The Wandering Wasp in Shillong.
A Singaporean lady, Juvena Huang, a Wasp fanatic (Vespa is the Italian word for wasp) and a Yogi. She has a crazy dream to see the World and learn to understand the beauties, mysteries and tragedies of the world with her Vespa scooter, Ebony. Since 16th May 2015, she has ridden roughly around 4500 km all the way from Singapore and has just made a stopover in Shillong, Meghalaya. She shares her experiences as she rides around the world for a better understanding of the cultures, to be an ambassador of good will, all the time being vulnerable to the beliefs and customs of strangers and she wants to absorb it all to share with her people.
How did it all start, this plan of world tour?
It started with a tragedy of losing a good friend. He influence me through his use of unconventional bikes to travel. We were supposed to ride together with other riders up to the China border, through Laos. Unfortunately, he met an accident one week before the trip. I learnt that life is unpredictable. After my trip in 2006 to Vietnam, I have always had this wanderlust to travel. However, I got caught in the rat race, jobs and all. I realized, I still have the ability to travel. I felt I should do it now taking in consideration my physical and psychological well-being.
How did you get involve with Jupiter’s Travel, Ted Simon Foundation?
It was through my Shifu, my teacher. He travelled with his wife on a world tour, he was the one who suggested to me Jupiter’s Travel before I headed off. Jupiter’s Travel, help us travelers how to digest and consolidate the diary entries for the audiences to read. I hope so to have a travel log, but it will take a lot of effort. I have a travel blog, which I have not yet been able to update since I left. The internet connection can be quite difficult to get access to at some routes. I do keep a diary to remember the snippets of events that I have encountered, so far.
Off the roughly 4500 kilometers, you have ridden has there been a landmark experiences that still lingers in your mind?
I would say, people. When it comes to riding, I notice, it breaks the barrier between the people and you, in being humble. In Thailand, my Vespa encountered some mechanical problems, I remember the mechanic and his family fed me and took me into their house. So, in Thailand I was never alone. I was taken care of till I crossed the border to Myanmar. I was really touched by the effort, of how they all came to help. In Myanmar, it was a tour group and my experiences were limited with the locals. However, in Mandalay, the Burmese people are friendly the ones I encountered.
Up till here in North East, India, what were your perceptions compared to what you have read and research?I know, India has been receiving quite a lot of bad press in the world, especially, with the rape case in Delhi, which was prominent. Of course, I was skeptical. However, over time especially in Imphal, Manipur, when the gasket blew in my scooter, there was a big attraction of crowd, when we were repairing it. However, I noticed they wanted to help but they didn’t know how to. So, I would say it wasn’t scary, there was a good intent among the people. In Guwahati also, the people were very helpful when I had to go to the hospital to administer my infected toe. I notice in the North East, there is a very diverse group of cultures and beliefs among the various communities.
So, can anyone decide to just get on their bike and make a trip to tour the world?
I think, it needs some kind of preparation especially the administrative paper work, the visa and such things. The research on the route and medical vaccinations you have to take. Both mentally and physically you need to keep yourself in good shape. For every country there are different entry requirements. I also find on the internet, the information is more applicable to westerners. Hardly, have I found any information that is applicable for Asian travelers. The only person whom I could refer to was my Shifu in 2008.
As a woman, are there any issues you have to take in consideration while embarking on such a journey?
Yes, as a woman we are considered as one of the most vulnerable groups. There are things that every traveler shares with other travelers. It is to practice discretion, common sense and trusting your instinct while riding and travelling. It pays to be sometime not to be too truthful to reveal the true situations when people ask questions, I throw questions back at them also instead of telling them everything about myself.
According to what I have noticed between a guy and a lady, who is stuck on the road. If you are driving are you more willing to help the guy or the lady? That is another side of the story also. In Malaysia, I manage to experience the advantages of hospitality from people. I also realized through social media I am never alone. In the next town. There are people who are willing to meet and share their experiences of their communities.
How important is technology for you during your travels compared to a paper map?
I like maps more than my GPS on my mobile. I have a better overall view. The GPS, I find it is good for small towns, if I want to look for the next petrol station or accommodation. I am able to rely on the available distance I will have to encounter to get to it.
It is convenient to have the technology at your hand. It, however, reduces the human interaction opportunities with the locals for asking for directions. There have been instances, where people have pointed me to a wrong direction, I like the idea of getting lost. Also, it depends on how you want to interact. To come here to Cherrapunjie, was a last minute decision through local people in Guwahati who suggested me to visit. I think 10 years ago it would have been a very different experience. Travelers in the past have done it, they relied on maps and compass. It is good to have these two modes of navigation by your side.
How are you able to keep an open mind?
It is not my religious belief as a Buddhist. Actually, it is the people who I meet through motorcycling which has played a major part in breaking barriers since I meet people from all walks of life. To be able to put aside prejudice, and stigma. It is through these kinds of friends, and being able to learn from them the different experiences compared to what the media always portrays.
In the Media, there are always certain perceptions that can influences once mind. How true is that?
According to a conversation I had with my Shifu, he mentioned after his travel, he would never want to believe what the media says anymore. When I think about it, it is very true. When I read articles say like about Singapore, people think we are suppressed. To the extent yes and no. If you are not coming to Singapore to create any acts of hooliganism then you will be fine. It’s like when I entered India through Moreh. We knew about the insurgency I didn’t know how bad it was. While riding from Imphal to Kohima. I noticed the people were friendly, everything was going on as normal even though there was a lot of stringent military checking. I didn’t read the papers only after arriving in Kohima I realized the extent of the problem. I wanted some surprise, of course you need to be sufficiently prepared for it and not to come to a stage to scare yourself.
Is there a timeline to your journey?
There is no timeline except my final destination is back home. My aim is to arrive in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand for a yoga pilgrimage. Then be in Europe after winter. I am taking my time of touring Asia. Once I am in Europe, I will decide to fly back or take the Trans-Siberia highway all the way to through Vladivostok then travel by sea to Bangkok or to South America. However, it will also depend on my mental well-being, to being on the road solo for an extended period of time is mentally challenging. So, it depends on how homesick I am.
I notice you have a set route in your mind but not a set plan to accomplish. What is the priceless wisdom you have gain so far in this journey?
I always have this curiosity of looking for surprises at every corner. It is, actually also the time to travel is a luxury. It is not so much about money. I am comparing it to my other travels where I was limited with time. Now I am enjoying more compared to my previous trips. The people I have met in India have been so very warm and helpful. Although with the media portrayal of this country which is not that great, I have been able to keep an open mind and practice discretion with an open heart.