Category Archives: Thoughts

What A Life Of Travel Does To You

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It’s not everyday that you read something that sounds as if it came out of your very own mind. I was almost gasping as I reached the end of this article as it was a perfect exposition of how I feel towards travel and why there is a compulsion for me to go out and explore new lands at every chance I can. I always wondered if I was just being weird, or greedy, or restless – and maybe I am all three – but it’s still a little reassuring to know that I’m not the only one out there, that I’m not crazy for wanting to spend all the money I earn on seeking new adventures in foreign lands. It’s also not that I don’t love my home or the people here; in fact I’m well aware that had I not been born here, my experiences and opportunities would have been vastly different. But there’s just so much more, too much more, out there.

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

This quote by Miriam Adeney perhaps explains why there is this perpetual, insatiable emptiness in me – it comes from all that richness. It’s that feeling of having loved too much, given too much, of allowing yourself no inhibitions – such that when it’s time to leave (and that time inevitably comes), you’re left with nothing more, and nothing less, than a treasury of wonderful memories. And at the risk of sounding melodramatic, I must accept the fact that I might never be whole again. I’m reminded of the impermanence that I wrote about: the fact that it has to be like this. These are memories and moments that happened because I was there, and you were there, and we were all there at that fateful time, and they can never be created again or the same … but that’s fine because at least, I was privileged enough to share in this with you. That little bit of me I left with Daniel in Peru, with Alex & Sabine in Vienna, with the Cambodian kids in the village, with you in all the places we’ve visited … they’re like tiny Horcruxes that might or might not survive time, but that I’ve willingly sacrificed because losing them has made me so much richer.  As someone who is most certainly “condemned” to a life of travel, this broken-heartedness is the price that I must and will gladly pay- again, and again, and again.

back to cambodia

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back to cambodia

I’m not the kind to usually retrace my steps in a country. I like exploring new cities, meeting new people – in fact I consciously make the effort to avoid going back to the same place (especially within the span of a year) because I have so many other destinations on my wanderlust list. But of course, this being a school trip with very specific objectives, I couldn’t afford to only consider my personal inclinations.

In a way, it was good because I did promise the kids at SSF that I would be back. We told them June previously, so technically I’m half a year late. It’s amazing how much things can change within a year – the guesthouse that looked dark and foreboding with its shutters is now an inviting blue. The room we stayed in no longer exists – in fact it is the lounge area for backpackers to rest while waiting to use the computer. There’s wifi access at the cafe and the toilets have heaters while the rooms are air-conditioned. Simple, but definitely functional. The food served up by the students was excellent, although I must admit that I was so glad to go back to the noodle stall and indulge in that bowl of sweet beef noodle soup. The kids at the protection center are still the same – the older ones ask, “This is not your first time here right?” even though we only spent an afternoon together at the village. The younger ones don’t remember, but they are as cute and mischievous as ever. The scary dogs at the office are no longer there, but during this trip I somehow lost that fear of dogs or insects. Perhaps it has to do with having to maintain a facade of bravado in front of the students. The people are still the same – Vichetr and his lovely wife, Panna, Narong, Varonika – all speaking with much better English now. It was so touching when they shared with my students their dreams and how they believe that change starts from the individual, and not from the context or country.

Our route in Phnom Penh was similar too – the killing fields (minus the ATV) and Tuol Sleng. The survivors are still surviving. The scenes evoked are still as harrowing, although I’m not sure my students are old enough to understand the gravity of the massacre. If ever there was the sensation of a parallel universe, this has to be it. The dissonance lies in how much things have changed – and this constant comparison between what has changed and what has remained felt like I was submerging myself in hot and cold water simultaneously.

Of course, there were some differences. We visited a different village this time and got to spend more time interacting with the villagers. I (thankfully) did not waste anyone’s rice this time while rice husking, even though one of our students dropped a metal hook into the well … We also visited a high school and a slum site where the people are so poor they live under the large electric cables.

This entire trip was like .. sitting under a giant Bodhi tree. I feel strangely zen after this, in the sense that I no longer feel that attachment to material goods. My obsession with new things and gadgets seems to have faded away (for now, and hopefully for good) and I would like to dedicate the time that I have to investing in relationships and health instead. At the end of the day, the riches we have on earth really matter more in the lives we’ve touched and the people we love, rather than the objects that wear, tear and fade away.

As we left the protection center, I walked away quickly, struggling to hold back my tears. But even though I made no promises this time, I have a very strong feeling that I will be back again.

An introspective look into voluntourism in Cambodia

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This begs the following questions: how do we ensure safety in these projects? How can we make such projects more sustainable and beneficial to the people? As someone who considers her voluntourism experiences to be priceless, I’m in two minds about this growing trend as there are certain profit-making organizations that are simply exploiting the good intentions of volunteers. In addition, when such projects are embarked on just for the feel-good factor instead of for sustainability, the people who ultimately suffer are the supposed beneficiaries.

Check out this website for more discussions on voluntourism.

Home to home;

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It’s been 8 weeks and it’s time to go home.

Although if the saying “home is where the heart is” is true, then ‘home’ is a pretty amalgamous concept since I’ve certainly left my heart in several places around the world. Singapore, of course, will always be the primero. New York, too, for its infinite possibilities, and now, Arequipa, for its humbling ways and the lesson that simple contentment still exists in this capitalistic world.

I’m not sure if I’ve attained “traveller” (and not “tourist”) status, but I think that at the very least, I’ve become more environmentally- and culturally-sensitive. I’ve learnt to appreciate the luxury of a hot shower and of having money in my pocket. I’ve realized that that tourism can be detrimental to community psyche even if the people need or want it, and I’ve realized that I’m as much a bane to other tourists as they are to me. We all seek beauty and novelty, but we also seek solitude in that beauty. It’s the selfishness of travel and the conundrum of the tourism industry.

Am also still amazed by the multitude of people that we’ve met along the way, and of the lessons we’ve learnt from them- on life, filial piety, and definitely, definitely humility. Also very grateful for my best travel partner, who above all PMS-induced tantrums, tolerated my unbelievably smelly feet :X

And now in limbo from home to home- how blessed! (:

What I Love About Travelling.

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The thing I love, and sometimes hate, about travelling is the impermanence associated with it. There is absolutely nothing that you can be sure of: you could be perfectly healthy one day, and then the next moment find yourself slumped over the toilet bowl puking your guts out; you could be used to waving to the man dressed in a Santa Claus suit selling chocolates in the middle of the road but yet still be surprised that Santa Claus suits come in yellow and green; you could meet an amazing bunch of people, do ridiculous things like parade down the city in animal suits and flamboyant headdresses, but not know if you will ever see them again, or even be able to have fun with them again once you’re taken out of this common context. And here’s my favourite: you can almost be sure that the combi bringing you to school will come, but whether you end up levitating by the force of 5 squished bodies combined, exposing your butt to the possibility of catching fire whilst sitting on the bus battery or watching women attempt to breastfeed surreptitiously, is really up to fate (and whether the combi driver is a Grand Prix- wannabe). Every moment in a life of impermanence is just that- a moment to be enjoyed and relished before it vanishes.

There are some things that have come close to the essence of permanence. Take my routine here, for example. Spanish classes from 8 to 10 am on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; teaching at the school everyday from 3:30 to 5:30 and then Salsa class for an hour on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. But just as it was starting to become second nature, BAM. Somehow, 5 weeks have passed. Time to leave and try something different.

I love the impermanence in travelling because it ensures that there is always change, and it necessitates the need to treasure everything that you see and experience. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be extremely painful at the same time, since falling in love and becoming attached is often inevitable. Still, as they say nauseatingly, better to have loved (and left) than never at all.

So to all the travellers (not tourists!) that I’ve met along the way, thank you for making this journey so magical. I wish you impermanence in life.

Why;

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I’ve wanted to do this for a very long time, and now I’ve finally begun. I always thought that it was a huge, huge pity that I didn’t document down my travels while studying abroad in Europe, and I’ve decided that for the sake of my own ailing memory,  I shall keep a detailed (and interesting!) log of all travels to come, plus tidbits about anything that is related to travelling with a purpose.

And here, an excerpt from an amazing article written by Pico Iyer that perfectly summarizes my traveling philosophy:

We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again — to slow time down and get taken in,

and fall in love once more.

Read the full article here. Really, please do. It’s so good.

I like being amazed, I like being surprised, I love being awed, and I’m not ashamed to admit that it doesn’t take much to awe me. But I guess I travel so as to constantly fill myself with a sense of wonderment, and to constantly remind myself that there is still too much in this world I don’t know about.