When people ask me why I have been travelling a lot for the past five years, I always say that I am on a quest for Looove. To paraphrase someone in the movie, Warcraft, if love is important to you, you must go to the ends of the earth to find it. But, I would say to those who’d listen, love is an elusive and deceptive thing. You think you have it, then it’s gone. Maybe you are not really looking for it or wanting it, some friends say. That may be true, but that is another topic for another time.
It was rage that caused me to travel. “Rage fuels me” is more dramatic than saying “I’m on a quest for love”. By the way, neither rage nor love(or infatuation) can fill your stomach. Both can cause hypoglycemia if you’re not careful.
Rage at friends who betrayed me. Rage at the pressures and expectations laid on me, Rage at the people went out of their way just to prove that I did not deserve what I was working so hard for. Rage at people who tried to take advantage of my weaknesses just so they could advance themselves. Rage at people who frustrated my efforts just because they think they could. Rage at people who attempted to manipulate me to suit their purposes. Rage at people who disregarded who I really was and tried to impose on me their idea of who I should be. Rage at people who measured themselves against me. Rage at people who blame me for their faults and shortcomings. Rage at assuming responsibilities and burdens because of other people’s incompetence. Rage at being obliged to give so much for things that were given virtually for free to other people. Rage at myself for putting up with all these things at great emotional and psychological cost. Rage at slowly giving up pieces of my sense of self for the sake of advancement.
For a long period of time – too long – I could only feel rage and contempt. All I could ever think about was how to survive. I was vengeful and vindictive. It felt like everything was closing in. I just had to will myself to withstand them all. I knew that it was only a matter of choice: to let the rage burn me out and become a husk of a person or hold on to who I was and survive.
During that time, I also cut off a lot of people from my life because I knew they were not good for me.
I went to Hong Kong to visit Ocean Park and Disneyland. I wanted to feel other things. I did do a lot of therapeutic screaming while being spun in the air on the adult rides at Ocean Park. Fear, excitement, and adrenaline make a great combination. At DIsneyland, I did get teary-eyed on seeing the Disney Princesses. The Disney mind-conditioning was at work when I again got teary-eyed while watching the fireworks.
I visited old Macau and spent hours just walking round and round, looking for the heritage sites. I enjoyed getting lost and finding my way back again. I hopped over the graves of Protestant Dutchmen who died over a hundred years ago. I walked up and down winding stairways, filled with graffiti.
Walking in the sun without any particular destination, looking at famous monuments and landmarks, trudging on unfamiliar streets, and listening to unfamiliar languages, made me feel better. At every step, I could feel my rage ebb just a little. The new sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures reminded me that the world is big and has so much to offer.
I found myself clambering over large stone monuments, going through dark tunnels, climbing very narrow steps, and joking and laughing with total strangers in Siem Reap. I fulfilled a childhood promise to see Angkor Wat – there was a time I wanted to be an archeologist. I experienced wonder once again. I felt great sadness while the audio guide walked me through the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, and watched other people suddenly burst into tears for they too felt the great despair and suffering in that place. I felt rage, but it was righteous.
A friend and I rode bicycles in Hoi An. We checked into a five-star hotel in Hue and spent New Year’s Eve in a club with white people dancing to 80’s music while the proprietor, who was wearing a suit, gave us drinks on the house. I walked, in full costume, the halls of the Imperial Palace of the Nguyen Dynasty, while other tourists took photos of me. I ate as much as I could in the labyrinthine streets of the French Quarter in Hanoi and got addicted to Vietnamese coffee.
I spent my birthday at Genting Highlands Park – cheesy but I had fun with my friend. We spent most of our time riding buses in Malaysia and looking for places to eat nasi goreng. We did a lot of walking in Georgetown and Melaka. I was even surprised to see two young men holding hands, as they crossed a football field in Melaka – in a Muslim country at that! Simply sitting inside a hop-on-hop-off bus in Kuala Lumpur while stuck in traffic, in the middle of pouring rain, was fun for me. Hey, I was stuck in traffic in a foreign country and in one of the most important cities of the world!
It took years of occasional travelling to get me into sorts. In the process, I did feel I’ve become a different person – more confident, less afraid, comfortable with uncertainty, and eager for surprises. Travelling will test your wits and patience, and you will discover how much you are truly capable of. And the most important experience I’ve ever had was kindness from total strangers. Again and again, I was reminded that the world is big and full of wonder. Whatever I was going through was just of the tiniest consequence in the greater scheme of things. Every step I made in a new and strange land took out a little of the rage I had in me. It took thousands of steps just to drain enough rage and make room for other things – joy, wonder, empathy, trust, friendship, hope.
I now feel anger, not rage. And it is a good thing. I keep anger alive, but contained, because anger, like fire, can be good if harnessed properly. I tap into it to give me energy to fight and to stand for what I believe in. It gives me strength to resist bullshit and to demand for what I deserve. It reminds me to never allow anyone to make me go through all that again.
The money I have spent on travel so far would have built me a big house or gotten me a luxurious condo. It was all a small price to pay for saving myself.