2022-05-13 23:24ByLuYan
Beijing Review 2022年10期

By Lu Yan

W hen asked “Where are you from?” Josh Dominick, born in New Mexico and raised in New York, the U.S., prefers to say he comes from Beijing.

Having resided in China for more than two decades, Dominick speaks fluent standard Chinese and has made friends from all across the country, many of them people with disabilities.

In 2013, he co-founded a group called Krankin’ thru China, where he brings together wheelchair users to travel in groups riding handcycles that are propelled entirely by hand-powered cranks.

“We want people who enjoy swimming, hiking, or biking to attend our events. In the course of doing what they like, they can interact and support and help others who might need assistance,” Dominick told Beijing Review, adding that Krankin’ thru China is about offering an option to those differently abled to step out of their comfort zone and see more of the world.

Dominick came up with the idea of starting the group during a brief encounter with a person with disability in Sanlitun, Beijing’s main commercial and shopping area, in 2013. Dominick helped him get past a crowd to an elevator and then hail a cab.

After talking with the man for a bit, Dominick became more aware of the day-to-day environment for people living with physical disabilities. They became friends and he steadily got more involved with the community; slowly the idea of gathering people with disabilities to participate in more physical activities and travel across China started brewing in his head. Together with his friend Domonic Corridan, also from the U.S., the concept soon became a reality.

Over the course of nearly 10 years, their tracks have covered China’s southwest, northeast and northwest, such as Yunnan Province and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, all revered for their gorgeous natural sceneries.

Currently based in Beijing, long-distance travels aside, the group also organizes daytrips within the capital so that newcomers can get a taste of the fun in handcycling.

“We also encourage family members and anyone else, from any country, to partake in the activities,” Dominick added. At this point, over 1,000 people have participated in their events.

As they travel to different places, the group members also receive invitations from universities to speak with students and share their life stories.

“Some young children, or even university students, can be overly cautious, making our members with disabilities feel very different, like they need special care and they’re not just normal people. We try to avoid that. We try to get everybody on the same platform, on the same page, and have people connect on a very common level and find common interests,” Dominick said, adding that that’s why the group focuses on sports—something everyone can enjoy and bond over.

“People with disabilities are in a unique position, but they just have different lifestyles. It’s the same as using chopsticks as opposed to using a knife and fork,”Dominick continued. “Using a knife and fork is like using a wheelchair, and using chopsticks is like walking. They’re just two different ways of doing the exact same thing. They’re on an equal level or footing.”

“Where the education comes in, the understanding comes in,” he said, adding that he has learned a lot from interacting with different communities and what he really wants to do is break down psychological barriers and assumptions.

Through mutual friends, Dominick met Wang Feng from Zaozhuang, Shandong Province in east China. Wang had never traveled long distance after developing acute myelitis, an inflammatory disorder of the spinal cord, when he was 15 and being paraplegic ever since.

Wang saw the appeal of Dominick’s initiative and in 2015 joined him on a trip to Shangri-La in Yunnan Province, known for its snowcapped mountains, lush green forests and beautiful blue lakes.

He has undertaken many a journey with the group since then, including one stretching along 5,800 km, all the way from Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan to Beijing in 2017. “For me, the biggest meaning is that I came to realize nothing could beat me down. This is a milestone in my life. It’s encouraging and exciting to know that I can travel far and wide, like normal people. I made it, and it made my life,” Wang said.

Many of his most cherished memories were created on the road. He remembers camping out and seeing the windmill blowing in the wind, barbecuing over a bonfire, and, especially, the warmth received from strangers they encountered along the way.

“During our travels, there are many people greeting us, cheering us on and chatting with us as if we’re old friends. Once there was this man driving past, waving. A few miles later we saw him waiting with an assortment of fruit and snacks he had just bought for us,” Wang fondly recalled.

“We also met a woman in Yunnan. She said she had nothing to gift us while taking out a handful of candy together with her phone number.‘You can reach out to me whenever you need help,’ she said,” Wang told Beijing Review.

Aside from these touching moments, the handcycling trips help him keep fit and build confidence. Currently working in Shanghai, when he doesn’t have the time to travel extensively, he indulges in another passion of his: riding with the local cycling clubs.

His friendship with Dominick, too, proved an unexpected gift. “We’re like brothers. He often comes to my house to celebrate Spring Festival,” he said.

Krankin’ thru China is wholly nonprofit. Some activities are free, while for others, participants only need to pay for the necessities—ticket fees, transportation and accommodation. The group’s funding usually comes from donations. Whereas currently they can still make ends meet, they have yet to find a way to sustain their activities, purchase more equipment and just do more.

Handcycles, their main mode of transportation, are not readily available in China and can be a bit too expensive for some. Even if they can afford the bikes, their large size makes them inconvenient to store.

Time management for Dominick, too, proves a challenge as he has his own company and provides translation and cultural event services. He needs to strike the balance between time and energy.

Trials and tribulations there may be, but Krankin’ thru China plans to establish more bases nationwide and involve more people with disabilities in physical activities.

“I hope more people like me can fall in love with sports, join in the fun and benefit from the trips,” Wang concluded. BR