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Born free

By Xu Xiaomin (China Daily)

07:55, April 24, 2012

Meng Ye hugs a boa constrictor, 120 kg and 7 meters long, on an island near Iquitos, a city in Peru's Amazon River region. Provided to China Daily

Meng Ye is a Chinese-American who claims to have visited about 150 countries and regions, though he says he is a Shanghai man at heart. Xu Xiaomin reports in Shanghai.

Shanghai's men are often characterized as neat and financially astute, but hardly ever as masculine or adventurous. Meng Ye, born and raised in Shanghai, is an exception. He has visited some 150 countries and regions and refers to himself simply as a traveler who prefers to visit places where most people don't go.

In March 2011, he went to Yeonpyeong Island, close to the site of a fierce artillery exchange between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea, in 2010.

Also in 2011, in April, he visited the Chernobyl nuclear power facility in Ukraine, just days before the 25th anniversary of the disaster.

The following month he was in Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was killed; and in October he went to the Golden Triangle region on the Mekong River.

"It's so cool visiting these places," says the garment industry businessman, who is tall and strong, has a beard and likes wearing military-style clothes, a white cap, and smokes a Cuban cigar.

It was in 1999, after he had saved enough, that he began his travels.

"Once, I was an ordinary traveler like everyone else who would be wowed at the Eiffel Tower, for instance," says Meng, who admits to being born in the 1960s, though he won't give his age.

"But now, what impresses me most during my journeys is not beautiful views, but the people living there."

Having just completed a tough two-month journey along the 6,400 km Amazon River in South America, the second longest river in the world, Meng says he misses the people he met.

Meng set out with Travel Channel to produce a documentary about the area's tribes. He says the trek was boring at times, fraught with danger and plagued by mosquitoes.

The Amazon River's more than 1,700 branches form a labyrinth, concealing the tribespeople he was looking for.

While boating down the river he met a man in his 20s whose boat was made from more than 30 tree trunks, bound together by wire, which took him nine days to float downriver - without an engine or tiller - and eventually sell for about 40 yuan ($6.34) a trunk.

"I wondered if cutting down trees without a license was illegal in Peru, but here was a man who needed to make money for his family. It is hard to criticize him as not environmentally friendly," Meng says.

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