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Asians in Iceland


From Singapore, Bangkok, Tokyo or Beijing, Iceland is half a world away, and yet 96 Asians made the trip for RacingThePlanet: Iceland 2013.  Asia was the most represented continent in the race of 278 competitors – but why? The trip isn’t easy, and Asians do have a local option in the Gobi March.  For Vanessa Tan of Singapore, the race was an opportunity to do something she’s always had her sights on.

“I always wanted to come here for the scenery, and the best way is on foot,” she said.  “There is a wide variety of scenery here: volcanoes, ocean, lakes, plains and waterfalls.  I have not been anywhere with such strong winds before.  It is one of the prettiest places I have been to.”

Iceland’s scenery also drew Victor Cheng of China.

“Chinese people think Iceland is a very exotic place,” he said.  “I wondered what this country looks like.  We cannot see a volcanic landscape in China.”

“You have the sea, the ash, and the weather is so unpredictable,” said Guan Kheng Kho, a Malaysian competitor who lives in Thailand.  “My favorite terrain was the lava rock. Iceland is unique.”

Iceland’s bizarre beauty no doubt factored into many competitors’ decision to come, but that still doesn’t explain why so many of them came from Asia.  Vanessa gives credit to a greater interest in running across the continent, plus a major economic factor.

“These races require a certain degree of affluence, which is growing in Asia,” she said.

“Asians are getting richer and they are looking for adventure,” concurs Taiga Okamoto of Japan.

Although Asian countries’ wealth may be growing together, Taiga believes the cultures may be differentiating themselves.

“Until several years ago, Asians had a lot of common,” he said, adding that he identifies more with the United States than some Asian countries.  “Now, this is not so true, due to political issues.”

“We are multilingual and multicultural,” agrees Guan, although he still sees many similarities.  “Culturally, we are similar.  Eating habits, even the way we speak – the language is the main common factor.”

That common factor kept Victor close to his fellow countrymen.  “We talked a lot, but we mix,” he said.  “Some of the Chinese competitors don’t speak much English, so it’s not easy for them.”

For Vanessa, the multiculturalism seen at every RacingThePlanet event is reminiscent of home.

“We have lived together in Malaysia as a multicultural society as long as we can remember,” she said.  “The country celebrates four New Year’s every year.”

Vanessa used the opportunity to meet new people from all over the world, as did Guan.

“I specifically asked to share a tent with as many different nationalities as possible,” he said.  “That is the point of these events.”

The point is also to challenge the competitors, no matter where they came from.  Iceland accomplished that, and impressed competitors across the board with its rich environmental diversity.

“The moss on the big rocks seems like it has millions of years of history,” said Taiga.  “In Japan, if the moss is stepped on, it will be damaged, but the moss here is so thick and it remains undamaged.  I feel the toughness of nature here.”