full.
"I told myself I should not let myself freeze [in negative thoughts]. So I joined a choir, went dancing in the park and wrote letters to prisoners in jail."
That same zest for life radiated from her companions. Tan De-yu, 79, took to the road to fulfil a promise to his late wife.
The couple, who made several trips round the island together, pledged to do it one last time if they lived to the age of 80.
Tan kept his word. A picture of her fronted his scooter, while her clothes dangled at the back as he drove along.
Tan and two other participants - including the group's leader, who was in his 80s - died in the years after the epic journey.
For Cheng, emotions welled up as she watched their exploits on the big screen.
She said: "It came to me that the trip was a chance for us to pursue our dreams. But whether it's the trip or life itself, an end will come some day."
Zhang, who is a priest, shared her feelings: "Quietly he [Tan] came, quietly he went … I've learnt from him that I should treasure and love my wife more."
The couple, now grandparents, celebrated their 50th anniversary this year.
Still socially active, they counsel newlyweds, teaching them to respect each others' pace of life and express their feelings.
Cheng said: "It's a blessing to grow old with your other half. We still hold hands when exercising. People are envious of us."