Explore, Experience, Learn, Share

Ger on the steppe

Throughout the globe, distinct geographical, environmental and political climates have shaped each community to the form it exists today, resulting in a diverse array of cultures worldwide.  Diversity offers us opportunities for inter-societal sharing of ideas that help us solve the problems within each others communities.

Living in and being involved in the global economy means that our actions and decisions affect those living on other parts of the planet.  Climate change has also opened our eyes to how we live our lives can have global ramifications.  As we near the end of the first decade of the 21st century, and the world becomes increasingly integrated and globalised, diverse and unique cultures are rapidly disappearing.

These things can't be solved by monthly charity donations (though we are not suggesting that you stop!).  Have a look around and see some other ways of living.  Why do we choose TVs and cars?  Did we even choose it?  Could we do things differently, and still be happy?  Should we do things differently?

The Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages (www.livingtongues.org) reports that on average, one distinct language is being lost every two weeks with 50 per cent of all languages estimated to be extinct in 100 years' time.  In a recent study published in the eminent scientific journal Nature, Sutherland and colleagues (doi:10.1038/nature01607) found that 46 languages have less than 10 native speakers left and 357 languages with less than 50 speakers, with the languages becoming extinct at a far greater rate than animal species.

We believe that cultural diversity is important, and valuable enough to be preserved.  There is a lot of indigenous knowledge (natural resource management, care for local flora and fauna, history, medicine) that is only to be found within the hands of peoples that have lived in the region for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Also, as each of these different cultures has evolved throughout unique geographical and political climates, there are many different elements of societal culture, ideas and tenets, that are unique to their situation.  Thus, by maintaining the diversity that is present on this little jewel of a planet, we are not losing potential for ideas of how to organize our society.  What elements and practices in these other societies might we be able to incorporate into Western society?

This journey and subsequent documentation is not about an unquestioning valuing all cultures as equal, not about blindly promoting tolerance of their customs and ways of life, but rather one of questioning our own lifestyle, their lifestyle, our own beliefs and practice, and their beliefs and practices. This will involve learning what tools they use and how they use them – both in terms of locally available resources (land, flora and fauna) and the values and tenets of their social systems.

Learning from other cultures consists of seeing what does and what doesn't work for certain cultures, what problems their cultures have and what beneficial elements they have.  Then, one must ask why it does or doesn't work.  By seeing what faults our culture may have, what solutions other cultures may have to this, and what problems they have, we can better find solutions to the universal problems that plague mankind.  Thus, in the process, one ends up questioning their own beliefs, and garnering new knowledge or ways of looking at things.

People often are not concerned with the preservation of the diversity of different cultures and the knowledge they have acquired, not so much because they do not care, but because often they do not know.  If they saw and understood the importance of these cultures, they would be more likely to be moved to act.  When people can connect first hand, empathise, sharing joy and sadness with these people, they will be emotional attuned to their cultures, more able to see themselves in their shoes, not so far removed. Once people see and understand the beauty and importance of these people and cultures and their indigenous wisdom, they will hopefully understand and promote the preservation of this diversity and its acquired knowledge.

From this problem itself, stems other questions, which hopefully our followers may go someway towards answering or even just questioning. Are other cultures important?  If so, why are they important?  Are we all part of the same or independent nature/culture?  What is our role/place in a world full of many disappearing cultures and indigenous knowledge?  We hope that this journey will help people explore some of these (and many more) questions, and move them to search for answers.

As we travel through Central Asia, China and Mongolia, we hope to get a glimpse of and document many other lifestyles. We aim to do this as observers, without tarnishing the very cultures we are trying to document.  However, when venturing into a foreign environment as an observer, it is a trade off between minimal impact on these cultures (to capture them in their most pure form), and documenting it to help people understand why they need to preserve it.  By entering these fragile and uncontaminated cultural areas you often cause change to the indigenous populace by altering, bringing in, taking away or even unconsciously changing them; how much of this is legitimised by the documentation of these people?  This may be one of the larger issues concerning the planning and logistics of this expedition, which will require careful attention.

We aim to be staying with, and following numerous endangered nomadic tribes (some with as little as 50 native speakers left) which are predicted to have disappeared by 2050. Throughout this journey we will be documenting the stories, wisdom, beliefs, way of life, language, music etc, of these cultures before they are lost forever. Many of these tribes have very few members left, and could disappear within the next 20-50 years. These tribes have gathered hundreds of years knowledge and wisdom which would be a terrible waste if it was lost. We aim to be recording all this knowledge and culture in various mediums, recording their songs, stories, dances, knowledge, way of life, social structures, myths of creation; the works.

These vanishing tribes if not documented now, will have their wisdom and knowledge (which has been gathered throughout the centuries and passed down from generation to generation) lost forever. Our current lifestyle as it is, is not the only way to live, there are many things wrong with it, it is only by looking to how other cultures live that we can progress. It is only by looking at other groups lifestyles that we can see how we can change ours, what works in their way of life, what doesn't, what works in our way of life, what doesn't, that we can truly move forward. This is what the expedition is all about.

We will be capturing all our experiences on film (video and camera), on audio (digital recordings) and physically (artifacts) to document their respective lifestyles, and transmitting back in real-time back to you via this website..  From myths of creation, to fables, to poems, and music, to sports and instruments and clothing, we aim to capture and document the spirit of these peoples on a variety of different media.

Through this website, and in combination with pre- and post- expedition talks and presentations, we aim to transmit these stories, in real-time, back to those around the world that are following our journey.


Our personal journeys:

For us, Steppe by Steppe, Side by Side is an opportunity to really grow and learn both as individuals and as a team.  There are very real risks involved in such an enterprise and we recognise that we will be stepping well out of our comfort bubbles - our security will be centred squarely on our wits and our reliance on other people, not on our house, or our car.  The diverse range of environments, both geographical and political, will be testing.  It's all in the preparation…

In a world where we are so focused on surviving in our own isolated economic driven culture, the idea of taking people out of that and placing them in a foreign society without Western technology or material wants - "living to live" - is intriguing.  How will we survive?  How will we live without the things we take for granted; piped water, electricity, mobile phones?  It will also be interesting to find out what draws us humans to seek out these foreign cultures and what we have in common with them - is it something innate, something socially constructed, or something else?  How do our experiences of these people change us?  How do people cope when they are thrown into foreign culture, a situation of unfamiliarity, people they do not know, alienation, and anomie?

There are a number of reasons we decided to partake upon this journey: the challenges that it would present to ourselves and what we presently consider to be important; the opportunity to see and record some of these special people and places; the opportunity to bring to the public the knowledge these local cultures have gathered over the centuries.  We think such a journey presents a remarkable opportunity for two journeymen to bring the global issues of increasing culture homogeneity and loss of culture and local knowledge, and its relationship with affluent lifestyle, into living rooms through discussions amongst a mix of people that the viewer can relate to.

We hope our extensive experience in communication will contribute to making the journey rewarding, engaging; much more than merely entertaining.



There are those people today who live the same life, day-in day-out - predictable, risk-free, dreamless.  They are the harshest critics of those who choose to break free from this mundane existence. 

In this world, too many people are afraid to pursue the life they truly desire, too afraid of being criticised by others, too afraid of failing, too afraid of not knowing the way.

However, there are also those who choose to follow their dreams, those who choose to rebel, those who strive to be free - those who live.  Stay true to yourself.  Break free from the chains of society - and live.  May you too have the strength and courage to pursue your dreams.

-Roger Chao