COMMENTARY, Nov 12 – Our winter jackets and our hiking boots are in danger of getting mouldy. It’s hard to remember to take them out of the wardrobe and the shoe cabinet for airing. What’s the point? We have nowhere to go.
There is, of course, a pandemic raging across the globe, ravaging lives and livelihoods. Travel ought to be the least of our concerns. We stay at home and pray others follow suit; together we can flatten the curve.
Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we do miss travelling.
Amid all the suffering, we can’t help but feel it’s indulgent or at least inappropriate to miss travelling. To even consider the possibility of travel, not today but someday.
But we do miss it.
If everyone could fly before (barely half a year ago, give or take a month, impossible as this might seem right now), nearly no one can fly nowadays.
We used to think that there will always be time to travel, when we have less work and more freedom, when our children have flown the nest, when we have enough of a nest egg. The excuses pile up and soon our hairs turn grey. And we never leave.
And now we cannot.
Border restrictions, for one. And even if you could leave the country, for work or for study, there is a battalion of tests and check-ups required. There will be a quarantine when you arrive at your destination, and when you clear that, the familiar face of a pandemic awaits you, albeit in a foreign land and so likely worse than what you’ve encountered thus far.
There is something about travel and the experiences we gain while travelling. Something ineffable that invigorates us, that broadens our minds and opens our hearts, that allows us into the realms and realities of other cultures. To understand that everyone is right and has a right to live their lives their way.
We miss the cramped quarters of a ramen-ya, the noise of fellow diners busily slurping their piping hot ramen so as not to lose a drop of flavour, the steam rising masking everyone from the world outside.
We miss New Zealand, the true Middle-earth on our green earth, a land of wild coasts and surreal glaciers, and where coffee devotees make their pilgrimages for their much adored flat whites and short blacks.
We miss Hong Kong, the city of nai cha and polo buns, and the old-school char chan tengs in Mongkok bustling with energy and cacophony.
We miss hiking all day in Patagonia, our straining backs and calves a worthy sacrifice for the sight of snowy ice caps and mountain ranges as far as the eye can see.
When we are hungry, it is Taipei we miss the most, a city designed for non-stop eating at every hour of day and night. Oh, the oh-a-chian (oyster omelette) and the danbing ( rolled egg crêpe)! And some of the nicest, warmest people we’ve met in all our travels.
We miss our German friends in Munich, where we gather at biergartens on hot summer days and toast with our litre-mugs of cold beer and a resounding “Prost!”
We miss the “sand sea” of the Namib Desert, all rolling red dunes and ghostly petrified trees. There are lions here and zebras, ostriches and hyenas, elephants and giraffes – and yes, even flamingoes too!
We miss Thailand, one of our closest neighbours, and how its capital feels like a second home. The same skyscrapers, the same humid weather, the same roadside stalls but an entirely different culture.
We miss Bangkok, yes we do, where everything tastes so aroi mak mak, from the gai tod (fried chicken) and moo grob (crispy pork) to the must-order, must-have khao niao mamuang or mango with sticky rice.
So how do we travel without travelling? The answer may lie in having travel stories again, devouring them and sharing them. To remind ourselves that there are other lands and other peoples, that the world out there is more vast than what we see in front of us. That others share the same struggles, the same doubts, desire the same things. Everyone wants to live the best version of their lives their way.
Those who never travel tell you it’s because they don’t want to leave home. Those who do travel, and who travel often and widely, will tell you that the best part about travelling is coming home.
You have to come home, not because you’ve run out of foreign currency or your visa is near expiry, but because it’s only when you return that you have distance again, that you can see with clearer eyes what you have learned from the foreign lands you’ve visited and what you miss and are most grateful about the land of your birth, your precious and only tanahair, your home.
Isn’t this why, before we’ve even completely unpacked our luggage, before our globe-trotting heels have cooled, we are deep in the act of telling the tales of our adventures, of climbing mountains and crossing rivers, of mangling unfamiliar tongues and the sweet laughter of friendly strangers for our efforts?
We travel and we tell stories. It’s time we do that again, even without leaving our homes.
Let us travel without travelling till the day comes when we can embark on our journeys again.
For more slice-of-life stories, visit lifeforbeginners.com.