July 4, 2011
Today we got a very interesting visit from Okhwan Yoon, a man cycling around the world. He was passing through town on his Trek road bike and happened upon one of our regulars, who brought him by the shop. A very nice soft spoken man, with a hell of a story. Here is a article written on him by a San Diego newspaper.
October 17, 2008
Okhwan Yoon departed South Korea seven years ago with his bike, yearning to see the world and discover why it’s so violent. His education thus far: Yoon has been struck six times by cars, kidnapped in Sudan, held up in Portugal, attacked by knife twice and robbed of cameras five times. Despite the frightening experiences, he pedals on. “I am not scared of death,” said Yoon, 46, who arrived in San Diego on Saturday and planned to depart for Los Angeles yesterday. “But I am scared of stopping this odyssey.” To date, Yoon said he has visited 169 countries. He plans to travel three more years, hoping to reach 195 nations.
Staying in youth hostels, motels and sometimes sleeping outside (spending a night in downtown San Diego beneath a table), Yoon said he has paid for the trip himself. He said he owned a clothing trading company for three years in South Korea, saved for the trip, earned $3,000 during his journey giving speeches and has received assistance along the way. After graduating from college with a law degree and battling chronic illnesses, Yoon remembers sitting at home, watching TV. Traffic, kidnappings, murder, robbery and suicide filled the news. “Why is the world so noisy?” he asked himself.
So off he embarked in search of answers. At times he’s cycled 150 miles a day, Yoon said. Of his past illnesses, “all that has been lost since going through this journey.” Africa holds some of his fondest memories. He was moved to tears watching sunsets as soul music played in the background. The music didn’t emanate from anyone playing instruments. Instead, it was in Yoon’s mind, lodged there from listening to local music on the radio. About watching the sun dip into the horizon, Yoon said, “It was like the last moment of one’s life, like when a leaf falls.”
In African villages, he remembers people hauling heavy bowls of water for miles. “Water is precious,” Yoon said. “It helps them make food. Yet when I would ask for water, they would provide water without complaining. With smiles.” He calls Africa “the original soul of the world, friendly and hospitable.” But his experience in war-torn Sudan was not so warm. He said two rebel soldiers aimed rifles at him in a town, forcing him to walk to a compound in bush country. By about 2 a.m., sitting outside a tent, Yoon said the men assigned to guard him were drunk and had fallen asleep, enabling him to escape with his bike.
The knife attacks, he said, came in the Republic of Suriname, a small South American country bordering Brazil, and recently in Phoenix. In Phoenix, Yoon said he used his bike to block a young man’s lunging knife thrusts. The man eventually ran away with Yoon’s bike. Yoon said he ran the man down, kicked him in the back and saved his bike. “I hate fighting,” said Yoon, who is 6 feet tall and weighs 150 pounds. “(But) if somebody feels dangerous (to me), I show them taekwondo positions, and mostly they gave up on me.” Other Yoon impressions of places and people he visited: The United States: “The very same feeling when I was in England. They respect privacy and individualism.” That, though, he said casts a feeling of “a lack of humanity.”
Mexico: “Many people liked to talk to me.” Brazil: “The best fruits and vegetables. They treat me like a friend.” France: “A furnace of ethnicities. Whites, Hispanics, blacks, Christians. They live together harmoniously.” San Diego: “Peaceful, comfortable,” based in part because, like South Korea, the city is bordered by the Pacific. Yoon is working on his fifth bike, estimating they’ve cost$20,000. Not wanting to attract attention to himself, he usually takes a saw or a nail and defaces the bike frames, making them look old and battered. Despite intentionally damaging the bikes, Yoon said they have become his friends.
“Like my partner, like my soul mate,” he said. “Sometimes I feel like we talk to each other. In the jungle or desert, it gives me a lot of encouragement.” Media outlets in Micronesia, Pakistan, Canada, Samoa, Mexico and El Paso, Texas, have carried stories about Yoon. In San Diego, he asked if a reporter had contacts with a publishing company because he thinks his story is worthy of a book. Others, he said, told him it should be made into a movie. He said his travels have left him feeling like a modern-day explorer.
“Like Columbus, Magellan or Vasco da Gama,” he said. A deep thinker who said he speaks seven languages, Yoon also possesses a childlike wonder. For example, he hopes to meet Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “In Korea, he’s the symbol of the Terminator,” Yoon said. “He’s a very strong character, like Spiderman or Batman. He can save the world.” As for world peace, Yoon is not optimistic. “I think that is not possible,” he said. “Every human being possesses instincts. The yin and the yang. The shadow and the light. We need to care for each other as family. “But mostly people think about my country, my society. People are too materialistic, too selfish.”