Monday, September 17, 2007

Mike the Bike



On the afternoon of August 26th, Michael Sutherland – known as Bike Mike to his friends – died in a rafting accident in Mi’le County, south of Kunming. The rafting trip, consisting of six people on a raft and one on a kayak, ran into trouble shortly after embarking on the Nanpanjiang River, which had been swollen by summer rains. Mike’s girlfriend of many years, Li Limei, and a Sichuan man, Guo Zheng, also died in the accident. The other four members of the team survived.

The three bodies were found and identified by one of the survivors who stayed behind for five days to assist the massive search party and liaise with the US Consulate and Mike’s family.

Bike Mike was one of my closest and oldest friends in Yunnan. We met soon after I arrived here in 2000, and his passion for the area and its culture helped shape a lot of what I’ve gone on to do. He will be sorely missed and fondly remembered forever. As he often did in life, he has once again brought our ragtag community together, as longtime friends and admirers creep out of the woodwork to offer assistance, pay tribute and share great stories from Mike’s many years in Asia.

Bike Mike arrived in Kunming fourteen years ago after riding his bike from Guangzhou. The adventure that followed became legendary among travelers and kindred spirits everywhere. He hung around Kunming for a while before setting off on an epic journey that covered most of Yunnan Province, continental Southeast Asia and South Asia, all on bicycle. Then he returned to Kunming, all the wiser from his journey, and settled into the community here.

It is hard to find someone in this town who hasn’t been affected by Mike’s life here. He spent many years traveling around the area, and built a business upon the longstanding hemp traditions of Yunnan’s ethnic minorities. His clothing company produced limited edition hemp clothing lines for the likes of Quiksilver and Rip-Curl, as well as his own brand, People’s Hemp. Mike has also assisted various government departments and companies in the promotion of hemp industries and research. Upon his death, he had recently been reelected to the board of directors of the Hemp Industry Association, of which he was a longstanding and highly respected member.

But it was the personal touch that we’ll remember the most. Mike was always eager to take in wayward travelers, offering a place to stay, the run of the town and his unique insights into the people and places of Yunnan. I’m one of the many people he helped into the world of traveling by bike, and one of the many people who crashed on his couch. He always had a passion for this place, and took great joy in bringing others into his world. This is the end of a great chapter in Kunming history, though our city will always bear the mark of his presence, through the scores of people whose lives he touched.


I miss you bro.

5 comments:

yunnanist@gmail.com said...

I was so sad to find this piece of news while on night-shift duty at Macau International Airport. Dunno if you knew him but I was actually his very first friend in Kunming.

In 1990 (or 1991?), this guy walked in my office at CITS Kunming, asking for my help - he looked extremely weak and pale (but strange in many years after he still looked so). I took him to the Railway Hospital, where he tried out his first Chinese medical treatment - acupuncture.

He was 75% recovered the next day, and came back to thank me. He stayed at Kun Hu Hotel, we went to dinner together and he told me he was cycling around China and his next goal after Yunnan would be Sichuan and Tibet.

In the coming years after, our carma was not so strong. For a while we were very close friends, but for more times he was in his bike and hump circle.

I went back to Kunming last year and ran into him again occasionally, don't remember where, likely near the music shop on Qian Ju Street. We greeted each other, he gave me his new phone number.

That was the last time I saw him.

Farewell, Bike Mike!

Anonymous said...

very sad. mike was a yunnan star and a true asset to the city and the region. another of the old crew gone... i'll get this news to stan.

Anonymous said...

yes, mike was a star, and will continue to be loved and missed. i can still feel the texture of his presence. his little giggles, endless talk on hemp'n stuff at all localles in the city. lily too, will be remembered with love and fondness.

say, how can we get in touch with stan? would love to see him when i pass through portland some time.

Rindy said...

Bike Mike was one of a kind. I won't soon forget our guitar-and-trombone jam session and the time he took photos of Xianyi and I wearing his line of clothing next to one of Kunming's finest street plants!

Ally said...

dont know him very well, but saw him all around, what a shame though.

 

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