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April 22, 2012 in All, Asia, Geoff Thomas

In the Shadow of the Tiger

Rolling into Asian villages aboard the Triumph Tiger 955i, I tended to get noticed. Shoulders back and head held high, the Tiger growled and the people smiled and waved. I’d pull to a dusty halt, kill the engine and immediately become the temporary focal point for the community. A hundred familiar questions would greet my arrival: “How far?” “How much?” “How big?” “How fast?” Camera phones would ‘click’ as adults posed for photographs and every kid in town would look expectantly towards the Tiger’s empty pillion seat.

Along with the genuine warmth and hospitality I’d certainly enjoyed the attention, but something important had been missing. The people passing fleetingly through my life had learned a great deal about my nomadic adventures on the Triumph Tiger, but their increased understanding of ‘Me’ had come at the expense of my understanding of ‘Them’.

I was beginning to feel that what I was witnessing wasn’t true life, but a performance of life staged for the benefit of the man with the big shiny motorcycle. In every room and cafe there’d been a metaphorical elephant that I’d wanted to know much more about; poverty, politics, religious tension, but those elephants had been hidden in the shadow of the ever dominant Tiger. My European motorcycle had certainly opened the gates to small communities in the middle of everywhere, but it had done so with the subtlety of a battering ram.

My journey had begun as nothing more than a self-indulgent jolly, a magical cure for midlife mediocrity. However, somewhere along the dusty roads heading east, the nature of the journey had changed. I don’t remember a particular milestone on the road nor a precise moment in time, but what had started life as a ‘Motorcycle Journey’ had somehow transformed into a ‘Journey by Motorcycle’.

In order to break down the barriers between myself and the real communities ahead of me, I realised that I needed to replace the battering ram with a much more delicate key. I had to slow down, to become more anonymous and to start passing through the lives of others rather than having others pass fleetingly through my own life. My decision was made and the Triumph Tiger returned to England. I shopped locally for a small and inconspicuous motorcycle, and every single aspect of the journey ahead of me changed.

Rolling into Asian villages aboard the Honda Wave 110, I tended not to get noticed. Shoulders back and head held high, the Honda buzzed and the people simply ignored me and carried on with their everyday lives. I’d pull to a dusty halt, kill the engine and absolutely nothing unusual would happen. Aboard the little Honda I was blending in, a small part of the massive cultural scenery and able to observe without being observed. Of course, once I removed my crash helmet people realised that I wasn’t local and would ask questions, but the nature of their questions had changed. Unlike the Triumph Tiger the Honda Wave wasn’t important or special to anybody, a barrier between us had been removed and all future conversations were about the more important things in all of our lives: People and Life.

It had taken me almost a year on the open road, but my real education had finally begun. "Mai pen rai kap" as they say in Thailand: Go with the flow.

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