Hiker's guide to the galaxy
By Kelly Chung Dawson (China Daily)

Having scaled the highest peaks, trekked to the North and South poles, crossed Greenland and the Sahara, the nation's foremost explorer sets his sights on space. Kelly Chung Dawson reports

Jin Feibao, 47, one of China's foremost explorers and among the few to scale Mount Qomolangma, is all set to become the first Chinese space tourist, in 2011. But his list of accomplishments will not end there. If all goes according to plan, within the next few years Jin will run a marathon on every continent, cross the Amazon, bicycle across Southeast Asia, become a world-class sailor, amass a major stamp collection and learn to speak English fluently.

Of these, only the last one is iffy, says his friend and American tour guide Jesse Millet, with a laugh.

Accompanied by Jin's wife Li Jia, Millet and Jin sat down with China Daily to talk about the explorer's inspirations and his role as China's most intrepid cultural ambassador.

Space is only the latest frontier for Jin, who seems constantly motivated by what he calls "a youthful heart".

The trip, whose details are still being worked out, is being sponsored by Jin's adventure travel company, which will fork out 1.2 million yuan (about $180,000) for the space odyssey. According to one media report, the group will include three more people from other countries.

"I'm surpassing my own accomplishments and past achievements," he says. "I've conquered seven summits. I've gone to the North Pole, to the Sahara, to Greenland and other places, and now (I'm looking at) space. Everyone has dreams, but I just dream higher and farther."

Most people in China dream about a bigger house or a nicer car, he says, adding that he wants to inspire people to pursue more than their material dreams.

He himself has done so with the help of wealthy benefactors who live vicariously through his journeys, he says.

He also gets support from companies seeking media exposure through association with his name.

In November, Jin, who will be the first Chinese to undertake a commercial trip to space, underwent zero-gravity flight training at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The training saw him being put through 15 parabolic flights, with 30 seconds of weightlessness, each time. He has been photographed with a floating Yunnan apple - a tribute, he says, to his home province in China.

"I wanted to give exposure to my province, because the people are poor there. I like using my activities and adventures to stay close to my country."

Jin's own dreams were forged by a teenage discovery of Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, books about adventure and exploration.

He also read Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain and Jack London, he says; another inspiration was the classic Moon Festival story of the woman who floated up to moon after eating the "pills of immortality".

"I've always known that I would be an adventurer," Jin says. "And if I was going to be an explorer, then I would be the best. I feel that if there are no lands left to be discovered, then our duty is to explore and find new territories within ourselves."

As one of the few Chinese to have scaled the highest peaks on all continents, Jin, says Millet, "represents the Chinese spirit".

Millet met Jin in 2004 when the explorer agreed to host an exhibition of photographs taken by Millet's grandfather, a doctor who serviced the Flying Tigers - the Chinese Air Force's First American Volunteer Group - in 1944.

The exhibition was only one of several photographic exhibitions Jin has hosted, most of which have focused on his adventures.

Millet will accompany Jin on a bicycle ride across Southeast Asia in 2011, he says.

The Millet family also hosted Jin's November trip to the United States, during which they took an air-boat ride in Florida's Everglades (subtropical wetlands), and visited the Kennedy Space Center in Orlando; went sailing in Charleston, South Carolina, inspiring Jin to include yet another item to his massive to-do list.

"He is nothing short of an inspiration to everyone he meets, and especially to me," Millet says.

"He has accomplished things that people only dream about. And the most inspiring thing for me is that he does it with so much ease. He has always told me to first decide what I want to do, without limits, and then figure out the means to do it."

Jin has no intentions of slowing down.

"If you meet me when I'm 70 years old, you will see that I'm still young," he says. "I think I represent modern Chinese people, seeing the things we want to see, accomplishing the things we want to accomplish."