RICE

ASIA, UNFILTERED

×
I woke up looking like a starfish, naked as the day I was born. In the bunk bed above me was Nigel, my best friend. Head still spinning from last night’s pub crawl, I remember where we are: In the old town of Krakow, Poland.

Looking down to see a rubber still hanging off me, I realise I’ve hit rock bottom.

But here we are. After 3 years of talking, the only planning we did was buy our visa for Russia. I was a bartender at 28 Hong Kong Street, and Nigel had studied abroad; something to do with aeroplanes.

What began as a 3 month trip grew to 6 months, and then 8. At the end of it all, we had visited 86 cities without buying a single airplane ticket. This is the story of our crazy journey.

Off we go!
Nigel.
Me.
Study hard, work hard, find a nice girl, get a BTO—spend money you don’t have on an apartment you don’t fully own—then die. We had the same Singaporean mentality as everyone else. Then we learned the hard way that not everything happens the way you plan it.

Or at least I did. In other words, I got dumped.

So there I was, giving my mum a big hug, telling our dog Chloe I loved her. Eventually, I was taking the cheapest bus out of Singapore. As soon as we crossed into Malaysia it started to pour, like a cleansing flood of sorts. Somehow, I felt alive again. Looking at Nigel, I wondered what was going through his mind. Was he excited? Was he afraid like I was? I never thought to ask but I realised he was going to be the only home I would have for the coming year.

Playing beer pong in Hanoi. Is this what freedom feels like?
Or this?
Maybe this?
Tbh, it doesn't really matter.
Now here’s a pro tip: When traveling through Vietnam, get a motorbike. They cost around 250 to 300 USD and can be sold for around the same once you’re done with yours.

More importantly, Vietnam is gangsta as fuck. They’ve apparently fought and won 8 wars in the past century, though you shouldn’t Wiki my facts. I got them from a Vietnamese friend.

The Vietnamese are honest, kind, and mostly skinny. The only fatty we saw was at a KFC in Hanoi. My buddy (from film school) Thai Anh, aka Thai Boi, joined us from his home town Vung Tau before we made our way to Hanoi through 8 other cities. It was great having him around, although he spoke Vietnamese only when needed.

He taught us to say ‘cheers,’ ‘how much,’ and ‘blowjob.’ Not in any particular order.

Us, before our real initiation into how bad train rides can get.
From Hanoi to Shanghai, it took us 3 days. Imagine first getting off a 14 hour train ride and arriving at the border of China at Nanning. Now you have 2 choices. First, a train that left an hour ago. Second, one that’s leaving in sixty minutes. Then imagine thirteen long, shapeless queues filled with people screaming and shoving. Either you dive headfirst into this chaos, or get stranded for the night in the middle of buttfuck nowhere.

So I get behind the shortest line. Now I’m not calling anyone racist because I’m Chinese and so is everyone else here but every fucking time it gets to my turn, THEY CLOSE THE LINE.

After 3 racist vendors, 2 hours, and an archaic system that only accepted cash, there were no more tickets. While Nigel came up with plan B, I chain-smoked and yelled at random passers-by. We ended up with the only seat available: An angled piece of wood right behind the bathroom. For another 14 fucking hours.

Halfway through the journey I look at Nigel with watery eyes and whisper, “What the fuck were we thinking?”

Took us a while to get here.
But then there's this.
And this.
And this.
That said, commuting around the different cities in China is fairly simple. Different prices match hard seats, soft seats, and even beds. Shanghai is lovely, metropolitan, and has a great buzz to it. Xi’an, on the other hand, is a lot more traditional. We met the terra cotta warriors, who didn’t say much, and learned some history about Emperor Qin.

This first emperor of China, thinking mercury was the elixir of life, was buried in a mountain filled with the stuff and some 700 concubines. What a man.

At the Great Wall. What, I wonder, is its secret to feeling great all the time?
Our buddy Warren, who owns a kick ass bar called Janes & Hooch, allowed me to step behind the bar for a night to shake some cocktails before opening up his home for Nigel and I while he slept on the couch. A friend indeed. This photo is a failed attempt to see the Great Wall of China after traveling 4 hours, hung over, only to realise we had 15 minutes before the last train left.

The next day we depart for a 6 day train ride on the Trans Mongolian Railway, part of the longest train ride in the world.

At the start of a 6 day journey, cup noodles are amazing.
After a while it starts to taste the same.
Prior to this, we realised that our visa was running out and we couldn’t afford to get stranded in Beijing for another week. Luckily, we spoke pidgin mandarin, and elaborate body movements helped get our point across at the train ticket counter—only for the lady to point at us and pretty much say, “We have tickets available, we have loads of tickets available. We are in the middle of winter and no one travels during this period … idiots”.

For the next 6 days we survived on instant noodles, cookies, and bread. With only a hot water dispenser available, it was the best we could do. We also bought a portable DVD player and tons of grade-A pirated movies. 15mins into “A New Hope,” it stopped working. Yeah, the irony.

And then you kinda start to get annoyed.
Yeah, cup noodles fucking suck.
The Trans Mongolian line is truly something. Lake Baikal, a ginormous lake containing one fifth of the world’s fresh water, was one of the highlights. From a distance, you could see waves rolling up to crash on the shore. Waves. At a lake. During summer, you can get off the train at certain stops to buy marinated fish caught straight from this same lake. Traveling past just a fraction of this lake took 5 hours.

This is exactly how I remember Lake Baikal.
4th day on the train, we had established a routine. Get up around nine, make breakfast, get some tunes going, read a book. At one point, as Nigel slowly dissolved into his chair-bed, I noticed something odd with the sun. It seemed to be moving at a much faster rate, bathed in a sullen orange glow. After 30 minutes, it had leapt to a place far in the distance between the frozen trees. I shook Nigel and went, “Dude! The world is ending! The sky is getting dark!”

His response: “Huh? What time is it? But I haven’t even had lunch yet.”

After another 30 minutes it was pitch black. I still don’t know why we only had 4 hours of daylight, but we figured it had something to do with crossing time zones. We met a couple that was freaking out about the world ending as well, so we did what everyone would do when its time to die and you have nothing to do on a 6-day train journey. We got hammered.

We made a run for the provision store at a 15 minute pit stop and bought bottles of cheap Russian vodka. Then we drank until things made sense again.

The answer is yes, I'm hungover. But wait, what was the question again?
Yeah, that didn’t really work out.

It's kind of as bad as it looks.
At some point, I started to think about home and my reasons for going on this trip. Were we fueled by curiosity, the need for new experiences? Were we just travellers?

Not really. Like anything great that ever happens, it all started with a break up.

When you’ve had enough of the bullshit and you’re left to pick up the pieces, leaving becomes easy. Sometimes, it’s the only option. But feelings tend to resurface like adamant pieces of shit in a toilet bowl and sooner or later, you face them again (your feelings not the poop, okay maybe the poop too). Anyway, people are assholes, and sometimes leaving to find yourself will leave you with more questions than answers.

So face your problems, wear your heart on your sleeve, save every penny you can, and go traipse around the globe with your BFF.

In case you forgot what my BFF looks like.
At least this was what I thought to myself after a night I had no recollection of. Neither did I remember who I had slept with. Either way, she had already left, and it had been a while since I felt this empty.

But this is also the upside of hitting rock bottom. There’s no where else to go but up.

We were now making our way to the western most point of our travels—Ireland—where we would be just in time for Saint Patty’s!

This guy is ready to party!!
We arrive in Ireland a weekend before Saint Patty’s Day and decide to rent a car and drive it west to a beautiful town called Killarney. People always talk about how different and special it is to drink Guinness in Ireland and I’d been longing for this day like a fat kid for his golden ticket to Charlie’s Chocolate Factory.

Our first night in Killarney, we hit the pubs and boy did we hit them hard! If you’ve ever been to an Irish Pub anywhere in the world and had a blast, trying imagining that in Ireland during Saint Patty’s weekend. Bands were covering Mumford, girls were dancing, and we were downing pints after pints of that black, delicious creamy, goodness. That we were doing the Ring of Kerry the next day? We simply forgot. Along with the fact that Nigel would be driving for 8 hours.

Yeah it's pretty isn't it!
Next morning, we left the hostel. Zombie like, we walked to where the car was parked only to find it gone! We couldn’t believe it! We were actually in a ‘Dude, where’s my car moment’ in a foreign country. But hungover.

We thought this was it. The end of our travels. We were going to have to pay for the car. Walking across the street to an automobile garage, we asked a guy for help. He phoned the cops while we felt sorry for ourselves. As the three of us stood by the side of the road, staring at an empty parking spot, Nigel suddenly turned to me and asked, “Did we move it?”

“Ireland 1 us 0,” we thought as we got in the car and burst out laughing.

Till today, I’m still impressed with the perfect parallel park Nigel had done in the state he was in after the night we had.

This was so epic.
Just past the French border is a beautiful surf city in Spain called San Sebastián. We had hopped on a ferry from Ireland that took us to Liverpool, bused to London through the English Channel, and finally arrived in Paris 32 hours later. San Sebastián is famous for its food and its waves. Wasting no time, we hit the bars with four Austrians who had driven here without stopping just to hit the surf spots.

San Sebastian was super chill.
I’m not shitting you when I say that at one point, I woke up sleepwalking, with no fucking clue where I was and where I was going. I had blacked out found my way to somewhere in the business district. I hopped in a cab and started directing the cabbie towards any direction that seemed familiar. It was so hopeless I eventually got out. I know blacking out and waking up in weird, bizarre situations seems to be a running theme now.

Anyway, I eventually found the building and got buzzed up. I walk in to see Nigel putting on his jacket. His eyes lit up as he went, “WHERE, THE FUCK, WERE YOU?!”

To which I could simply say, “I have no idea.”

We had a blast through Spain, Portugal, Italy and Croatia, not counting some speed bumps along the way. Totally our fault. Let’s just say that at one point we were illegal immigrants but we managed to get out through a large floating vessel.

Doesn't the Buzludzha Monument look like a UFO?
This is what it looks like on the inside.
Cetinje looks right out of a postcard.
This three-legged dog we met at the Albanian Trainstation was a reminder that happiness is a choice.
Somewhere in Italy.
As we look across the horizon of dildo shaped rocks in Cappadocia in a floating balloon, I can’t help getting teary eyed as this overwhelming melancholy takes over. We’re about to go home and it frightens me. This has been the longest I’ve been away and as much as I miss my family and my friends, I knew home wouldn’t be the same.

I like to think that I’m a new person now, a better person, a happier person. With different dreams and a new perspective of life that no one would understand. No one but Nigel, of course.

Jeremy is the former head bartender of 28 Hong Kong Street in Singapore. He now spends his days as a consultant with Proof & Co, and if you’re lucky, you can still find him behind the bar on some nights. He can be reached at jeremy@readrice.co. 

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this adventure in which Nigel & Jeremy travel across Australia. 

RICE Close
© RICE 2016