Cultivating Empathy by Bicycle Travel: The Kedah Bicycle Path Project

The Kedah Bike Path Project

The Kedah Bike Path Project

Melbourne, Australia, December, 2013

Cultivating Empathy by Bicycle Travel

When Annika and I started this trip we did not have most of the equipment we have today, our bikes where very rudimentary and we lacked most of the winter gear that we now have acquired in part thanks to our great sponsors Cumulus, Unterwegs, Selle Royal, Reelights and Hellixir. We also lacked a plan, a route, and we were not even sure if we wanted to keep traveling with the bicycle all the way. We did not know a lot of things except for one: we wanted to give a strong meaning to our travel.

It all started with spreading good news about the places we visited, tired of all the bad news they only publish in the mass media. As we rode our bikes, we realized how they were the perfect vehicle to get to know the people, the places and the cultures we encountered along the way. So then our idea evolved to promoting bicycle travel as a means to strengthen social empathy. After a year or so with the project, and after more researching and asking specialists, we realized that we could further simplify our mission even more. So after two years and a bit of being pleasantly surprised by the world we live in and the experience we have as bike riders, we decided to entitle our project:

Tasting Travels: Cultivating Empathy by Bicycle Travel.

Passing through the Kampung (Village)  by Bike

Passing through the Kampung (Village) by Bike

We definitely did not re-invent the wheel or something like that, in fact we found even more and more people cyclists and non-cyclists concerned with the idea of spreading the power of empathy in the world. Just to mention a very few– Doc. Jeremy Rifkin, Doc. Roman Krznaric, our friends at Two Wheel Travel, Edwin Rutsch, Biciclown, Pablo Garcia, World Biking, Travelling Two etc.–all of them, and in their own way, are exploring empathy and sharing it in their websites following their particular vocation. Some of them are renowned scientists and others are regular Joe´s like me with a belief in empathy and its capability to make this world a better place.

The Ideas at Work

Riding for a purpose

Riding for a purpose

As most of you probably know our blog is only a part of what we do as an effort to promote bicycle travel as a way to cultivate empathy. We also give presentations where we share through videos and slides of the world we have seen through our eyes by bike in hopes that the young, the old and everyone in between get to know yet another possibility to experience our home, our world.

Beautiful Ride

Beautiful Ride

Reading through the texts of Doc. Krznaric we encountered one entitled: Six Habits of Highly Empathic People that you can read here. So together with Dr. Rifkin´s research on Empathic Society we had something in our hands that we could work on. We suddenly realized that bicycle travel, by its nature, implies the six habits that Dr. Krznaric discusses. Anyone traveling by bike would realize at some point that this activity is empathy in action. To summarize, the habits are: (1) Cultivating Curiosity About Strangers; (2) Challenging Prejudices and Discover Commonalities; (3) Try Another Person’s Life; (4) Listen Hard and Open Up; (5) Inspire Mass Action and Social Change; and finally, (6) Develop an Ambitious Imagination. (I linked the habits with articles written in Tasting Travels in order to evidence the connection, however we are aware that we have yet to explore more in depth the habits. Except num 5 which is this article)

Those seconds where the rider and the local connect.

Those seconds where the rider and the local connect.

So we modified our presentation so that at the end of it the listeners could visualize their adventure by bike not only as a life time experience but also as way to develop their empathic ability and with it make this world a better place to live.

Then one day on social media I stumbled upon the article written by our friend Tyler Robertson´s entitled The Case For Bicycle Tourism about the positive economic and social impact of bike paths. At the end of his article he asks the question:

“Will Bicycle Tourism Save the World” In my mind I answered WHY NOT?

I then finish reading as Tyler writes “Probably not. But, while bicycle tourism is not a silver bullet, it is clear that encouraging bicyclists to stop in your community will benefit the economy. Using simple techniques to encourage bicycle tourism is the most effective course of action. Small, meaningful changes and resources will go further than big grandiose programs designed to only attract high income tourists.”

Beautiful Kedah

Beautiful Kedah

So even though we disagreed at that moment, he mentions a key element about bike paths, they “encourage bicyclists to stop in their community”. If we put together this and the habits we have an empathy weapon so to speak. People, foreign and local, if given a bike path where they could practice bicycle tourism, would also be given a vehicle to connect with other people in different realities. This might change in a positive way the relationship between entire communities, and that would only be the start.

I then contacted Tyler by skype, and we both liked the idea of working together in the future. I then explained to him what our project’s goals and how we could put all these pieces together to make something out of all of this wonderful stuff.

Both of them, Tyler and Carolyn from Two Wheel Travel, helped us get some information that I needed in reference as the direct and indirect profit that cycling paths produce in Europe. The information was outstanding. According to the studies made by The European Cycling Network Euro-Velo, It is estimated that there are “2.295 billion cycle tourism trips in Europe per annum and the total estimated economic impact for these trips is almost €44 billion.”

More Cyclists more Benefits

More Cyclists more Benefits

Among other important information the study also reveals that “the primary motivational factors for cycle tourism are health, relaxation, being close to nature and learning something new about a different area.”

With this information, the theory about empathy, it´s growing influence in the world and our own experiences, it was time to take these ideas into action.

Malaysia: the Door Wanting to be Opened

The Future Rice Bike Path in Kedah

The Future Rice Bike Path in Kedah

It was during our first presentation in the Malaysian State of Kedah that we realized together with our friend Apit, that Kedah had a winning chance to share with the world part of their culture and it’s people through the bicycle. We decided to start triggering some enthusiasm with the students of university. Also, show them that a bike path in their area could be a great way not only to pull tourism to their hometown, but to create ways for cyclists to roam free without using the car roads. A win win situation for everyone that would also help to show the world the beauty of the rice culture in their state, by bicycle.

Puding

Master Puding

After speaking to a few people, including Sharon and Wong, the owners of a local bike shop called TM in Jitra and even the Princess of Kedah, the king’s daughter, the idea started growing. Our contribution, this time, was limited to help the group of cyclists interested in the path to present the project to the authorities. We would also facilitate them information that would help them show their local government that a bike path could bring enormous contributions to sustainable growth of the area and participate in a trail run.

The pitch was simple, make certain modification to the current paths in between the paddy fields so that any bicycle could use it, as well as signs and marked routes with a prevalent theme in the area: Rice.

A great look at the fields of Rice

A great look at the fields of Rice

The area was well known for having paddy fields, mills and home of the Rice Museum. The challenge would be to connect all this points in a route that would offer the bicycle tourist a sustancial experience of the area. Imagine cycling through the greenery of the paddy fields, then stopping at the mills to learn how it is processed. Afterward enter the Paddy Museum for more rice wisdom and a couple of km more participate in a workshop at a paddy that enables you to plant or pick up rice along the same people that make it happen. Finally sleep at a nice comfy cottage or camp ground where the first thing you see when you wake up are the endless fields of paddy and have a big bowl of rice for breakfast.

So for starters we planned and executed a trial route designed by Pudin. He already had a blog where he posted all of this and you can check it out here. The route was nearly 40km and included not only the Rice Museum and Paddy Fields, but also a wall for rock climbing, a park with monkeys, a beautiful cottage for rental, a mine museum, two small rivers that you would cross by a small rope boat and historic sites. The path could not have been planned better.

Crossing the Other Side 1

Crossing the Other Side 1

Crossing the Other Side 2

Crossing the Other Side 2

Crossing the Other Side 3

Crossing the Other Side 3

Malaysian Historic Bunker Pic

Malaysian Historic Bunker Pic

Monkey's on the Way

Monkey’s on the Way

 

The Paddy Museum

The Paddy Museum

A stop at the Mine Museum

A stop at the Mine Museum

When cycling here we just felt the potential in Malaysia, especially in this area. The students, when presented with the idea, showed a lot of enthusiasm not only for having it, but for the fact that this type of tourism might help show a different part of their community and their lifestyle. Essentially, this path could encourage situations where two people or more, local or foreign, could empathize with each other.

Hope for the Best

For us, Tasting Travels, our work is momentously done. Now it is all up to the people of Kedah to keep pushing the development of their own project. Our work will be to follow closely their progress as we learn from them in order to apply the same strategy in a place that is much for familiar to us Mexico.

Hoping for the Best

Hoping for the Best

So as Tasting Travels and with our strong belief in the bike as a vehicle of empathy, we will continue to support and find new projects that help materialize the theory that keeps coming with a lot of strength. We welcome anyone who wants to join us. For now, if you are interested in this bike route, we can connect you with the people in Kedah so they can show it to you – maybe if you visit them they will be even more motivated to finish it sooner. On the other hand, you can also follow the forthcoming bicycle guide made from our friends of Two Wheel Travel in another unexplored country in Eastern Europe: Slovenia due this spring.

Answering to Tyler after his question I would still keep my original answer….Will Bicycle Tourism Change the World?

To this I say Why not? It may be a start of it, and we are trying to book front seats to it.

 

Our Small Group of Pionerrs

Our Small Group of Pionerrs

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
― Margaret Mead

 

3825 Total Views 3 Views Today
  1. HAKIM says:

    Awesome………..Very interesting. Thank you.

    • admin admin says:

      Thanks Hakim, I hope things will work out good! All the best, Annika

  2. Pingback: Malaysia: 402 kilometer to Kuala Lumpur | one man, one bike, one world

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*