How Does Travel Change You?
In this context, however, the question is how did travel change me?
Let’s see. A year ago, when I was leaving for Thailand my mother told me that she can see herself in me when she was my age. Adventurous and stubborn. I laughed. She then added, “When you set your mind into something, not even me can change your mind. You have a mind of your own, so I’m letting you go”.
I cried. Then I cried harder when I was alone on that bus trip to Manila en route to Bangkok (it was good that the boyfriend was so encouraging during that trip. He was basically accompanying me throughout that journey and I couldn’t be more thankful). It’s not as if I haven’t left the nest. Ever since college I have been taking solo overnight bus trips from Manila to Naga. I didn’t use the dorms in college (I lived so close, plus I valued my space and freedom) but I had an apartment when I was in med school. I also lived alone in Manila when I taught there. I loved it all, the freedom and independence, but of course when shit hit the fan, I took a plane ride or a bus ride and go back to my parent’s loving arms.
My adulthood didn’t seem real for me. I needed a challenge, I wanted to grow.
Add to the fact that my boyfriend and I made some major decisions that would affect our relationship. At this point, I knew that I had to fly from the nest I grew up in and make my own nest, and more than anything, I want to be with Ash. He is my family now, and the distance we have between us sucks, so moving towards each other was the key.
What growth has that been for me. And then some. These are *some* more things that I have observed.
1. I have become more patient, open, generous, understanding among others. Basically I have become a better person (but not the best). Full stop. If I may say it out loud, you don’t have a choice: you are in a foreign place using other countries’ facilities, you’re a guest. How should a guest behave? Should I moan about how long it takes for an immigration officer to check my passport? Should I complain about the waiting time in a bus in a small town in Nowheresville, Cambodia en route to Siem Reap to see the Angkor Wat? No. Of course not. What if the immigration officer has a million of checkpoints to tick in my passport and it’s fucking complicated because their system is outdated? The officer is burdened and I don’t want to add up to that. What if the waiting time inside a cramped minivan is the way for all these drivers to make their income quota for the day or something? Should I complain about my discomfort at the expense of their dinners? When cultures are different, when standards are different, you have to empathize, you have to understand that the other person may not understand you.
2. Comfort zones are now an illusion. They say, “get out of your comfort zone” to make you grow. Ever since I got out of the Philippines, the word comfort zone seems like a running joke. I am comfortable in my skin, yes, I love myself more, I protect myself even better, I am mindful of my actions more than ever – but I have to say I still have to train myself in those areas – but comfort zones? If you find yourself as a stranger in a strange land, make no mistake, you will always have to be on your toes by at all times. For the first month in Thailand I think I relied on Valium and antihistamine to sleep well. You have to wear a mask of being pleasant all the time because you’re afraid your default surly face will be misinterpreted as disrespectful in their culture (I have been judged in my own country, why not here, you know what I mean?). When you are dealing with foreigners, the usual cultural context cues don’t work so you have to work hard analysing movements and actions and it affects your comfort. I am proud to say that I can live anywhere now, I think I have gotten the hang of not being too attached to a place and be comfortable in a relatively short time (less than 6 months?) which brings me to this…
3. I can pack my whole life in a backpack. Okay, honestly speaking, it’s 2 backpacks but I know if push comes to shove, I can throw shit away and take the best and the most important stuff in my fake 40L Deuter backpack I bought in Chatuchak. I am a hoarder, I buy stuff a lot. I made a big mistake in Thailand where I settled in very quickly and bought a stove, pans, plates and bowls, blender, coffee maker, Scrabble etc. I was excited because Ash was coming to live with me so the nesting part of me kicked in and in the end I had to leave them behind. I felt bad for it because I felt irresponsible and that I had just wasted our hard earned money. Now I am settling for a “borrowed” yellow umbrella from the reception area of my school now (I am not returning it until I leave this place in June). It has character with 2 spokes being broken but I couldn’t care less being labeled as the weird chick with a childish Winnie the Pooh umbrella because, fuck, an umbrella in the shop here is like, P500 when converted. WTF, is it made of carbon fiber??? Why too expensive? I’ll leave it here at the end of the day. Anyway the lesson is…
4. I have learned that there are no mistakes, but rather, prices of information. I have paid for the price of the information not to settle in so quickly on a place with the stove, pans, plates and bowls, blender, coffee maker, etc for maybe 20K baht. I have paid for the information that I can’t have a bank account in Indonesia because the school can’t provide me a KITAS now, so I have to use Western Union with steep transfer fees to pay my debts (to my mother). I had to pay the price of information by saying yes to a job (in Samui) without seeing the contract first. It is a way of living life without regrets, I think.
5. Self Confidence just grew. This is not true all the time because I have self-esteem issues. I am always too hard on myself and I fail to see how badass I actually am in other people’s eyes. I do realise that not many people do what I do: pack bags, leave the family, start anew and deal with foreign shit in a foreign land. The challenges you encounter while on the road (and off) help you buid a repository of experiences and stories that strengthen you. Damn I replaced a freaking ATM/debit card in a Thai bank without the teller and I speaking English. I don’t know how that happened but I am not complaining. I know I can walk the talk much better now, and I know I can effectively bullshit people by just flaunting that swag that I gained from (usually bad) experiences. If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.
6. Self-love and being healthy. I have learned so much about my body because I don’t depend on doctors here as much as I had in the Philippines. Back in the Philippines, I would rush to the nearest clinic the first thing I notice something different in how I feel. One time I even went to the doctor for a rabies shot because my pet hamster bit me (she denied my request). I was kinda forced into this behaviour though, mainly because my employers in Thailand didn’t provide health insurance benefits by working for them. So I had to take care of it and observe my body for every change it has, and it made me love myself more. I know if my period is coming because of the changes in my body, I know not to disobey my body if it demands rest, I know to give in to my cravings mindfully, and I have learned to appreciate the gym. I know I have to eat vegetables ALL THE TIME now because of unforeseen allergies. They say you cannot love someone if you don’t know how to love yourself first. So that’s what my hobby is now: Checking if my body is tight and right, I owe it to myself. Heck, I owe it to everyone I love!
7. Traveling teaches discipline. It also sets your priorities straight. When you’re on a budget, you have to be disciplined. For some reason, living in Thailand has proved to be expensive in a sense that you can’t save money. Everything around you feels so cheap that you end up buying everything! That’s the tragedy, you’re spending you hard-earned cash on a “bargain” which in the end, isn’t. So you have to constantly remind yourself before you buy something “Is this a want or a need?” Ash and I went to almost zero balance in Thailand last summer. He lost his ATM card and I didn’t earn a lot and we finished the monthly wage I had. We traveled from Hatyai to Koh Chang to Siem Reap to Bangkok to Chiang Mai and then back to Bangkok (awww I’m smiling as I remember those days). We were down to the last 700 baht but we survived. I don’t know how but we did. Looking back, it’s pretty cool and I feel like I’m such a badass for even surviving that month without borrowing money from anyone. Right now, I’m saving up money for Spain. I don’t have a huge salary so I’m really conscious of how I spend because I want to be with my man this June (and for a Filipino to go to Europe, it’s a bit challenging but no worries, this chick will document the process and share it to you, and I’m pretty sure I’m gonna get the Visa to Spain.
8. Food and language makes you grow. I know I mentioned being open, but trying out new food is exciting. Food is so different from these countries, too funky for the little brown American in me. I never liked spicy food but I have grown to tolerate, and even enjoy it! Food made me grow and let me experience culture in their own way. It’s the same with language. I can’t speak conversational Thai but I can recite numbers, say thank you and beautiful. Common words. Same here in Indonesia. For a moment, I can pretend to be local, and pretend I can communicate. It’s nice when I go to the wet market and get what I want speaking locally. I feel like I got away from being a foreigner!
9. I appreciate being independent. Like for real. When I was living in the Philippines, I was living alone but I knew, again, that if shit hit the fan, mama and papa’s house is just around the corner. Not now. No maids, no laundrywoman. Nothing. All me. I have to take care of myself. I don’t mind being alone. I kinda grew up alone. Alone is my comfort zone. I have an Indonesian teacher ask me, “You cook?” Yes “You live alone?” Yes “Isn’t that sad?” No I actually prefer being alone than being with strangers. She looked shocked. Fuck you. I love the freedom of being able to be yourself in your own tiny bubble where you can be in your underwear while cooking or be in your jammies the whole weekend. Stress-free. There’s only one person I want to be with me and that’s Ash, and like me, he is also used to being alone (this ldr thing lol). We have to adjust to the fact that we are not alone and we can depend on each other sometimes. 😀
10. I know who I am more. When you’re on your own in a strange land, you have no choice but to spend time with yourself and get to know yourself. I grow everyday and I am not the person you knew yesterday. But I’m cool with that. Your values are reinforced, or taken from you if you’re at this place in your life. I’m proud to say that I have stuck to my code of conduct and the moral values my parents taught me, and this made me realise that, hey, I’m a strong person. My major motivation is to make me family name shine by being a good person, but that’s shallow – I just want to be a good one. I have lots of flaws for me to work on, but so far, I’m happy with how I am turning out.