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...