SINGAPORE - Travel across China in 50 days without cash, with only 50 Singaporean products to barter in exchange for food and accommodation.
This is the wacky and somewhat cruel premise of the new Starhub reality travel show Mission S-change, featuring the familiar faces of Ah Boys To Men cast members Tosh Zhang and Wang Weiliang in 13 weekly episodes.
Apart from their sleeping bags and bare essentials, the duo are armed with 50 Singapore products, from childhood games such as chapteh and five stones to more valuable foodstuffs such as bak kwa (pork jerky). Their journey takes them across three different provinces in China: Shaanxi province in the north-west, and Yunnan and Sichuan provinces in the south-west.
Filming for the series began as early as in January in Lijiang, Yunnan province, when it was still snowing heavily. The 50 days have been broken up into separate trips, and the duo are set to wrap up the series at the end of June.
During their travels, the two faced a number of challenges, such as when they were unable to find accommodation for the night and had to sleep in a tent in a basketball court in freezing cold weather on the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in Lijiang, where the temperature was -2°C.
It is no wonder that the two fell sick several times throughout the filimg. Jokes Wang: "All our free time off the set is spent falling ill."
For the two, their greatest challenges were homesickness and the language barrier.
"My Chinese is a lot weaker than my English, so I had to rely on Weiliang to communicate most of the time," explains Zhang. But Wang found it difficult to convey what they wanted to the locals because the latter spoke their own dialects.
Bartering for over-the-counter items such as train tickets also proved nearly impossible.
However, the two agree that this programme was valuable in teaching them more about both China and Singapore.
"When you barter with people, you need to know exactly what you offer to them to make it sound worth their time," says Zhang. "There was this time that we were trying to trade Nyonya souvenirs for a piece of artwork, and we had to explain to the locals what Nyonyas were. A lot of research and background knowledge is necessary."
Seeing China and its people first-hand was also a valuable experience, as they found out that what people see on social media and what they see in real life are two different things.
"We've met many hospitable and generous people, who are more than willing to give you a place to stay," says Wang. "Social media usually chooses to focus on the worse side of Chinese people, so it's nice to be able to see that not everyone in China acts the same way."
Mission S-change will air on E City (Starhub TV Channel 111/825) starting June 23, every Tuesday from 8 to 9pm.