Around Taiwan on two wheels
Yang Ming-Huang, Taiwan
Owner of bicycle-themed merchandise shop, FrogShop
Story by Koh Eng Beng | Photos by Charmaine Wu
Yang Ming-Huang was a high-flying director in an online game development company, but his passion was in design and photography. Like most people, he never found the courage to start his own business. But that changed in 2008 when he cycled 1,300 km around Taiwan in 16 days in an epic adventure with three friends.
Completing the journey gave him the courage to leave his job and take a crack at starting FrogCafe, a chain of bicycle-themed cafes. Beside serving coffee and breakfast for cycling enthusiasts, the three outlets also sell merchandise such as posters, bags, postcards, and keychains which bear Yang’s design and photography work. In March this year, the FrogCafe has been rebranded as FrogShop which sells only merchandise.
Yang published a book in 2008 to tell his story, and it has inspired many readers to take on similar challenge as a way of transforming their lives. To help people who want to take on the round Taiwan cycling challenge, especially students who could not afford a bicycle, Yang started a free bicycle rental programme at his FrogShop at Bali, along the west bank of Dan Shui river.
To date, the 45-year-old has sponsored 2,000 over cyclists — not just from Taiwan, but also Singapore, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Europe and America — to fulfil their lifetime ambition of cycling around Taiwan.
Qns: Many people feel inspired by your story — how your round Taiwan cycling trip feat gave you the courage to pursue your passion. But being inspired is one thing, there are practical concerns like where to get the money to start, what if I fail, what if I don’t earn enough, and more. What did you do to prepare yourself?
Yang: I felt that my heart was ready but in reality, perhaps not. But let’s put it this way, human beings are all the same — if you think too much, you will not do it. If you are too rational, if you worry about all the details, calculate all the cost, down to every dollar and cent, you will feel scared. So if you feel that what you want to do is fun and meaningful — even though you might not succeed 100%, go ahead.
Back then, I listened to my heart more than my head. As long as it looked like there was a chance to succeed, I would do it. I was not afraid of failure. I knew that if I failed, I’d just start all over and do other stuffs.
Qns: I have friends who have big dreams, but most would rather stay in their job in return for a pay check. What advice do you have for them?
Yang: For many people, life is as such, and this is common in Taiwan too.
For me, after I turned 35, I have been very happy ever since. It’s strange because in the past, when you are doing what you dislike, you are always looking at your watch, thinking about what time you can knock off from the office, right? But when you love what you do, you’d be thinking, “How come time passed so fast? The sky is already dark.” Right now, my time flies so fast, because I am doing stuffs that make me happy, that I am passionate about.
Take yourself for example too, I am sure many people are envious that you can spend a few months in Taiwan and other countries, speaking to so many people.
You should set a goal every five years. Ask yourself, what do I achieve within this five years so that I will have an awesome life experience and memories? Then, what do I want to do in the next five years, or ten years? If you break up your life into blocks of five years, you will have clarity about what you want in life.
But if you live your life from day to day, and you keep telling yourself, “Maybe I will start next year when I have the time, the money, and what-not”, time will just pass by. One day, you’ll realise that you can no longer do what you want. “I am so old now, my heart is so tired that I can’t walk or run anymore, I have to resign to fate for the rest of my life.”
This is why I stopped my cafe business to focus on creative work. Think about it, how many ten years do you have in your life? I have already spent ten years in building up the cafes, shouldn’t I spend my next ten years on something new?
I love creative work, being able to create something new each day is happiness for me. I design all the merchandise, including this ruler which shows the distance from one city to another in Taiwan. Each centimetre represents 10km. During your cycling trip, you can find out what’s the distance you need to cycle to reach your next stop.
I want to encourage more people to go on an adventure such as round island cycling or mountain climbing, and to discover Taiwan. Based on this philosophy, I create products that would help to make your adventure in Taiwan easier and more enjoyable.
Qns: What if people are still afraid? Are there ways to develop confidence?
Yang: If you are still hesitant and fearful of taking on new challenges, I recommend that you do a round island cycling trip in Taiwan.
During the best part of your life, as much as possible, gain different life experiences, do different things. Go on an adventure, take more risk, do things that you don’t normally do everyday. You will become different person, understand yourself better, and stop living like a frog in a well.
If you successfully cycled one round around Taiwan, you will see yourself differently, have more self-confidence to take on greater challenges in future. This is very important, so give yourself a chance.
If you don’t want to cycle, Taiwan is also a fantastic place where you can climb mountains. Go through some physical hardships and challenges, endure the fatigue and bitter cold as you climb up. The climbing is painful, but when you descend, the feeling is awesome. You can also go to other countries for an adventure, challenge yourself and see the world.
I find that one or two out of ten people will usually get a breakthrough and change their lives after travelling or doing challenging stuffs. So I encourage people to ‘find’ themselves using this process.
Qns: Why did you run a free bicycle rental programme when it made no business sense?
Yang: I believe that taking risk is important, whether in play or business. About two decades ago, when I was 17 years old, I cycled from Taipei to Kenting, the southern tip of Taiwan, with a few classmates. This was almost 30 years ago, there was no mobile phones or google map. We had to call back home using public phones to inform our families our whereabouts, otherwise they would think we were missing.
I was then only a third-year high school student, but had already gone through such an adventure. Since then, my perspective about life changed. I felt that taking risk was no big deal. When others asked me to take on challenges, I would feel alright since I had done it before. From then on, I took on bigger adventures like the round Taiwan cycling.
So what’s so great about taking risk? You will be more willing to take on challenges, step out of your comfort zone to do new stuffs. This is very important in life.
A cycling trip at 17 years old changed my life, so I hope others, too, can change their lives through round Taiwan cycling. It can be pretty challenging but you’ll get to discover the real Taiwan. You cycle by the Pacific Ocean, up the mountains, and see the contrast between the cities and countryside. Most importantly, you’ll start to see yourself differently, having accomplished an incredible feat.
Taiwan is not too small or big, cycling around the country takes about 10 to 14 days. In contrast, you need more time to cycle the whole of Japan, or Malaysia. Two weeks in Taiwan is just about nice, you can use your annual leave to do it. You can also borrow the bicycles for free through my bicycle sponsorship programme. Taiwan is also a safe and free country that offers great convenience.
I heard from a very pretty lady from Shanghai that she did not have to pay for almost all of her meals during her round island cycling! All her meals were treated by Taiwaneses whom she met during her journey. *laugh*
There was also a guy from Hong Kong who started his cycling trip late, reaching Taoyuan city only in the late evening. He stopped at a betel nut shop by the road, asked the shop owner, an uncle, for direction.
“Where are you from?” asked the uncle.
“I am from Hong Kong,” said the Hong Kong guy.
“Are you here to cycle round island?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Where are you staying tonight?”
“I haven’t found a place.”
“Don’t need to find, you can stay at my place tonight.”
Along the way, he met many such kind people. So it’s not that Taiwanese guys help only pretty girls, we help guys too! *laugh*
One of the great qualities of Taiwanese is that they are very warm-hearted and willing to help. Although the scenery of Taiwan might not be as beautiful as that of other countries like America, but Taiwan people, I feel, are more welcoming and hospitable.