Can you rollerblade on the Tibetan Plateau, in Thailand’s jungle or on the trembling ground during a strong earthquake? Henrik Bjorn, an experienced global rollerblader, provides you with the surprising answers.

When I moved to New York City in 1996 I brought with me from Denmark a bicycle as I imagined it would prove useful in The Big Apple for exercise and as a way of exploring the city. However, I quickly realized that unlike in Denmark where there are bicycle paths everywhere it was far too dangerous to ride a bicycle in New York so I had to look for a different way to exercise. As I lived next to Central Park I discovered that rollerblading was a popular way to exercise. I purchased my first pair of rollerblades from a street vendor at a Sunday market somewhere near 58th Street and after a few weeks of training and occasionally kissing the road it became a steady routine to take a loop or two around Central Park during weekends.

In 1997 I moved on to Bangkok to live for two years and Lumpini Park proved to be just as great for rollerblading as Central Park had been in New York City. With an exception: while I in New York just had been an anonymous rollerblader like all the others I now caused a lot of attention. The typical nuisance would be a young woman shouting: “hello sexy man, I love you“.

From 2000 to 2002 I lived in Copenhagen, Denmark. Again I was just an ordinary rollerblader that did not cause any attention. In Denmark my favorite rollerblade trip became a roll along the beautiful Strandvejen and Kystvejen with views over Sweden and Øresund, the strait separating the two countries. 

My rollerblade habit reached new heights when I in 2002 returned to Thailand where I for four years worked with Tiger conservation in a Wildlife Sanctuary in the Northeast. I now started to record my rolled distance and realized that I by now covered close to 4,000 km a year or on average 11 km a day. One of my routes was along a road that passed right through the tropical rain forest that was home to an estimated 28 tigers. Another route was through the Wildlife Sanctuary’s so-called buffer zone (a 75 km wide area adjacent to the Sanctuary where mono-cropping and the use of pesticides were restricted). While I never encountered any tigers in the forest the villager’s dogs regularly attacked me. This danger was however dealt with by the use of firecrackers, which I always carried with me and hurled after the dogs that immediately gave up the pursuit running away with their tails between the legs. A third route went through the urban center of Khon Kaen where one of my great experiences was when I passed a factory just after closing time and was greeted by hundreds of cheering female factory workers. I felt like a rock star and rolled by with my arms raised in the air.

Then in 2006 I moved on to the Chinese city Chengdu which proved to be the perfect city for rollerblading with my favorite route becoming the 25 kilometers around the first ring road. The bicycle paths are wide and in good condition. On top of that it is also a great opportunity to meet new people and practice Chinese as someone inevitably approaches one every time there is a red light. The usual opening line being “ni hao ku” (you are so cool). In China, due to the more condensed situation I added headlights to my gear when rolling during evenings (white light in the front of the helmet and red light on the back of the helmet). The only main drawback in Chengdu is that it is often raining, making rollerblading impossible at times.

Xining, the capital of Qinghai Province, where I also have a pair of rollerblades stored proved to pose another challenge mainly due to the low temperatures. As Xining in general is a dry place there is no problem with ice or snow and one can actually rollerblade all around the year as long as one wears the right clothing. For Xining I adopted self-made ice-hockey style clothing. Usually the reaction from the local people during my standard tour that takes me from the western part of town to the far eastern section consists of high-fives, thumbs-up and people dropping their jaws. In general I get lots of positive attention with the exception of people that get suddenly surprised especially at evenings when I come rolling with the headlights on. Some react as if they were suddenly part of a scene from Mars Attacks with me being the alien.

Sensing difference in nature, culture, climate, geography is all part of the rollerblading encounter. A few weeks after the Great Wenchuan Earthquake of 12 May 2008 I was rollerblading in Chengdu during an aftershock and experienced the strange feeling of the pavement moving up and down as I rolled over it.

I can recommend urban rollerblading in China as an excellent sport for anyone who likes to combine exercise, socializing, neighborhood exploration and language studies but who does not mind the constant attention. But be careful and make sure that you are 100% proficient in the sport before you take it to the streets and always wear protective gear including a helmet.

Chengdu, China 2008

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