By normal standards, this journey is over. It’s been 4 months of new faces, accents, sounds, sights- and I’ve finally arrived back at Start again.
Truth is, though, I never arrived at my original destination in the first place…for where I thought I was going turned out not to be the final destination at all. This journey had no stationary runways- they were all moving, destined for other places. My plans for diligent study weren’t meant to be…not when the temptation of the world, the real thing, laid waiting.
My greatest lesson would not be found in the textbooks nor cultural flares nor even intimacies with natural wonders. My greatest lesson came from our simplest being- the people around me whose stories were so very different from mine. It was in these interactions- our travels and our discussions- that I realized learning doesn’t need to take place in the classroom. It doesn’t even involve traveling far to exotic places- laugh all you want at the cheesiness, but our greatest education can be found in each other. Location doesn’t matter.
That doesn’t make travel any less appealing. What made this semester so memorable was the fact that I didn’t stay put in Singapore. I flew through the blue skies to 7 lands- Singapore, Indonesia (Bintan & Bali), Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur), Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City), Thailand (Phukhet & Bangkok), Cambodia (Siem Reap & Phnom Penh), and Taiwan. Each journey was new and different in its own way. My favorite was Cambodia, least favorite Thailand (Bangkok). But I admit to bias. I knew someone in Cambodia who saved me the hassle of hailing taxis & communicating in sign language. I also just so happened to stay in a hotel with a super friendly receptionist (known as “funny man”) who arranged all our Cambodia travels for us. On the opposite end of the spectrum, in Thailand, my friend got her purse stolen. Each locale has a different flavor, and a new lesson to offer. I met some friendly & some less pleasant souls in each place I traveled. There were the uncourteous children who lunged for your wallet and wouldn’t let go. There were conniving salesmen who’d surreptitiously steal your money without you even realizing. Then there were people like Hung Quoc Nguyen and Neau Vira– strangers who went out of their way to take me around & show the best of their country- often completely on their tab. (Ok, they weren’t complete strangers, just friends of friends- but still an extreme act of kindness in my book.) After meeting such a wide range of characters, you realize that a place can never be defined by a singular positive or negative incident one may experience. Nothing is black or white, but rather a shade of grey where all the nuances & complexities intersect to create a complete picture. Good and evil, beautiful and ugly, cheap and expensive- they all exist, so one cannot judge any country or entity as either/or.
I could name the specific people I’ve learned from, but the list would be too long. Everyone has something to offer. Plus, that’s beside the point. The point is that this journey never ends. Learning never stops with the end of one trip or the thud of the airplane onto the runway. The flight attendants should save their welcome greeting. Instead, they should say: “Thanks for traveling. We’ve arrived, but the journey has just begun. Until next time, bon voyage.”
Singapore has come and gone. I’ve touched down, but the journey continues. Come what may, even if I’m landlocked and stricken to the same place for a while, the travelynne mindset is here to stay.