Good Energy

The guys at Good Energy have been really supportive and excited about the expedition, so much so that they have made a contribution which allows me to keep the blog regularly updated during the expedition, so they and everyone else can follow the journey. Good Energy supplies 100% renewable electricity sourced from wind, water, sun and sustainable biomass. CO2 from coal-fired electricity generation is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Switch your electricity supply to Good Energy using this link and not only will you be supporting the pioneering community of independent green generators, but for every sign up they get they’ll make another donation to help get the bus around the world. It helps you cut your personal CO2 emissions, helps them grow a great business, and helps me get round the world.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Small Town Boy.

While I take all the credit for this exciting expedition’s success or failure, the truth is that it has much more to do with the people I meet who either help me or don’t.

Once again been reminded of the good will this colourful bus generates and the importance of that for making this trip a success. It’s not the first time. In Dorset, Adrian gave up his weekends to crawl around the mud fitting parts for the engine conversion system. In Iran, Sammy took me in, acted as my cultural and language translator, and with Hamid scoured Tehran to find a solution to my oil crisis. In India, Prateek, my lawyer put up with my petulant fits, patiently helping me fight the forces of law and disorder, while Avi and the community of paraglider pilots in Kamshet adopted me and soothed my anger with their friendship.

In Delhi, Gurjit hosted me in his home while his mechanics pimped the bus back to life and made it liveable. That’s not to mention the people that have donated fuel, and time to help fix the bus, or the countless people that have waved and cheered the bus along the road, perhaps recognising it from the newspapers or just buoyed by its lively paintjob.

The day after we arrived in Malayasia with the bus battered from its shipping ordeal, we limped up to a garage. Big and well run I was sure this workshop could fix the bus’ problems; A growling wheel bearing, seized callipers, engine, gearbox and diff oil overdue for a change, a dead battery, and a host of electrical problems caused by a rat/mouse that continues to chew through new wires every evening. But I was also pretty sure that it would be an expensive garage bill. Gone are the days of cheap Indian roadside mechanics that can rebuild engines for a few dollars, but hopefully gone also with them are the days of repairs that last only as far as the next mechanic.

I was resigned to bite the bullet on the repair costs, but within minutes of arriving they had the story out of me; driving around the world, living in the bus, built it myself with the help of friends, run it on vegetable oil. Soon word had gone up the management chain of command to the boss who decreed that the work on the bus would be free of charge.

The next morning a couple of journalists woke us with the news that we were to have traditional Birds Nest Soup hosted by a local politician. We dressed and just before the big arrival, Jason the kindly owner of the workshop introduced himself and insisted on whisking us away for breakfast. It took a while to realise that as well as running the garage Jason also ran the Bird’s Nest restaurant, and the penny dropped that he was the local politician. The busy restaurant was full of journalists he’d invited for the press conference he’d arranged, and without even trying we’d kick started our Malaysian publicity campaign. On hearing about Christina and me recently getting together, he showered us with pink champagne to celebrate and offered me cigars and pledged a big meal that evening.

Jason owns a number of business employing 2000 people in a village with a population of 10,000. As we ate piles of crab and shrimps that evening, he passed me a fold of notes, “To help you enjoy Malaysia” he explained as I looked down too bemused by the significant wad of cash to show my gratitude.

The work on the bus continued for 4 days, any spare part I wanted was ordered, delivered and professionally fitted. The workshop guys bought us lunches and we traded T-shirts like World Cup players. As the newspapers carried our story, more interested in the round-the-world adventure than the environmental aspect, customers at the garage recognised us and they too bought us more lunches. We posed for countless camera-phone pictures while hiding any hint of indigestion.

I thought it was a fair assumption that in the same way as Star Fruit isn’t really made of stars, Bird’s Nest soup got its name from looking a bit like a nest. On the second day we got a tour of one of Jason’s aviaries where they farm the nests, and the factory where they are picked clean with tweezers. On the final day we noticed on the menu that a bowl of the soup sells for US$20. 1kg of nest is worth two thousand dollars. Under Jason’s hospitality we’d been casually munching it down like cornflakes.

Jason sat back after his last mouthful. “I love this village” he beamed contentedly, his mother looking on from behind the restaurant counter, his brother busily texting on his iPhone across the table. To someone passing through it would be hard to see the charm of Gelang Patah, a little industrial village on the edge of Malaysia, 15 minutes from the Singapore border. But it has a village feel with an uncannily close knit community. A friend of one mechanic heard I had a bike on the back of the bus and turned up unannounced to service it, while another took a screwdriver to my amplifier tuning the equaliser of the solar disco after hearing it distort.

In the UK I guard my privacy jealously. But the further I get from Europe the more inappropriate it seems to try to mind my own business. People walk in and out of the truck to have a look as if it’s a bus stop, catching me in my pants or picking my nose. I’m asked personal questions about my finances, relationships, even how I shit. But I’ve grown to understand the value of sharing yourself with the strangers around you, especially in small towns. It lets me join the community albeit briefly.

One thing that Jason and all the other people who have helped me have in common is that they love their homes, and have no yearning to travel, yet seem to have this admiration for those that do. This contradiction has been a mystery to me, but perhaps I’m getting closer to understanding it. While I’m ambitiously trying to understand how the whole world is put together, they are on a similar quest to learn the intimacies of their local world. Astutely knowing their way around their community, these amazing hosts are able and enthusiastic to show them off in its best light to strangers.

Another trait which confused me was the disinterest in the gifts I’ve left as a thank you. And here again I’m getting even closer to understanding. Their help hasn’t been offered in exchange for gifts, business contacts, or the publicity the truck can bring them, but it’s offered for the opportunity to be part something exciting that’s come to their town, and above all for the exchange of friendship with the new exciting people that have stopped at their door. I’m lucky to have met these amazing friends and have this network dotted around the world. The only regret is that I the friendships are short lived. Our paths are unlikely to cross again once I leave their worlds. The only solution I can think of is that sooner or later I will settle into a little world of my own. Seeing Jason’s contented smile as he announced his love of Gelang Patah made me feel that perhaps I could really enjoy that same feeling too, and when I do, it will be my turn to host intriguing strangers with birds’ nests of my own.

“Glad to be able to help you on your way” said Jason’s SMS text message as we pulled away.


  1. Hey Andy! Loved going through this one and I can't help saying yet again that you're an awesome writer! I'm sure you're going to befriend many more interesting strangers on your way ahead. ciao!

  2. The kindness of strangers is infinite.
    Thanks to those who are helping my son
    I visited Malaysia in 1992 and I adored it.Wish I could have another life to live it there


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