I was born in a middle class family in Singapore. Travel was never a big thing in developing Singapore when I was growing up. It was simply too costly and considered the pursuits of the rich. I have always been fascinated with faraway places and exotic lands. Mum worked in a firm that had clients from around the world, and she would pass me stamps stuck on the envelopes sent to her office from various countries. I was intrigued by these tiny treasures from the most exotic countries, and even more so by the legends behind the colourful images on these stamps.
My first holidays were with my parents and sister to Malaysia and China on guided package tours. I enjoyed myself and thought that I could try be more adventurous and backpack later on, just like the young many white backpackers that pass through Singapore on their way around Asia.
When I was about to complete university, I wanted to do Western Europe before starting work, just like the typical undergraduate of the day. My parents offered to pay for the trip as a reward for completing school. So, that was my first backpacking adventure, and I was hooked on the travel bug. In the years to follow, I would use all my annual vacation entitlement to travel. Eastern Europe followed, then Turkey, the Middle East and Indonesia. Even then, I thought I would only go to the most touristy destinations. There were more than enough such places to do in my lifetime, I reckoned then.
In 1997, I went to graduate school in London and joined an investment bank in the UK thereafter. With a constantly concerned family faraway, the floodgates of frequent travel were opened. Before long, I found myself in the Baltics, Patagonia, Central America, Central Asia and the Caucasus. Every new trip lifted my threshold for discomfort, uncertainty and even danger. It was in a Vilnius hotel lobby when I bumped into an elderly Spanish man who exclaimed that he had just done his 100th country. At that point, I was 30-odd countries away, and I thought why couldn’t I do the same. Perhaps I could even aim to complete all the countries in the world.
By 2002, when I decided to head home for good, I hit on spending a year on the road. That was something I used to think only mad Englishmen would do. I spent half a year in Latin America, and the other half year overland from London to Singapore via Trans-Siberia – after all, I have told friends I would go home by land one day. And so it all took off. Before I knew it, I quickly aspired to do all the countries and unusual non-country regions around the world.