Author Topic: Off to see the Silk Road, on a bamboo bike  (Read 2804 times)

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Off to see the Silk Road, on a bamboo bike
« on: Jan 19, 11, 11:25 AM »
This story also featured in the latest Men's Health issue.

http://admpreview.straitstimes.com:90/vgn-ext-templating/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=8c6838783ec3d210VgnVCM100000430a0a0aRCRD&vgnextchannel=01e2758920e39010VgnVCM1000000a35010aRCRD

Off to see the world - and he means business

By Radha Basu, Senior Correspondent

Mr Chuah Sun Soon aims to retrace part of the 3,400km Silk Route on this bamboo bicycle he built himself. He later hopes to start a social enterprise helping prison inmates build similar bamboo bikes.

WHILE his peers are finishing university and gearing up for corporate life in Shenton Way, business undergraduate Chuah Sun Soon is slaking his thirst for adventure.

And what adventures. In 2009, the Singapore Management University (SMU) student jetted to Delhi to work with prisoners as part of an internship project.

Later that year, he spent his three-month mid-year break traversing 12,000km of rugged terrain on a motor-cycle journey that took him from India to Russia.

After returning to his books and taking a breather last year, Mr Chuah, 25, now in his third year at SMU, is itching to be off again.

The New Year brings his biggest challenge - and adventure - yet: retracing a part of the 3,400km Silk Route on a bamboo bicycle he built himself.

The ancient route cuts across Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Once the epi-centre of world trade, it is now mired in conflict and poverty.

Mr Chuah wants to understand and create awareness of the needs of the people through a blog - and hopefully draw tourists and businesses.

'I want to explore forgotten lands, explore different cultures and exemplify the ordinary Singaporean's love for travel and enterprise,' he says.

If his trip is successful, he hopes to eventually start a social enterprise helping prison inmates here build bamboo bikes which could then be rented to tourists for local sightseeing jaunts.

The Temasek Polytechnic graduate will head to Kazakhstan later this month on an exchange programme that will enable him to study for one term at a university, and start cycling in late April, when the weather improves.

The eldest child of a port supervisor and a seamstress concedes that his parents and friends think he is 'nuts'. But there is a method to his madness. An adrenalin rush or even a thirst to see the world are not his only aims. His eye is also firmly on the future.

The 'Bric block' - comprising Brazil, Russia, India and China - are largely believed to be the next economic powerhouses of the world.

Mr Chuah's grandparents moved to Singapore from China and he still has relatives in Xiamen.

'So I am now focusing on getting to know India and Russia,' he says, adding that he hopes to become an entrepreneur some day.

He has already been on exchange programmes in Russia and India.

'With luck, my contacts, networks and understanding of the culture and people in those countries will come in handy then.'

His immediate focus is on the journey ahead, which is likely to be far more challenging than his motorcycle trip.

The bicycle he has built is eco-friendly but has yet to be road-tested outside Singapore.

More importantly, he will travel through what is acknowledged to be a sensitive region beset by conflict.

Despite the lifting of the Iron Curtain, outsiders still do not know much about that part of the world and there will surely be language problems.

But above all, Mr Chuah is worried about crossing borders on the bike, which is made of hollow bamboo poles. 'I hope the border authorities don't think I am smuggling something in the bike.'

Exhaustive planning is the only way to overcome potential problems. He is now securing visas and organising paperwork so he and his bike can both cross borders without a hitch.

He is also looking for sponsorship to meet his daily living expenses.

The biggest challenge, of course, is to return in one piece but he is hopeful that his dream will work out.

During his 2009 road trip, people in the poorest countries were the most helpful, he says.

In Iran, when his motorcycle broke down, a good Samaritan invited him home, fed him well and even asked him to stay the night. 'I was really touched, especially since he had a teenage daughter and I know how conservative their society is,' he says.

In Pakistan, a petrol pump owner also invited him home for a meal, drove him around his little town and then asked sadly: 'Do you think these people can be terrorists?'

His travels have made Mr Chuah confident that most human beings, wherever they are, are essentially good. 'I hope my experiences in the New Year reinforce that belief,' he says.

Does the tall and well-built bachelor hope the New Year will bring him love as well? 'No, which Singaporean girl would want a relationship with someone who is 25 and has not earned a single cent yet?' he laughs.

Some day, perhaps - when he starts his own company or gets that job in Shenton Way. But not now.

radhab@sph.com.sg

LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY

'I want to explore forgotten lands, explore different cultures and exemplify the ordinary Singaporean's love for travel and enterprise.'

Business undergraduate Chuah Sun Soon