So my friend tells me, not so much a question as stating a fact: “You fly more than most people take taxis. You’re kinda like, uhm, George Clooney.”
And I was about to deny this, justifying it that most people don’t take taxis (they don’t, do they?) when it hit me that he’s probably right: (Not that I am like George Clooney — I wish — but that) I do fly more than most people take taxis. In fact, I take taxis more often than most people take taxis too. I travel, a lot.
But what is travel?
At its most basic definition, travel is getting from point A to point B, and sometimes (hopefully or hopefully not) back again. This is not quite the same as the commute from one’s home to the office, or simply from one’s front door to the neighbours. We are talking about vacations here, aren’t we? Excursions to places far away and some nearer to heart.
Travel to me is crossing the Causeway as a child from Johore to Singapore, a new world back then, so similar yet so very different. Same races, same faces, same languages, yet not unlike America and Britain, two countries divided by a common history. (Okay, so I am taking liberties here.) Travel is seeing the Merlion for the first time and wondering why a half-fish and half-lion would spit water on tourists. Travel is wondering if I had to be a tourist to travel again.
Travel is the sense of pride I get a few years later when I bought with my first paycheck a pair of tickets for my mom and dad to Phuket for a well-deserved vacation. It is also the horror once I realised my very happy and proud-of-their-son-who-is-sending-them-to-Phuket parents bought me a ticket too, and worse still, booked us on one of those guided tours I loathe with all my might. Travel is the reality check that Phuket is all but populated by white people, with a scant team of local Thais to man the hospitality industry. (And what polite and warm service too — why can’t Malaysians match this?)
Travel is arriving in Munich as a summer university student and being a tourguide to Japanese engineers eight days later. Travel is greasing the palm of a Jakarta customs officer so that I get V.I.P. service from the moment I land till I get into my Silverbird taxi while the other passengers wait in a web of uncertain lines for hours at end. Travel is dining on dog meat in Hanoi and sunbathing on the decks of ancient junks in Ha Long Bay.
Travel means running down to the pier in Barcelona at 2:00am with a gang of English football hooligans while a thunderstorm wreaks havoc around us. And picking up a couple of rain-soaked Spanish girls along the way, persuading them to follow even if we don’t speak a word of Spanish or Catalan. And finding a bride and her groom and their entire wedding entourage dancing the night away in the club at the end of the pier. And dancing with the prettiest woman in her wedding gown while my Doc Marts are drenched to the soles. Music non stop, let the beat go on…
Travel means travelling to Macau, finding casinos (expected) and culture (quite unexpected) — Portuguese egg tarts and temples of the Goddess of Mercy, discovering new flavours and fellowship at the same time. Travel is time frozen in Praha and the sound of music in Salzburg. Travel is being Chinese (sorta) but having my best Italian friend bargaining for me in Mandarin in Beijing. Travel is kitsch and curiousity, buying a slice of kirsch-infused Blackforest cake just so I could eat it in (where else?) the Black Forest!
Travel is the Great Wall of China.
Travel is sharing a single Lebanese pizza with other budget backpackers in Melbourne and then a full-blown, multi-course, home-cooked Bangladeshi meal by a Muslim family who takes me in because I’m Malaysian and “you are good people, Malaysia” and feeling so home-sick and loved at the same time. Travel is watching a Shakespearean play in Stratford-upon-Avon, birthplace of the Bard, as my slightly more contemporate Devil and the boyfriend of the girl sitting next to me snore away in unison. (The girl and I look at each other in shared commiseration.)
Travel is the excitement of planning for future trips, the googling for cheaper airfare and comfortable accommodations, of seeking advice from travellers, adventurers who have gone before, to prepare all this and to promptly ignore most of it when we land. Travel is spontaneity, multiplied a hundred, a thousand, a million times.
Travel is simply about meeting people from every country and every race and faith imaginable in the most mundane and oddest places, and even if we aren’t fast friends, a quick smile works every time. Travel is arguing with lovers and friends in over twenty countries and the joys and ecstasies of making up after the fights and misunderstandings.
Travel to me is people. The faces you meet, the lives you touch and those whose lives touch yours. It’s never just food or places or the buildings and the scenery but people. It’s always the people. Travel is you. It’s only a matter of time before I put on my hiking boots, take up my backpack again and travel… to meet you.
Just don’t ask me if I fly a lot. I’m not George Clooney. Not yet.
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