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Journey with Alex Soh... In Retrospect

Posted on Nov 24, 2009 in Journey with Alex Soh

Wow, a month has passed in a flash and I am finally back in the comfort of my family and home in Singapore! This trip has truly been an eye-opener for me and it would not have been possible if I didn't have the guts to be adventurous, especially in a large and foreign land like China. Most of the time when on holiday, Singaporeans would plan ahead by booking their accommodation and flights way before their trip. I, for one, feel that there is no element of surprise in that at all!

To me, traveling is not about the destination but about the journey. More often than not, we find that we don't have enough flexibility in our itinerary because we are constrained by time as well as distance. However, in China, there were so many methods available for me when moving within and between cities, and all the places I visited offered cheap accommodation - all without having to make any advanced booking! To get around, I relied on asking for directions or suggestions from the locals; most of the time though, I was approached by many strangers who offered all kinds of services ranging from hotels to eating spots and even tourist attractions! For example, when I was in Yangshuo, I was offered a ticket to watch the Li River Show produced by Zhang Yimou, an acclaimed Chinese filmmaker, for just 50 RMB, which also included the transportation fee to Guilin where the show was being put up. If I had planned this myself, it would have cost me a total of 250 - 350 RMB!

On the whole, this trip has been a great experience for me. Imagine, within a month, I was given the opportunity to live through a typical day in the life of an ethnic Chinese, as a visitor but through the lenses of a local. It was an enriching time as I was engulfed by the full spectrum of what China had to offer me: travelling on all sorts of vehicles ranging from a bamboo draft to a two-wheeled “boxy bike”, to the many house visits that allowed me to savor the copious amounts of local delicacies and to forging new friendships. On one such occasion, I was invited to the birthday celebration of an 88-year-old grandfather; it was truly amazing to be able to share such a glorious celebration of life with newfound friends.  But apart from this, I also managed to get my old bodily ailments fixed as I visited the local physician and even got a chance to stay in a seven-star Chinese hotel (I actually thought a five-star rating was more fitting - evidence of China’s belief in “the more the merrier”)! However, one thing I will not be reminiscing about will be the different aromas that I smelt from the spit and smoke and whatever it was in the public areas. I am truly thankful for the clean and green environment that we have in Singapore! Nonetheless, they were all worthy experiences.

I can proudly say that throughout this trip, I only ate one main meal a day! However, this was not due to the fact that I was controlling my purse strings. Rather, street food was readily available anytime and anywhere, and being Singaporean, anything to do with food (especially good food at low prices) is irresistable :) The sheer combination of two activities that I'm most passionate about - photography and eating - was enough to make the trip enjoyable for me. Although it is said that Chinese food is extremely oily and unhealthy, it is untrue as each region has its own unique taste and flavour that cannot be replicated elsewhere. This myriad of flavors in China contributes greatly to the plentiful and colourful Chinese cuisine. Call me a glutton, but the food critic in me says that the Shanghai Barbecued Squid stick is the best amongst all!

As enjoyable as it was, the journey also proved to be quite a challenge. It was tough having to battle the erratic weather - rain, shine and even harsh temperatures like -10°C. But these challenges didn't weigh me down nor disrupt what I had originally set out to do, that is to share all these precious memories with everyone, simply because I had the company of some fantastically lightweight and compact gears, including the Lowepro CompuPrimus AW backpack. It is smart and has easy-access compartment that allows me to retrieve things with great comfort and ease. The laptop sleeve that comes together with the backpack is superb with its built-in shade and that made it so much easier for me to work while I was under the unforgiving sun. From the pictures below, you can see that I was essentially armed with only this backpack and my Lowepro light belt system and really, they provided more than enough space for my clothing as well as my tools of trade. No lugging around of big luggages - how convenient!

My visit to China was indeed more than a photography trip but a journey. It was a journey of life that taught me in essence that the very best experiences of life cannot be bought with cash but can be discovered if you dare to let your heart and passion lead you. I am thrilled to have been able to share this wonderful journey with you and if you wish to give your feedback, please do so by emailing me at And if you have enjoyed what you have seen so far, I invite you to view more of my works at my website.

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