I was given some shocking news earlier this week about an old friend, a real Kunming old timer, a man who was affectionately referred to among our expat community as “Bike Mike.” Unfortunately, Bike Mike, along with his longtime girlfriend Lily May, passed away in a river rafting accident on the Nanpan River, coincidentally, not far from my husband’s hometown.
You might have noticed some of the links on my blog, among which there’s a website called People’s Hemp. Bike Mike was the mastermind behind People’s Hemp, and quite the figure in the Hemp industry. I had the pleasure of working with Mike on his clothing line a little over a year ago. I acted as his translator, advisor, and general “helper” with the more Chinese aspects of doing business, well, in China. I accompanied him on what he referred to as “guanxi dinners” and helped him with the sizing for his line of hemp clothing. Bike Mike was quite a character, having made Kunming his home for well over ten years. He could often be seen around town on his trademark bicycle, which had been stolen not once, but twice. Both times Bike Mike had spotted his distinctive bicycle being ridden around town and had recovered it himself. Bike Mike had a full head of long red hair and a long red beard. He was known for being a bit paranoid, but altogether a decent sort of person. He loved the Camel Bar and could often be found there till the wee hours of the morning. His girlfriend Lily May was an older divorcee with a grown daughter. Although, as a foreigner in Kunming, Bike Mike certainly could have found a younger, more attractive woman, he and Lily May had been together for years and seemed to have come to a sort of understanding about each other. I always felt like his relationship with Lily May, gave him, if nothing else, a bit of dignity in a place that sometimes lacks just that.
Bike Mike was an adventurer. He was often off on bike trips all over Yunnan, and was always up to explore new parts of the province. That he should have died on a big adventure seems fitting. The Lancang river during rainy season is certainly dangerous, no one can deny that. There are quite a few who have questioned what exactly the group was thinking, going out there rafting this time of year, and I guess that question will, at this point, probably never be answered. In any case, that’s not important. What’s important is that future generations of Kunming foreigners will never know Bike Mike, and for those of us who did know him, Kunming won’t be the same from now on.
Rest in peace Bike Mike and Lily May.