|After a motorbike trip to Tibet tested their love, the newly married couple took a 26,000-kilometer journey across 15 countries from Shanghai to Hamburg, Germany. (Provided to China Daily)|
A Chinese girl, who dreams of wild adventures around the world and shuns a stable career and her family's wishes, is suddenly swept off her feet by a handsome foreign traveler who rides into town one day on his trusty steed. As romances go, Tang Jia and Thomas Keunecke's started with plenty of drama.
It all started five years ago when 23-year-old Tang was studying English.
Born into a well-off family in Changsha, Hunan province, Tang's childhood aspiration was to become "an iron lady" and manage a big company. At university, she chose tourism management, and worked as a guide during summer vacations, visiting many well-known attractions around China.
To improve her language ability, in early 2007, Tang went to Yangshuo county, in the famous scenic area around Guilin in South China, where there are many language schools.
Meanwhile, the 27-year-old Keunecke had sold his music business back in Germany and was touring China by motorbike. Keunecke's love for motorbikes was in his blood. His great grandmother was Poland's first woman motorcycle racer.
In February 2007, he rode into Yangshuo and into Tang's life.
Keunecke had heard that the language school offered free board and lodging to foreign travelers in exchange for them talking to students for an hour each day. So he thought he would take some time to recharge before the next long leg to Tibet.
When he passed by a board displaying the school's staff portraits, he was particularly taken by the one of Tang. Soon he invited her to go for a quick scenic tour on his motorbike.
"I sat behind him and he smelled good. I guess at first it was a hormonal attraction," Tang says.
Within a month, they had fallen in love and Keunecke asked Tang to join him on the ride to Tibet.
"At first, I thought the relationship would lead nowhere. He is from Germany and I am Chinese. It might only be a fleeting romantic adventure, so I refused him," she recalls.
But when the time came for Keunecke to ride off into the west, Tang broke into tears. She realized this relationship was special to her. She frantically packed some clothes, climbed on the pillion seat, and thus began her first great adventure.
But it was not as romantic as she had imagined. For one thing, the couple was not well-prepared.
"It was very cold on the plateau in March," she says. "There was no restaurant along the road and we did not prepare any food.
But the couple's impetuous relationship would have more serious consequences.
When they returned from Lhasa, Tang took Keunecke back home to her family. Her father was strongly against their relationship, mainly because Keunecke was a foreigner.
"I fought with my parents and left home. In May, Thomas went back to Germany and I returned to school."
But after Tang sent an e-mail to end the relationship, Keunecke immediately returned to China and the woman who had ridden thousands of miles with him through all the difficulties.
"He told me he cannot let such a strong woman as me go," Tang says, laughing.
They got married in April 2008, and Keunecke offered his wife a honeymoon traveling from Shanghai to Hamburg by motorbike.
Thus began an epic journey that she recounts in a book published recently in China titled The Journey of Love, from Shanghai to Hamburg.
"I think traveling by motorbike is the best way to test love. On the road of love and travel, we know more about each other, transcending the differences of culture and personality," she writes in the book.
Now, the freewheeling couple has settled in Bavaria, Germany, fittingly near the fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein, and they have a 2-year-old daughter, Eva.
But that hasn't quelled their wanderlust - only now they travel by car. So far, the little girl has traveled to 10 countries with her parents. "Travel is my way of life. I cannot stop," Tang says.