travel

Land of Dragons and Mooncakes

Coming home to Indonesia after six months, inevitably I always get asked *the* question: “Cina itu gimana? How is China?” And I think, where do I begin to describe its richness? In culture, history, beauty. I ask them what they most want to know and if they say, “Oh, anything!”I look in their eyes and give them the story I think they’d like to hear most. Whether it’s funny, enticing, gross, or beautiful, I spin words from the chambers of my memories, though not quite as eloquently as on paper.

I tell them that China is a special country, claiming to be the oldest civilization in the world. But if you want to know about its history, there are various other more credible sources you can delve into. So let me recount it from my own eyes. China is the cliched metaphor of an onion, with so many layers to uncover and explore.

Red as their lucky color, the Chinese people breathe fire as they talk. What I mean is that even when talking regularly they sound a bit angry, but this is because of the tones of Chinese language. There are four: the uptone, the downtone, the neutral tone, and the “slanted” tone. The tone is a crucial part of the language, because if it’s incorrect then what you’re saying could have a different meaning altogether! For example, the Chinese word for “is” is shì, with a downtone, whereas the word for “ten” is shí with an uptone. A more dire example is the word for “breast” which sounds similar to another word which I had meant to say (though I forget now what word it was I’d meant to say). This confusion happened in a restaurant when I was having dinner with my best friend’s larger family. That was embarrassing, to say the least. :’)

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To Be A Traveler

To be a traveler is to follow in the footsteps of our nomadic ancestors—each new terrain uncertain but brimming with undiscovered possibilities. It is to be a rolling stone, constantly changing yourself to suit the environment around you, nature, circumstance and chance. Never is it the other way around—the way sedentary metropolitans build skyscrapers, burn forests for farming, and pollute the skies to suit them. Why do they not realize that it will cause a domino effect?

As with most things I know of, the situation is neither good nor bad. It is simply a constant stream of experience, upon which we row-row-row upon our boats of consciousness towards the next dream-like adventure.

However, having myself traveled from one continent to another—in both cases to live there, not just to tour—I’ve learned a thing or two about the ways of the world. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not implying that I’m a wise sage or anything, simply a girl who knows what it’s like to pack up your suitcases and brace yourself for a new world with bizarrely different creatures, cultures, and conducts.

I grew up in two places. My mind and heart didn’t have preferences. It was a constant tug-o’-war between one country and the other—one which would often leave me puzzled and distraught during those years that they coin “puberty”. It wasn’t only the dichotomy between the two countries that left me so—one being a first-world nation, awed by the world, the other hectic and developing—but also the “big” thoughts, such as pondering the nature of life and the uncertainty of ever meeting my childhood friends again. But also, the Great Perhaps of it.

Scrolling through pictures on social media, you notice smiles and warm sunny days—the stars of said pictures being friends you once knew. I know of the wistfulness aching your heart. I know how it felt to turn glass-eyed at the airport, meeting relatives for the first time in six years. Only to cry yet again because you realized how different they were from you, how alien, because you were only a toddler then, and now a misshaped preteen.

However, to be a traveler is to have a novel view of life. It is to realize that you will never truly fit in, because you came from another place—while other people stayed in place. It is to develop a stoic attitude towards life, because, try as you might, you can never return to the past.

To be a traveler is to gain valuable experiences. With those experiences, you learn to understand the world. You learn about human beings—what brings us together, what we all have in common. You learn how to connect the dots of life, seemingly arbitrary at first. You learn that cherishing family moments is important, because they’re the people who will never leave you, while others come and go.

In the process, you might cry (for joy, for sadness); or you might laugh because you’ve finally found humor in it all. You might just become a better person—more compassionate, more thoughtful and understanding, albeit more sensitive. And in the end it’s all okay, because you’ve learned things that you otherwise wouldn’t have learned.