Post-trip Conversation

The day after I came back I slept on my bed, thankful for the comfort of home. The months felt like a dream of sorts. I went out, met people, my life resumed as normal. Some people asked if I thought I changed after my trip, and having met them 1 week after I came back, I shook my  head slightly and said ‘I don’t feel very different’. It was not something I was sure how to answer. Someone dear mentioned it again last month, and I thought it was a more nuanced response. I would like to keep it.

: Do you miss sa? Haha

: Do you think it changed you

I replied:

10/16/15, 12:07:10 AM: Siangyee: Hahah well that’s quite hard to say, I can’t say I changed for sure, but I can’t say I think I didn’t change at all

10/16/15, 12:07:23 AM: Siangyee: Cause i don’t remember who I was before?

10/16/15, 12:07:44 AM: Siangyee: But it was an experience that added another tangible layer to my understanding of myself I suppose

10/16/15, 12:08:00 AM: Siangyee: And because these writers put it so much more eloquently

10/16/15, 12:08:13 AM: Siangyee: “It was one of those events which at a crucial stage in one’s development arrive to challenge and stretch one to the limits of one’s ability and beyond, so- that thereafter one has new standards by which to judge oneself.” – Remains of the day

10/16/15, 12:08:23 AM: Siangyee: I feel like this describes the experience best

10/16/15, 12:08:32 AM: Siangyee: And this line jumped out to me on the bus ride

10/16/15, 12:08:55 AM: Siangyee: It just sums it up – the fact that I now have new standards to judge myself

10/16/15, 12:09:09 AM: Siangyee: I suppose in that sense I ‘changed’ because I feel no anxiety for the Balkans

10/16/15, 12:09:36 AM: Siangyee: Whereas before the trip I might have found it intimidating in some ways but the established standards now calm me more?

10/16/15, 12:09:50 AM: Siangyee: “But then eventually the surroundings grew unrecognizable and I knew I had gone beyond all previous boundaries. I have heard people describe the moment, when setting sail in a ship, when one finally loses sight of the land. I imagine the experience of unease mixed with exhilaration often described in connection with this moment is very similar to what I felt in the Ford as the surroundings grew strange around me. ”

10/16/15, 12:10:04 AM: Siangyee: Also from the book which I felt I could relate to when I was reading it on the bus

10/16/15, 12:10:46 AM: Siangyee: So interesting isn’t it hahah the text is based on a different context and yet it’s so deeply relevant to me at that point

10/16/15, 12:11:31 AM: Siangyee: And I guess how I feel / felt about that trip / traveling alone is relatable to

It was good to walk faceless and talk to myself again, to ask where I was going, and who I was, and to realize that I had no idea, that all I could tell you was my name, and not my heritage; my daily schedule for the next week, and not the reason for it; my plans for the summer, and not the purpose I had whittled out for my life. — Sylvia Plath

10/16/15, 12:13:07 AM: Siangyee: Maybe it changes my subsequent actions but I can’t say that for sure either because there’s no large indicator or tangible measurable actions that followed after that trip hahah perhaps a more tangible indicator would be like, going to Africa alone or shaving my head or something hahah but no actions of mine are tangible enough to say that I did change

10/16/15, 12:13:59 AM: Siangyee: I guess we realize changes only after reading back on your past / remembering the person that you were cause it’s very slow very subtle and who’s to say it’s necessarily attributed to that trip

10/16/15, 12:14:44 AM: Siangyee: Best of all though I fulfilled my geographical dreams of the Amazon!!! And favelas!!!! and that’s something more tangible of sorts to me that I’m really really happy about hehe

10/16/15, 12:17:08 AM: Siangyee: I feel like in this stage of my life I’m acutely aware of mortality though and I dk if that’s because of the trip either and the immense fear that I felt before and at some points during the trip and the sense of gratitude that I have for being alive and back, maybe augmented I dk

10/16/15, 12:17:50 AM: Siangyee: ‘The world is no more permanent than a wave crashing on a shore. No matter our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into the wash, just like watery ink on paper’

10/16/15, 12:19:23 AM: Siangyee: I thought it was maybe more amplified after i got back, but then I stumbled upon this post in my archives this morning or yesterday

10/16/15, 12:19:55 AM: Siangyee: On 15th jan 2014

10/16/15, 12:21:14 AM: Siangyee: it’s a really long quote but im just gonna paste it here HAHAHAHA

10/16/15, 12:21:21 AM: Siangyee: “The real problem here is that we’re all dying. All of us. Every day the cells weaken and the fibres stretch and the heart gets closer to its last beat. The real cost of living is dying, and we’re spending days like millionaires: a week here, a month there, casually spunked until all you have left are the two pennies on your eyes.

Personally, I like the fact we’re going to die. There’s nothing more exhilarating than waking up every morning and going ‘WOW! THIS IS IT! THIS IS REALLY IT!’ It focuses the mind wonderfully. It makes you love vividly, work intensely, and realise that, in the scheme of things, you really don’t have time to sit on the sofa in your pants watching Homes Under the Hammer.

Death is not a release, but an incentive. The more focused you are on your death, the more righteously you live your life. My traditional closing-time rant – after the one where I cry that they closed that amazing chippy on Tollington Road; the one that did the pickled eggs – is that humans still believe in an afterlife. I genuinely think it’s the biggest philosophical problem the earth faces. Even avowedly non-religious people think they’ll be meeting up with nana and their dead dog, Crackers, when they finally keel over. Everyone thinks they’re getting a harp.

But believing in an afterlife totally negates your current existence. It’s like an insidious and destabilizing mental illness. Underneath every day – every action, every word – you think it doesn’t really matter if you screw up this time around because you can just sort it all out in paradise. You make it up with your parents, and become a better person and lose that final stone in heaven. And learn how to speak French. You’ll have time, after all! It’s eternity! And you’ll have wings, and it’ll be sunny! So, really, who cares what you do now? This is really just some lacklustre waiting room you’re only going to be in for 20 minutes, during which you will have no wings at all, and are forced to walk around, on your feet, like pigs do.

If we wonder why people are so apathetic and casual about every eminently avoidable horror in the world – famine, war, disease, the seas gradually turning piss-yellow and filling with ringpulls and shattered fax machines – it’s right there. Heaven. The biggest waste of our time we ever invented, outside of jigsaws.

Only when the majority of the people on this planet believe – absolutely – that they are dying, minute by minute, will we actually start behaving like fully sentient, rational and compassionate beings. For whilst the appeal of ‘being good’ is strong, the terror of hurtling, unstoppably, into unending nullity is a lot more effective. I’m really holding out for us all to get The Fear. The Fear is my Second Coming. When everyone in the world admits they’re going to die, we’ll really start getting some stuff done.”

– Caitlin Moran

10/16/15, 12:22:22 AM: Siangyee: and then i read it again (this morning or yesterday) and i just feel like wah ya i really agree so much with it, that the awareness of death “focuses the mind wonderfully. It makes you love vividly, work intensely, and realise that, in the scheme of things, you really don’t have time to sit on the sofa in your pants watching Homes Under the Hammer” and i was pleasantly surprised to know that my jan 2014 self had already started contemplating so

10/16/15, 12:22:27 AM: Siangyee: but i didnt remember

10/16/15, 12:22:50 AM: Siangyee: ” The Fear is my Second Coming. When everyone in the world admits they’re going to die, we’ll really start getting some stuff done.”

10/16/15, 12:23:12 AM: Siangyee: “The more focused you are on your death, the more righteously you live your life.”

10/16/15, 12:25:11 AM: Siangyee: so i guess i kinda realised it was this acute awareness that started creeping in end 2013 i suppose, and not necessarily attributed to my trip, and that when i reflect on the trip i probably gave more credit to it – thinking it changed my thoughts – than it might be worth (though it probably did augment it)

10/16/15, 12:25:48 AM: Siangyee: here ends my answer as to whether i think the trip changed me. TLDR: I think it did in some ways but it’s hard to define change IMO

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Final days in HCM and its memorable moments

we met Brian in our hostel. it was morning, we heard him speaking Vietnamese to the hostel receptionist and curiously asked about his background. that was where our first interaction began, where our stimulating conversations unravelled and greatly made my trip to Vietnam more meaningful after that night.
traveling – traveling as a form of consumption. how do i make myself feel less consumer-ish? and in doing so, does that even matter or is it to elevate myself on a moral high ground? in attempting to focus on reflection and personal growth other than pretty pictures i hope to extend other facets of myself; perhaps these are ways by which i try to distinguish myself from a mass tourist- well, it’s hard to escape.
dinner with brian last night was absolutely lovely. it was another one of those times that reminded me why i loved being abroad and meeting new people – the stories each individual holds! their years of histories, mistakes, knowledge. their memories, their changes, their proof of how life was fleeting as much as it is long and jam-packed with events that could take abrupt turns.
with brian we talked about many things – ‘out of four world issues, we’ve solved two and a half,’ we laughed. The issue of US and the Vietnam War, beliefs and memories and their (un)reliability, global warming – we jumped from one thread to another, leaping from the global to the personal, the past and the future. 
Some things that struck me – 
beliefs and one’s reality. as a US soldier that was drafted, all too often it was with the full belief that what they did was right, and good 
and that turning point (he snapped his fingers) was the fateful day he saw that tiny news notice about Thailand on the papers. That single notice that turned the clockworks in his head, that shifted his reality. that they had a point,. 
the passing of his friend, and his voice that echoed for him to find out the truth, to not let him pass away in vain – surely that formed part of the fuel that kept him burning, that carried him towards his dreams in all these years?
him, giving 10usd to the sick girl each month – ‘not to get a girlfriend,’ he laughed, but because this sum to him comparable to her made a huge difference. i wish i would stop buying things i don’t need. a part of me knows the root issue of global warming lies with our capitalist economy and endless productions and throwaways and our attempts are seemingly futile at present; if we wanted to truly curb or slow down its exacerbating effects it would have to stem from the self. having said that and acknowledged it, and as i’ve mentioned to them, i know these and a part of me wants to boycott capitalism – stop accumulating all these things, stop the unnecessary buying (which i would like to think I’ve greatly minimized, except i just got that Pride and Prejudice notebook yesterday sob) – but the other (lazy) part of me thinks, life is short, allow me to indulge in this hedonistic life that i can lead, to embrace the consumerist culture because it is easy, pleasure-inducing (however fleeting!), and somewhat experiential within this short frame of time i have on earth.

more pertinently, i think it is the estrangement i have from the true implications of global warming. yes, i have studied that sea levels are rising, strange things are happening to our climate, low-lying lands of southeast asia are already experiencing its implications, and who are its primary perpetrators! us and the North! upon the South! but do we feel it? might i experience its full-blown implications in this lifetime? i am unsure, i am detached and estranged from direct harm, and perhaps that is why, armed with the knowledge that i have, i remain relatively apathetic. yes, i know this this this and why, but can i really do something? the reality is Yes, of course! it always stems from the individual, the self. i get these momentary spurts of understanding, and then i forget, and i indulge. after all, life is short, and i am merely a quiet fog blending into this careless generation.
i guess this forms one of those momentary (or not!) self-awareness. but i am going to try okay brian, i am going to try! boycott capitalism! don’t fall prey to this consumerist culture! (leech on sis where necessary hahahaha) Sigh. i will still travel (and contribute to the amounts of air pollution) but I will be more careful with my purchases, okay! okay! 
i suddenly recall the conversations I had with German writer on the bus in Cologne, with Paco, the Indian shopkeeper in Barcelona, Beck. These long conversations that evoked such similar feelings. It’s strange to think that I still remember them, and as always I wonder if our meeting struck them the same way it struck me.

I chanced upon the ABC Bakery and Cafe along Pham Ngu Lao. It had a lovely ambience as I sat down for an afternoon break.

42,000VND for SMOOTHIE + danish apple pastry + wifi + aircon = $2.70sgd

On my last night, I met Dũng. He took me on his motorbike around HCM. We zoomed down along the roads, me with my helmet, hands carefully placed on the shoulders of a stranger I had only met about half an hour ago (with 60 references! I am no complete idiot) but sometimes, sometimes, I wonder how my older self would be. Would i still be like this? acting inconsequentially? (but was this so? hmm not for me, not for this, for now.)
We talked about music, movies, culture, dreams. I love hearing about people’s dreams, what they strive to achieve. It always interests me how people my age (or further) hold ideals that are different from mine, lifepaths they set to lead that I wouldn’t have conceived of. For him, I hope his English education will bring him further, his motorbike tour company will take off and maybe someday his sincerity will bring him to great heights. Perhaps when I return to Saigon again, he will be his own boss.

time

We have the most amazing chats, we do.
Tonight we talked about Time. Time and the semblance of it. Time as a creation, a manmade construction – i pointed out as i thought about the Daylight Saving Time. Time as malleable, shifting, changing if we all agree. Time as a provision for structure.
She pointed out the existence of the sundial, how even if Time and its Hours – 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock – ceased to exist, there would still be Time. Because of Daytime, and Nighttime, we would know of Time’s passing (shadows), and to do as according to what Day/Night- time suggests.
Then as we walked along the roads of the University with quiet raindrops and a dark path ahead, we wondered what if Daytime and Nighttime ceased to exist. Picturing an Eternal Nighttime,
‘life would be bleak, dark, meaningless, an endless vortex of sorts’
we wouldn’t know of Time’s passing, we would walk on endlessly. We wouldn’t go for lectures (even if someone waves a torch for every lecture slot, we wouldn’t have time to prepare – we wouldn’t know of Time’s passing – five minutes, ten), we wouldn’t be able to meet people, we wouldn’t know what we’re doing, what to do, except that we’re walking, walking and slowly crinkling and growing old…
Sometimes walking with Helen is so poetic it feels like something out of a book. I don’t know if it’s just… her, or is this the way people in the UK / British speak? Sentences that jump straight from a book, a film I’ve watched before. The things we do – sitting on the bench under the rain, linking arms and getting lost just for the sake of it, lying under an autumn tree, racing along the grass patch in the night, stargazing, …
‘…You can step into the same river, but you cannot step into the same water’.

travel talks travel thoughts

 Good travel companions
Crazy, Stupid Love and Hairspray on my way – both of which were so good. Can’t believe it took me so long to watch Hairspray, I should really be ashamed of myself.
Love the 1960s context and the social issues they weaved into the show
And uhm… Link Larkin 😉
While waiting for the bus to Utrecht, I spoke to 2 girls from Israel. I learnt that they were Jewish, and that in Israel they they had a Holocaust Day, like another holiday, where they played Holocaust movies and had ceremonies in school. They had annual trips to Poland with the school (as with German schools I think), where they visited concentration camps and memorials.
Sometimes the things that seem so mundane and so normal to us are so surprising or bewildering for others. For instance, English as our first language. Our chewing gum ban. Our non-mixed dorms. The 7th month.
So here I am now, hi from the Netherlands!!! I always wanted to visit the Netherlands, so I’m really, really happy to be htere. My geographical imagination – green, peaceful, windmills. (I told the students, and they laughed. hahahah)
I’m on the bus now and we passed by the canals, and i like this place already, very much so. Can’t help feeling this surge of familiar happiness again, bred with excitement, bliss, and appreciation for everything that I have and am having.
Lying in the bed of a fellow Geographer’s room after a lovely night of chatting. :’)