Alwyn Chong slips into a plush chair in Summer Pavilion restaurant, looking every bit the traveller just returned from an exotic locale. His darkened complexion bears witness to weeks spent under the sun, and around his wrist is a rustic bracelet woven from the fibres of a baobab tree. “I am going to wear it until it falls off,” he says.
It’s a reminder of Botswana, halfway around the world from Singapore, and his spiritual home. Chong has been hooked on the country bordering South Africa’s north since 2008, when he joined an impromptu safari and saw how wild it still was compared to the fenced up private reserves of more popular safari destinations. Tourism, too, was not as rampant.
The 38-year-old has since been back three more times, slipping in and out of the suits he wears as the managing director of fragrance and beauty retailer Escentials, and his adventure khakis.
“I think people should see safaris as long-term journeys more than a one-trip experience,” says Chong. “Because in one trip, you can’t understand anything. It’s like going to New York City and wanting to know it in four days – you won’t.”
View Alwyn’s photos by swiping / clicking left and right, click to expand.
Indeed, for the next hour and a half, over shrimp dumplings and San Pellegrino on a crisp white tablecloth, Chong narrates his last excursion – a canoe trip down the Okavango Delta – drilling down on the behaviour of vultures, how islets are formed (termite mounds made fertile by bird excrement), what the ash of the ebony tree is used for (leave-in conditioner), and how a village of 200 souls along the river is not – as I, a city slicker, thought – the middle of nowhere. The cluster of mud huts is definitely somewhere for the locals – it’s a matter of perspective.
“Things are a lot more pure there,” says Chong. “People are passionate about what they do. My guide has been in the business for over 30 years; yet every time he sees something, it’s as if it’s for the first time. It rubs off on you. It’s not just animals, but communities, too. It all comes together.
“Now, we have people walking around the street collecting virtual monsters. And I ask myself, where have we gone? We are supposed to interact with humans and here we interact with robots.
“For me, I am not going to remember Pokemon Go in 20 years’ time. I am going to remember the interactions I had, the conversations, the time I shared with people.”