A marathon runner, a certified dive instructor, an avid cyclist – Zhi Min is a man of movement, a traveller no less than a student. He is a person who somehow manages to perfectly juggle between his passion for travelling with the demands of being a university student, while at the same time, crafting out pockets of good quality time to nurture relationships. I was lucky to find out some ‘secret tricks’ behind this delicate balancing act that Zhi Min is close to mastering.
Starting From the Beginning: What inspired all his travels?
Zhi Min’s father, himself an avid traveller, has accumulated a wealth of experiences through his travels around the world. He passed on his passion for adventures to Zhi Min, whom unlike his brothers, inherited it quickly and enthusiastically.
At 15, he travelled to India on a school trip and spent a month on ‘exchange’ at a prestigious local boarding school. That month, he saw a world that existed beyond the little diamond-shaped island of Singapore. India was for him, an eye-opening experience where he witnessed slavery and poverty thriving beside great wealth and grand empires. The trip ignited and awakened the traveller, the learner and the go-getter in him. That same year, he went on his first solo trip to Shanghai, China.
Becoming Bolder and Going Further: On Solo Flights
Zhi Min thinks that there is a lot of opportunity for self-discovery and independence when ‘you are your own man’. It teaches you how to make good decisions and take responsibility for them. When asked about his idea of a productive holiday, Zhi Min immediately links it to one that is filled with self-discovery – an essential component of every trip abroad. He sees solo travelling as a way to “to spend time with yourself, by yourself”.
Movement and Growth: Rest-on-the-go
For some, staying home with a book is rest.
For Zhi Min, being at the beach with a book in hand fits his personality much better — “I don’t like the feeling of unemployment,” he says, and to him, lazing around and doing nothing is very much something he cannot do.
A Delicate Balancing Act: Studying and travelling
Zhi Min has also travelled to more than 10 countries in the past 7 years. He seizes every opportunity for travel and has couch-surfed his way across Europe (almost) and Vietnam. Ask him how he managed to do all that, and he would casually reply without pausing to ponder over his response,
“You make time for what’s important.”
When asked if he found Singapore and his commitments to school too stifling for the traveller’s way of life, Zhi Min remarked with insight and precociousness,
“There’s a reason why they give you 3 months of summer. It is for self-discovery! Although you are on school vacation, it doesn’t mean that your education has to stop.”
Zhi Min’s passion for learning comes across very strongly. During one of the many dive trips he regularly embarks on, Zhi Min recalls diving past an undersea volcano and feeling a tremendous sense of awe and excitement from having witnessed classroom geography lessons coming to life before his eyes. It allowed him to appreciate the wonders of Nature better and remember concepts he would otherwise have forgotten. Zhi Min’s passion for uncovering and understanding the intricate workings of the physical world and his fondness for aircrafts prompted him to pick up Mechanical Engineering as his choice of study in NUS.
During reading week, Zhi Min and a few other Tembusuians flew over to Brussels, Belgium to participate in the Harvard World Model United Nations – an annual conference where international youth delegates meet to discuss important issues and key historical events.
A Fine Decision: Tembusu College as Home
“I cannot imagine myself not staying at Tembusu,” says Zhi Min who feels that it has been one of the best decisions he has made. Tembusu is a community where like-minded people come together, there is diversity and one meets people who are “courageous and vocal enough to share their thoughts”, he reflects. Zhi Min has forged firm friendships with the people he has met in Tembusu, he is active in Ora House activities and is a regular face at Master’s and Fellow’s Teas. He has represented Tembusu College in Road Relay and Cycling at the Inter-Collegiate Games, and co-heads Offtrek — a college interest group that organises local and overseas outdoor activities.
Most recently, Zhi Min completed a Triathlon race organised by Metasprint Series that involved a 5km sprint, 20km bike and 750m swim component. The race took him 97 minutes. He continues training for marathons and races — pushing his limits, disciplining the body and strengthening the mind.
A Successful Life: Concluding thoughts
I quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous musings on the idea of a successful life and asked Zhi Min about his idea of ‘successful life’. Zhi Min paused for a while, and a pensive look spread across his face. Then, he shared a rather unexpected answer coming from a go-getter and a person who shudders at the thought of rest and standing still.
“A successful life is a life where one has devoted one’s utmost for one’s kids.”
Although Zhi Min has no plans to settle down just yet, he aspires to be a good father in the future and sees parenting as important and immensely satisfying. “It’s a calling in life,” he tells me.
One of Zhi Min’s goals in life is to inspire young people through his interaction with them. And indeed, as our conversation drew to a close, I sat by the dining table, mentally constructing an elaborate plan for my own next big adventure – and noticed Zhi Min’s insights and precocious comments subtly weaving their way into every bold decision that required traversing the road less travelled.
An Hour with a Friend is a series by Tan Sing Yee where she uncovers more about the everyday Tembusian.