On Travel and Blogging

It’s official… I am three months behind on blogging about our South American adventures and strangely enough, I am ok with that.

This was not really the case a year ago when I tried (REALLY tried) keeping this blog up to date every day as we ventured through China. It took me all of two weeks to realize that it was not really possible to do that.

Fine… it is possible, but definitely not optimal.

One of the best/worst parts about travelling is that more often than not, you wake up to a new adventure everyday.

So, sometimes, after a long day of travelling, I would sit over the laptop and try to squeeze some words onto the blog. That, and spending the two hours difference between Jo’s waking up time and mine choosing and color-correcting photos (instead of gaming or catching up on the latest TV shows), blogging just stopped being fun… and actually kind of stressful.

So why do I still blog?

The fame, fortune and glory, of course!

Nah… seriously… This blog was started so that friends and family could keep tabs on us as we traveled around. I think we were seriously lucky that we received some benefits/work opportunities because of the blog, but (not wanting to sound ungrateful), I would not base my next air ticket out on these rare occurrences  Personally, I’m more thankful that the blog has provided us with the chance to work with some amazing organizations and link up with even more inspiring fellow bloggers/travelers.

So, really… why blog?

Growing up, I’ve never really kept a diary (not for any long period of time anyway), but I like the idea of putting down your thoughts for the day at the end of one.

I really think it helps put things into perspective. For us, particularly, it makes me thankful that we are able to do this at this period of our lives… That is why, no matter how many times we’ve been scammed, or how tired we are, looking at things through these particular filters, I’m still glad that I get to be out here pursuing the dream of travelling with my best friend.

And then, of course there are the memories. Even though we’ve ONLY been travelling for slightly more than a year, our recollection of time and places are starting to getting misty and mixed together.

In the movie “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”, the main character, Oskar noted that if the sun were to suddenly explode, it would take seven minutes before the people on Earth would know about it. When his father died in 911, he went on a quest to hunt down the door that a mysterious key left behind by his father would open. After a while, he noticed that he did this partly to prolong that “seven minutes” with his dad – so that the memory of his dad would not fade as fast.

We’re enjoying our time in the sun right now. Trying to squeeze a strict daily blogging routine into our already packed schedule is like worrying about the sun exploding.

Instead, what we do now is take notes at the end of everyday. So, when the time comes to flesh out the bullet points into words, the process of blogging allows us to prolong our “seven minutes” with the incredible places we’ve been to and the amazing people we’ve met.

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In other news, we’ve been featured again by TakeMeToTravel! The piece documenting our adventures through Green Island in Taiwan “Men In Black (and White)” is currently the featured article on the TakeMeToTravel website.

Hmmm… Maybe I really can achieve fame, fortune and glory with this blog….

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What We Labour For

Happy Labour Day, all.

I’ve decided to celebrate this day of labour by not doing much of it.

Below is an article I wrote for the Expeditionier waaaaay back (6 months ago) when we first started our journey. The original title for the article was “Why I Quit My Job To Travel The World Or (Some Would Believe) Why I Chose To Commit Financial Suicide”.

I am reprinting the article on this blog today because I think it is important to remember what we are labouring for (and also because I am too lazy to write anything today).

I stand by what I said that long term travel is not for everyone, but at the same time, I think it is sad to labour for labour’s sake. I like to believe everyone has a dream, and it is towards this end that we should labour.

It is just too easy to forget this goal when we get tangled up in the process of getting there.

So, here’s to working hard and loving what we work hard for.

Loving everyday!

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“Hi I’m Wei and I just quit my job of 10 years. I intend to spend the next year traveling around the world with my wife.”

You’d be surprised by the myriad of responses this ice-breaking statement managed to evoke. The wife and I are used to hearing the gasps of horror and the plain exclamation that we are committing financial suicide. Every once in a while, however, we would hear someone whisper, “I wish I could do what you guys are doing.”

While it’s easy to respond to that statement with a mightier-than-thou, “So why don’t you?”, it reminded me of the first time the idea took hold of me.

I woke up (too early) one morning, brushed my teeth, stared at the mirror and realized that if things carried on the way they were now, this is probably what I am going to be doing for the next 30 years of my life. I froze. I could literally feel the air rush out of my lungs, and without being overly dramatic, my (would-be) life flashed before my eyes. I found myself asking a question that was probably too complicated to be answered at five in the morning: “What am I doing all this for?”

I draw a decent salary. I work five days a week. Normally, I would reach home from work too tired (or lazy) to do much except surf the internet and watch a bit of television. I go to sleep. Rinse and repeat for all weekdays. I spend the weekends rushing through things I enjoy doing and catching up with friends. Whatever money and leave days I had, I saved up so I could go for my annual grand trip of two weeks where I could let myself go and just forget about work.

This was hardly the life I pictured myself living. Somewhere along the way, I had forgotten my dreams and all that I was passionate about. I needed a break from the routine to sort my thoughts out. It is difficult to think about what truly makes you happy when you are working 50- and 60-hour weeks, and it is easy to come up with excuses to not pursue what you really love to a point where you forget about them.

The question then was when could I take a break? I only have 21 days of leave a year, and even with the holidays added in, I could never be able to get away from the job for more than a month at a time. I needed more time than that.

The next decision was not that easy to make.

I was newly married, and the wife and I just bought a house that comes with a mortgage to pay off. We had spent the past few years (rather successfully) building our careers and we were both at a point where we were drawing pretty comfortable salaries. We could not possibly give all that up on a whim.

Yet, I know that we could not live the way we had before. But no matter how we looked at it, it was a zero-sum game to choose between pursuing the dream of traveling and continuing through with the rat race.

So we asked ourselves this question: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”

What’s the worst thing that could happen if we drop our career now and go for our travel? We would definitely lose our jobs and give up careers we have been building for some time now. We might not find jobs with comparable salaries when we got back from our trip.

Are these deal breakers? We decided that it really was not. We can get by living on half the salaries that we had been drawing. And the mortgage for the house could be supplemented by renting out a room or two in our current place. True, it would be a less comfortable existence, but we could still get by.

Comfort.... pbbffftttt.... over rated...

I was reminded of a quote from Fight Club: “Advertising has these people chasing cars and clothes they don’t need. Generations have been working in jobs they hate, just so they can buy what they don’t really need.”

So what’s the worst thing that could happen if we give up on the trip and continue with our current jobs? For me, I think I would slowly lose my mind going running through the same maze looking for the same cheese day after day.

And I guess since the idea had already taken root, we will always look back at this time and wonder: What if?

Once we broke it down like that, the choice was easy. The consequences of going for the trip far outweigh the price of not going (especially the part about me losing my mind).

For us... there are some things money just can't buy...

Here in Singapore, long-term travel and “gap years” are not popular. We come from a culture where it is “decent” to find a career, work for the organization your whole life and get a gold watch and an appreciation dinner when you retire 40 years later.

We still have well-meaning friends and family who are trying to talk us out of it, and others who simply dismissed our plan as plain stupid. We have learned to disregard them because this is something that we truly want to do, and also because it is hard to listen to advice from people who have not done this before.

At the end of the day, we know that long term travel is not for everybody. And when it comes to life changing decisions like these, it is best to know that this is what we really want to do and do what is best for us.

Check back with me on a year’s time on how well this decision is going.

For now, we are living free!

A Change of Plans

After our sojourn in Dunhuang, we were supposed to be headed west along the Silk Road towards Urumqi, Turpan and Kashgar, right up to the edge of Kazakhstan (totally NOT a pilgrimage to see the homeland of Borat). (Dziekuje)

Somewhere along the way in Dunhuang, we decided to scrap that plan because of stories we heard from fellow travellers. Stories that chilled us to our bones… literally… Apparently, it had already started snowing in Xinjiang and the night time temperature could plummet to as low as -20◦C.

I think we’ve already had our fair share of coldness in Tibet, so we decided to head east (again) along the Silk Road towards the ancient Chinese capital city of Xi’An.

Our first stop along the way to Xi’An was Jiayuguan (嘉峪关).

For us, there was only one reason to visit Jiayuguan – To visit the symbolic end of the Great Wall of China and the “Impregnable Defile under Heaven” (REALLY!).

Unfortunately, these signs are pretty par for the course in China so far... spot James... *snigger*

I know… after our short time in China, I am beginning to doubt my own command of the English language.

So, if you were to ask me what my thoughts were on seeing the Great Wall of China, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and a testament to the ingenuity of the ancient Chinese civilization, I can only say that it was… Great…

In fact, it was humongous, and I am sure the particular section of the wall that we chose to climb was inclined vertically.

The Great Wall was built as a defence against marauding barbarians from the west. I don’t know how good it was at doing its job back then, but to this day, as a modern man who has had a fair bit of exposure to cutting-edge defence technology, it remained a powerful deterrent. I took one look at the wall and was prepared to just leave it at that. I didn’t care how much treasure central China held, I was not going to climb that wall.

TW: Would not make a good marauding barbarian

Of course, there was a perfect counter-argument against impeccable logic such as that – It comes in the form of Jo.

Hint... if the Great Wall looks that small, it means there is a LONG way to CLIMB...

I’m sure Genghis Khan had a platoon of complaining wives standing behind his vanguards to make sure they didn’t back out of the invasion of China just because there were ONLY a few million steps on the Great Wall in the way too.

It was NOT a happy climb... or, as I would like to say to Jo.. "I TOLD YOU SO!!"

Although, I have to admit... the view at the top is pretty awesome... again....

Unlike Jo, I’ve never seen any portions of the Great Wall before (not in real life, and definitely not from outer space) (incidentally, I just found out that “the Great Wall is the only man-made structure you can see from space” factoid is actually a MYTH) (it was famously debunked when China’s first astronaut, Yang Liwei reported he couldn’t see the structure of the wall from his capsule window) (cue dramatic music) (that is a LOT of bracketed text), so Jiayuguan was a fabulous introduction to the Great Wall for me.

I just wished I could have seen the sights without climbing it…

Exiled ancient Chinese were normally banished to the west through Jiayuguan. To this day, the fortress towers and walls are an intimidating sight. Among the passes on the Great Wall, Jiayuguan is allegedly the most intact surviving ancient military building. The pass is also known by the name the "First and Greatest Pass Under Heaven" (天下第一雄关).

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On other news, I’ve got another article published… this time by Boots n All about how Jo and I managed to keep from killing each other during our travels so far.

Do click on the link and show some support. Thanks!

http://www.bootsnall.com/articles/11-11/five-ground-rules-to-for-traveling-as-a-couple-on-a-long-trip.html

It’s been an AMAZING week

Like the title said.

It’s hard to believe so much has happened over one week. Beside trekking through some of the most awesome sights we’ve seen so far, we’ve been fortunate to meet many wonderful people along the way too. So much has happened (and also because of the lack of wifi all round in China) (especially access to Facebook and WordPress), that we are quite behind on the blogging. We’ve decided to add a daily diary of events here for those that don’t want to read too much.

Thanks to everyone who forwarded my Expeditioner article. It kinda went viral from then on… You can imagine our shock when we came online for the first time in a week. Long story short, we were featured in Lianhe Wanbao and a few other papers in Malaysia. Must have been a slow news day… or we must’ve really struck a chord.

For those that are interested….(and can read Chinese)

Link 1

Link 2

And for those interested in our mugs…

Anyway, we’re off for a 44 hour train ride to Tibet (WE GOT OUR PERMIT YAAAY). A little bird told us we might not have much in the way of Wifi, so we’ll catch you on the other side.

A milestone and off we go!!!

As we stand on the verge of our great journey, I have only one thought running through my mind… “Can we go yet?????”

Our plane is departing in two hours and we are still at home. Somehow, Jo decided that this would be the best time to dry her hair. Hmm… deja vu… this article is strangely familiar to my first piece “Baby Steps”.

It’s been half a year and nothing has changed!

At this moment, I am very convinced that Jo and I come from two very different dimensions – all my life I’ve been taught Time is a quantifiable absolute. I don’t always play by its rules but more often than not, when that happens, I am the one hurt by it. On the other hand, I think Jo believes Time is controlled by a jellyfish. I’m not judging…

Anyway, about 8 hours from now, we should be in Chengdu after a brief stopover in Shanghai. A little bird told us we might not be able to blog once we were there…but who knows right?

On other news, The Expeditioner decided to take up an article I submitted to them some time ago. My first paid travel article “Why I Quit My Job To Travel The World Or (Some Would Believe) Why I Chose To Commit Financial Suicide” was published today.

So double yay!

World rejoice cause Jo’s hair is DRY!!! And awaaaaaay we go!!! (copyright esther low 2005)