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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Thoughts about my travels

I do not consider myself a writer, but a traveller who happens to write.
I am not a hardship traveller, or at least no longer so. I hardly climb mountains; I do not camp in the outdoors these days; And I don't do much trekking. I am essentially a city guy who enjoys café, shopping in flea markets, checking out local supermarkets and browsing in local bookstores.  As a keen observer of politics and economics, as well as a history bluff, I enjoy historical sites, political oddities, conversation into local issues and a back-of-the-envelope assessment of local business opportunities.



Even then, I do occasional forays to the wilderness.  I do have a soft spot for historical sites or spectacular scenery located in the middle of nowhere, and would brave minor discomfort to visit such places.  I like remote or difficult-to-reach places, more for the journey there than for what's to see at the end point. However, I would not do endurance treks to get there.  If I could, I would organize a quick and easy way to get there. I tend to travel on the budget, but have increasingly resorted to expensive but fast and comfortable ways of reaching exotic locations.


As I get older, I feel that comfort matters more. I have long abandoned staying in hostels – they are too noisy for me. I prefer nice boutique hotels where I can contemplate life, enjoy clean facilities, clear my emails and do some work with privacy. Sometimes, I even stay in expensive, exclusive places with extraordinary setting that I wouldn't dare contemplate when I first began my travels.  I still enjoy interacting with locals and other travellers.  Hence I would avoid expat enclaves and would just drop by travellers inns and cafes from time to time.  When the term "flashpacker" appears, I thought that is the word to describe me, as well as many of us who began as backpackers but have since upgraded for quality experiences and aesthetics.


In fact, I am a regular chap who has a 9-to-5 job.  I am neither a full time writer nor a real nomad, though I like the spirit of being the latter.  Perhaps, I am merely a nomad wannabe.  My passion for travel means that I try my best to arrange my life around my travels. I use all my work vacations for travel, and I have also gone on extended journeys between jobs. I had taken two career breaks of one year each time to travel.  In my current job as a university lecturer and business consultant, I am able to travel for as much as two months in mid-year and several weeks at the end of the year. Freedom and flexibility have become key in this stage of my life.


Some people wonder if I had spent too little time in the many countries and territories I have visited. The answer is, yes and no. Now look – I have been travelling for almost 2 decades now.  If you have been utilizing all of your available work breaks solely to travel, you could certainly cover a lot of ground in 2 decades.  When I first began travelling in the early 1990s, yes, spurred by an urgent desire to experience a wide kaleidoscope of imagery and cultures, I rushed through many places. 


Over the years, however, I have also learnt to appreciate the subtleties of places and cultures, especially ethnic minorities at the periphery of nations.  I began to cultivate an interest in festivals and local histories.  In the last decade, I have spent a lot of time in the places I visit - at least what could be considered a fair bit of time for someone who continues to have a career beyond writing and travel per se.  Certainly, I cannot go away for 3 months at a time like many continental Europeans do because of the peculiar work vacation system they benefit from.  In fact, I often return to the countries I have been, to visit regions I hadn't gone to, or to experience festivals and cuisines that I did not in my earlier visits. 


I do not spend two months in a small country.  My other commitments simply do not allow me to do so, especially when I am not a full-time travel writer or traveller.  But I do try to spend time to appreciate aspects of places which are worth learning about, and my extensive pre-journey planning allows me to experience these things when I get there.


Am I trying to break any record?  No, the record of visiting the most number of countries has already been broken a long time ago.  I keep track of the numbers partly because they are of statistical interest, and partly because of my interest in nations and places.  The reality is, I often return to places I have visited before and spend quite a bit of time in such places that do not increase my country count.


In an era where rising incomes have allowed many Asians to travel and see the world, I hope my experiences could be useful to them.  Asian travellers do have peculiar priorities and preferences which differ from those of Western travellers.  I hope that my travels would also provide them with some ideas.


Writing is neither my career nor a key source of income.  My objective is to encourage independent travel. I do not consider my travels extraordinary. I take public transport, hardly treks or cross dangerous rivers and brave tall peaks. I even keep a regular job connected to neither writing nor travel.  I hope all these encourage others to do the same.  That is the essence of my writing and the key objective of this website.  

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