It was Summer 2016. I was standing in front of the reviewing board of my professors to defend my Master Thesis in Mechanical Engineering. I felt the stress build up as I walked in front of the reviewing public. I knew that my last 8 months of research on Human-Robot Interaction all came down to this presentation. That day marked the end my student life and the beginning of a new chapter. After five years at ETH Zurich and two engineering job in Artificial Intelligence (AI) startups in Tel Aviv, I felt the calling to start my own company in China. But instead of taking the plane, I decided to travel there by bicycle.
Why would I travel from France, where I grew up, to China by bike? I always knew that I’d like to live in China, because I wanted to learn how the Eastern approach to life and its problems differs from the Western approach. The Orient attracted me professionally, personally, spiritually; my mind was made up that now was the time to make my move. My first option was to take the plane, and transition between two worlds as abruptly as the snap of a finger. Or I could take my bicycle, and turn this into a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore everything in-between here and my destination: the undiscovered, the unexpected;, the marvelous. I wanted to witness the transition in demographics and human lifestyles I would be bound to encounter on this journey that make this planet what it is.
So I set out in April 2017 from my hometown in Paris. I cycled through 24 countries and 18 077 kilometers before reaching Hong Kong in August 2018. And, as I had expected, in those 16 months, it seemed like I had experienced more than in the previous 26 years of my life combined.
My bicycle weighed 14 kilograms, and I carried 15kg of gear. I would cycle between 60 and 120 kilometers in a single day. I slept at 116 different peoples’ homes, camped 115 times, and stayed at 26 hostels, 6 police or military stations, and 3 temples. On average, I would spend around $15-20 per day, including all food, gear, sim cards, museums, and other expenses. You might recognize the engineer in me explaining the trip through numbers. But overall, the journey was mostly a human experience, and most of those lessons can't be expressed in figures or words. There were countless times where complete strangers invited me to their homes and shared their meals with me. The countries we are often most afraid of when we hear the news, such as Iran or Pakistan, were actually the ones where I had the most genuine interactions.
Of course, there were also difficult moments: moments of solitude, of exhaustion, and permanent rain in the Asian monsoon time. The trip gave me a snapshot of the world's reality. I witnessed how different religions shape people's lives and beliefs; how the internet is changing traditions across the globe. But most of all, I could see first hand what makes us human, and what binds us beyond our cultural and spiritual differences: no matter where I went, people around me had the same need for affection, desire to be seen, fear of rejection and fear of the unknown that we encounter in our daily lives. It became clear to me that the separation brought about by opinions, religions, states, and identities is self-imposed. Doing a journey into the unknown is a very humbling experience. It was a reminder of how little I actually know despite my recently acquired engineering degree. For me, this voyage was the opportunity to pursue a second schooling after ETH Zurich, this time provided by the world on the topic of humanity. It felt like becoming a child again, and marvelling at the world and its infinite diversity.
I can only encourage all of you to pursue your calling, although it may it be in another form, and venture into the unknown. The most difficult thing about this bicycle trip was to take the decision and get started. When one steps into the unknown, one finds new roads that may in fact resonate much more with who we are.
I have now arrived in Hong Kong and recently encountered some brilliant co-founders with whom we launched a startup offering Blockchain solutions and consulting to enterprise. We are currently recruiting more engineers. You can read more about my bicycle trip on my blog, where you can also find my detailed itinerary. Many pictures of this trip can be found on Instagram. If you are curious to hear more about my trip or blockchain startup, feel free to reach out to me!
Basile presented his trip at swissnex China:
About the author
Basile grew up in France and Switzerland, and is an ETH Alumni. He has lived in 5 different continents and studied Mechanical Engineering and Robotics at ETH Zurich (Master's degree in 2016). After finishing his Master, he worked as a Machine Learning engineer in a startup in Tel Aviv. After arriving in Hong Kong in August 2018, he co-founded a Blockchain engineering startup in China.