Be a tourist in your own life. Note your private landmarks, your important historical sights, your favourite spots.
– Found in Gretchen Rubin’s “Moments Of Happiness”
It’s been two years in Singapore today! What an interesting time it has been. For once, not in terms of the place and the travel and the externalities, like how I’ve driven my life in the last dozen years. But in terms of how my view about travel has undergone a gentle metamorphosis which I wouldn’t have noticed at all if not for my penchant for marking dates, looking back and wondering about the year that has been. So since this is my little travel space, it’s time for a dear diary moment.
I spent the first year in Singapore mostly staying put and looking at this new place I call home through something I call a wander-lens. I loved poking around the city and never noticed that we didn’t travel much at all. So what was at work here? Novelty. What was not at work? Escapism. Throughout my stay in Portland (oh, pretty Oregon!), novelty drove me out almost every long weekend, there was a freaking huge country to see – national parks, deep country boondocks and glitzy cities. Throughout my stay in Pune (back home in India), escapism drove me out, as I struggled with various aspects of moving back to my home country. The first year in Singapore was suddenly devoid of both these cravings, because the new city had enough novelty and it’s so easy to live here that I had no escapism angst at all. While I suspected that my wanderlust always had elements of these, it is only now I notice how they worked.
B and I carefully planned our getaways in the second year. After short visits to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam with him and a solo trip to Tokyo, I began to notice an internal pattern to my preparation and reactions (lenses, if I may). If you see the size and location of Singapore, there’s nothing called an in-country long weekend trip. So we cross the border for these short jaunts. Easy to get to, expensive to enter because the visa fees add up each time. It’s the classic time vs. money issue – we don’t have the luxury of a long time in each country and hence we have a visa fund :)
Language: For the first few trips, I learnt the basics of each new language I encountered. Hello, thank you, no fish sauce. And then I realised that in all the main tourist places (which were the only ones we went to last year), I really didn’t need it at all. English worked just fine, and local markets used the language of the calculator. This was a huge surprise to me, because in Pune I learnt that English doesn’t run the world. I still like to surprise the locals though, they are certainly amused when I say something, and why not make someone laugh ;)
Food: I’ve never liked to stop too long for a meal on a trip. I’ve rued sit-down-and-order meals as a waste of time which could be spent on my feet somewhere. But that seems to have changed ever since I ate tofu laap salad in Luang Prabang. I’ve hunted down vegetarian versions of local food with as much gusto as the day’s sights and I’ve loved every minute of it! I also have waistline proof.
Sights: A medley of awe-inspiring Wats and crumbling temples, short and long mountain treks and stunning (and quiet) waterside laziness have been our choices so far. I’ve watched myself give up museums in the last two years, trading in this time for architecture and the outdoors. While the quality of museums here is part of the reason, I haven’t yet entirely figured out why I’m hesitating to go to one.
Conscious Travel: There is also the heartbreak that is S.E.Asia. Sitting beside these well-kept wonders which we trudge so far to see is a vast population that benefits from the tourist dollars but also suffers from the tourist trash. This made me pause and ask – what gives? Is there something one can do? And this led me to a whole new way of looking at every aspect of how we travel and made me search for a purpose to this wanderlust. I summarized the findings of my attempt at conscious travel here and while this doesn’t scratch the surface, I do hope it makes me and someone who reads it pause and think. Maybe they’ll have better ideas that I can learn from. Now why didn’t this strike me in Pune as we poked around India? There’s enough there on this front, eh? I don’t know. I can only hypothesize that there was enough inner angst to blind me to outer reality.
Identity: The sense of being Indian that eluded me in Pune after eight years of being away is slowly starting to show itself. I do have my diaspora blues moments but I’m starting to understand why. One important angle that’s emerging is privilege and economics. I’m starting to appreciate democracy, however messed up it is along a zillion vectors. At the core of it, I’m free. That counts for a lot of things in life. For the life of me I haven’t figured out a causation story for this identity sense yet, but I’m watching it with amusement and giving it free reign to go where it wants to before I feel the need to explain it.
So happy birthday many things. Let’s watch what the next year brings!
One Year In Pune – Travel In India compared to the west
Two Years In Pune – Diaspora Blues
One Year In Singapore – Let’s make this blog official sounding!