Tag Archives: reflections

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.

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.

luxe reflux

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“I know that I travel in large part in search of hardship — both my own, which I want to feel, and others’, which I need to see. Travel in that sense guides us toward a better balance of wisdom and compassion — of seeing the world clearly, and yet feeling it truly.” – Pico Iyer

I have a love-hate relationship with luxury.

I couldn’t help smiling when I stepped into our villa at Alila Soori. From the calming smell of lemongrass, the crisp clean cloud-like duvets, the twin-sized bath-tub, the marbled blue lap pool that fringed the living room, the sprawling day beds right down to the mahogany boxes that had little compartments for each of the toiletries, the sense of perfection that permeated the environment assured its occupants that they were royalty. We even had a personal butler who was on call 24/7, ready at all times to deliver bicycles, swimming floats or ferry us from our room to the restaurant with a buggy.

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Yet despite how much I enjoyed soaking in that bubble of comfort, I couldn’t help feeling a pervasive sense of unease at the artificiality of this perfect world that was created by the rich for the wealthy. Because the moment you step outside of the villa’s perimeters, the stark contrast of the living conditions of the surrounding villages is all the more glaring. Dirt roads, broken shutters, faded walls, drains that threaten to overflow – nothing of that crisp cleanliness that exists just a wall away. But there is so, so much beauty and life in the lushness of those perfectly filed padi fields, the expressions of the stone temple guardians and the laughter of the kids as they chase after the school-bus.

And as I gazed over the edge of that infinity pool, I couldn’t help but wonder if, once upon a time, the padi fields had extended to where I was to seamlessly merge with the black sand beaches. Or if, like my dad says, it must be torturous for those who work at the villa to straddle the juxtapositions of these two worlds. I don’t know how that must feel, but I do know that it is only too easy to be consumed by the lust for luxury once you’ve gotten a taste of it. It was evident by the dissatisfaction we felt at our next villa, which by normal standards would have been wow, but paled in comparison to Alila.

At the end of the day, I guess the question goes back to why you travel. Luxury is justified if the intention is relaxation. But, if like Pico Iyer says, we travel to lose and find ourselves again, then perhaps there is a necessity to break out of that bubble and get a little dirty, a little alive.

 

 

Stop elephant abuse!

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I’m no expert on elephants, but I can confidently say that they were not born to paint.

While most of the other visitors at the Maesa Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai gasped in amazement at the beautiful works of art these gentle creatures had created, I could not help but feel an overwhelming sense of uneasiness. If it takes humans many hours of practice just to produce a simple painting, imagine how much “training” these elephants had to go through! A simple search online confirmed my suspicions that the elephant training camps in Chiang Mai are far from nurturing habitats for talented elephants.

Elephant painting. If you look closely you will notice that the trainer will use the hook on it or pull its ear to direct the brushstrokes.

National Geographic recently produced a documentary on how these elephants have to go through the process of phajaan, or “crush training”, where baby elephants that are barely 4 months old are removed from their mothers, squeezed into tiny cages, and beaten into submission. In addition, they are also deprived of food and 40% usually end up dying from the ordeal. Reports from tourists on the Lonely Planet forums also reveal that the mahouts ill-treat the elephants by jabbing them in their sensitive inner ear or cutting them with the hook on elephant rides. I saw for myself the hook that these trainers use, and I can assure you that no human will find it acceptable as a tool for “education”.

Mahouts with their elephants. Look at their instruments of torture.

Hence, I strongly appeal to you not to support this tourist venture. If you really do have a soft spot for elephants, consider visiting the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai instead. You will not get to ride the elephants or see them painting, blowing the harmonica or playing soccer there, but you will be able to see them interacting freely with other elephants and you can even volunteer to bathe or feed them.

Just like we wouldn’t want to be forced to walk with our hands or paint with our toes, let’s try to keep it natural for these animals too.

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.