Sunday, 4 September 2011


Coming home after finding myself was supposed to be a sweet and rewarding experience. And it was for the first few weeks. I was confident and relaxed in the firm knowledge of who I was. Things were moving swimmingly; reunited with family and friends, immersed in the festivity and I was finally able to truly and fully rest after these long journeys. I felt like I was in a clear pool just treading water.

Then things got murkier and the water harder to tread. Friends and family started to ask me about my future, my plan. I had none nor was I in a hurry to have one. Couldn't I just rest for a while?

Soon the water started to pull me down. My parents' expectations on me, wanting me to be this and that, to be successful, to have the kind of life that they'd wanted for me - carbon-copy of their friends' sons' but better. Their expectations are like quicksand that is trying to swallow me under. I'm struggling to breath now.

And in the struggle, I have lost sight of who I am. The "I" that I knew has been corrupted by expectations that are hurled towards me, and to some degree I've started to think like them (you tend to synchronize with the people you surround yourself with).

Fear of losing myself, I went traveling again for 3 months. Hoping that would bring me back to the peaceful and self assured state I was at. But unfortunately it didn't; it only made me more confused; throwing me deeper into the limbo state that I find myself in right now.

On top of that, a break-up.

I felt like I was in hell the past 2 weeks; aimless, heart broken and not seeing a way out. I kept looking to find the light at the end of the tunnel, but the problem is when I don't know which direction I'm heading, I'm merely going round in circle and will never find my way out.

Instead of trying to search for the external light I should start letting my inner light burn. It's time to sit down and be quiet, meditate and seek the peace inside of me that has always been there, leading me and guiding me. I am feeling better now, seeing things clearer and getting back my motivation. So, although I'm still deep in the quicksand, I am holding onto a string of hope.

Friday, 20 May 2011

The random act of kindness

The sun was shinning and the temperature was rising in the tranquil back lane of Chiang Mai. I woke up with a mild diarrhea and was feeling depleted. It was a traveling day - an 8-hour bus ride to a mountain town near the Burmese border.

To be on the safe side I had a (microwaved) croissant for breakfast rather than the usual Tom Yum or any other coconut milk concoctions. After packing and checking out, I hurled my 10kg backpack on my back and went in search of a tuk-tuk to take me to the bus station.

Minutes before the bus was to depart, I went to buy a bottle of water. As in most bus stations, everything was overpriced. So I walked further and finally found the cheap bottle I was looking for. It cost 5 bath but I only had 100 bath. The mother and son who ran the simple shop looked imploringly at me for smaller change but I had none. The son sent by his mother trudged through the flooded road to find someone who could change a 100 bath but came back empty-handed. I felt bad for causing them the trouble. The son told the mother who was cooking that he couldn't get change, then they said something to each other and then they gave me back my 100 bath with an apologetic look.

I understood. I was grateful that they went through the trouble for 5 bath and for a foreigner. As I put the note back into my wallet and started to walk away, they called out to me, urgently and pleadingly. I turned back wandering if I left something or did something wrong. But the son took the bottle of water and gave it to me. I looked at the son then at the mother, taking a while to register that they were giving it to me for free. I tried to protest but they insisted. The son holding the bottle with his outstretched arms nodding for me to take it. I looked them both in the eyes and said the most sincere and heartfelt "korp kun karp" (thank you in Thai) I could mustered.

In all my 7 years of travel, it never ceases to amaze me how generous people can be to stranger.

I remembered on a bus ride in Turkey, I met a family who invited me to their home in a village in the middle of nowhere. It was a small farm house where I slept in the kitchen floor. They were poor farmers but hey slaughtered the chicken, cooked some delicious dishes and made a feast for me. We chatted, albeit with some language difficulty, and I played with the children under the starry sky. There was no electricity and when the fire died, it was pitch black except for the little light that came from the moon. What prompted them to treat me, a stranger, with such kindness? There was no way I could repay them. I could not give them money for that would be rude, so I went to the small ration shop and bought them something and sweets for the kids.

Another time in Syria. A poor school teacher invited me and a friend to his humble home and in our honor his wife cooked for us and he went and bought a roast chicken. We ate while his wife and 5 children hid behind the curtain and watched us. I knew that it was an extravagant meal for this poor family and tried to leave as much of the chicken for the family, but the father wouldn't hear of it and kept putting pieces of chicken on our plates. With his basic English and our non-existent Arabic, we managed to chat. And I learnt about him and his family. He became a person to me rather than just a kind Arabic man I'd met in Syria. On that day, I'd also learnt that kindness is blind. It doesn't see creed nor nationality.

So with the bottle of water in my hand I walked back to the bus a little stunned still. When I sat down, I realized that my eyes were moist. I closed my eyes and said a prayer of thanks and asking god and the universe to bless this mother and son who had shown so much kindness to a stranger.

Although that didn't make my diarrhea go away nor gave me more energy, it did however make me feel good, really good. I guess there are people who don't measure everything with monetary gain or loss. That kindness itself is the greatest reward. And those of us, like me on this day, are at the receiving end of kindness, the best we could do is to pay it forward.

Mark Twain said that "kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see", I'll add on "it is also a language which the stranger feels welcomed and the lonely feels loved."

Wednesday, 13 April 2011


It was February 2004. I hugged and said goodbye to my parents at the Brunei airport and thus began my dream of traveling around the world.

I've been to many countries, even lived and worked in some of them. But mostly just a temporary base, a place for me to recuperate, save and plan for my next journey. I've never had a home; In the full sense that the word denote.

I've changed; I actually set out to change myself, my identity; like a blank paper to be filled with all the experiences, perspectives, ideas, etc. I could have and at the end to be the sum of all these experiences. I've done that. And I can honestly say that I am happy with who I am today. I am by no means perfect but I'm contented.

After being on the road for so long, I thought I have all I could want to have. But at the beginning of last year, a thought started to nag at me, the very thing that I have never had all these time, the idea of home.

I was almost always able to find a sense of belonging wherever I was; I could relax and recuperate at any place; all I need is a spot and I could find my center and feel at home. But the whole of last year, I had difficulty in doing that. I could rest physically but not mentally and emotionally.

So I made the decision.

It was January 27 2011, I came home.

Oh sure, I came back at the end of 2006. But that was like a visit and I was off again after a short 2 weeks. Now, I have no place to go. I am home...

... after 7 years.

It's so comfortable and relax; everything seems so easy and familiar. It's so nice to reconnect with my family and friends. I don't even have to do anything and they accept me for who I am. I don't have to start from scratch like I did in the cities where I decided to live and work. The sense of euphoria was compounded by the festivity of Chinese New Year and I truly enjoyed my first month back.

Then reality set in. Family politics began and I started to hear stories, not so nice stories about who did what and to whom, etc. The honeymoon period is over. I began to see flaws, flaws that I had known before but didn't have to deal with for a long time. And in these 7 years most of the relationships I had were temporary or long distant, if I had problem with someone or if I didn't like something, I could just walk away, start anew in a different place and start new friendship. But how can I run away from family. I have to learn to deal with them and they have to learn to deal with me. No more escape.

I feel that this trip home has a lesson for me - love. I need to learn to love others in their goodness and imperfection. I've spent so much time alone, looking out only for me, that it's going to take a huge effort for me to start to think about others and their needs.

On top of that, I find myself in a relationship!!! So, here I am, learning once again to love another person and let myself be loved by him.

So how do I love when I don't have to earn their loves in return and when these loves are given voluntarily, selflessly and unquestionably? And how do I love when there are flaws and imperfections?

There's only one place to learn about love, so here I am, home.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

I love you, I love you not

"Te quiero (I love you)" he said to me when I was leaving Colombia...

Growing up, I was a hopeless romantic: candle light dinner, roses, watching sunset, etc. I dreamed of finding Mr. Right, that perfect someone who was meant for me, who was going to fulfill all my needs.

I don't have a very normal childhood. I practically grew up in the Catholic church; I spent lots of my free time there. So it was logical that after finishing my high school, instead of continuing my education in university, I went to the seminary to be a priest. It was an amazing period of my life; I used to be very shy and had low self esteem, but then I became more open, confident and outgoing. And I thought that was it - my life. I was the epitome of holiness and devotion; parents wanted their children to be like me, priests called me brother and I had teenagers looked up to me, etc. But at night, when the lights were turned off and I was alone in my room, that's when the tears started coming, that's when the emptiness from deep down crept up and tore away all the happy facade and the smiling mask I was wearing. I cried because I could not reconciled my faith and my sexuality, and the longing to love and be loved by someone.

I spent my twenties looking for that someone that I left the seminary for. Now I'm almost 38 and I only have a 1-year relationship and a 3-month long distance relationship to show for. I used to fall in love very easily and therefore got hurt deeply and regularly. Looking at others, I always felt that I missed out on this: to be in relationships.

While traveling, I had often said that if I found the right guy, I would give up traveling and stay on to give the relationship a realistic chance to develop. I have met travelers who met their partners while traveling, so it's not unrealistic to hope that I would be one of them. But then, it wasn't to be. Lucky or unlucky is relative. Seriously thinking about it, would I really give up traveling?

I realised that it's quite impossible to find ONE person that is everything to you; it's a huge expectation for just ONE person to fulfill ALL my needs; it's a very high order, don't you think? Moreover in our modern days. So, why not have a few relationships going on at the same time. I don't want a boyfriend but rather a few boyfriends. It's not an open relationship as such, but rather a few open relationships.

... So I said to him, "te quiero mucho tambien (I love you very much too)". And I left.