#27 In Travel, We Gain Some, We Lose Some

I am the kind of person who likes to run all over the place. I don’t like to be forced to stick around too long in one place. So I wandered here and there, whenever I can.

I always thought that travel makes a person more tolerant, more easygoing, more devil-may-care. In a way, yes, you learn to accept all sorts of things, just having experienced something, you usually get a sense of “oh it could be worse” in retrospect.

Indeed, it could be worse. As I moved through places, culture and people, I slowly turned critical, and started to paint a picture of what a correct world should look like. It is ironic, for I have gone from uninitiated and inexperienced, to fairly tolerant, and then back full circle again, to being a stickler about things.

Let me explain.

When I was in Hong Kong, I learnt that I, as a foreigner and outsider, shouldn’t expect the locals to make my stay better, just because I am spending some money in their territory. If people are nice (which occasionally happens), good for me, but if it doesn’t, moaning won’t make things better. I stand up and ask for what I what. If a shopkeeper is impolite, I don’t buy from him/her. If people surge ahead and disregard forming a queue, I charge forward to be in the front (else you’d never get your turn). As a result, I learnt how to be thick-skinned and resilient. Some might think I’m being aggressive, but for someone who is going to travel into more hardcore places in future, it is a useful skill to have. I believe that if you want to put yourself out there, then you better hustle. So, in turn, I can barely stand it when people complain about rude waiters in Paris and incomprehensible signs in China. (Take room service in your hotel or bring a Point-It book next time.)

When I was in Germany, I became religiously ardent about recycling. Sorting out the garbage is up there on the list of household chores. I have developed a minor Obsessive Compulsive disorder — should I see a paper carton, an empty can of Coke, anything recyclable ending up in the garbage, unless it is gross beyond clean-able, I’d salvage it and put it in its rightful place. Whenever I travel to a place (or go home to Singapore) where people don’t understand the need to recycle or find no obvious economic benefit to do so, it unnerves me to no end. I hold on to the to-be-thrown-away items until I sadly part with them at a fateful garbage can. (And I secretly curse the lack of recycle bins.)

When I first arrived in New York, I was overwhelmed by the roar of traffic and people speaking in 200 different tongues. The neon lights of Times Square irritate more than beguile, the soaring skyscrapers and narrow avenues create strong channelized gusts than stir up dust that always end up in my eyes. Hey, but there’s a bright side — people here don’t judge, not with their words, nor their eyes. You can be whoever, say whatever, if people don’t approve they walk on by; you can sing silly songs on the subway, fight for the rights of those folks in Guantanamo Bay in Union Square, dress in drag in broad daylight. I watched a gay couple soaking up some sun in Central Park, a young girl (presumably their daughter) in toll. Land of the free, epitomised. Growing up in a sanitized, regulated society, I unlearnt the “rules” drilled into me about what’s correct and what’s ‘presentable’… embrace all, forget difference. I thought I could embrace all…. except when someone makes a single insensitive comment about outlawing gay marriage, and the idea of stifling freedom of expression is just one of the things that makes me indignant, if not downright angry.

I have visited places, beautiful places, ugly places. Places I wished I could stay on forever — but I know that if that choice presents itself as reality, I won’t appreciate it that much. Places I was glad to move on from. Places that stayed in me even after I’ve left. I have felt that Pacific breeze on my skin, and knew that I was right all along — despite my youth spent drenched in tropical sun, I’m a more temperate climate person. I went home a couple months ago — ugh, the humid hot air stuck to my hair, my legs, the back of my neck. (But it’s home, so I have to discount the ranting, try not to complain too much. Amongst other things..)

The more good things I have experienced, the more critical I’ve become. Is that a good or a bad thing?

Well at least, I know that I won’t give the world up because of it.


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