I grew up in a rubber estate, and until the age of 18, I lived in the workers’ quarters. Life was carefree at the estate, and my childhood days were spent playing with mud and along the streams, searching for fish and other tiny creatures.
Some might think that kids growing up in an estate like this may not have big dreams. But we knew that we had to get out of there and make something of ourselves.
It would not be easy for any one who had never set foot outside the kampung to make a humble living in the big city, but it’s important to try.
Once you’re out in the city, there would be no turning back either as there’s always the risk that the estate owner may sell the land, and you would have nowhere to live.
The workers’ quarters that was once your home, may even get torn down – everything would be different.
At 19, I moved out of the estate. Back then, I knew that my journey would have to start from that very first step out of the estate, and that I had to make sure I was going in the right direction.
For the following 37 years, I have visited 132 countries across seven continents on this planet, including the North Pole and Antarctica – which I went to four times! I would say that every step I have made has been solid and meaningful.
It doesn’t really matter where you come from. What matters more is how you appreciate the things that life gives you – every inch of land, every culture, every taste and all the sights and smells.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and this is discussed in Chapter 64 of Laozi’s Dao De Jing.
It best describes my attitude in venturing out of my comfort zone way back when. Since then, my life has been a long and winding journey, but in each of the trips I made, I have tried to experience things through my senses, to capture and feel the essence of every little thing that I come across.
I will never forget the marvel of hundreds of thousands of wildebeests, zebras, gazelles and other wild animals migrating within the Ngorongoro Crater in Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania.
For survival and reproduction purposes, these animals have been doing the same thing every year, often exposing themselves to potential risks such as being preyed on by much stronger predators.
At the same time, there are also hundreds of thousands of wildebeests born into the colony, offering some moments of joy and vitality in the midst of an extremely challenging expedition.
It was then that I realised our journey in life is akin to an ever continuous living chain in nature, teeming with joys and sorrows, and making us stronger and more accommodating.
This is also like the lives of penguins, sea lions and seals in Antarctica. Although they may never get attacked by a polar bear (which normally live some 20,000km away in the North Pole), the animals are faced with the dangers of global warming.
They are totally helpless in this situation, yet they confront the crisis fearlessly.
When I got to look them in the eye, I could feel how much misery we humans have caused them in the name of development.
On my journeys, I also came to realise that human civilisation and culture have a lot to do with our attitude towards life.
As a traveller, I know that the destination does not matter. It’s the feelings and inspirations I get from the entire journey that matter most to me, because I always bring along a “heart” to feel each of my journeys.
For example, I could feel the philosophical interpretation of the Japanese people for the cherry blossoms, and understand the overpowering passion Taiwanese farmers have for their land.
I could feel the Frenchman’s appreciation for architectural art, the meanings of historical relics inherited from ancient Egyptian pharaohs, and the Koreans’ insurmountable craze for kimchi.
Each river, lake and mountain I come across, communities I meet, meals I eat and the history I learn have all become the reasons for the explorations in my journey. I’m always prepared to experience all the beauty and charms of a destination with an open heart.
From my life at the the rubber estate and later in the city, and then into an even bigger world, I have never once feared that I would lose my way.
Setting foot on the furthest corners of the world, I would stand there gazing back at our civilisation, our social order, our strengths and weaknesses and think about how far we’ve all come.
I have learned to appreciate the beauty of travelling from my observations in each of these journeys, which I have gladly shared with you through my stories and pictures.
The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
Leesan, the founder of Apple Vacations, has travelled to 132 countries, six continents and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored two books.