His friend and Chinese stage director has caught it all on camera: Rehage Christoph shaving off his beard, getting a haircut and packing his travel bags. Only that Christoph won't appear in any movie.
After a year of meticulous preparation, the 26-year-old German will set out for home alone today, his birthday. But he didn't take a plane or a train. He just started walking. It will take him two years to reach Bad Nenndorf from Beijing.
He will have to trek more than 15,000 km along the ancient Silk Road through 18 countries, including Kazakhstan, Iran, Armenia, Turkey, Greece and Austria.
Since he was leaving on such a long journey, his friends wanted to throw him a farewell party. But he turned it down politely.
"I would have felt embarrassed if they did," he said. "I just prefer saying goodbye to Beijing in a quiet way."
Christoph is no stranger to trekking long distances. After completing high school in Germany, he went to France in 2002, where he worked various menial jobs such as a waiter and a barkeeper.
A year later, he and a friend decided to walk back home to Bad Nenndorf in northwest Germany. The trek was more than 800 km long.
"I could have returned home via a bus or a plane, but that would have been too short a journey. Why not leave a country slowly to explore more? So I chose to walk," he said.
But his first adventure didn't go as smoothly as expected. His friend quit soon after they set out. Christoph had just his small pet dog for company on the journey. And when his pet injured its feet, he had to push it along in a hand trolley.
Though a warm welcome awaited him at home that he had dreamed of all along his trek, he was denied the hugs. The reason: he stank.
"I hadn't taken a shower for more than 20 days. So I was asked to take off my clothes first and go straightaway to the bathroom. A family meal was waiting for me after the shower, though," he said.
That year, Rehage got enrolled in a Munich university, majoring in China Studies. Two years later, the talented photographer got a chance to study at the Beijing Film Academy on a German government scholarship.
The idea of undertaking another long journey didn't cross his mind till one of his friends joked about it last Christmas.
The trekking bug bit him again, and he began considering the possibility walking back home seriously.
But the biggest problem for a foreign student like Christoph, who doesn't have a proper job in China, is getting funds for such a venture. Fortunately, that problem, too, was solved when he got a 30,000-euro (US$44,000) legacy from his grandfather in March.
"My father was angry with me he was strongly against my adventure and thought I would give it up if I didn't have enough money and go home to continue my university studies," he said.
"But he was wrong. It's not a matter of money; it's about timing. Even without the money I can make it as long as I am determined."
What about the threats on the way? The three biggest threats, he said, will be visas, terrorists and natural hazards such as snakes and wolves.
"Honestly, I may give up if my body refuses to carry on... And I won't feel ashamed of myself. Facing reality is being more mature than simply trying to show off one's ability."
Christoph wants to keep friends, relatives and adventure lovers posted about his journey. So he has started his own blog, www.thelongestway.com, and plans to update it with photographs and stories throughout his journey.
(China Daily November 9, 2007)