Travel lover sees leaders in young backpackers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 April, 2007, 12:00am

Some say young backpackers are likely to be future leaders, and Oilin Wong, the city's Youth Hostels Association general manager, says they are right.

'Backpackers are more courageous,' said the travel lover.

Catching the plane to Australia in 1976 turned a new page in her life. 'It was my first trip abroad and kindled my interest in travel,' she said.

During her studies at the University of Canberra, she often toured the land Down Under with friends.

Soon after graduation, the then 23-year-old bought a Europass and headed to Europe alone.

'A backpacking tour is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You plan your own itinerary and read the map to find the way. It is an experiential culture,' she said. 'You will know the place better even if you get lost.

'Travel does not mean rushing to as many places as possible in a short time. It is about knowing another culture and meeting new people.'

In Britain, she believes she was almost cheated by an Algerian youth in a hostel. 'He seemed very friendly at first, so I hung out with him for a while.' But she became suspicious when he asked to borrow money. 'When you are travelling alone, you will be more alert.'

Cultural misconceptions also brought some trouble in her five-month tour. 'When I went to Athens with some Canadian women, they asked me to cook as they think all Chinese are good cooks. But the dish smelt so good that they tried before it was done, so some of them got ill.'

Having left her footprints in Scandinavia, Russia, France, Germany, Canada, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, Ms Wong, a Buddhist, loves the island across the strait best.

'I love tranquillity. I volunteered at a Buddhist hospital in Hualien during my Christmas holidays several times. It is a personal retreat where I can serve the sick and satisfy my spiritual needs,' she said.

Her passion for travel also made her dream of setting up her own hostel in a rural mainland area.

'I want it to be run by a group of youngsters for them to get some hands-on work experience and meet people around the world,' she said. 'Hopefully, that will encourage them to travel abroad.

'Nowadays, many youngsters are not proactive. They get hooked on electronic games and stay home all day long. If they do not go out and see the world, they will just become ignorant and arrogant. I have become more humble since I travelled.'

To encourage more people to lead a healthy life and raise their environmental awareness, her group will hold the first charity walk in Ngong Ping on April 22.

'The pollution problem is already very serious around the world. If we don't save our natural resources, the catastrophe shown in the film The Day After Tomorrow might come true.'