When Amie Thao moved back to her hometown of Seattle several years ago, after attending school in Los Angeles, she wanted to find a way to reintegrate herself into the community. Thao proposed that she and her coworker from Tennessee, start an International Supper Club to begin trying global cuisine. They did it for nearly two years, visiting restaurants that featured everything fromVietnamese to Northwest cuisine. It became more than just a way to get to know the city; Thao found herself drawn to food as a form of narrative.
“Meals are a catalyst for telling stories,” she said.
Now, as Thao prepares to bike her way across the world’s largest landmass, she is using food to tell the story of her travels.
Thao was a designer for a tech start-up in Seattle. When she was laid off from her job, she decided there was no better time to see the world. So last year, Thao biked 5,000 miles around Europe. She started in England, took the ferry to the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and the Baltic states, traversing 15 different countries in the span of six months. Thao had never considered cycling as a means of seeing the world, but she met so many people along the way that she wanted to do it again.
This time she’s taking the lessons she learned from that first trip and applying it on a bigger and much more ambitious scale. Thao will join her partner, Olli Turmelius, whom she met on her first round of travels. Starting in Spain they will cover 15,000 miles on the backs of their bicycles. They will begin at the Western edge of Europe and end in Eastern Asia. The trek, says Thao, is an extension of that first International Supper Club.
“I’m naturally drawn to food,” said Thao of her first cycling trip through Europe. “I like taking pictures of food, and talking to people over mealtimes.”
If their journey goes as planned, the two will continue from Europe on to Vietnam, where Thao’s family is from. She has never had the opportunity to visit.
“We’ll dip our back tires into the Atlantic Ocean and then cycle over to the Pacific.”
Thao and Turmelius had wanted to go through parts of the Middle East like Iran, but for security purposes, some of that planning won’t happen until the two are already on the road. While cycling, Thao will be doing freelance work to help fund her travels. She launched a fundraising campaign recently to support the project.
She says the biggest difference between this adventure and her last, is that she won’t be traveling solo. And while many of her friends and family were initially skeptical about her travels, keeping a blog, Thao found, began to change people’s perspectives toward her adventures.
That’s where the stories come in.
“People started seeing that the world isn’t a really super scary place. A lot of my friends who were initially scared for me, came around and are very supportive of me now.”
Last year, Thao’s blog developed a sizeable readership in Poland. When she crossed the northern border of Poland from Lithuania, people began reaching out to her. They offered her meals, and to host her during her travels through the countryside.
“It was an amazing experience because it felt like a whole country was welcoming me,” said Thao.
She can remember staying with a couple on her last trip who had been trying very hard to have a child. They had miscarriages before and while she was staying with them she recalls they had a health scare that required them to visit the hospital. Despite the intimacy of their struggle, Thao says they opened up to her about the experience.
“What amazes me is how willing people are to open up and allow people into their lives,” she said.
And the food is an experience as well. Thao can remember spotting a Vietnamese restaurant in Germany. Above the restaurant lived the owners: six adults and two children. For three days they invited her to stay with them, serving her duck-blood soup and other dishes she’d never experienced before. It was such a display of generosity, and such a unique glimpse into their lives that the memory of it has remained with her to this day.
Thao wasn’t always this confident about her travels. She said of her first cycling trip: “Everybody was very scared for me to do it by myself. But when I did it, all this opportunity and all these doors opened up. I ended up having so many adventures.”
To involve her loved ones at home, and any readers of her blog, Thao and Turmelius are designing food-related assignments for those following along. One week, Thao might ask her readers to talk to somebody about their favorite childhood meal, and then to recreate it. She encourages them to tell their stories as well. The premise behind telling stories, she says, is to reveal what an interconnected world we live in.
“I really wanted to share the stories of the people I met,” said Thao. “Sometimes I’d tell people in the States I’m in Poland or wherever. People have a lot of misconceptions about abroad. By sharing, I want to show people, if you’re a mom you love your kid. People are similar everywhere.”
Check out the video about Amie and Olli’s world tour by visiting: www.vimeo.com/internationalsupperclub/trailer-1.
Read stories from the International Supper Club: www.internationalsupperclub.
View fundraising campaign: http://kck.st/isc-eurasia