Since last year, I started to experience what I labelled ‘rewarding trips.’ As loose and debatable the term might be, I am pretty sure that those trips I’ve taken since May 2017 were very much rewarding. To me, at least.
And one of the many indicators when a trip is rewarding is that I couldn’t wait to get back to the place I left. I feel the same thing today. But wait, most people I know were almost always hesitant to end their trip? So WTF?
True, there will never be enough time to visit, stay, explore and, let alone, live in one place. Also true that when you focus on getting the three (let alone two) dimensional experience in a place, there will be time when you will feel “that’s enough.” Even truer when you do not feel the click with that place, all you want is to fly out as early as possible.
I have to be honest that there were places where I didn’t feel the click. It wasn’t there partly because of their nature did not resound with me, but mostly it was because I travelled inappropriately.
While I enjoyed exploring Persian past glory and how Iranians were sandwiched between this past and grim future, exploring seven cities in three weeks of short time (time is not to be blame, though) were the reason I got easily exhausted, especially emotionally, and had less patience when interacting with locals especially when they came with differing perspectives. In fact, the main purpose to visit this country was to understand why most Iranians and their faith were different. I successfully snapped more than ten thousand pictures but failed to internalize these new understandings.
While I enjoyed tracing back Silk Route from Xi’an to Kashgar, I failed to understand why these merchants did what they did. Consequently, I barely scratched the surface, let alone finding how the route was lived today. Although insights from a Chinese government officer or a Kazakh-born historian I met in Xi’an were validating, I couldn’t help to confront, instead of to clarify, those insights. I successfully got the why, but failed to understand why. If I could scapegoat, it would be the accident in Urumqi that made me focus more on – and spend time in hospital and bed to take care – my broken arm, instead of letting my mind out exploring.
Some trips were more rewarding than those two.
After staying for ten days in Luang Prabang, I met people who have confirmed me that it was okay – and no less exciting – to fall in love at this mature age (yes, old). The guy who sat next to me in my flight to Jakarta was puzzled with my giggles – and grins – during the fight. I told him that what happened in one of LP’s wats (temple), in the city’s only bowling alley and in Indigo House, rebuilt my faith in love and relationship.
And today, after exploring six cities and three countries for a month break, I could conclude that this trip was as rewarding as I could get. At least three things describe how this trip was rewarding, to me.
- Experiential. In Bangkok, I skipped the city and went to explore Ayutthaya. The temples were okay, but it was experiencing the history of past kingdoms through relics and ruins – not just physically with all of my five senses, but cognitively – could helped me understand why people did what they did hundreds of years back. In Ho Chi Minh City, as I validated the city’s iconic street foods, I got to experience home made dinner, prepared with love. Taste-wise, it could’ve been better (haha), but I agreed, food is the door to one’s soul.
- Authentic. I am always fascinated with everything that comes with the word ‘local.’ I found it hard, though, to explain that locals do not necessarily mean traditional. Spending Sunday morning with running, exercising and sharing yoga session in a park near Benh Tanh market was as local as I could get. Having lunch in a make shift tent on a sleepy road of Bagan along with tens of high school students were pricelessly authentic. And working in The Camp – Chiang Mai’s hippest coworking space – was as natural as I could get to be a local. I refused to say that authentic is whatever traditions denote, but I am going for whatever locals usually do today, not hundreds of years ago and certainly not for the sake of tourist.
- Mutual learning. For half of this trip, I spent with a dear friend. From the beginning, I set the tone that this trip was not just to experience the place, but to create and experience the space we would build together. Having built a (I assumed) safe space, I went silently mad to drunkenly furious over behaviors that I found less-acceptable. Further, I learned that I could be vulnerable, being the worst version of myself, to this dear friend. In fact, I got to learn the same thing from him. Through the places we visited, we built a space where we learned about and grow ourselves and help each other to do so.
Waiting for my bus in Chiang Rai old bus station, I smiled on those evenings I spent – accompanied with other nomads – working. Staying and working in ‘In The City’, a coliving and coworking space in Chiang Mai, helped me to shape my ideals on what coliving should – or could – be. In the evening, helping Hug Academy, a community activity center in Chiang Mai, facilitating some of their evening events were a validating experience on my purpose.
But, what really made me keen on returning to Jakarta today is a five minute alone under a tree in Choui Fong tea plantation. As I was told, the old tree regrew bigger and stronger after being flattened by a lighting strike; it spoke to me “I will always be vulnerable to weather, but as I grow bigger, I provide shades to more people. That’s my purpose. That’s what keep me standing.”
I consider myself lucky as I could share my life and my time with those people with whom I could be vulnerable and grow together. This trip gave me ways to proof and live it.
Wouldn’t it be a great idea if we – all travelers – could have such rewarding trips (in our own version) in the future?