By Natasha Joibi
When F&B entrepreneur Seet Wai Song announced to friends and family that he wanted to drive from Malaysia to Germany, many thought he was crazy.
After all, travelling across 21 countries and covering a whopping 25,000km in 60 days is no easy feat. But the truly crazy part was that Seet intended to do just that in his ol' faithful — his 50-year-old Mercedes-Benz W115.
And regardless of the various views and obstacles, the resolute 65-year-old was not about to give up on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure dream.
Fondly known by many in the industry as "Chef on Wheels", Seet said he was first bitten by the adventure travel bug in 1983, when he spent a year backpacking solo around India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Since then, he's made various other trips. He even lived in Switzerland for seven years, working there as a hotelier with his wife.
Seet has also done long drives in the W115; like in 2018, when he travelled 11,000km in 11 days from Kuala Lumpur to Cambodia with his son.
Travelling overland to Stuttgart, Germany, however, is a different beast altogether. And Seet said the journey required meticulous planning, vehicle maintenance and medical preparation as well as emotional anticipation of the challenges ahead.
To Stuttgart with love
Aside from being an avid traveller, Seet is also a vintage car enthusiast.
He collects and refurbishes classic cars, such as the Mercedes-Benz W115, which he bought from a neighbour about 10 years ago.
The car was broken down when he got it but has since gone through major repairs. And it was only natural, Seet says, that after having invested loads of money and time into the vehicle, he would want to do something really special with and in it — like drive it to the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart.
But while the journey, which started in KL on July 3 and has taken him through Thailand, Laos, China, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Turkey so far, has been good for the most part, it has not been without incident.
Road conditions, Seet said, were at times bad, and the old Benz did not escape unscathed.
"It is not easy to drive 400 to 500 km a day. The roads are not like Malaysian highways. My car's muffler and exhaust were damaged a few times and had to be repaired.
"(But) I consider this a personal achievement ... there's a lot to prepare almost daily; physically and mentally," Seet remarked.
Besides, he has thoroughly enjoyed being able to encounter and interact with people of various communities on this trip and, of course, sample the local cuisine.
Navigating through cultures and cuisine
Seet said he maintained a tight budget, took with him a supply of dry food from Malaysia, and kept eating out to a minimum. However, from time to time, he would "spoil" himself and indulge a little.
"Being a chef, I'm inclined to be adventurous when it comes to food. So, occasionally, I treat myself to meals in cafés and savour local specialities."
Seet added that his gastronomic curiosity knows no bounds, and he even tried unusual dishes, such as the sheep's head he encountered in China and the dish composed of duck blood he sampled in Laos.
In Russia, meanwhile, Seet did not pass up the opportunity to dine on caviar and says he spent an entire afternoon in Astrakhan, supposedly the caviar capital of the world, learning about the delicacy.
But what has made this particular journey truly special is that he always intended for it to be more than about travel and adventure.
Driving for a cause
Having experienced the loss of relatives and acquaintances to cancer, Seet wanted to raise awareness about the disease in his own meaningful way. So, for every kilometre he travels, he aims to raise RM10 for the National Cancer Society of Malaysia.
Whenever possible during his journey, Seet said he also visits medical centres or facilities dedicated towards cancer treatment.
So far, he has visited a hospital in Thailand and Clinic Vivamedi in Georgia.
Relating his experience in Georgia, Seet says that he arrived at the medical centre with no prior appointment or referral.
"I just walked in and introduced myself and my intentions. With little knowledge of English, they seemed to understand what I was there for. I was introduced to (the centre's director) Professor Zurab Chkhaidze."
He added that he was surprised and humbled that the prof took time out of his busy schedule to give a briefing and interview, provide a short tour of the facility as well as introduce him to a number of surgeons.
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