Thursday, 25 December 2014

The 5 Things Traveling Did To Me

3 weeks of traveling and 1 week of settling down and tuning into the reality channel - what a journey it has been!

I was a part of yet another "In Search Of" study trip this year to Makassar and Toraja. Rather blogging about the experience, read our stories here. After returning from Indonesia, I was en route to Adelaide the night after. The journey was not as tiring as I thought, maybe because it didn't involve traveling through extremely different timezones, but of course the activities have taken a toll on my sleep. I guess university has trained me well enough when it comes to late nights and lack of sleep.

Taking all my travels into account and not just the aforementioned, here are the 5 things traveling did to me:

#1 Losing contact with your personal life, sort of

Travelling to another country, for starters, is where you lose the convenience (or luxury for some) of being able to contact your family and friends on your phones to tell them you are alive and safe. You'd be lucky to be able to purchase a new number and data at an affordable price. If not, chances are you'd be frantically searching for universally recognised places providing free WiFi at some point i.e., McDonald's, Starbucks, KFC, etc. or ending up at an internet cafe as the last resort.

If you're the type, like me, who shamelessly announces traveling plans on Facebook and Instagram, your friends are made aware that you are busy doing your thing or apparently "living the high life" as I quote a friend. They would probably be thinking, "alright, let's give her time to travel and when she comes back, cue the interrogation session over coffee." Now this is post-travel. During travels, social media interaction is usually more toned down. Even if people do talk to you, somehow the sentences "update me when you're back!" or "let's meet for coffee so you can tell me all about your travels!" will pop up in the conversation, eventually.

I suppose traveling will do one good where you get to focus on going around the world on foot rather being in one attitude going around the net. It is a slower way to explore the world, no doubt, but this is where the environment is more tangible as opposed to seeing an image on the screen. You get to experience the full effect rather a display. On contrary, more often than not, the ritual of updating my Instagram gets in the way. I do want to share my journey with you while I'm at it, to let you see what I see, and hope that you will also be inspired to travel as well. Ironic, is it not? But know this - it is the break from the screen you need.

Once you return, you'll sooner or later settle down and catch up on what you've been missing. You may come home a changed person for all you know. In my experience, the first thing my parents said to me when they saw me at the airport after 2 weeks of being away was not "hello" but rather "you put on weight!" Well, at least they are honest.

#2 The number of times you wear the same clothes again increases

Those who do light traveling can probably relate to this better. Those who don't, well, don't get disgusted.

Having to travel light to Indonesia for 2 weeks obviously meant that I cannot bring 2 weeks of clothes along - even a week's worth of clothes is considered aplenty. Firstly, it limits the amount of souvenir shopping you can do (not that I do a lot but knowing your space is limited will affect your shopping like imposing stress when making decisions). Secondly, the size of luggage you carry also shows how well you know how to pack, how paranoid you are (some fill their bags with so many pieces of clothing that they can start a yard sale), and what kind of traveler you are.  If you've packed a lot of clothes, chances are also that you have specifically selected your clothes i.e., matching colours and designs, in which is pretty much unnecessary. Thirdly, and most importantly, the amount of clothes you bring over meant that you'd be doing the same amount of laundry when you get back.

My clothes comprised mostly tees which were of plain designs that go with almost any universal-coloured pants i.e., dark blue jeans, black leggings, etc. You can wear the same pants 3 days in a row and no one would care. Sleeping clothes are the easiest to repeatedly wear because they are not usually seen out of the bedroom. I wore the same clothes to sleep for 6 nights at least. The trick is to have showered every time before you wear them.

While in Adelaide after Indonesia, our hotel had free laundry service in which we took advantage of. While sorting out my laundry, which mostly consisted of undergarments, I found myself thinking:

"I've worn this shirt only twice."

*smells* "Yup, fine."

"These still look clean."

Yes, meet another side of Emily but obviously I do not do this at home.

#3 I had a different taste of humility

I never really understood how it was like to feel inferior due to one's ignorance - until I met a few people while I was on exchange and also students who came over to my university for their exchange semester. It has been pointed out to me many times (specifically by students from well-developed countries) that "my English is really good!" worded like a compliment with an element of surprise. However, I felt it was nowhere near a compliment. It was like an insult. Why is it surprising that my English is good? Have I no right to be good in English? Did you come to my country having the idea that people do not have a very good command of the English language?

I've tried applied that situation to my travels where I am around people who are less fortunate than I am. Many apologies for the way I'm wording this section and I do not mean to sound pompous but truth be told, most of my travels are considered "luxury holidays" packed with shopping, eating, and exploring touristy areas. I was once a stranger to backpacking and traveling light because over these "luxury holidays" where I was spoiled by room service, air-conditioning, free-to-take toiletries and carpet-floored rooms, I did not realise how much even having hot water was considered a privilege.

It came to a point where my fellow travellers and I slept for 4 nights without fan nor air-conditioning in my room in Toraja, Sulawesi. We were staying at a guesthouse where even the toilet did not have a door or curtains to. My windows were open at a slight angle to allow a little bit of ventilation but that was as far as it went. To make things a little more interesting, we encountered water shortage for 2 days as well. Luckily, we had rain water to flush our toilets.

So what do cold showers and no air-conditioning got to do with humility?

To begin, even having cold water to shower with and a bed to sleep on is considered comfort to some - perhaps even a privilege compared to those whom I have seen living in terrible conditions without clean water in the outskirts of Iloilo City in Philippines where I visited in 2013. As cliche as it sounds, it is true what they say: you never know the value of something until you have lost it. A classic response to something that has been taken away from you is to complain and complain. What if the locals have heard our complaints? How would they feel knowing this is all they have but is not enough for us?

We say the things we say because we happen to be able to afford it. Some do not realise that their complaints of their basic need being taken away from them happens to be a privilege taken away from others. Evidently, that is the mindset of one who has had hot water to bathe with and are afraid of showering in the cold. I started off dreading the idea of being outside my comfort zone but I somehow found a way to look at the problem differently and chose another way of dealing with the situation. It is during those times where I feel grateful for the little things often under-appreciated.

#4 Getting closer to nature

I have been living in a city-like area my entire life where there are grey skyscrapers rather green trees seen competing towards the sky. In Kuala Lumpur, visiting forests and botanic gardens are part of our tourism - yes, visiting forests while there are other people out there who live in them.

When visiting Toraja, a mountainous area just north of Makassar by a 10-hour bus trip, there was just so much content looking at the scenery.

I shot a scenic view of Ke'te Kesu', Tana Toraja. Do you see the sleeping giant blanketed under white clouds at the far back?

On a nearly 4-hour trek at Batutumonga, we braved through the puddles of water containing various shades of mud and also walking on 3-bamboo-stilt bridges in the rain. I went in slippers knowing it would be muddy and that risking my white sports shoes was not going to be worth it. Trekking in slippers gave the ease of taking them off whenever I felt the need for my feet to be one with nature- ... I mean for better grip such as to cross over muddy slopes.

Upon reaching the highest point as we could go, the view of the paddy fields was priceless. The only things grey were the stones holding the lands in place to prevent slides. I had the urge to jump with hopes that I would fly, as unrealistic as that sounds. I also wondered if my love for highlands are in my roots.

I can already imagine a highlander reading this and laughing at my response being in an environment considered ordinary to them. But truly, realising what I've been missing living in the concrete jungle - the view of being high up without a skyscraper, taking in deep breaths of fresh air without the smell of smoke in the way (buffalo dung is as bad as it would go), the sounds of the forest and the rain when it falls onto the leaves - all in which made me appreciate nature so much more.

#5 I was craving to go on another adventure into the unknown

Despite the 3 long weeks and even after settling down at home for about a week, I still want more. The level of temptation to take the next flight to yet another adventure is extremely high. I would have already done so if it weren't for other unfinished business to be taken care of.

As much as you may fear the unknown or the unexpected, I suppose that is the beauty of life. You only know what you know, and you do not know what you do not know. Don't hold back the need to continue exploring, to learn about the world, setting footsteps in places untouched, and to experience different cultures from all over the place. As a young traveller, I say travel to your heart's content while your feet can still carry you miles away, up the mountains, and into the oceans. Just one day, you won't be able to do these no more.

For more travel photos, visit my Made With Map profile here or follow me on Instagram

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