At every overnight stop, the first question was always: ‘What is the Wi-Fi password?’!”
While many Singaporeans commemorated SG50 at the National Day Parade or through other activities in Singapore, Larry Leong chose to pay his tribute by taking the road less travelled.
After a grand send-off with a convoy of over 50 Land Rovers on National Day, Larry, his wife Simone and five-year-old daughter Lucy, set out on a 66-day drive onboard their trusty Land Rover, Enterprise. Their road trip covered more than 20,000 kilometres, and had them driving through areas such as Thailand, Tibet, Kazakhstan, Russia and the Arctic Circle before ending in London.
Larry shares his experiences and thoughts about being overseas as a Singaporean, and the lessons he learnt along the way.
Larry (in driver’s seat), with his wife Simone and daughter Lucy in their Land Rover (Image credit: Mini Liew)
The family of three met other Singaporeans along the way, and the Singaporean kampong spirit quickly became apparent. “After a while, we started treating everyone as family, rather than fellow travellers,” Larry recalled. “My daughter ended up having many godparents and god-grandparents, with all of them treating her like their own!”
“What I don’t see much these days are Singaporeans travelling together as a family or as a group. People should travel together and have fun together, for it becomes very memorable,” he added. “It’s really about the camaraderie and bonds that are formed when travelling together.”
Larry (far left) and his family dressed in their SG50 t-shirts at the Red Square in Moscow. Along with other fellow Singaporeans, they were the first Singaporean cars to ever drive in the Red Square! (Image credit: Ng Chin Lin)
“As Singaporeans, we take too many things for granted, safety in particular.”
Larry’s trip with his family reminded him of how fortunate he is to live in Singapore. He recalled the fear of being mugged while on his travels. “When you’re out in Paris or Italy, you make a conscious effort to put a minimum sum of money in your handbag and keep the rest on yourself,” he said. When travelling through China and Russia, the group had ground operators to help them with their lodging. “The operators knew the safer places for us to park our cars so that when we woke up, our cars would still be there. These were our challenges [of not being in Singapore].”
“How do you tell if someone is a Singaporean? We talk about tomorrow’s dinner while having lunch!”
To break the ice amongst Singaporeans, Larry has also come to realise that food is always the best topic. “When talking about food, Singaporeans light up. Food is always the best unifying point; we would share and talk about food with whoever we met.”.
Larry (far right) enjoying lunch with fellow travellers at a stopover in Norway. (Image credit: Ng Chin Lin)
No trip overseas would be complete without bringing along a culinary reminder of Singapore. For Larry, it was 2kg of bak kwa, divided into 100g packs. “By the time we reached London, we only had two packets left. I’ve never seen two packets of bak kwa last so long!” he recollected with amusement. “We sliced the bak kwa into pieces the size of 20-cent coins so that we could share it with more people.”
Larry also brought items like kopi-O, 3-in-1 Milo powder sachets and instant nasi lemak, which became a ‘barter trade’ item for Singaporeans they met along the way. Although these gradually ran out over the course of the trip, fellow travellers who joined the family at various junctures brought additional supplies. “Whatever that was left behind was passed on to Singaporeans in London,” he said, “This was worth a lot to them!”
Being away from Singapore meant Larry craved ‘a whole list’ of hawker food. Nevertheless, he was game enough to try his hand at recreating some of his favourite local dishes. “We made food like lamb rendang and porridge. We also tried to recreate mutton curry, and used premixed packets of bak kut teh spices and laksa paste as a stock for steamboat.”
Larry (far left) with his family and fellow Singaporean at the North Cape (Nordkape) in Norway, also known as the “Top of the World”. (Image credits: SG50-London2015 Facebook Page)
“With Facebook and WhatsApp, we could stay a lot more connected.”
Apart from food, Larry and his family valued staying connected to home throughout the trip. “We didn’t call home that often,” Larry revealed, “But we were in touch with our in-laws, and their first question was always about their granddaughter (Lucy).”
“No matter what, there is no place like home.”
At the end of the day, Larry believes that Singaporeans should always remember their roots. He cited an example of a Singaporean lady he had met in England who had a rental house in Singapore. “She returns for three months a year. She could just leave for good and not come back,” he mused, “But she still comes back because to her, this is where her roots are.”
“I think many overseas Singaporeans choose to live or work in another country they think is on par with, or is better than Singapore,” he said. “While being overseas may be great, no matter what, there is no place like home.”
“Someone once told me this, and I couldn’t agree more: No matter how successful you are, do not forget who you were yesterday. It was who you were yesterday that made you who you are today.”