INTERVIEW: HK man travels world by his wits

By Loa Iok-sin  /  Staff reporter

Tue, Jan 15, 2013 - Page 3

While most people take time to carefully plan and to save up before pursuing their dreams of traveling the world, Jason Fai (陳志輝), a native of Hong Kong who has no savings and no knowledge of any foreign language, started his “wandering” around the world with only a flight ticket, 200 euros (US$268 at current exchange rates) and a determination to see the world.

Fai’s adventure started on a cold day in November 2005, when his plane landed in Frankfurt, Germany. Carrying a 20kg backpack stuffed with clothes, necessities and a winter jacket that a friend gave him, and with 200 euros in his pocket, he had no idea where to go or where to stay the night when he left the airport.

“I flew to Europe knowing nothing, but craving to see the world. I had little money, and spoke no foreign language except a few simple English words, such as ‘yes,’ ‘no’ and ‘thank you,’” Fai said in an interview in Taipei earlier this month. “I thought I could work in exchange for food, a place to stay and some pocket money.”

However, the reality was much harder.

Fai walked for hours in the freezing weather in Frankfurt, visiting Chinese restaurants that he happened upon and asking if they could offer him a job, but the answer was always no.

Feeling frustrated, Fai got on a midnight train to Berlin, hoping to have more luck there. However, he was disappointed.

Having wandered aimlessly around Germany, sleeping in parks and often eating only a loaf of bread for his meals, Fai finally found a job at a Chinese restaurant in Prague, Czech Republic, where he stayed for three months, and traveled around in his spare time with the little money he earned from helping out at the restaurant.

“It was really hard and challenging traveling that way. I actually thought about giving up at the time, but I told myself to insist on carrying on, I told myself that I was making my dream come true, that I could not back down,” Fai said.

He did not back down. Instead, despite all the difficulties he experienced on his first trip, he continues to travel with little preparation, and overcomes challenges as he encounters them.

“I would feel frustrated from time to time, but I never gave up because I’m used to facing difficulties by myself,” he said. “I grew up in an orphanage, I have no parents or family to look after me, so I’ve learned to be on my own since I was little.”

His early experiences gave him the idea to travel around the world.

“The highest education I’ve completed was junior high school. I’ve worked blue-collar jobs, such as being a truck driver or a construction worker, and I’ve moved around the poorest neighborhoods of Hong Kong,” Fai said. “I started working at 16. Ten years later, when I turned 26 [in 2005], I felt that I needed some change in my life.”

He said that one day when he was eating, he saw an old man in the neighborhood also eating by himself.

“All of a sudden, I felt that was how I’m going to be when I get old, and I asked myself if living a routine life and growing old all alone is what I wanted,” he said. “I thought about it and realized that during the 10 years since I started working, there had never been anything exciting or different, and I had gained nothing but all kinds of debts.”

“That’s the moment when I decided that I wanted to do something different to bring about changes in my life,” Fai added.

He then embarked on his first trip to Europe, and after that experience, he made a little adjustment: He would apply for a work visa to work in a foreign country for a time, travel in and out of the country, and when he was out of cash, he would then work for another period to cover his travel expenses.

So far, he has traveled through nearly 20 countries in Asia, Europe, South America and Oceania.

Asked to name the most unforgettable experience during his travels, Fai answered: “Being detained in Malaysia and robbed in Brazil.”

Fai recalled that before flying to Malaysia in 2007, he tried to withdraw some money from an ATM at Hong Kong International Airport, but for some reason, it did not work.

“I was in a hurry the catch the flight, so I gave up, thinking that I could always get money in Malaysia with a bankcard in hand,” he said. “However, at the immigration inspection, I was asked if I had money on me since I had a one-way ticket. I said no, but explained that I planned to withdraw money from an ATM in Malaysia. The immigration officer did not listen, and I was taken to a small room without windows.”

That detention was the most painful time in his traveling years, Fai said, since he had to stay in the small room without knowing when he could leave, and the only interaction he had was when food was delivered.

“I lost count of the days, and only after I was released and put on a flight back to Hong Kong did I realize I was in there for four days,” he said.

Another shocking experience happened to him in Brazil in 2011.

“It happened in Rio de Janeiro when I was in South America for the first time. I was very tired that day, so I found a place under an arcade to sleep,” Fai said. “I thought it was a safe place since I saw police patrolling the area in gold cars, but as a precaution, I chained my large backpack and small backpack together.”

In the middle of night, Fai was awakened by a man speaking in Portuguese.

Still half asleep, he only repeatedly said “no” to the man.

The next thing he realized, another man showed up and tried to take his large backpack, while the first man pinned him to the ground.

Fai shouted for help, but no one came to his aid. After a few minutes’ pulling, the large backpack broke off from the chain and the two men quickly ran away, leaving Fai with only his small backpack.

“Although most of my important things, including my passport, wallet and camera were all in the small backpack, it was depressing to think that everything that I had accumulated during my years of traveling — banknotes from different countries, postcards from friends and traveling necessities I’d purchased along the way — were all gone,” Fai said.

Indeed, Fai considers friendship the most important asset that he has gained during his years of travel, and he said he felt pleasantly surprised by Taiwan several times, leading him to consider making Taiwan his second home.

“I took a cycling trip around the island, and I was surprised by the friendliness that the Taiwanese showed to a traveler,” Fai said.

When he was in Sanyi Township (三義), Miaoli County, he asked for directions from a group of children he encountered.

“They not only gave me the directions, but one kid went home to get water for me, while two others accompanied me on their bikes to an intersection, worrying that I might take the wrong turn there,” he said.

In Taitung City, a bicycle shop repaired his bicycle, but would not take any money, since the storekeeper said that he had “done nothing but made some adjustments.”

In Keelung, when having lunch, a man sitting at the same table as Fai asked where he came from, and left before Fai did.

“When I finished lunch and asked for the bill, the restaurant owner told me that the man at my table already paid for my meal,” he said. “It was such encounters that made up the best memories of my trips, and motivate me to go on.”

Having been helped by many people around the world, Fai decided to give his own contribution to those in need as well — next month, he will begin a cycling trip from Hong Kong to Europe, and collect donations for the charity organization Oxfam along the way.

“By sharing my story, I would like to tell everyone that, if someone like me can travel the world, anybody can make their dream come true,” Fai said. “Don’t worry, don’t be afraid, just take the first step and you can do it.”