A friend's death gave Juvena Huang the push to rethink her life, embark on epic adventure
The sudden death of a friend in 2009 spurred biotech graduate Juvena Huang to cast off her old life and set out on an epic adventure that took her across 44,000km and 25 countries - all on a Vespa.
The remarkable journey, which took her just over two years, has had a profound effect on her.
"The morbid epiphany that we all die made me rethink what I want to fulfil in life," said Ms Huang, 31, in an exclusive interview with The Straits Times. "Do I want to tread cautiously until death with the single-track path of education, a stable job and settling down?"
There were two key factors already in place when Ms Huang decided she needed a circuit breaker - an insatiable curiosity for the world and a love of motorcycles.
That led her to start saving obsessively in 2011. After her studies, Ms Huang took up casual jobs in addition to her post as a research assistant, sold her belongings, put half her earnings into a travelling fund and stopped shopping.
Once she had around $30,000 in the kitty, she hit the road from her HDB block in Kaki Bukit on the Vespa she affectionately named "Ebony Rouge" for its black and red colour scheme.
She described the day of departure in May 2015 as the hardest part of the whole trip: "I was just dropping everything. It was a sudden big change in my life."
Throughout her trip, she updated the world through her Facebook page called "The Wandering Wasp" - "vespa" being Italian for "wasp". The page now has about 24,600 followers.
She rode through Malaysia, then Myanmar and the Indian subcontinent. After braving the Himalayas, she entered Iran and Western Asia before landing in the Balkans.
Although she travelled alone throughout her trip, Ms Huang was never attacked or robbed.
"I think that the most scary thing is the human imagination," she said. To ensure her safety when camping, she would pitch her tent either in places where everyone could see her, or where nobody at all could.
In fact, what surprised her the most was the hospitality of strangers she met along the way.
"In Pakistan, there was a family who hosted me for two to three weeks... They treated me like one of their own by giving me a place to stay and providing me with food. Sometimes, I would buy food back home for the kids, and the head of the family would scold me and ask me not to waste my money."
While her trip might seem impossibly daunting, Ms Huang believes it is within reach for many people.
"I spent around $25 a day, and of course I had to forgo some comfort. If you think about it, living on $25 a day on the road versus spending more than $20 at a restaurant, you have to leave your comfort zone.
"I think if you want to do something like this you have to break out of conformity to make it happen."
The adventure came to an end last September when Ms Huang flew back to Singapore and left her Vespa in the Czech Republic.
Meeting her parents and sister again after two years and three months of travel was clearly a thrill, but that proved the easy part.
"Coming back was very difficult, and I had to deal with the reverse culture shock," she said, adding that landmarks like a road, restaurant or building simply no longer existed.
"I also felt very disconnected from the topics my friends were talking about."
Indeed, she only now feels settled enough to talk about her grand adventure.
Ms Huang, now a freelance tutor and yoga teacher, is planning to write a book about her trip. But it is clear that wanderlust has got its hold on her.
The next big adventure is already taking shape: She plans to fly back to her Vespa in the Czech Republic in a couple of years to pick up from where she stopped.
"Maybe I will raise another $20,000 to $30,000, so I can travel to Africa and South America."
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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