S'pore man hitchhikes 27,000km across 21 countries over eight months
On the eve of National Day, The New Paper looks at Singaporeans who are making our 53rd birthday meaningful in their own special way
The first time Mr Muhammad Sufian Mohamed Adam hitchhiked was in Myanmar two years ago.
This time, he is hitchhiking more than 27,000km across 21 countries in Europe and Asia - with the aim of making it home for National Day.
The 34-year-old bachelor put his career on hold three years ago after quitting his job as a fashion designer so he could see the world.
He embarked on this unconventional solo journey last December without much planning. It was not something he initially set out to do.
He told The New Paper in an e-mail interview: "I bought a one-way ticket to London last year simply because it was on promotion, selling at $400 from Kuala Lumpur to Heathrow.
"I spent a week in London and instead of (getting on) a direct flight home, I decided to hitchhike my way back to Singapore ."
He reached Penang on Monday afternoon after hitching a ride in a van.
So he is on schedule to make it back in time to watch the fireworks display at the National Day Parade and end his adventure with "epic pyrotechnics".
He will be going for in-camp training as part of his National Service next month.
His interest in this massive undertaking was first piqued by an online article about a Polish man, Mr Artur Nitribitt, who had made headlines by hitchhiking 25,000km from his homeland to Singapore.
Mr Sufian said: "His story inspired me and challenged me to do even better. I (ended up couchsurfing) at Artur's place and celebrated my 34th birthday with him in his hometown of Wroclaw.
"I travelled in search of a home (that resonates with me). I had lived in Singapore my entire life and was curious if there was a better place out there."
China changed him "as a person" after he was stranded in Lanzhou for two days when no one stopped to give him a lift.
Desperate, he made a sign that said "from Singapore" in Chinese. A car stopped for him within 10 minutes.
He said: "That moment, I realised that being Singaporean is powerful... a luxury. It is always nice to hear locals saying good things about Singapore."
Amazingly, his budget for the trip was just $3,500, and he limited himself to $10 a day for food and necessities. To save money, he couchsurfed, camped and took on odd jobs for extra income.
Despite being weather-beaten and mentally drained from his travels, Mr Sufian is grateful for the opportunity to be a guest teacher for a day.
One of his couchsurfing hosts, a history teacher, asked him to talk about Singapore to his class in Siauliai, Lithuania.
In Surin, Thailand, he volunteered to teach basic English words to primary school pupils using the Singapore flag.
And in Aktobe, Kazakhstan, Mr Sufian - a self-taught artist - ended up being invited by his couchsurfing host's sister, a fellow artist who founded an art studio for people with special needs, to conduct an art therapy session through painting.
Even though he had a few mishaps and found that "dangers lurk in every corner", nothing could contain Mr Sufian's wanderlust.
He said: "I was robbed by homeless kids for a pack of cigarettes in France and pickpocketed (for a power bank) during a carnival in Switzerland. My tent and sleeping bag got stolen in Belgium too...
"(But) most of the time, drivers who pick you up (genuinely want) to help or are in need of a companion on their long journey. Be a storyteller while at it."
Mr Sufian hopes his eight-month expedition will inspire Singaporeans to "switch off the television, pack their bags and start travelling while they still can".
He said: "I may not get to visit fancy museums or monuments, but having that opportunity to be able to meet nice, hospitable and kind people everywhere is monumental itself."
ITE principal overcomes fears to lead NDP contingent
Dr Yek Tiew Ming, 57, is so uncomfortable with crowds he only goes to Orchard Road two to three times a year.
But for National Day, the principal of Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College East campus will put himself in the middle of one of the biggest crowds of the year.
He will lead a 581-men strong contingent - primarily made up of ITE staff and students - in the opening act of this year's National Day Parade (NDP).
Titled Our People, Our Home, the 10-minute song-and-dance item takes spectators on a journey - from fishing village to today's high-tech city-state, depicting people from different occupations working together for Singapore's future.
Dr Yek said: "I'm trained as a mechanical engineer so this is my first time in a dance performance. I want to make a point to my students that they should not be afraid of trying things they are uncomfortable with."
It will be the first time ITE will have its own segment at the NDP. Previously, ITE students mostly were parts of larger contingents or as parade motivators, rallying the crowd from the stands during sing-alongs.
Ms Juliana Wong, 44, a lecturer in life skills at ITE College Central, who is also performing, said it is a proud moment for ITE.
Ms Wong, who plays a pushcart vendor, said: "We are all very excited to be in the starting act. My younger son thinks the performance is beautiful."
She was surprised when she heard Dr Yek was participating.
She said: "He is a very busy man so I didn't expect it. But it is a nice feeling."
Mr Aldrin Anthony Yeo, 19, a student at ITE College East, said he was speechless at the scale of the performance.
He said: "I wouldn't have expected to perform on such a grand stage."
The president of the ITE College East's dance society was also asked to help in the choreography.
He said: "I thought it was crazy I was asked to help. In the end, our efforts are worth it because it's for National Day."