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Tokyo to Ho Chi Minh By Bicycle An autobiographical and reflective account of traveling from Tokyo to Ho Chi Minh on a bicycle.

The Introduction

UNITED KINGDOM | Wednesday, 3 November 2010 | Views [549]

We all throughout our lives have a long list of things we'd like to do and choices to make. Whether we actually get around to doing those things or make the right choices is another thing all together. I know that one thing for sure is that I've had my fair share of making some good and bad choices like anyone and have a list longer than my arm of things I'd like to do.  It's easy to dream whilst sat at a desk in a fluorescent lit, boiler room city office, watching banal TV, or simply having an honest pint at the end of a hard day’s work and wish your life away. Stepping out the door and leaving it all behind while putting your absolute trust in your interpretation of what might be around the corner could be viewed by some as either sensible, reckless or rose tinted. Have you ever watched the contrail of an airliner flying high across the sky and romanticize about what it might be like to be on that flight or where it's going?

 I find myself sitting in a sunny roof garden in Shanghai, there's a clear, creamy ultramarine sky and whilst the sun warms my back there's a crispness in the air reminding me, considering my present circumstance that Winter is approaching with more haste than I'm comfortable with.  But quite how I got here seems more to do with logistical destiny rather than any grand idea that might have popped into my imagination whilst sat, having an ideological meltdown in a London office, nigh on five years ago. Whilst recently back in Europe and being someone who likes to spark up a conversation with all and sundry, It was great to have the opportunity in passing to chat to many people in my native language. The conversations often drifted inevitably around those safe topics that we're all too familiar with that allow us to socially examine each other, satisfy our curiosity yet keep a safe distance. Whilst chatting to several people I met they remarked on how "lucky" I was to have been living in Asia for the last four years, or "lucky" because I was about to embark on a journey across the Continent. On one occasion a women stated that she very much hoped I was doing it for charity, and I wondered whether the last time she'd gone on holiday she'd done it for charity. "Lucky" though seemed to bother me somewhat, an overused and misunderstood word that represents an idea or feeling that you can't actually articulate at the time of speaking. Luck in itself has a dark side and I was pretty sure that with all this talk of luck things could turn nasty at some point in the future. I was all for reducing luck in my travels and having more independence and control of my future. I'm lucky no doubt to have a wonderful family in my life who have loved, helped, nurtured, encouraged, enthused, disciplined and given me a firm foundation, sense of self worth and a philosophy strong enough to enable me to survive in such an immensely diverse and rapidly changing world without completely falling to pieces. I'm lucky to have been born into the post World War international jet set generation, to have witnessed the new dawn of the computer revolution and to have grown up in a country that offers a medical and educational system far in advance of many countries.  As far as I know you can't choose your family, country or particular time in history to live, or at least not yet, so I'm pretty sure I can count my lucky stars there. But "lucky" to be sat here after years of planning, reading, riding thousands of kilometres to gain enough experience, organising and working to save the money so that I can travel and follow through on a promise I made to myself years ago doesn't sit well with me.

Another thing that's been bothering me recently is this idea of happiness. In my travels so far I've managed to witness some extreme forms of poverty, yet never questioned the incredible strength and tenacity of the human mind to cope with some quite appalling situations with strength, hope and most importantly, sense of humour. I've also witnessed some extreme forms of wealth and excess, yet I've never been able to define any formula that equates wealth beyond one's family's basic needs and security with happiness. He who dies with the most toys, contrary to the beliefs of some out there does not win. The idea of happiness seems altogether a more philosophical, cerebral and intellectual phenomena than something that can be packaged and bought on a shelf. This is something I first found myself conceptualizing around the time I turned thirty. It seemed to me that in the rush of Blairite Britain I'd found myself doing such things as retail therapy, which was at first in all its novelty after being a student with a lack of funds an incredible luxury. I'd perhaps buy a couple of beers after work or go to a smart restaurant once in a while, but as time moved on these became more regular activities and in the same way that they became more regular, they became less significant. Several years down the line and I found myself feeling that these luxuries were some kind of God given rite after a hard day’s work, yet in the back of my mind I knew that their loss of significance uncovered something altogether very ominous about what I was being sold and buying into. By this time I'm a bit podgy round the edges and looking somewhat more weather worn and jaded than I was at the beginning. I wasn't appreciating what was around me anymore with the marvel that I had, and this felt altogether wrong. On a recent trip to a media multiplex store in Tokyo I had the opportunity to play a computer game in 3D. In the evening I had a beer with a great friend and during the conversation I mentioned to him how amazing it was to play a computer game in 3D, at which point he replied how amazing life was because that was already in 3D, and a damn site more realistic and better quality. I was stumped because he had a point and I felt another piece of the jigsaw was in place. So I'm now constantly reminding myself how incredible it is to be here at all, to be writing this and to be sitting here on a rooftop in Shanghai with three homeless cats staring at me and probably wondering what the heck I'm doing. I find myself thinking that happiness doesn't exist anymore in the glossy, Technicolor, splendor that it's sold to me as being. It's an anomaly within the realms of advertising as it's the one thing that can't be sold yet it's their strongest card. In the same way whilst staring at the rainbow it's easy to start dreaming about the pot of gold that isn't there, and loose focus of the beauty and magic in front of you. Happiness seems to be reflected more in our ability to stand back and revel in the spectacular glory of a rainbow, rather than chase the damn thing. It's time we all took a step back and really looked at what's around us for what it is, after all, we and everything around us is just space dust which is a wild thought in itself. The cats look pretty happy lounging around in the sun and taking it easy, because they know this already and have more sense to take things easy and watch the magnificence of it all just cruise on by.

I hope that my blog and diary will give those that read it hope and inspiration. I hope that it offers a reflective insight into what life is like on the road across Asia. I also hope that it gives my family a chance to follow my progress and remind them that in the big scheme of things I'm not that far away. Lastly I hope that it helps me the focus on the past achievements and  wonderful life I've yet to witness, which in turn will help me focus on continuing when times get hard. If you've got this far then thanks for reading, I hope you have a relaxed and stress free day, week, life get reincarnated as your favourite animal or object, don't get sucked into a wormhole and enjoy the trip.

Tags: cycle tour, estate agent, kichijoji, london, majorca, real estate, shimano alfine, thorn bicycle, tokyo, touring

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A random shot of me in Majorca with my lightweight tourer before flying back to Tokyo.

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