Category: The Straits Times (Singapore)

Cycling the world at 74

christian seiersen

Not many people would swop a night’s sleep in a regular bed for a snooze on grass on the side of the road in Woodlands.

Yet a 74-year-old cyclist from Italy is happy to do so.

 Meet sprightly Janusz Rivers, who has been cycling solo around the world for the past nine years, getting by on the equivalent of $5 a day and sleeping rough. All this at an age when most people are sitting out their golden years in a comfy chair, not on a tiny leather saddle.

 The intrepid (some would say eccentric) bachelor is visiting Singapore for the first time, having flown here from Poland on Tuesday. He is here to start the South-east Asian leg of his seemingly never-ending journey.

 He aims to cycle across the Causeway, cover the whole of Malaysia and southern Thailand before returning in April for a month’s rest. He will then fly to Papua New Guinea to cycle there and on through Timor Leste, before flying to Australia in early 2011.

 Rivers, a retired sports manager, is being put up here by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports at the Singapore Sports School in Woodlands. Despite having a comfortable room to stay in, he reveals that he left it at midnight on Wednesday to sleep on a patch of grass he had found by the road.

 “I always sleep in the open. It’s quiet and natural,” explains this self-described “citizen of the world” who has no home base.

 Rivers hails from Poland originally but moved to Rome in 1979 until the call of the road hit on Dec 31, 1999, and he began his journey. He tours an area for about five months, rests for a month or so in one country he chooses as a base, and then continues.

 He claims to have travelled to 115 countries, been kidnapped 30 times and survived a potentially deadly snake bite. What’s more, he has made his epic journey on the same US$50 bike he bought when he first set out. The frame is original, but the tyres and gears are changed yearly.

 Amazingly, he has not had a single puncture. He credits this to his German puncture-proof tyres, which he changes twice every six months.

 Unlike some adventurers, Rivers is not undertaking his journey to raise money for charity or draw attention to himself. He says he is financially comfortable and is doing this just to stay active.

 Speaking to Life! at the Singapore Sports School, he recalls the fateful New Year’s Eve when he decided he wanted a change in life. “I was sitting at home, eating macaroni and sipping Italian wine, when I thought, ‘I’m getting old. What can I do with my life?’ ”

 The next day, he bought a cheap bicycle and jumped on a ferry bound for Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. He says the decision was easy because he is not married and has no children.

 From Lanzarote, he went back to Europe and cycled north to Norway in five months. It marked the beginning of his love affair with the open road that he says has taken him 125,000km across the world. He reckons it is the best way to see the world.

 Each day, he aims to travel 30km. Every country he visits, he ensures that he has the sanction of the local government. He obtains this by either faxing or calling ahead, and the government usually provides his accommodation and food.

 He sticks to the backroads so that he can interact with locals.While traversing the desert in Egypt, he says the local tribes would follow him on their camels to give him food and water. He says he has encountered generosity everywhere, and claims it is almost impossible to spend any money. This is just as well, as his prize possessions on the road consist only of an Italian coffee maker and a small radio.

 He names Cuba as his favourite country so far, where he says he was the first tourist to cycle around the island without a police escort.

 Rivers’ world tour was scheduled to finish at the Beijing Olympics last year, but after taking a fitness test at the Russian space centre and finding that his heart and lungs are strong, he has set his sights on the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016.

 Then he plans to stay in a South American village for the rest of his days. But for now, when asked why he keeps on cycling, he says: “I don’t want to be found dead in front of the TV.”

 Source: The Straits Times/By Christian Seiersen


The secret Policeman

christian seiersen

It has been 32 years since he left The Police but Henry Padovani still gets asked questions about the famous band behind hits such as Roxanne and Every Breath You Take. The 57-year-old founding member of The Police says he is still in touch with members of the band – Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers – which broke up in 1984.

In fact, he tells Life! that he played a part in the band’s decision to get back together for their reunion tour in 2007.

The Corsican guitarist, who is playing at Crazy Elephant blues bar tonight, says that he was recording his new album that year when he invited drummer Copeland to play on one of the tracks titled Welcome Home.

“Someone said Stewart would soound great on the track. So I rang him up and he asked if I’d called Sting, so I called him too and said, ‘Shall we get it together?'” They recorded the track together and six months later The Police reformed, The band went on a blockbuster world tour which grossed over US$340, making it the third-highest grossing tour of all time.

He even got to play with the band when they performed at the Stade Francais in Paris. He recalls: “Sting told me, ‘You should be part of this.'”

There were no hard feelings between the two even though it was Sting who suggested that he leave The Police after Andy Summers joined the group.

Padovani says: “We’re still friends. When Sting is in France , he’ll ring me up and we’ll go to see a football or tennis match.”

After he left the band, he enjoyed a diverse music career. He formed The Flying Padovanis in 1980 and they released two albums of instrumental rock to modest success. They broke up in 1982 but re-formed in 2007 for the album Three for Trouble and a tour last year. He also became vice-president of IRS records and manager of Italian rock singer Zucchero, who has sold over 10 million albums.

The divorced father of two has also jammed with The Clash and still recieves Christmas cards from B.B. King.

Now on a solo tour of Asia, he will play classical French rock with an acoustic and electric guitar at his gig tonight. The Arts House will also screen a documentary on his life, Rock N Roll Of Corse, by French director Lionel Guedj. It traces his career from the Police to the present.

Looking back at his life, would he trade everything he has for the career of The Police? He replies: “No I wouldn’t trade anything. I’m very happy. With fame, the bigger you are, the harder you fall.”

Think nerdy, not sexy
By Christian Seiersen

Many BMW fans will rejoice at the sight of a 7,500kg chunk of marble sitting on the front lawn of controversial car designer Christopher Bangle’s home in Italy.

It was a gift from his colleagues when he resigned as BMW’s chief of design in February, for him to carve into whatever he wishes.

The people who hated his designs, and there are quite a few of those, will not be holding their breath for a masterpiece such as Michelangelo’s statue of David.

Bangle has not decided what he would do with it. But if he were to sculpt it into a car, it might just be nerdy-looking like an enviromentally friendly hybrid.

‘A hybrid explains its look in a nerdy fashion. In the future, it may not be sex appeal that makes a car identifiable.

‘The decisions facing car designers in the future will be how you make them and what they mean to us,’ says the 52-year-old American, who was in town recently to lecture on ’emotional mobility’ at the Singapore Polytechnic.

Ironically, it may be his ideas on car designs in the future that denied him a future at BMW. According to reports on the Internet, he could have resigned over an internal disagreement about the German carmaker’s Project i.

The project was revealed in a press conference last year and aims to develop sustainable and simple minicars to tackle transportation issues in the biggest cities in the world such as Mumbai, India.

Bangle downplays the circumstances of his departure from a company where he was design boss for 17 years.

‘I had a wonderful time. It was a great brand with great people. I will do something else, let another generation have their say,’ he says without a hint of rancour.

So diplomatic is he, he is not even tempted to get back at his critics. Time magazine named the 2002 BMW 7-series he helped design among the top 50 worst cars of all time, while car enthusiasts have turned his name into a word synonymous with ‘bungle’.

‘When you are that high up, you enjoy the view but you also have to be prepared to act as a lightning rod for the company,’ he says.

Moreover, he adds, ‘a brand needs to redefine itself to stay fresh in people’s minds. Leaders take it where you don’t want to go’.

One gets the impression that here is a guy who has honed his skills at talking to the press to a fine art. He is careful not to ally himself with a school of thought that will appear too controversial.

He describes his style as one of ‘dismantling dogmas’ and ‘innovation with courage’.

‘Designers come up to me and say my style is combining the soft and the hard; a general flow, then a tension of hardness.’

On his approach to car design, he says: ‘The proportions of the car are considered the main factor. It is about being honest and communicating technology.’

The more than 14,000 people who signed an online petition to stop him from designing more Beemers after the 2002 7-series would beg to differ.

Those people hated, among other things, the extra layer of metal Bangle and his team added on the boot of the luxury car. The feature, which some BMW owners thought was ugly, became known as the ‘bangle butt’.

How did he deal with all that intense criticism, if not hatred?

‘My son Derek, who is an architect, and I would sit at the dinner table and talk about it. This forged our relationship,’ he says.

‘This car is a big dog, it has its own personality.’
Bangle on the BMW X6 model (above), with the
controversial high trunk line, which he drives

It must have helped that the much- hated 7-series became the best-selling 7-series of all time, according to BMW. Never mind that experts say its success was largely because of its size. With a generous boot for golf bags, it appealed to many buyers in Asia, especially China.

Also, in 2006, BMW surpassed Mercedes-Benz for the first time ever in premium car sales, selling 889,345 vehicles compared with 818,200 units for Mercedes Car Group.

Bangle has come a long way from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena where he studied under a scholarship paid for by car company Ford.

After receiving a master’s degree in industrial design in 1981, he was with German automaker Opel for four years before hopping over to Italian carmaker Fiat. There he became head of design for the Fiat Coupe but was not present to see its commercial release in 1994 because BMW came a-knocking on his door.

The design he is proudest of during his BMW tenure is the GINA concept model, which his team unveiled last year. The car’s man-made fabric skin gives its surface ‘shape-shifting’ capabilities. The concept sparked a discussion in the industry about the dynamics of surfacing because of its body’s ability to change shape to suit the external conditions and speed.

Although it has been coined only as a visionary model, Bangle sees the concept as the future of design.

He says: ‘The future will see the sculptural car form superseded by other technologies of surface.’

With his departure from the German auto group, his former right-hand man, Dutchman Adrian van Hooydonk, is in charge of design, while he will be pursuing opportunities outside the auto industry with his Italy-based design consultancy, Chris Bangle Associates.

He also intends to spend more time at home, 65km south of Torino in a ‘wine area’, with his wife of 25 years as well as keep an eye on their 22-year-old son’s career as an architect.

Some people may see him cruising the Italian roads in his BMW X6.

His favourite car of all time, however, might be the 1968 Javelin AMC 343 he drove in his hometown of Ohio in the 1970s. He said he loved the iconic American muscle car so much that he drove it until he ‘melted the pistons’.

Although BMW will use his design cues only until next year, he hopes his influence on car design will last longer.

‘I hope people found it inspiring and it encouraged them to accept new things and understand them.’