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Frenchman thumb-lifts his way around the world

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Frenchman Jeremy Marie tries his hand at hitchiking in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Meng Kim Long/Phnom Penh Post

Last week 7Days told you the story of a Swedish man who is riding a tandem bike around the world with strangers he meets along the way.

So it only made sense that we should report on another such travelling eccentric – this time a Frenchman who has been using his thumb to hitchhike around the world.

Jeremy Marie left France in 2007 and has so far covered 156,700 kilometres through 57 countries, carried by owners of 1,529 vehicles – sailing ships, trucks, cars and more.

Rather exhausted, he took a break in Phnom Penh last week and told us his strange tale.

“Every kilometre of my traveling depends on the good will of total strangers,” Jeremy told 7Days.

The 28-year-old tourism-industry graduate knew he was taking on a huge task to circle the globe and spent a year working as waiter to save up for the trip.

He told us he has always had a dream to travel throughout the world to experience different cultures – that was the vision which drove him to start his journey.

“What really inspired me to do this is watching travel shows on TV when I was a child,’’ he says.

“I wanted to witness in reality what I had seen on TV about other countries.”

The journey began October 2007 and he plans to end his epic feat in 2013. He first left France for a tour around Europe down to Africa, North and South America, the South Pacific, New Zealand and has now arrived in Asia.

“In every country, I hitchhike to get lifts from place to place, but it’s always a long journey when I have to cross a whole continent,” he says.

He has long believed hitchhiking makes it easier to get to know local people better, and allows for better communication.

“Something special happens when strangers open the door to me, and I feel like the door opens to a new friendship for me.”

However, hitchhiking is not the done thing in some countries. “It’s hard to get a lift in developed countries because they tend to think the hitchhiker could be a criminal who could rob or murder them.”

Jeremy also found Cambodia is one of hardest countries to get a lift, as hitchhiking is not part of the culture here.

He made it to Cambodia from Thailand via the Poipet border. “I spent three hours each time to get a lift from Poipet to Battambang, Siem Reap and finally to Phnom Penh,” he says.

Besides taxis, there are few tourists driving cars in Cambodia and Jeremy has found it is fellow travellers who give him a free ride in other countries.

But what really blew Jeremy’s mind in Cambodia is the friendliness of the people and their dazzling smiles. He has often been the recipient of hospitality.

“Every time I walk past them, I see the smile on their face – the smiles that I never see in France or other parts or Europe.”

These are the kind of cultural insights he could never get from the TV shows which inspired him.

“Television portrayed people in less developing countries as poverty stricken, fighting for food, fighting in general but having been through those countries, I found something different,’’ he says.

“They are living their lives with what they have, which is definitely different from people living in a developed country – especially in France where people are more consumed by money than the meaning of life.”

Has he ever been homesick? He says no, as he has made the world his home.

Asked about his biggest challenges, Jeremy said it was languages as he only speaks English and French. He tries to learn as much as he can in each country, but “I enjoy body language – it’s fun,” he laughed.

Jeremy will leave Cambodia on August 13 for Vietnam and then up to Laos and China.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lim Meng Y at ppp.lifestyle@gmail.com

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