Irreplicable feeling

After a shuttle bus, two flights interrupted by a six-hour layover and a double espresso, a tricycle ride, a non-airconditioned bus, and another tricycle ride, and thanks to co-conspirators – my mom, Tita Cheryl, and Ate Rose, I arrived in my Lolo and Lola’s hometown in Cuartero, Capiz (Panay Island, Visayas) in the Philippines on Tuesday afternoon and surprised my grandparents with my unexpected visit at their front door! (They thought I was in Japan and had no clue that I’d be there – my Lolo took a bit of time figuring out it was me!)

Passing through the provincial highway from the city, evidence of Typhoon Yolanda’s destruction back in November is very much apparent. The floods have long subsided but there remains downed power lines, fallen trees, rubble dotting the side of the road, homes made of bamboo and wood that have gone through various degrees of devastation. Reconstruction is under way. Amidst all this – smiles and laughter, compassion and generosity, strength and a resolve to keep going, resilience of the human spirit.

And still, I can honestly say that I don’t remember seeing my land this green and this beautiful when I left it last. I’ve been to 40 countries the past 5 years, but it was a truly unique and special feeling stepping onto the tarmac in Manila’s airport, and later in Roxas, after almost 5 years of absence. This is the land that brought up my family, gave me so much of my culture and my traditions, so much of what I value and cherish. And although no place in the world is perfect and I appreciate being able to see life from different perspectives having grown up in Canada and travelling so much, there will always be this special feeling coming back here that can’t be replicated by setting foot in another country.

Today, I celebrate my Lolo’s 84th birthday with lots of good food and even better company. He’s so much of the reason I have so much love and respect for my homeland. If I live long enough to be his age, I can only hope to have half of his virtue…

Land of the rising sun, land of contradictions

I’ve often been to places and have thought to myself that what I’m seeing is so contradictory and perplexing, but after my time in Japan I think I’m willing to say that nowhere have I set foot in this world that this contradiction is so strikingly apparent. And this is precisely what I have loved about my time here. Every interaction and experience piques my curiosity and has me attempting to rationalize why things are they way they are, at least to eyes that were raised in the Western world. All at once, at least on the surface, Japan is modern and traditional, familiar and foreign, logical and incomprehensible, orderly and chaotic, flashy and subtle, flamboyant and reserved, friendly and distant, superficial and inward.

modern and traditional Tokyo

modern and traditional Tokyo

I can’t wait until I get back to Osaka in February and continue, likely without much success, to figure it all out…

The lowdown

One of my resolutions for the New Year was to blog more often, and write even more. I’ve been doing quick, usually daily Facebook posts but as you can see, nothing on this site yet this year. Until now. For me, I’ll take this as a big challenge to recount a bit of where I am, where I’m going, and where I’ve been; what I’ve felt and what’s lifted my spirits; the not-so-glamorous things about travel, especially solo travel, and especially long-term solo travel; and really most profoundly, why I continue to travel and my reasons and motivations behind it.

Many have asked me about this trip, so let me just lay down the essentials in this post:

Who: Me! And the friends and family I’m meeting up with. And the people with whom I’ve yet to interact that will leave a lasting impact on me, and some that I’ll come to call as friends.

What: A trip around the world! In paper at least, I’ve left North America for the Pacific Rim of Asia, and will be making my way to points in South and Southeast Asia before making my way to Europe and arriving back in North America.

Where: Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Nepal for sure. Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Hong Kong in semi-planning stages. In Europe, I’m supposed to land in Romania, but have also set my sights on Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, Kosovo, Moldova, Ukraine, the Netherlands, Ireland, Spain, and Italy. At this point, the European leg of this journey is quite undefined and will be content to focus on just a few of these countries.

When: From the second week of January currently until the first week of October, 2014! That’ll be almost 9 months of travelling! In reality, that’s just the dates on my airfare that I’m somewhat willing to change, really depending on money and future motivation.

How: Planes, trains, buses, walking, ???

Why: Before setting out last May for Europe, I’d gone through a tough time of challenges, internal debates, and difficult decisions that were tempered with occasional personal triumphs and achievements. At the time, I was working full-time without a high prospect of longer-term travel which was what I had increasingly aspired to in the years prior. Simply put, travel invigorates and inspires me like nothing else. It’s the unbeatable combination of being in a foreign land, not knowing exactly where you are or how to get where you’re going but with a resigned confidence that all will work out in the end, interacting with people in this world that you would otherwise not meet in your daily routine back home, arriving at spectacular landscapes, feeling serenity during a hike, going somewhere you’ve never heard of and being amidst indescribable beauty, and the unique realization that not everything in this world is generic and you don’t have to live your life within the perceived confines of societal norms if you don’t want to.

So there you have it. Or some of it, at least! I’m currently in Japan, on just the 8th day of my journey. Follow me, or better yet, join me somewhere!