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Lord Bates returns to China for yet another epic sponsored walk

2018-09-18 09:55:41 China Minutes

The Lord Bates, Michael Walton Bates, a Conservative Party politician serving in the House of Lords since 2008 is bracing himself for yet another charity walk overseas. Lord Bates and his Chinese wife Lady Bates (Xue Lin) will tackle the 250km route from the Chinese capital of Beijing to the eastern city of Cao Fei Dian on foot to raise money for charity. They will set off from the capital on the 17thSeptember passing through Tongzhou, Baodi and Tangshan arriving in Cao Fei Dian ten days later.

This is the second time the married couple have conducted a sponsored walk in China with their previous walk taking place in July 2015, stretching from Beijing to Hangzhou and covering a whopping 1059 miles over 71 days. The walk took place on the third anniversary of the London Olympics and raised £90,000 for projects identified by the Red Cross Society in China.

Lord Bates and his Chinese wife Lady Bates (Xue Lin)

2018 is the 40th anniversary of China's reform and opening-up initiated by Deng Xiaoping in 1978. Lord Bates and his wife selected China as their country of choice this year to tell the story of China's opening-up and reforms and to show China as a “comprehensive, authentic and three-dimensional country” through a walk conducted by a non-Chinese.

We caught up with Michael just before he set off for Beijing.

What is your connection with China and what part does China play in your life?

Well, I can genuinely say that I'm in love with China, in particularly with that part that is filled by my wife, Xue Lin. We married as a result of the first walk which I did for the Olympic Truce, that's how we met and I'm now a proud son-in-law of China and specifically of Zhejiang province. It's a very big part of my life and I'm delighted it is.

Tell me about 'Walk Your Dream' and the cause that you are trying to bring awareness to.

About two years ago my wife and I visited Cao Fei Dian Technical School and we met the students, they were there learning trades so that they could actually go out to work. And what both of us felt about those young people is that they had fantastic potential, a real enormous potential in their life. But sometimes people from a background, which is poor, which represents what Xue Lin came from and what I came from feel that it's not for the likes of them, that they cannot pursue their dreams. We wanted to give them confidence and encourage them, that through our own life stories, Xue Lin coming to this country with £50 in her pocket and building a successful business and myself coming from a small town in the Northeast of England and being able to become a member of parliament, that it is possible to pursue your dream if you believe in it.

Lord Bates and Lady Bates walked from Beijing to Cao Fei Dian

Is there something you would like to convey to the people of China through this walk?

What we find is that when we walk you are forced to engage with people in a way that you never get a chance to meet them. For me, I visit lots of countries, I'm a minister for international development, I am constantly travelling, often you fly into airports, you are met, you get a link to a hotel, you meet people in air-conditioned offices, they could be anywhere in the world. When you walk it is very different, because when you walk sometimes you get lost, you need to ask for directions, people are curious when you stop to buy some water or some tea, they ask what you are doing and why you are doing it, so you are forced to engage. You see things in a different way than if you were driving or even cycling through an area because you have time to notice details and you have time to talk to people.

So I feel that from our first walk that we did in 2015 in China, we got a whole lot more out of it than I'm sure we gave. But essentially people are the same wherever they are in the world and they just need to have a mechanism by which they can communicate and often culture is a way of connecting people and we want to try to promote that as much as possible. The more that we recognize that we are not only just connected, but we are interconnected in this world then the safer and more prosperous this world will be.

So is walking a good means to achieving that goal?

We have found it. One of the things that we encourage the students to do in our talks is to say run your own race, don't look at somebody else's race and say I just want to try to copy them, be original, be yourself. For us walking has just been our thing that has helped us to find meaning and purpose and a great deal of joy and satisfaction. It's not for everyone and a lot of people think we are crazy as we do this, but we know the value that we feel it has, not only for the causes we support , but also the people we meet along the way. Also for ourselves to help better understand the world and the people in it.

What are some of the challenges and difficulties you face on such long-distance walks?

One of the great challenges is that, as you can tell by looking at me I'm not a triathlon runner, I'm an old man as Xue Lin keeps on telling me. I'm trying to do something that my body says would have been fine when I was 20, but now I'm nearing 60 so it’s a bit of a struggle. So I do find that walking is the biggest challenge, it’s a struggle, it’s not easy for me to walk 30 km in a day. The other element, which is a really important one, is the heat and the loss of fluid and access to water. The other challenge is that I'm walking mostly along main roads so therefore the traffic is a bit of a challenge. This is where China differs with most countries, in most countries if you are walking they allow you to walk facing the traffic so you can see the traffic coming towards you and of you see that the driver of the truck isn't paying attention you can quickly step out of the way. Whereas in China you are supposed to walk with the direction of the traffic and so it is coming up behind you. So I'm always just that bit more nervous when I hear a loud truck coming behind me at 60 mph. But one of the things you learn when walking is that you have to respect the culture and the rules of the country that you are visiting.

This year is the 40th anniversary of China's reform and opening-up policy, how do you feel China has changed during this period?

I first visited China in 1997 to Qingdao and Shandong and I have been going back regularly since then. There are two things about China which are helpful in this regard. Firstly, what we both care passionately about is the eradication of poverty and the precursor of poverty which is peace. When we look at China, we look at a country that has lifted more people out of poverty than any other country in human history and everybody says it is an economic miracle, but we also say that it is a political miracle as well, because conflict is the biggest destroyer of wealth that has every been invented by mankind. So therefore the fact that China has had peace and prosperity for 40 years and it has lifted the lives and enriched the lives of so many people is something we think is worth celebrating and we do. We have a personal insight into it because Xue Lin is of that generation who were luck enough to be just coming out of schooling at the right time, to be able to the newly reopened universities and that changed her life. That's what gave her the opportunity to eventually come to this country, so we have a personal connection with it as well.

I think it is also interesting that as we walk through what we are beginning to see that we really enjoy is that the history of China is not just 40 years, but actually its 4-5000 years and as we begin the walk now increasingly we are seeing a kind of confidence of a growing nation that is almost coming into peace with its own past and recognizing the immense cultural history that is has. There are new pagodas, new villages and new towns that have been rebuilt in the old-style and rediscovering that sense of history, that culture that comes from the Confucian tradition and indeed Confucius himself have been brought back into the mainstream. So we are seeing lots of things that are happening. The other thing that I'm really interested in because I'm a politician and political economist by training is asking 'where is this all going to go? Where does it go from now?' So I'm interested to see that and try to piece that together for ourselves so it is multidimensional and always fascinating.

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