Thursday, 2 October 2008

The road least travel

This whole year I was confronted with a very important choice: staying in Spain and get a European residency, or starting a whole new chapter of my life in South America. Staying, promises stability and comfortability. Leaving, promises nothing but an unending road of self discovery and life experiences. I finally made the difficult decision. It took me a long long time to decide. Even after I bought my flight ticket, I was still considering changing my mind.

Remember I spoke about the universe conspires to help us if we follow our destiny? Well, the decision of leaving Spain presents 2 problems. I have an 8 months old entry stamp on my passport that was very visible for any half-witted immigration officer to realise that I have overstayed. And I only bought a one-way ticket to Brazil and risk them rejecting my entry. I was worry, very worry until the day of my departure. But unbeknown to me, the universe was working to help me. When I went to check-in at Madrid airport, the airline issue me a fake return ticket to fool the Brazilian immigration. Later, when I walked nervously to the Spanish immigration counter, the officer was more interested in reading his newspaper than checking my passport, and I got an exit stamp! Oh My God! or Gaia! or whoever! Never in my wildest dream, did I dream that things would work out so smoothly. So, the road is pathed for me.

Last summer when I was in the Jordanian desert of Wadi Rum, under the desert starry night sky, I met an Italian who read the tarot card for me. It said that if I remain in Europe, life would be easy, comfortable and secured. And that's what I had and would have had if I stay in Madrid. If I stay and get the residency, life would be easy and predictable. But if I go to South America, the card said, I would have a spiritual breakthrough. What kind of breakthrough, I do not know. I have learnt to let go, to habour no expectation. I have no more anchor to hold me back in experiencing life, I am as blank as a new book for the universe and myself to write a story upon my life.

Some may say that tarot card is nothing but mumbo-jambo. But if we have a chanced meeting, please ask me to tell you my first exprience with it on the Camino de Santiago. All my encounter with tarot card has not been my intention to set out to seek it but rather, it seeked me.

It was really hard to leave Spain, or Europe for that matter. But once I left, it was much easier to move on. Europe was my home for the last 5 years and now once again I find myself homeless. I don't know how long I will be on the road or where my next home will be. So, I walk this path into the unknown.

".... I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood,
and I-- I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference"
by Robert Frost

Friday, 15 August 2008

Dream on

As a boy growing up in the other corner of the world, reading books and watching movies about people who backpacked the world, it ingrained in my brain the romantic idea of this lifestyle; of carefree, freedom, forming friendships, meeting interesting people, seeing the world.

I owed it a lot to the book ‘Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho. The main message for me was that “when you follow your destiny, the universe conspires to help you”. Carrying this belief in my heart, I packed my bag and left home. Taking the very first step in the new and completely different chapter of my life. (Actually it is a completely different book).

I am a late started, as backpacking goes. The first time I really backpacked was 1 month after my 31st birthday. I remember I was very excited and scared at the same time, but I embraced the identity of a backpacker whole-heartedly without any reservation. I stayed in youth hostel, met other backpackers, exchanged stories, formed instant friendship, explored countries and cities dictated by "the bible" - Lonelyplanet, etc. This was what I had dreamt of. This was my destiny.

What is this life on the road? It is a total surrendering and letting go of all educations and conditionings that I was brought up to believe in and act on. It means being weird and strange. It also means not-belonging, marginalised and misunderstood.

But, if it is such a negative thing, what attracts me so much to it? I guess it gives me a kind of freedom that life otherwise seems to be devoid of. It is this freedom that freed me to experience life at its very basic level and to see the beauties of both geographical and human. If I had chosen to lead a “normal”, societal-dictated lifestyle, I would never had had some of the most amazing experiences of my life: Have you ever been invited by a stranger to his house to share his food, and eventhough he has less than you, would not accept any compensation? Or sharing sleeping place on the floor of a train station with some homeless people who made you feel at home? Or find that instant, deep connection with someone from a completely different background just because you are at the right place at the right time?

I know the risk of living life on the road; I was almost robbed countless of times, been cheated by trouts, been sent in the wrong directions, etc... These are the normal thing in the life of a backpacker, but never in any moment I fear for my life. There’s a deep-seated reassurance that things would eventually right itself. You can call it instinct. I call it letting go and trust in the universe.

A sense of deep contentment settled in my soul everytime I am on the road. The kind of contentment that money cannot buy, and status cannot achieve. It is only found in the simplicity of life, the giving of and letting go of oneself.

I cannot say whether this will be the way of life for me for the rest of my life. But all I know is that these 5 years of life on the road is the one that I have lived to the fullest! And should it all end right now, I would have no regret. Because I have lived my life in the way that bring me a sense of contentment that few people have experienced in their long drown-out lives. And I have stopped measuring life the way we were taught by society; longevity, wealth, etc. It all sum up very nicely by the philosophy of life that I try to live by:

"Life is not measured by the amount of breath you take, but by the moments that take your breath away"

Thursday, 7 August 2008

My feeble attempt at friendship

“Hey Noel, want to come over and play?” Shouted Vincent through the wired fence. I ran to my grandma and asked for her permission. She shook her head. “My grandma says no” I shouted back disappointingly.

This is my earliest memory of friendship. Vincent and I were around 4 years old and he lived 2 houses away. We went to kindergarten together and I always bullied him in carrying my bag and we would come home singing some nursery rhyme in our dirtied uniforms to the dismayed smiled of our families. And spent most of the days playing together. In the era before video games and computer, the world was our playground and the only limitation was our imagination. Those were beautiful times.

I can’t remember how we first met. Nor do I remember how long we were friends before Vincent’s father was transferred away and we lost contact. I can’t even remember the day he left nor how we said goodbye. It must have been difficult. But you know kids, we get over it.

Growing up, I was always a quiet type. Surrounded by a rather big and extended family and with my parents and grandmother dotted on me. I thought I didn’t need any friend. But there was always a void inside. I remember wishing I had a good friend with whom I could play and share. I envied those friendships I read about in books and saw on TV. I wished I had one. I kept reminiscent about the friendship with Vincent, fooling myself that that was my one and only good friend in my life.

I wasn’t very lucky in this aspect of my life. I did have friends in school but they were just friends, and I was just one of their friends. I never found a strong personal connection with any of them; neither in Primary school nor in Secondary school.

This was compounded by the fact that somehow deep inside I knew I was different. I discovered my sexuality when I was about 13 or 14. With no one to turn to, I buried it deep down and never really explored it. But the realisation of it made me an outsider of my circle of friends because I would be labelled “weird” and “abnormal”.

In my late teens, I became very involved with the Catholic church and actually found my calling there. I excelled with my life in the church. I became more extroverted, outgoing and even funny. That brought me a lot of friendships. We shared the same indentity and same goal. And because of that I began to open up, sharing my thoughts, my ideas, my dreams, my problems and my difficulties with those closed to me. To them, I was almost the pillar and an example of holiness. But at night, when I was alone in bed, after the light was off, silent screams would crept out of my mouth buried in the pillow, tears welled up and started flowing uncontrollably. I would asked this Catholic God, WHY? over and over again, banging my head on the wall until the pain was gone or I became too exhausted and fell asleep.

Not being able to reconcile my faith, which was the meaning of my existence, and my sexuality, which was the nature of my being, I was rather reluctant to open myself up to friends. Because I didn’t want them to see the “monster” inside, the "sickness" that I was. I wasn't able to accept myself for who I was because all around me, people and system told me how to live and how to behave and they dictate who I was.

That was what led me to abandon my home and set out on the road to self discovery. Travelling around, moving from one place to another allow me to know many people, some became friends, others were merely passerbys. It was with real ease that I approach, chat and make friends.

Having accepted myself for who I am, it is so much easier to make friends. I do not have to hide behind masks, pretending to be what people want me to be, no more expectations. And though we merely spent a few days, at the most, with each other, some bond of friendships are stronger than a lot that I have known.

But the moment I settled down, established a longer term friendships, I collapsed. I collapsed under their expectations, the setting of boundaries, I have to behave in a certain, socially acceptable ways. I am no longer playing by my rule but it is in the co-existence that I found complication. I feel like a bird whose wings have been clipped, suffocation become the air I breath. When that happen, I usually fold up and let the friendship go. Because the commitment involved is too much and time consuming.

However, some friendships I hang on to because they are too precious for me to let go. And it is in these friendships that I learn about me and how I behave. It is simple, really, like fishing: when there’s a fish on the line, you have to pull a little, then let it go a little, then pull again. This tug of war will ensure eventually the fish ends in your hand. And that’s how friendship works for me, I think.

I remember a cartoon strip I once saw: a newly-wed couple asked an old couple how they kept their love and passion alive after so many years, and the old couple replied that a relationship is like 2 logs in the fireplace, they need to be close yet far apart enough to let oxygen in to keep the fire burning.

If I want you close, I have to let you go...

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

lucky bastard

"You are really luck!" She said to me as she washed and massaged my head. She, a middle aged married Chinese woman who left her country and family to earn better money; but the lack of education has impeded her opportunity.

I have never thought of myself as lucky. Growing up in a middle class family with dotting parents and a rather normal life, albeit a bit boring and bland at times (now that I think about it, haha...). Of course, there were times that I wished I had a better (read: different) life. I grew up comparing... almost everything, parents, friends, statues, etc. I wished I was someone else, the handsome guy or the rich man's son in the movie I just saw, the brain of the family. I measured myself with the standard of the world and I didn't live up to it, not by miles.

Interestingly enough, it was in the Catholic church that I found refuge, in God's embrace that I found acceptance. I learnt to see who I am through a different set of eyes, I learnt to accept my gifts and my defects. I learnt to love myself. I crawled out of a shell into the blinding light of the sun and let my old self be washed away by the pouring of the monsoon. I became me.

But all these in the expense of education. I chose to serve the church right after my secondary education rather than followed the "normal" path of continuing my education. But thanks to the relentless persistence of my parents, I finally got myself an education. And thanks to the years working for the church; the detachment allowed me to look at myself and what I really want to study, a chance which not many people have.

And with this education, some doors were opened to me and had therefore given me a lot of opportunity. I have met lots of intelligent people who don't have a university qualification and therefore missed out in many chances. Education became such an important part of our survival, our being... since when did we start to measure a person's worth by their education?

With these events, and not being en-sync with the flow of the world, allowed me to know myself deeper and see things in a very different perspective. And I chose to go down a path of unknown, a path where I learn to discover myself, away from my culture, my family, familiar setting... We know that we are what our background, culture and family made us. And if we take away these equations, who are we? Does memory equal identity?

The last 4.5 years of life on the road helped me to discovery a lot about myself and surprisingly I am happy to be who I am today... without any dragging identity, irreconcilable differences between what you feel and what you know, past guilt, worrysome future... I may lead a very simple, "aimless" life, but it is this day to day, present living that gives meaning to me. And who I am today is the product of all my past so I have no regrets at all. I don't wish for things to be different anymore, I stop dreaming a different dream. I am content with myself.

So I guess I am a lucky bastard

Monday, 21 July 2008

Unsettle the settled

By this September, I will have been living in Spain for 3 years. And legally I could apply for residency. That prospect tempts me and tortures me to no end; what with the possibility of living in Europe, which I love, legally and the possibility in the future of getting a European passport. How could I not be enticed?

It is a strange sensation. I claim no nationality, cultural and religious affiliation. Yet, the idea of settling down, having a "home" seems to appeal to be. Why? I have no answer to this question. I guess it is the idea of familiarity and comfort that appeal to me.

Like everyone else, I was brought up on a set and protected environment (as much as a normal environment provides). And so, it is very natural to want to be in this comfort zone; where you don't have to worry about anything, everything is easy... life becomes complacent. Who doesn't want that? We work our arse off our whole lives just so that we could retire and lead a fuss-free life. Right? Well, at least that's what the majority think and what the current society is promoting for everyone, regardless.

I have a bone to pick with this concept of living. That is, what happen if you don't make it to retirement? Would you then consider your life wasted? Unlived? The future is not something guaranteed. We don't have it saved in bank vault nor does life give us a warranty card for it. So, all we have is now, the present. So we should live the present.

Living the present means not fearing what the future will bring but appreciate what I have at the moment and not wanting more. And since my wanting to settle down steam from the fear of the future, I need to seriously ask myself if it is what I want now. If I would be happy doing the same thing I am doing the last 3 years, adapt myself to a culture that I like but don't quite belong to, become part of the "system" of society?

I guess not! Whether I choose to settle down now or not, the most important thing is to have a settled inner self. Once it is calm and peaceful inside, the outside will be guided to align and create the balance that life requires.

The outter manifestation is but a reflection of the inner expression.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

I miss you...

"I miss you from time to time." The message read.

What does it mean when you get this message from your ex? It meant a lot to me. It has been 1.5 years since we broke up but hard as I try, I have never been able to find a closure for this relationship. We were physically together for 3 days. 3 days!!! The intensity of these 3 days and the months that followed was something that I had never experienced before or since. If it is merely a crush and physical attraction, how could it last the test of time and distance?

A friend once asked, "what is it about him that you missed?" I searched and searched but couldn't come up with an answer.

A lot of the time, we try to find answer to our problems. We go out in search of answers with our mind already set. It is like going out with a small square box and try to find a rock that fit it exactly and perfectly. If they don't fit, we discard them and keep searching. The chances of finding something that fit perfectly is rather small, wouldn't you say?

Love is strange. But beautiful. It hurts me that this love could not be what I want it to be. But it is still a beautiful experience. Beauty has no goodness or badness. It is neither perfect nor imperfect. It just is.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Tide of change

I am never a big fan of football. In 35 years of my life, I have only seen 4 full matches and the last 3 was the recently completed European Cup. For almost a week, I was caught in the frenzy of sensationalism as everyone around me were so fired up and excited about the game. And I let myself be carried along the current of the "Marea Rojo" (red tide). I shouted and raised my hand in ecstacy when Spain scored a goal. My heart pounded when Spain score and tightened when it miss. For the final, I went to one of my favourite tapas bar and surrounded by Spaniards, I went through a roller-coaster ride of emotion just like everyone else in the bar. And when the final whistle blew and Spain had won, I screamed with joy like a Spaniard.

But the euphoria was short-lived. As the multitud cladded in red shouted for joy and chanted, I suddenly felt that I had fell from a pedestal back to earth with a loud thud. One of the chant, "Yo soy español, español, español..." left me with a bitter taste in my mouth because I suddenly realised that I am not a spaniard. Although I have lived here for almost 3 years, I have never felt quite belong, in both small and big ways, I feel rejected by the society and the government. Excluded because I am not "one" of them; by race, by lifestyle and most importantly, by identity.

As I walked along the streets, I saw crowd gathered to celebrate the victory, euphoria hang in the air and people were dancing and chanting. I wish I could partake in their joy and excitment but I felt really detached. I wander whether this sense of detachment comes from a certain awareness, the ability to look at a situation (even with myself it in) from a distance. So, I can never identify myself to any external and collective identity.

In defining Nationalism, Wikipedia states that "
nationality is the most important aspect of one's identity." That's a pretty strong statement to make, and a very generalising one too. Except for a small period in my youth where I felt this sense of pride for my land and the country I lived in, I have never felt a tremendous sense of nationalism. There are people who would kill in order to attain or preserve their nationality; wars have been fought on this ground through our human history. After leaving my hometown and being on the road and calling a place home regardless whether I have any shared identity with it, have made me lost touch with the idea of nationalism.

The society wants to understand us by putting us in a box and hope that we always remain in it. It makes everyone's job so much more easier. "Oh! You are Chinese, you must eat rice everyday!", "A Spanish? Hmm... do you do siesta in the afternoon?" We don't even make an effort to try to see the other person as an individual. And we are surprised when he or she doesn't behave according to the law of practice within the box of understanding.

We are always evolving, we can never be the same person we were yesterday. Most people change along the line of their national identity but I have decided to change without any anchor or safety; Threw myself to experience and let the current of life takes me to wherever, to the unknown.

So without "the most important aspect of my identity", who am I?

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

One of my favourite poem...


As you set out for Ithaca
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - don't be afraid of them:
you' ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon - you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbours you're seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind -
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.


Monday, 28 April 2008

the reality of my non-existence

I left home more than 4 years ago and have been living a semi nomadic life. The thing about it is that I feel really comfortable with this insecured and wandering life... travel to many exotic places, meet wonderful people and live in amazing place... As uncertain as life is, I really enjoy every moment and appreciate everything that comes into my life, maybe because of it. And the most important feeling of all these, is that all these feel so natural! It feels weird to even say that it feels natural to be a normad.

However, if we look to the beginning of our human exitence (what we know), the early human beings are nomadic, then we became more land cultivators, so now our society is founded in this format and we are brought up to think that this is the only way of life there is.

I always thought that there is no other way but the way of our father and our father's father... but the problem is that I was never convinced and was always unhappy with what I was doing. I studied, got a good degree, found a good and promising job, but nothing could wipe away the emptiness that was gnawning at my inside. Making the decision to break away from the "reality" that I have known all my life was both difficult and easy; easy because I was ready to leave, difficult because I do not know the path that lays infront of me: the fear of the unknown.

I didn't like who I was because I felt that I was beginning to lose myself in the world, letting the society tells me who I was, trying to mould myself into the different boxes that society conditions us to comply. So I set out to search for myself, the essence of my being, not merely my identity.

But after taking the first step, the rest comes very easily. It was very hard at the beginning to try to establish myself. And just when I got things going for me, I had to leave. And the years of moving around have given me a lot of opportunity to meet interesting, simple and enlightened people but it also did not allow me to establish a permanent relation and that is one of the hardest. I have to be conscious of myself otherwise it is so easy to be drawn back into the vicious circle that society throws you into; money-work-expectation-pressure-etc; where everyone around you is worrying about their future, regretting about their past and missing out in the present. And now, I won't even cause a "beep" in the tangled radar of social tentacles; pension fund, social security, tax income, health care, etc. You can even say that I don't exist, a phantom, a shadow, a passerby in people's life.

But nothing feel more real to me than now.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Birthday wishes

What does birthday mean? People say that it's a day where you celebrate the day of your birth. But why this day? Why not celebrate everyday... because life is a continuous event, if you take away any single day between your previous and current birthdays, you would not have reached the current birthday. In my opinion, everyday is a special day... yes, we do like to commemorate days and events, that's socially constructed behaviour.

That said, being the first born child in my family, my birthdays were celebrate with pomp and glee. It was really normal for me to have a family dinner, a cake and candles on this day. But on my 21st birthday, I realised that nothing I could do could surpass all the birthdays I had ever had until then, so with a stroke of ingenuity, I decided not to celebrate my birthday at all. And who would have known that that decision 14 years ago is still in effect today.

Friends often ask me why I don't want to celebrate this day and the most common question the day after is "how did you celebrate it?" The question I want to ask is, why is it such a big deal? I know it is a special day, the day of our birth... isn't it equally important the day of our conception? And if we are surrounded by family and friends, then there is a good reason to gather and have fun. But if you are alone?

I have been living a rather normadic life for the last 4 and half years. I like this lifestyle but the only setback is that it leaves me pretty alone and lonely some of the times. I have friends around the world but not many close to me in terms of geographical distance. And because everything in my life now is so temporary, I find it hard to RELATE to people. It is easy for me to make quick friendship, especially when I am travelling. Everything is so temporary; we are only together for a few days so it is easy to just see the beauty and goodness of the other person. But when I stay in one place, I get to know a person better, the novelty starts to wear off and I start to REALLY get to know the person... the goodness, the defects, etc just like any other person. That's the difficult part for me. I became impatient with myself and with the other person.

There's always one thing that I think about and wish for on my birthday, and that's love. I have been really unlucky in love so far in my life. 35 years without a real taste of a lasting love, that's quite tough to bear. But the more I reflect on myself, the more I realise that I am not ready for love. Even if it comes, I might not recognise it because I am only on the look out for perfection, without realising that love has a defective side too.

And to understand and experience love fully, I have to embrace the perfection as well as the defect... this is my birthday wish...