Monday, November 29, 2010

Travel Through People

Cowboy Lim - the first famous trishaw driver in Malaka

It was simple, NO TRAVEL GUIDE! Also no looking up travel information on the web either. I was going to Malaysia and Singapore, two countries where most people speak English and I’ve been travelling for twenty years, so wasn’t it time I did something different.

Don’t get me wrong. I think travel books are great! They’re motivational and inspirational, encouraging wayward spenders to forsake some excesses and save for a dream holiday. I remember the magic of buying a Lonely Planet to India and reading about rat temples, Shiva and the countless Indian gods, Varanasi, the Himalayas and countless other exotic and exciting Indiapeadia. But travel books can give you too much information!

Mother and son releasing birds on Guanyin's Birthday

Many travellers end up in the same hotels and restaurants, go to the same tourist sights and experience nearly the same experiences because of travel guides. Obviously, this is very sociable and a great way to make friends but most of this socializing is with people from similar backgrounds. Thanks to guide books, many people don’t need to talk to people in the country they’re visiting; hotel workers, waiters and travel agents being the exceptions. Add in modern devices such as Ipods, GPS, laptops, Wifi and this result is multiplied.

Me and Tan Hoon Keong at La salle's St Joseph School

So to inject ‘the need to communicate’ into my travels I ditched the travel guide for a two week trip to Malaysia. I had been there before and I knew that English and Chinese was widely spoken and in general Malaysia was a medium cost and easy country to get around. It wasn’t that radical but the results were, especially in Malacca, the place where I‘ve never been before and had no contacts.

Some school children taking photos at St Paul's Church

In Malacca, I kept meeting people and I built up an impression of Malaka that extended beyond places. The history came alive as different people gave their version of it and not only the history of Malaka but personal history too. I met some people a few times and got taken to places that I think I’d have gone with a guide book.

But the best part was how warm and generous people were with their time.

A woman visiting a temple for Guanyin's birthday

Friday, November 19, 2010

Updates on Strangers

The Gay Man - from the Taipei 101 series

No blogs, no pictures and no updates would suggest that the '100 strangers to friends' blog had died. But this isn't the case.

I've been busy on a collaboration with my good friend Lewis. We foolishly started Taipei 101; a project where we were to hunt down 101 people of different backgrounds and interview them about Taipei. Most of the interview were in Chinese, so they're still mostly untranslated and we've ended very behind in getting the interviews up on the 'Taipei 101' blog. In the end Taipei 101 has turned out to be Taipei 48.

The Spicy Boy; from the Taipei 101 series

Despite not completing this project, it was great fun and we ended up learning lots about Taipei that we didn't know before. Also we both felt that people in general are incredibly nice and tolerant. At first we were surprised at how co-operative people were and then as it continued we became to expect it.

The Betelnut Girl - from the Taipei 101 series

Adding in the strangers from the 'Taipei 101' series, I'm now up to 118 strangers. Also, I took some more strangers on a recent trip to Malaysia. I decided to travel without a travel guide book, so that I'll be forced to talk with strangers. It worked!

The Bin Man - from the Taipei 101 series

For interviews: The Bin Man, worth a read, especially what he says about protecting his wife. The Spicy Boy. The Gay Man

I'll write more about this project in my next post.