From “Why” to “Why Not”

© Gaya | 
It’s a few minutes before midnight. I’m sitting here at an airport lounge: munching on nuts, coffee already gone cold, laptop open, no immediate plans to sleep despite the lateness of the hour, having already taken a 30-minute nap in sitting position earlier while people around me were having dinner. And I’m wondering: why does this not feel unnatural?

Why does it not feel like a disruption of ordinary life?

Have I really gotten so used, in the stretch of a fortnight, to waiting hours for flights and fueling on coffee and falling asleep in the midst of strangers?

Because that’s not me. Not at all. Not ordinarily. When I’m home, I’m a homebody. My personal three-word horror stories include “knock on door” and “unexpected phone call.” Heck, even expected phone calls fill me with dread. And I’m extremely private: a friend says poker is the natural state of my face.

But travel seems to signal a temporary key change. The rhythm of who I am and what I do shifts: suddenly, I talk to strangers (sometimes) and dance (okay, just once) and eat gelato (normally too expensive). Stripped of my usual surroundings, my usual “why?” becomes an “eh, why not?” It’s almost like having an alternative life. It’s not a radical transformation — obviously! Dancing just once, tsk — but travel does seem to make what’s not normal almost normal.

Keyword being “almost.”

Would I like it to be my new normal though?

Hmmm… Nah.

Because I like my old normal just fine: my little ordinary life. I would seriously cry if I had to travel for a living. For me, travel is a treat. It’s like, oh, tiramisu. I love tiramisu but if I ate it all the time, it wouldn’t be as special. (Didn’t stop me from eating the lounge’s last two slices earlier, but you know what I mean.) Or like…cherry blossoms. They’re beautiful and they would still be beautiful if they bloomed year round but it’s their transience that makes beholding them such a treat.


I’ll savor this treat while it lasts, dance however clumsily to this new rhythm, and when the last notes die I’ll happily go back to ordinary.

Until the next time, of course.

The Painted Hall

SGMT | Painted Hall, London
SGMT Fb London reflecting mirror

Exactly a year ago, at the Painted Hall of the Old Royal Naval College, London.

It was our first day out and about in London. Our friends had asked us where we wanted to go and we’d said we’d like to see their favorite places in town, so Adam took us to Greenwich. The Painted Hall was one of our first stops. Originally conceived by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor as a dining hall for naval pensioners, the Painted Hall has since been described as “the Sistine Chapel of the UK,” and its painted walls and ceilings by Sir James Thornhill are indeed a sight to behold. Mirrors, such as the one pictured above, are strategically placed around the building, enabling visitors to examine Thornhill’s masterpiece without having to keep their necks in perpetual hyperextension.

Fast forward a year later. I haven’t traveled overseas in a while — and I haven’t written much lately either. There’s just been so many things going on, responsibilities, old and new. Travel while you’re young, they say; travel while you can, before life’s commitments start weighing you down. But oddly enough, I don’t feel chained by my responsibilities at all. In a way, I’m glad that there’s more to my life than just me, than just what I want. I’ve said travel is the food of my soul, and it still is, and it always will be, but now my spirit draws sustenance from many other things too. And just like a simple dining hall can end up being a grand work of art, the little things in life, if you pour your heart and soul into them, can turn out to be a greater adventure and give you greater joy than any trip in the world.


It’s not about where you’ve been

SGMT Scotland Inverness St Mary's Catholic Church

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my travels this year, it’s this.

It’s not about what you’ve seen or where you’ve been.

It’s about what you thought when you saw it. It’s about how you felt when you got there.

It’s about who you were before that moment, and who you became after it.

It’s about the sudden shift in the earth, the tremor that went through your heart, the inexplicable feeling of being more alive than you were moments ago.

It’s about the light that suddenly brightened up your eyes, or the light that was just as suddenly extinguished from them.

It’s about realizing you’ve changed, or realizing you’re still who you’ve always been.

It’s about motion. It’s about stillness. It’s about the headlong rush into unfamiliar terrain, or the feeling of being the only one left standing in a whirling, swirling world.

It’s about a million different things, or a million different nothings.

But it’s never, never, never about where you’ve been. Because otherwise…what’s the point?

SGMT Scotland Inverness Graveyard

© Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 

Today, I Hate Traveling

Osmena Peak Cebu 02

There is one time when I really, really hate traveling: the day before departure.

I hate leaving my family. I look at my son and I can’t imagine going just one day without seeing him, can’t imagine not being able to hug him whenever I want. I feel such an acute sense of homesickness that I am sometimes tempted not to leave.

Fear sets in too. What if something happens to me? Worse, what if something happens to them? How could I ever live with myself? And yet bad things could happen on land as on the air, at home as away, while working as on vacation. A life crippled by fear would be a life wasted.

Then there’s a bit of guilt. While I’m going on food trips, my mum will be feeding my son. While I trek through rice paddies and lie on the beach, my son will be traipsing around our backyard, without me to tell him to be careful. While I’m seeing things I’ve never seen before, it will be just another ordinary day for my family. And yet…well, I can’t think of a way to justify the inequality, except that I know I would wish the same thing for them too, that they will also be able to see the wonders of the world, and I know I will do whatever I can to make that happen.

These feelings pass, or rather they are consciously pushed to the back of the mind. They are eventually superseded by excitement or — more often, in my case — a mind-occupying flurry of last-minute packing and repacking. But they are very real and rather ironic for someone who loves travel. Sometimes I think traveling is really an act of faith — in the pilot, in yourself, in your family, in the future. You trust that everything will turn out well, during and after, though there are aren’t any guarantees and never will be.

Today, I Hate Traveling | LSS | Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 

#Illridewithyou, Not #Jesuischarlie: Drawing Lines


It’s a question that probably has no answer but I’m going to ask it anyway: why can’t we just be kind to each other?

I condemn in the strongest terms the Charlie Hebdo attack. I condemn it because it was cold-blooded murder; an act of terror, merciless and misguided. When I first heard of the shootings, my immediate impulse was to head here and add my voice to the growing rumble of millions proclaiming Je suis Charlie. But as people from hodunk to Hollywood held up their hashtags in the name of free speech, I started to feel that unpopular questions must be asked too, and lines must be drawn. Questions such as:

Is free speech absolute? Can anyone really say anything — even things that are disrespectful and hurtful and demeaning — and call it free speech? I’m not just talking about Charlie Hebdo: I understand it is a satirical magazine, and I hope that all its inflammatory content was created for the purpose of social criticism, with the ultimate goal of spurring positive change; I hope, somewhere out there, an extremist became more reasonable and a degenerate willingly reformed as a result of Charlie Hebdo‘s satire. But what I’m trying to say is this: in general, can “free speech” justify anything?

In the aftermath of the shootings, I was reminded of this paragraph from CS Lewis’ That Hideous Strength: “It may seem strange to say that Mark, having long lived in a world without charity, had nevertheless very seldom met real anger. Malice in plenty he had encountered, but it all operated by snubs and sneers and stabbing in the back. … At Belbury one used the words ‘whining’ and ‘yapping,’ to describe any opposition which the actions of Belbury aroused in the outer world. And Mark had never had enough imagination to realise what the ‘whining’ would really be like if you met it face to face.”

Poke a bear with a stick…

Again, let me emphasize: what the Kouachi brothers did was wrong, and I would never dream either of defending them or blaming their victims. The terror group to which they belonged, and any terror group for that matter, must be stopped; I have no sympathy whatsoever for these people. My sympathy, rather, is with the good Muslim, a victim twice: first, by the relentless skewering of his beliefs; second, by the heinous and ultimately counterproductive response.

Why can’t we just be kind to each other? Respect doesn’t always beget respect, and sober, sincere discussions aren’t always possible. But can’t we ask ourselves, before doing anything, “What is it I’m trying to accomplish? Will it be achieved by what I’m about to do?” Instead of using “free speech” to, however inadvertently, make a bad situation worse, can’t we try instead — like #illridewithyou in Australia — to find a way to make it better?

My country has been through a dictatorship and the freedom to speak my mind is something I hold very dearly. But if you needlessly, wrongfully insult and disrespect my family, I’m going to ask you just once to stop it; if you persist, I’m going to have to ask you to step outside. If your son repeatedly bullies my son, even after being asked to stop, I’m going to tell my son to punch, and punch hard. And if my son bullies your son, you tell me; I’ll whoop his arse for you.

There are limits to everything, and hate in any form or fashion, from whatever source and however fashionable, is just unacceptable. That’s the line I’m drawing.

#Illridewithyou, Not #Jesuischarlie: Drawing Lines” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 

You can take the tourist out of the uglies but…


A news article caught my eye today. Well, that’s not accurate. It was more like: an article in Yahoo really pissed me off today, even though I knew I shouldn’t pay too much attention to it because:

  1. It’s in Yahoo.
  2. It’s written by Fox News.
  3. It’s based on the Reddit thread “World travelers of reddit, where did you go that was a total disappointment?” — ie, it’s based on the opinions of people who:
    • are on Reddit,
    • have the time to participate in the thread, and
    • feel strongly enough about past travel disappointments to answer.

Still, I couldn’t help getting annoyed at statements like:

  • “You’ve dreamt of seeing the pyramids, Venice or Rome for your whole life. Then you get there and it’s just not what you expected. We’ve all built up a trip in our minds, only to find it’s not remotely like the brochures.”
  • Paris is the “worst city on earth.” “Other accusations levelled at the city were that it was overpriced, dirty and ‘smelled of urine.'”
  • About Venice — “Many thought it was sad to see how it had declined because of tourists, making it impossible to find affordable food and drink in central areas. ‘The famed canals are horribly polluted and filled with garbage,’ said one visitor.”

I mean…

Do you guys even know how lucky you are to be traveling at all? So many people in the world are too poor to travel. So many people are blind. So many people can’t walk. So many people don’t even have enough to eat. And yet there you are, exercising a privilege granted only to a few, and all you can see is the bad stuff!

Now, of course no place is perfect, and there is always a good side and a bad side to every destination, but what astounds me is what these privileged people choose to focus on.

Take Venice. Some tourists may say: “I paid a lot of money for this Venetian vacation. I have the right to demand that my expectations be met.” Oh, absolutely, you paid for it. In fact, you chose to come to Venice, didn’t you? Well, I’m sorry, but…

  1. Did anybody say the water in the canals in Venice are clean?
  2. Did anybody ask you to drink it?
  3. Did anybody ask you to swim in it?
  4. Did anybody ask you to touch it?
  5. Did anybody say, “Come to Venice because the water is clean”?

venice_waterNo! You basically built up expectations that couldn’t realistically be met because you were too lazy to do a little research before deciding on a destination. Well, that’s rich of you, isn’t it? (And I don’t mean wealthy!)

In the meantime, there is all that grandeur and beauty around you! So much history, so much culture. You are so incredibly lucky and yet you choose to train your eyes on the few unlovely things.


I guess there are just some people like that: complainers. There are just some people who, if they find themselves in Antarctica, would find their whole experience ruined by the guano. Confronted with beauty, they see excrement. You just can’t take the uglies out of them. They are lucky because they get to see places that others can only dream of. But you know who’s even luckier? Those who can find and focus on beauty no matter where they are…no matter where they will never be. So there’s justice in that at least. Poor and happy trumps rich and whiny any day.

You can take the tourist out of the uglies but…” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.