To all the travel moments that slipped pass me as I wrote this and the ones that will come, I want everyone who I met during my travels to know that each one of you have touched me in some ways, for the better.
1. When I hitchiked 7 hours up to Mestia in Georgia, a mountain village. The last ride was a DHL truck and I was sitting at the back with all the boxes and parcels. I cried at the beauty of humanity, people who drove us expecting nothing in return and the absolute beauty of the sight in front of me.
2. The fear I felt when I was in a tricycle heading to an unknown beach at 10pm with no plans, or accommodation. This led to 3.
3. The 7 hours I spent in the only tent perched about 30m from the shore of a fishing beach because there was no accommodation there. Add the high tide from the monsoon season, many many street dogs, the fact that I can’t swim and the rain, I spent a lot of time awake and imagining that I would get swept into the ocean.
4. The time I was in a volunteer program, and I ended up sharing a couch to sleep with a Pakistani girl. As I was in a slumber, I thought of the amount of coincidences and chances it took for 2 complete strangers living thousand of miles apart to wake up next to each other.
5. The time I was in a supermarket, and with a little luck got hold to a wifi connection. I found out that I got my first big ‘job’ as the writer of 5feetroundtheworld. To fly up in a hot air balloon, and write about it, is a lot of travel writer’s dream. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was, or how blessed.
6. I was in Izmir and had a 10pm bus to Antalya in Turkey. A taxi was too expensive, so I decided to walk the 30 minutes with my 15kg backpacks (PS: never overpack, and you don’t really need all that souvenirs). I asked for directions from an elderly man (about 65-70) and was annoyed to find out that he was following me. After 10 minutes, and several attempts to communicate in English (and body language), I figured out that he was trying to walk me to the bus station, thinking that it wasn’t safe for a girl to walk alone. I wish I took a photo of him, because it one of the most selfless thing a stranger did for me. And he had to walk the 30 minutes back.
7. Getting stuck in the border crossing between Turkey and Georgia because to them, Malaysians are as rare as a purple watermelon. Then getting walked to the interrogation room, and interrogated for my reason being there. Female, student, 21 years old, alone. All the red flags. After everything was done, the officer walked me back and started to teach me Georgian.
8. Everyday of being in Istanbul is like living the dream. The ferry ride to Kaldikoy, the Galata Bridge and the Bosphorus. The people, the culture, the shisha houses, the noise, the tourists, the locals, the food and ice cream guys. Oh, and Turkish men.
9. The few worst days of my travels was in Kustaisi. I was scared and lonely and questioning the reason I was traveling. Everyone was either Georgian or Russsian. Everyone could either speak Georgian or Russian. I truly hated Georgia. Until I met a Chinese guy who had the same plans as me and we became hitchhiking partners. I was never more grateful about the fact that my mom taught me Mandarin.
10 .The few hours before my flight from home to Amsterdam was nerve wrecking. I honestly think back and wonder how did I get the courage or even think of doing that alone. But I’m glad I did, because the first time is always the hardest.
11.I’ve never been to Europe, or out of Asia, so when I was in the flight, I kept wondering that Europe was going to be this alien planet and people are going to be different and I’m going to get the worst shock. So when I landed and started walking on solid ground, the first thought I had was, “oh this is it? I made it to Europe then”. Then, I took the first breath of relief and got the confidence for the rest of the 2 months I was going to be away from home.
12. The time someone told me I’m the girl he’s been traveling to look for after 20 minutes of talking. I’m sorry I never showed up in front of Aya Sofia, but till this day, I still think you’re a scam. Being treated like a woman. People wanting to buy you things, love declarations, chivalry, getting told that you’re beautiful almost everyday. It’s shallow and basically exists to inflate my ego as almost all of these people had some twisted plans at the back of their minds, but for the few that were genuinely honest, I cannot tell you how much traveling has changed my perception of charm and appeal. How you guys gave me a little more confidence, because somewhere this world, there is community that believes you are the epitome of beauty.
13. Sitting on top of the jeepney (on the roof) with 10 other locals while traveling between Bontoc and Sagada in the Philippines. They are some of the friendliest, most generous people in the world.
14. Making a trip to Intramuros in Manila ended up with me being at the front of a yearly procession. A family adopted me for the night and formed a ring around me to keep me safe as we walked the few kilometers. After introducing me to the people in the church, taking photos and some hugs, they gave me flowers and made sure I reached my accommodation safely. In the jeepney back, the driver tried to overcharge me, but every other person yelled at the driver until he gave me back my change. That was the moment I fell in love with Filipinos. They take good care of you.
15. The first time I saw snow in Darjeeling, India. Honestly, it was a thin fall, and my toes hurt so much I couldn’t care less about the snow than the heater in the car. Darjeeling and Istanbul are the 2 places I will revisit, I’m still making up a list.
16. The time I was walking in Istiklal Street in Istanbul and I saw a Syrian refugee woman carrying her dead baby to beg. I teared up, was struck so strongly by the moment, wrote about it and I was brought back to reality. Most of us live a very privilaged life, with meals everyday, with health, with the law protecting us and people loving us. I think twice about fretting the small stuff since that day. And I look up at people who don’t give up when adversities are hurled at them by life.
17. The fact that Turkish people always complain about the heat when driving, but never turn the air conditioning on, always rolling their windows down instead. Why?? And the fact that Georgian cars always have cracks on the windshields resembling bullet holes. You have no idea how many times I’ve freaked out, gotten anxious and whipped out my pepper spray. Why??
18. Hiking the 4 hours up the volcano for Pinatubo Crater Lake in the Philippines. The last few step up leading to the lake was exhausting, but at the sight of the lake, I gasped as the view literally took my breath away. The color of the water from the algae, and the mountain behind that looked painted. It’s nothing humans can ever replicate.
19. How much I hated Bandung, Indonesia. Being stuck there for 4 days was literally hell. I hated shopping, the culture very much resembled home and there was nothing to do. Oh and the traffic, don’t get me started on the traffic. Hate is a pretty strong emotion, and thus creates strong memories. Please guys, from the bottom of my heart, skip Bandung when you’re in Indonesia.
20. Ushgulli, the true definition of heaven on Earth. It took me 3 hours on a 4WD, from an already remote mountain village, but hell it was worth it. Buildings that were from a few centuries ago, people commuting on horses, food came from the ground, cows shitting everywhere, watch towers and the giant snow mountain as the backdrop. Till this day, I only have photographs to prove that the place exists. Because right now, sitting on a chair in front of my laptop in this brick house with a stable daily routine, Ushgulli feels like a distant memory, a place you can only get to in your dreams.
21. When I posted a photo of me walking the border of Azarbeijan and Georgia, and my A-Levels Biology lecturer commented that he was proud he once taught me. It was then I realized that people were actually intrigued by what I was doing. It got me to feel gratefull for all the support I was getting, and that’s why I travel for, for the people, not just the landmarks. When you guys text me for advise, or start taking solo trips of your own, I feel really really humbled that I could inspire someone in life :D. Thank you for making my travel journeys wholesome and keeping me happy long after I’m back home.