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Walking Dutchman covered 7,750 kilometres

Boyhood dream set Brabant teacher on ten-country trip to China

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

EINDHOVEN - The recent journey of adventurer Jan Vroomans has shown the world that China is within walking distance of the southern Dutch city of Eindhoven. The 39-year old teacher set out for the backyard of China in October 2007, on foot, pulling his belonging on a two wheeled cart. Vroomans returned fifteen months later via Schiphol Airport at Eindhoven’s railway station, where a large of his group of friends welcomed him home. He ended his journey just three months short of Beijing, after having traveled an estimated distance of 7,750 kilometres.

Although Vroomans realized his boyhood dream of walking to China, in the end it was homesickness that made him abandon the trip.

When Vroomans, who just had completed his Masters degree, set out on his journey, he had no idea how far he would get in China. When he reached Hungary, he started to set his sights on Beijing. Along the way, people he came in contact with often assumed that visiting the Olympic Games was his goal.

Going by foot is not the traditional way Dutchmen travel to China. Taking the land route usually meant going by rail on the Oriental Express, but before the railway option became popular, the sea route with a VOC ship via South Africa’s Capetown for centuries was the only choice. Few travelers made it to China in those days. Now China is a popular destination for tourists and for entrepreneurs wanting to meet potential business partners.

Ten pair of shoes

Throughout history, the land route was never a very safe or reliable way to travel. Although the roads are fine now, there are still areas where human predators can be a threat, leaving the Walking Dutchman at times very apprehensive. One such incident on an isolated highway involved two soldiers, who seemed to be planning an extortion bid. Vroomans, who had resolved not to offer bribes, managed to distract the pair who then lost interest in him. At one border crossing, he stared down domineering guards who insisted he and his cart board a bus to take him through ‘no-mans’ land.’ Since cars could drive through unaccompanied, he insisted he could too. Angry border officials finally relented but then sent a soldier along to guide him across. Other scary incidents involved poisonous insects, snakes and hungry animals.

Although the living circumstances and the cultures along the way are very different from those in the Netherlands, the hospitality cuts pretty much across all cultural boundaries. Vroomans was frequently invited by people to stay for the night and made friends everywhere along the route. In one such instance, he was hosted by a member of a local walking club who took him out for dinner and then arranged for him to receive the club’s discount with a local shoe supplier for a new pair (he wore out ten pairs). The club gave him a thousand business cards along to hand out in return for their favours.