*Note: This post does not mean that I stop with my city stories. I had planned to write this post as the last, however someone requested me to write this first. Since his request seemed reasonable, there you go. Turin still follows after this 🙂
It has been more than 7 months since I left Istanbul, the last city of my Europe trip. Indeed, it was one of the best moments in my life so far. While some memories may have faded, the satisfaction and changes I feel after having done this journey will never go away. The changes are not obvious from the outside, but once I go deeper to understand what it meant, it indeed meant a lot to me. And so I would like to share it with you here.
To start, why did I want to do this?
First of all, it goes back all the way to the IOAA (International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics) 2013 in Greece. It was my first time going out of Indonesia (other than Malaysian Borneo) and I felt like a total stranger there. Everything looked different, especially with white buildings and Greek letters everywhere. Sometimes it was uncomfortable, but that discomfort was unexpectedly satisfying. That ended up with a promise to myself when I started my life in Singapore 3.5 years ago that I would go somewhere far before I graduate.
Then I felt bored after 2 years. Life in Singapore is flat, period. Every day I go to class, listen to boring professors, work for soulless CCAs, study like crazy to get the first-class GPA. When you go to the city, you take bus and train with highly predictable travelling time. In this case, life in Jakarta can be much more interesting. I was trying to escape from this routines and embark on an adventure. So I tried to escape after I got some money from my internship (thank you, MediaTek!).
And why did I decide to go alone?
There is an easy answer for this: I was looking for an adventure, and my adventure would have been much limited had I gone with other people. I did actually go with my high school friend (Limanan) for the first week of my trip, but his presence helped me in the adaptation process. After all, it was my first solo trip and it was already a huge one, so he was helpful.
But here were the long list of reasons.
- I wanted to see how good is my survival skill. Being far away from home, alone, in a country where most people do not understand your language was a challenge I wanted to beat. Having friends to go with you, although still means you both try to survive together, feels like a cheat.
- When you go with friends, you tend to stick with them. If most of you do not have the desire to communicate with the locals, you will end up only being tourists. That was what I wanted to avoid. True enough, my contact with locals was noticeably lower when I went with Limanan compared to when I went alone.
- And why did I desperately want to communicate with locals? Because I believe travelling is not about ticking your places-to-visit-in-your-lifetime list, but instead to feel and experience these new places. Communicating with locals definitely helped me to know the places I visited. From a drink in a local bar to a lengthy conversation full of local secrets on a public bus, these contacts are impossible to occur with a lot of friends. Sometimes the local secrets are the best things you will find in that place, especially food.
- You can stop at any time. Some people have the “we have to visit as many places as possible” mentality for the sake of Instagram likes. But I don’t. I typically stop longer in a place that I like. I sat down for 3 hours on the bank of the Danube in Budapest because I enjoy the place. The atmosphere was chill and I could observe people. One of the best feeling ever.
- Nobody will tell me where to go. People have different preferences. It is not that I cannot compromise, but I did not want to waste my energy in negotiating. Moreover, I could easily adjust my plan if I found something interesting along the way. Not many people like to visit Stade de France in a shady area of Saint-Denis. Not many people like to visit the gloomy Vysehrad in Prague. But I do.
- Being a total stranger feels soooooo liberating. It is difficult to explain, but this feeling is addictive. Imagine you take your regular commute alone. Nobody knows you, and so you are anonymous. You are invisible to other people around you. Then you feel free to do anything as long as it does not disturb others.
All these reasons do not mean that I never want to go with friends, though, but I just prefer to go alone. There are places where it is better to go with friends, but there are also places where it is better to go alone.
Now, what do I get?
And after I do, what are left? Memories. Stories. They are way more valuable than anything physical that I brought home because it will never be lost (except the full details that may fade away). They are things I can share with my friends, family, new acquaintances, and even to my future family for years.
But all these things are worthless if I did not learn anything from them. Fortunately, I can sense that I have learnt a lot of lessons from those 28 days.
- New friends. Definitely. I made new friends in almost all cities (except Munich where I spent all the time with my high school friends) with various backgrounds and stories. That was valuable.
- Deep understanding in new places. Spending time in these places made me understand the city pretty well. There are many ways to understand: by feeling the atmosphere, looking at the behaviour of the people, listening to the way people speak, analysing the languages, and so on. These ways immersed me into the beauty of the place. I also learnt that there is always something interesting in every place if we observe well enough.
- I learnt to accept people and be more open-minded. The encounter with people opened my eyes that people across the globe can have different ways of thinking based on their upbringing. It is easy to judge because they look different, but try listening to them and you will understand. They can give you fascinating point of view. Speaking of people and friends…
- I realised that I have been an ignorant friend. I care when I know, but I never made efforts to know. Somehow through this trip, I learnt to appreciate my friends better. I have been making little time for my friends. Probably I had taken them for granted, and the distance reminded me. Now I often make catch-ups with friends whom I think are good friends of mine.
- On the other hand, I also learnt to remove unnecessary things in your life. This point came from the realisation that I could survive 28 days only with a 40-litre backpack, and so there are a lot of negligible matters in my life, which only adds more stress to my life. This can also be in the relationship. There are friends whom you think are important, but actually not that significant.
- Upon finishing the journey, there was a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment. I am still delighted to have been able to embark on this adventure. That builds my confidence as well, especially in talking to people and also in my English skill, two skills which I feel have improved a lot during the journey.
- Besides all the positive lessons, my biggest regret was that I did not allocate more than 3 days in many cities. I know that I wrote “I typically stop longer in a place that I like” above, but I thought that I might never be able to do this again so I could not sacrifice a few cities. As the result, I might not have experienced the best of the cities I visited. That was a mistake.
- Lastly, I wrote above that I felt alien the first time I came to Greece. But now, I understand the difference between “being a stranger” and “feeling strange”. I can accept that it is diffent everywhere and I just have to embrace it. I may be a stranger outside Indonesia, but I will not feel strange in any places anymore. I am now a citizen of the world!
Pat Conroy – an author – once said, “Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” Truth cannot get any better from that. It keeps playing over and over again on my mind.
But you know how to cure it?
By embarking on another journey.
Therefore, after I do, I will do it again.