Richard Avis quit his humdrum job in a London office to travel the world in a most unusual way.
The Scotsman is currently engaged in an international search for his “Time Twins" -- people born on the same day that he was: December 1, 1974.
In previous interviews, he has described his quest as motivated by a desire to discover how culture and nationality influences and shapes us--particularly our ideas of success and happiness.
In short, Avis is seeking to answer the question "what if I had been born in a completely different country?"
After a few weeks in Vietnam, Avis has only really succeeded in finding a church that shares his birthday. He's eager for help. So if you know anyone who shares his birthday, please contact him through his website . He can also be reached at email@example.com.
Richard Avis poses with one of his Time Twins, a Chinese-Malaysian teacher in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Photo courtesy of Richard Avis.
What started this project?
In London, I worked a routine office job that I had been doing for 14 years, lived in a shared house with friends (as London is a very expensive place to rent or own property) and was single. These circumstances were what started me wondering whether I was successful in life and how other people around the world, born on the same day as me, would determine success.
This was the spark that initiated the project.
Has all this travel changed you in any way?
My life has changed enormously.
I am not someone who enjoys speaking in public, and a few weeks before I left my job in London, my boss asked me to give a presentation to about 10 colleagues. I did it, but was very nervous and didn’t enjoy it.
A month later, in Sydney, Australia, I was on live breakfast TV speaking to an audience of millions of people about this project!! I could never have imagined that I could do such a thing. One of the messages from the project is that people can achieve a lot more than they think they can. Many people have doubts about their abilities and therefore do not fulfill their potential. I am a great example of that. Hopefully, by doing this project I will inspire some people to either find their Time Twins, or do something they always wanted to do.
What's your next move? Is this just a long vacation for you?
Hopefully, the project is just starting and there are so many other parts of the world to visit and so many other fascinating and important life stories to learn about.
I realise how lucky I am to have these experiences and want to share them with others. I am writing a book about the project with my colleagues and we are hoping to make a documentary film. Who knows how my life will have changed by the time the project is over. It is an amazing adventure
Your website says you're in Quy Nhon; what are you doing there?
I am in Quy Nhon, only for a day or two, heading North. My journey started in the Mekong Delta where I met a Time Twin, who I found on a social media site a few months ago. Unfortunately, he only had about 15 minutes to chat, so I do not know much about him (my meetings with Time Twins usually last at least an hour - and some, who have been very hospitable have met me a few times over a number of days). He went to university in Ho Chi Minh City, is married and the greatest achievement in his life are his 2 children. It is interesting that all of the parents I have met in this project, wherever they live, and however different their lives our always state that having children was their greatest achievement.
Where else do you plan to go in Vietnam?
While I am in Vietnam, I am travelling to see as much as I can of this incredibly beautiful country and learn about its culture. The Mekong Delta was the first place I visited, after flying into Ho Chi Minh City, and that was because the Time Twin was there. The next stop on my journey was Nha Trang - not because I knew of a Time Twin there, but because I had read that the local church (Nhà thờ giáo xứ Giuse) was opened on the day I was born! This is the only building I have found on my travels that was opened that day!
What's your next move?
Next I head to Hue, where I am in contact with a Time Twin (although given the language difficulty, I am not sure he understands my correspondence). I am then going to Da Nang and will hopefully meet a man there who is a Karate instructor (again this depends on whether he agrees to meet).
My plans are to continue North for the next few weeks (visiting Da Nang, Hue, Ha Long, Hanoi, Sapa), but it would be fascinated to meet Time Twins anywhere North of where I am. I would also like to meet other Time Twins in the South, or Saigon, depending on the cost of travel back there.
How do you usually find Time Twins?
There are a few ways. Some famous people are mentioned in online media that usually includes their date of birth. Some social media also includes peoples' date of birth as well (although searching by date of birth is not possible on Facebook). I am very keen, however, to not only meet people who are famous or have internet access. Therefore, wherever possible, I like to try and find people through the media. I am very keen to meet people from different backgrounds in Vietnam and want to get the message out to people in more remote communities and the minority groups, especially in the North West of Vietnam.
Do you ever find Time Twins who don't want to meet you?
Near the start of the project, I learned that everybody in Sweden has their name, address and date of birth listed on the internet. So I decided to write a letter to every Time Twin in the country - over 150 of them. Of these, three Time Twins replied. I visited Sweden to meet these people and learned a lot about Swedish culture from them. Since then, as the project has received more media attention, a higher proportion of Time Twins have already heard about the project and contact me. In Australia, where the project received lots of media attention, I estimate that about one in three Time Twins who heard about the project contacted me. Why some people are not interested in replying, or contacting me, is interesting as well. I would be fascinated to know why some people are not interested in taking part.
Who is your most fascinating Time Twin to date?
All the people I have met have been fascinating and have impressed me. Some of the people are successful in traditional ways - the Norwegian Time Twin I met competed in the Olympic Games, the Dutch Time Twin is a champion bodybuilder, the Italian Time Twin is the mayor of a city. However, the project is not just about these people - impressive though they are. The Time Twins I have met who have been wives and mothers for 20 years are incredibly impressive people too, the Time Twins whose lives have been plagued with tragedy, persecution, bereavement and disaster, but who have somehow put these things behind them and keep smiling - and who share these stories with me are hugely inspirational.
How do you fund your travels?
I have been paying for the project myself. I feel that the project is an important endeavor and is a cultural adventure that has never been done before. It, therefore, seems a good thing to spend money doing. That said, however, my funds are running out and I am looking for companies that may want to sponsor the project, in order for it to continue to other countries.
What does your family think of this project?
I am single and have no children. I think that if I was married, then I may not have had the time to conduct the project and leave England for so long.
I have no brothers and sisters and my parents, who I was very close to, passed away last year. This made me reflect even more about what was important in my life. For me, the project is important. They were proud of what I was doing and I think they would be pleased with what I have achieved so far.
Please tell me something you've discovered about Vietnamese culture.
Obviously, the friendliness of the Vietnamese people is a joy to everyone who visits this wonderful country, and Vietnamese cuisine is world-renowned. However, so far, I have not been able to spend much time with Vietnamese Time Twin. Hopefully, this is a question I can answer more fully once, with Thanh Nien’s help, I have met some more Vietnamese Time Twins.
People born on 1 December 1974 in Vietnam have borne witness to huge changes in their country during their lives: from the horrors of war to incredible economic progress. I am sure that the hugely successful history of this country during my lifetime will be fascinating to expats and people around the world.