Sunday, January 17, 2010


Who? Me
What? Travel by train and bus
When? April to November 2010
Where? Singapore to London and about 20 countries in between

Someone asked me 'Why?' I am taking this trip. It was asked by a Singaporean and the underlying context is 'What practical gains will you get from this trip? Will it make you money? Will it make you more powerful?' It is one question that does not have a practical or purposeful answer. It is definitely a financial loss. So 'Why?', 'Why now?' and 'What makes it possible?'

Why? - I am going on an overland trip because I seek an epic adventure. When I was young I would read 'The Hobbit', 'The Lord of the Rings', 'The wizard of Earthsea' and other books. And it is about life changing journeys. For me it is learning more about myself by learning about the world. And I have always loved the romance of traveling by train. The idea of spending months on the road and out of a bag, is a chance for me to live one of my biggest dreams. And in the way I have chosen to travel, it is also a test of my own spirit. Although I have not chosen to do anything too extreme, there will be challenges on this trip, challenges for me to overcome. I want to see the world like I have never seen it before.

Why now? - In my photographic career as well as my own personal work, things have come to a plateau. I am still shooting and my work is useful to other people, but I have become stale. And I cannot find something in Singapore that grabs me, that makes me want to get out bed everyday for the next ten years. I think my passion for dance and dance photography got me out of bed for the first ten of my career. It also inspired me to learn all I could about the craft of photography. But a lot of what I do now seems hollow. I guess one can be philosophical and say that nothing in life is really important, if we can eat, sleep and pro-create, that is the basis of life. However, I think when humans are inspired, they can create something wonderful, even sublime. I am going now because I need a new inspiration, a new insight.

What makes it possible? - Yes, money does make it possible but I also have responsibilities. My biggest responsibility is to my parents. At this point of time they are getting older but they are still healthy. I want to take this trip sooner than later so that if I have to look after them, I can do it whole-heartedly. I ran a studio and had full time staff for about eight years. I let them go at the end of 2008 to become a freelancer again. This meant that I am no longer responsible for the welfare of my staff. I have been thinking of this trip for a while now and I wanted to do it about five years back, but I was engaged to someone who did not travel well and did not want to be separated from me for too long. So I did not do this trip back then. The relationship did not work out and I am single at the moment. So a relationship is also not something that is holding me back. I think that being relatively free of responsibilities at this point of my life makes this the most opportune time to take this trip.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Route

It is quite a romantic idea to just set out without planning anything and react to situations as it occurs. However, going through Mongolia and Russia are the two most difficult things to do. Unless I have months to just sit around waiting for visas at the border, a plan with timing has to be set. And you cannot plan far in advance either. You can only apply for a Russian visa three months in advance of entering the country. You also need to have an invitation from the hotel/institution you are going to visit. And it goes much smoother when you do it in the country you are resident in. I wanted to pay my train ticket agent to get the visa for me, but since they are based in the UK, they cannot apply for a visa for me.

So, the truth is, I am more of less planning out my trip week by week or day by day in the case of Russia. I have another consideration as I will be going to Arles during the photographic festival in early July. So although it would be more logical to visit the Baltic states after Russia, I will be zooming across Europe to Arles and then making my way back to the Baltic states.

Well, my rough plan so far is,

Penang, Malaysia
Bangkok, Thailand
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Lao Prabang, Laos
Vientinne, Laos
Phnom Phen, Cambodia
Ho Chi Min, Vietnam
Ha Noi, Vietnam
Sarpa, Vietnam
Guilin, China
Hong Kong
Shanghai, China
Beijing, China
Ulan Bator, Mongolia
Moscow, Russia
Saint Petersburg, Russia
Arles, France
Milan, Italy
Berne, Switzerland
Berlin, Germany
Warsaw, Poland
Vilinus, Lithuania
Riga, Latvia
Talinn, Estonia
Stockholm, Sweden
Copenhagen, Denmark
London, UK

All the places are interesting to visit. The highlights for me though will be the world's fair in Shanghai, three weeks in Mongolia and the photographic festival in Arles.

The planning continues.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The trip in planning

It is January 2010 and I plan to leave on the trip of my lifetime on April Fool's Day. I think it is an appropriate day to go, for it is the fool in me that allows me to dream, to believe that things can work out. The pragmatic in me would just balk at the enormity of the idea, shit myself and go back to sleep.

I have given myself eight months for this trip, but the actual journey from Singapore to London would take approximately 5 and a half months. I will have about two months back in the United Kingdom. It is hard to believe that I spent nine year of my life in the United Kingdom. I will take this opportunity when I get to UK to visit friends that I have not been able to see on my short trips back so far.

I am not planning a torturous trip and not a luxurious one. And I am getting excited by what I am planning. And I know that it is not just about the places that I will be going to and seeing, but it is also a chance for me to shake up my entire viewpoint to life. To get rid of the old personal barriers and see new vistas, new possibilities.

So, three months before the journey begins physically, the journey has already begun in me.