A ‘Cycling Madman’ Pedals His Way Across the World

Lai Likun, 41, of China, is visiting New York City, but he does not plan on renting a CitiBike.

Short-term rentals are not useful to Mr. Lai. He has already been through six sturdy bikes over the past three years, having pedaled 31,000 miles through four continents and nearly 25 countries as part of a five-year solo bicycle tour around the world.

Mr. Lai, a factory manager, says his next destination is South America and is flying to Beijing on Tuesday to straighten out his visa. Then he will head to the Pacific islands.

“It’s been my dream to bicycle around the world ever since I was 6 years old,” said Mr. Lai, who arrived in New York City in mid-June after completing the North American leg of his tour, a nearly seven-month journey that took him into Mexico and Cuba.

Mr. Lai came to the United States last December, arriving in New York City, before making his way to Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, then to Texas and into Mexico. After a side trip to Cuba, he resumed traveling through Mexico to California, Nevada and Utah, before turning east and heading to Chicago, Detroit, Boston and then returning to New York.

Mr. Lai said he left his hometown of Shunde, in Guangdong Province, in November 2009 with the equivalent of roughly $20 in his pocket. He visited more than 40 Chinese cities and then crossed into Russia for a long westerly journey to northern Europe. After being turned away at the Finland border, he flew back to China and basically started over, this time through the far western region of Xinjiang and then south to Yunan Province and onto Vietnam.

Mr. Lai said he had relied on donations of food, shelter and money from strangers along the way, and on his outdoors-survivor skills – often living off the land and sleeping in a tent.

He travels with a portable karaoke machine, so that he can stop and belt out 1980s Chinese pop songs for donations.

Although he usually has the appropriate travel documents, border crossings have often been smoothed by showing officials the ever-growing pile of paperwork documenting his journey, including many awards from Chinese associations along the way, and many clippings from Chinese-language newspapers, in which he is repeatedly referred to in headlines as the “Shunde Ironman” or the “Cycling Madman.”

Even while he was being interviewed in a children’s playground in Flushing the other day, police officers arrived and shooed him away, but became friendly after learning his story. One of them, Kevin O’Donnell, from the 109th Precinct’s community affairs division, pulled out a $5 bill and gave it to Mr. Lai.

In every city or town he has visited, Mr. Lai has tried to find Chinese populations, whether it be a lone Chinese takeout place in a small town or bustling Chinatowns in major cities, where he has been invariably feted by various Chinese associations and followed by the local Chinese-language press.

But Mr. Lai — who speaks both Mandarin and Cantonese dialects, but no other languages — has also gone weeks at a time without meeting any Chinese speakers.

To communicate, he has asked people along the journey to help him write basic requests in various languages on Post-its, which he then staples together into phrase books:

“Please help me get to Chinatown. Thank you!”
“Can I find Chinese people nearby?”
“Would you please fill my bottle with hot water?”
“Would you please shelter me for the night?”

In a Flushing coffee shop, his bicycle leaned against a counter, with a collection of miniature flags fastened at the handlebars. It was loaded with gear, including a plastic “survival bucket,” which he said was used for bathing and fishing and to carry provisions. He also uses it to collect donations.

A bachelor, he stays in touch with friends and family back home by cellphone. Though he has a smartphone, he still relies on paper maps and atlases.

There has been romance – proposals from women in Malaysia and Cambodia, and a fling in Russia – and desperate culinary tactics that involved roasting small game – snakes in Cuba, field mice in Texas and frogs in Thailand — on a skewer over an open fire.

There has been danger, including getting lost in the Sahara without food, only to be saved by a passer-by who drove him to the nearest town.

Mr. Lai practices kung fu, which he said had helped him during several scrapes on his journey, including a confrontation in Siberia with a group of motorcyclists armed with handguns.

Through a combination of dancing, singing and kung fu moves, Mr. Lai said he was able to defuse the situation. Soon he was showing the bikers photos of his trek.

If nothing else, he said his journey proved that “as long as you stay determined, there is nothing a that person cannot do.’’

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July 8: Where the Candidates Are Today

July 08

A ‘Cycling Madman’ Pedals His Way Across the World

Lai Likun, a factory manager from China, has pedaled 31,000 miles through four continents and nearly 25 countries as part of a five-year solo bicycle tour.

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Talking With Spitzer About His Decision to Return to Politics

Even by the forgiving standards of New York City politics, it sounds improbable: a governor felled by a prostitution scandal entering a race for citywide office with just four days left until qualifying petitions are due.

What exactly is Eliot Spitzer thinking?

We asked him. Below, edited excerpts from our interview on Sunday night:

On whether the public is ready for his return to politics:

The best I can answer is that I hope so. I will continue to ask the public’s forgiveness and simultaneously ask for another opportunity to serve. I think the five years have been important to me. I have done many and different things. I think they have been useful. I have tried to do things in the public interest.

On his vision for the often-overlooked comptroller’s office, the city’s chief financial watchdog:

One is to be the primary voice of urban policy — what works and what doesn’t work. It’s understanding that the audit power of the office is not just to figure out how many paper clips where bought and delivered, but to be the smartest, most thoughtful voice on a policy level.

On whether the public embrace of candidates like Anthony D. Weiner and Mark Sanford have encouraged his candidacy:

I have seen those, but I don’t ever draw conclusions from other races. Everyone is different.

On his daughters, and their role in his decision-making:

They are now older than they had been when I ran initially. When I first ran, one had just been born. They are 19, 20 and 23. They are in a completely different stage of life. They are mature, they are grown up. They have lived through a lot.

On his wife, Silda, and whether they are separated, as reports suggest:

Our private lives are our private lives. We do not comment on that. Yes, we are married, absolutely.

On his reputation, as attorney general of New York:

We took on battles that people thought were impossible to win. We won a lot of them. I was able to re-envision the attorney general’s office and hope to do the same for the comptroller’s office.

On his likely opponent, the Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer:

Most of the time I agree with Scott. I hope Scott and I, who are friends now, are friends when this is over.

On why he would challenge a friend for office:

I believe in competitive races. I think I am qualified to be comptroller.

On public polling of city voters, which has shown little appetite for his return to office:

I have not done one stitch of polling. I have none other than the experience and data of walking down the street. I used to say to the folks that did polling for me, ‘I live in a focus group.’

After five years, the public might be willing to give me a second chance.

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New York Today: Auto Exit

Updated, 10:12 a.m. | Something is missing from much of Central Park this morning: cars.

The city has banned them on weekdays north of 72nd Street on the two roads that run north and south through the park. The ban, which begins Monday, lasts through Labor Day.

While you can now move more freely in the park, you do run the risk Monday, in the park and outdoors across the city, of being asked to sign a petition to put former Gov. Eliot Spitzer on the ballot for city comptroller.

Mr. Spitzer, who announced his candidacy Sunday, plans to flood the streets with workers Monday ahead of a Thursday deadline.

Here’s what else you need to know to start your Monday.

WEATHER

Not quite as hot, but still pretty darn hot, and humid, too, with a high near 90 and afternoon thunderstorms possible. Bring an umbrella. The city’s cooling centers are open. Currently: 79 degrees, humidity 69 percent.

TRANSIT & TRAFFIC

Roads: [10:11] Staten Island Expressway very slow eastbound after an accident on the Verrazano Bridge upper level, 1010 WINS reports.

Alternate-side parking is in effect.

Mass Transit: [10:12] Delays on 4 and 5 trains southbound and both ways on the R. Service disruptions in both directions on the F south of Church Avenue in Brooklyn. Click for the latest status.

COMING UP TODAY

• On the campaign trail, Anthony D. Weiner will announce tax incentives for bike commuters. Christine C. Quinn will call for reducing fines at restaurant inspections.

• Eliot Spitzer will speak live on Brian Lehrer on WNYC at 10:25 a.m. and greet voters at Union Square at noon. NY1 will broadcast an interview with him at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.

• Mayor Bloomberg will announce a program to connect young probation clients to Hurricane Sandy recovery projects.

• “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” screens at sunset in Bryant Park.

• Will pretzel bacon become the new Cronut? You may find out when Nick Lachey, the ex boy-band frontman and Simpson spouse, rolls out Wendy’s newest product at a Wendy’s on West 34th Street.

• It’s opening night of the New York Musical Theater Festival.

• Illustrator James Gulliver Hancock will talk about his project to draw every building in New York City (he’s up to about 500, out of 900,000) in Brooklyn Bridge Park at 7 p.m.

• Free kayaking in the Hudson at Pier 96 off 56th Street every weekday evening through August, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

• For more events, see The New York Times’s Arts & Entertainment guide.

IN THE NEWS

• Mayor Bloomberg’s daughter criticized his administration’s record on animal welfare. [Wall Street Journal]

• Citi Bike kiosks are now being used as alternative benches, gyms, changing rooms, trash cans, canine relief targets and, the city says, kindlers of romance. [New York Times]

• Michael Mastromarino, the former dentist convicted of harvesting and selling bones from corpses at funeral homes, died of bone cancer at 49. [Daily News]

• What was Eliot Spitzer thinking? Read excerpts from his interview. [City Room] Kristin Davis, who supplied prostitutes to the former governor, says that she will challenge him in the comptroller’s race. [Politicker]

• Four teenagers who ignored orders to cease horseplay were arrested at McCarren Park pool in Williamsburg. [A Walk in the Park]

• A man was electrocuted in Brooklyn when he went onto the subway tracks to urinate. [DNA Info] The police tell City Room that the man fell onto the third rail and that they had no indication that the act of urination was itself the culprit.

Mets win, Yanks lose as Rivera blows save. Both are now in fourth place.

AND FINALLY…

The New York Mycological Society went mushroom-hunting in Wolfe’s Pond Park on Staten Island on Sunday. The foray turned up more than 50 species, including this handsome, rather large and entirely edible Sparassis crispa, the cauliflower mushroom.

Sarah Maslin Nir contributed reporting.

We’re testing New York Today, which we put together just before dawn and update until noon.

What information would you like to see here when you wake up to help you plan your day? Tell us in the comments, send suggestions to [email protected] or tweet them at @nytmetro using #NYToday. Thanks!

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A Gatsby Moment on the Train

Dear Diary:

I moved from Minnesota to New York 18 months ago, and if I had to summarize my experience here so far, I’d do it with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s line from “The Great Gatsby”: “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”

This May, literature and life collided at the Harlem-125th Street subway station. It was about 11 p.m. and I was waiting for the downtown 4 train. Normally a bit lively, the platform was almost silent despite the small crowd there.

When the train arrived, it was packed with fans from Yankee Stadium. The doors opened and the sound from within hit, actually causing me to step back. Nearly everyone on the train was talking, and loudly. I got in, and decided to enjoy this inexhaustible (and slightly drunk) variety of life.

My fellow Minnesotan had it right in his book. New York is, indeed, a city of contrasts and contradictions. I love it.


Read all recent entries and our updated submissions guidelines. Reach us via e-mail [email protected] or follow @NYTMetro on Twitter using the hashtag #MetDiary.

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Citi Bike Prompts New Rental Ideas

Dear Diary:

The recent introduction of CitiBike prompted me to consider what other New York City essentials could be rented on the street for 45 minutes, and then returned when no longer needed. Here is just a partial list:

• Umbrellas, for those sudden downpours, and there are no street vendors in sight.

• Shopping carts, for when you buy more than you intended and are too cheap to pay for delivery.

• Flat-heeled shoes, for when your dogs ache from those stilettos you swore fit so well in the house.

• Stilettos, for when you need to up your game suddenly, and are wearing those old flats that won’t do.

• Motorized wheelchairs, for when you turn your ankle on that invisible sidewalk crack and can’t make it home, and there are no cabs.

I invite readers to submit other thoughts.


Read all recent entries and our updated submissions guidelines. Reach us via e-mail [email protected] or follow @NYTMetro on Twitter using the hashtag #MetDiary.

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