Ka Ea writes about her love affair with travelling.
A primary school student in Kampong Cham, Cambodia | Credit: Ka Ea
It was quite an old-fashioned love story set in Klang many moons ago. Most of the signs were there:
I was discouraged from doing it when I was a young girl.
Father hated the “boy” (and still does).
I gave it up to be filial but as soon as I became an adult, I couldn’t wait to lose my virginity.
Now, I am just promiscuous.
Let this be a cautionary tale to all: be as promiscuous as you can because the pleasure of having multiple new adventures and experiences really make it all worthwhile.
Stealing kisses in broad daylight. | Credit: Ka Ea
Before you start to get all excited or disgusted, hold your horses. I am talking about travelling and since this is a Valentine Day’s special edition, I’ll be writing about my love affair with travelling.
My love for travelling did not start early. As a young girl, I didn’t really have the privilege to travel. It wasn’t because my family couldn’t afford it, but my Father hates traveling more than he hates any back-stabbing-double-face business associates. Needless to say, I was discouraged from going anywhere further than Genting Highlands.
My first international “fling” was Singapore. (Yes, my standard was pretty low then. ;) ) I was 18. It didn’t leave much impression on me except for the glittering lights and shopping malls at Orchard Road and the zoo. I thought the latter was the most amazing zoos I had ever seen, but then I only had the National Zoo of Malaysia as comparison.
I think the first time I ever took a flight was to London. That was the biggest journey I had to make in my life as a young adult and it ended up being my longest ever “relationship” because I stayed for 4 years.
It was also the journey that changed my life forever. If there is any way of describing it, going to the United Kingdom was like the aftermath of eating the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden. My eyes were opened and I saw many new things which I couldn’t see before. I was able to form my own opinions about them without having someone else telling me first. I became someone who responds to temptation and of course, like Eve, I ended up having to pay for it.
A dog exercising free speech at the Rally for Sanity, St. Louis City, USA. | Credit: Ka Ea
I must admit that I was a complete country bumpkin when I left home to pursue my undergraduate studies in Wales. I might as well packed my things in one of those blue-red-white checked plastic bags used by village people from China and wore my hair in two pigtails. Instead, I had packed all my belongings into one super-sized luggage that could probably fit two contortionists easily. My best friend’s uncle who was meeting us at the train station in Leeds had to lug it all the way to his house and I was rather embarrassed for imposing such a heavy burden on him.
I also didn’t know how to eat with a fork and knife properly and I couldn’t stand eating the food there. You can tell I was a total loser.
I was extremely homesick during the first year and I can’t really pin-point what had changed but by the second year, I was feeling quite at home. I began to enjoy my life as a student and partied hard with my housemates and foreign friends. I even stayed back during the long summer holidays by working as a waitress and bar tender at the local student union cafeteria and bar.
A person with disability exercising free speech at the Rally for Sanity, St. Louis City, USA. | Credit: Ka Ea
At the end of my final year, my best friend and I rewarded ourselves by taking a bus tour around Western Europe. We travelled to the usual hot spots; Rome, Paris, Brussels, Luxembourg and Frankfurt. I did not fall in love with Paris, but I did with Rome instead. I find the latter to be one of the most elegant and romantic places I had ever been to. Italy, in general, gives me a warm, lively and happy feeling. The local language is music to the ears and the gelato is to die for. I ended up going to Italy three times and I think it is my favourite place to be in Europe.
Since then, I began to travel more and more; an average of three times a year. I suppose I was addicted to it by then. I had gone to Canada, Netherlands, Tunisia, Spain and Cyprus while I was doing my Masters in Nottingham.
I can’t describe exactly what it feels like when I travel but I can say in all certainty that one of the best things about it is the anticipation. Very often, the moment I booked my air ticket, my mind has already begun to travel to that destination.
The breathtaking Temples of Borobudur in Yogyakarta during sunrise. | Credit: Ka Ea
Here are 10 reasons why I love travelling:
Planning a travel. There’s no doubt that half of the fun is in the planning itself and by planning, I don’t mean by coming up with an itinerary of where to go and what to do. Planning a travel to me is like planning for a big date. Shopping for a dress, having a mani-padi, imagining how the night would go and what sort of interesting conversation we would talk about, wondering whether I would like him and vice-versa. However, I would try my best not to find out about my date because the less I know about him, the more anticipation there is. I like to be surprised and I often get that tingling sensation of being slightly nervous because I don’t know what to expect and yet excited because I know for sure that something is going to happen.
A woman selling berbere at the Fajita Market in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia. | Credit: Ka Ea
Landing on foreign soil and breathing in that first air when I step out from the airport. I can always smell a new adventure in the air. I remember once when I stepped outside the Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris and felt a sudden rush of winter wind slapping against my cheeks. I immediately took in a deep breath and felt as if my lungs were being cleansed.
The painted mountains of Shatu pass in Bamyan, Afghanistan. | Credit: Ka Ea
It is one of the rare times when I don’t hate people. I could be stuck in a taxi crawling through a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam in Nairobi and yet all the angry shouting and honking by ill-tempered drivers would be amusing to me.
Finding love in foreign soils. At the risk of being criticised as someone who only dates foreigners, I had only dated foreign men. I blame this on my parents’ strict no-dating policy when I was younger. I think it has affected me psychologically because when I’m home, I feel as if I shouldn’t be dating. I had my first kiss in Aberystwyth. My most romantic date was in Bruges. I met my husband in Kabul and he proposed to me when we were in Dubai.
A traditional dancer in Yogyakarta. | Credit: Ka Ea
Experiencing culture shock. I’m addicted to seeing new things and be shocked or surprised by it. In Addis Ababa, I was surprised when I saw sex workers dancing seductively to themselves in front of the mirrors in nightclubs. I was surprised to see there was no woman in public places in Tunis. I was shocked when a local man came by my side and asked me whether I would like to have a man in Zanzibar. Yes, Africa scores high on the thrill card.
Experiencing the extraordinary beauty of creation. Places like Angkor Wat, Temples of Borobudur, Taj Mahal, Carthage, the Coliseum, former statues of Bamyan, Temples of Baalbek, Niagara Falls, Nakuru National Park, Jaco Island, etc. really took my breath away.
Temple of Baalbek, Lebanon. | Credit: Ka Ea
Having a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. When I am travelling, I tend to let my senses go wild. It’s sort of like a reward I give myself for being a boring citizen in Malaysia. Once, I travelled on a bus from Kosovo to Turkey with a friend. He needed me to help him bring money across the border and didn’t want to get into trouble in Macedonia. We thought since I am a foreigner and a woman, it was unlikely that border officials (especially Serbians) would be suspicious of me. We did not make it to Turkey and had to unboard the bus at the border between Bulgaria and Macedonia around midnight because I didn’t have a visa to transit in Bulgaria. It was a truly unforgettable chilling adventure.
This woman was selling fruits at the river crossing between Phnom Penh and Kandal province. | Credit: Ka Ea
Learning from the local people. I learn from Afghans the meaning of courage and loyalty. I learn from Cambodian women the meaning of sacrifice and I learn from Ethiopians that one can still smile during times of great adversity. Above all, I learn about humility and gratefulness.
Travel inspires my writing. Writing is a grand passion but travel is first love. I wouldn’t be able to write if I have not travelled.
Patriots. | Credit: Ka Ea
Inspiring me to do more for my country. When I was in the United States of America, I saw how important it was for people to be able to express their opinions freely and without fear. It inspired me to do something for Malaysians to be able to have that freedom as well.
A woman dreaming about travelling in a market in Yogyakarta. | Credit: Ka Ea
I hope to have this love affair for a long time. St. Augustine said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.”
I’m looking forward to the next chapter.
Ka Ea is the Executive Officer of the Constitutional Law and Criminal Law committees at the Bar Council. She is the only full-time, paid staff running the MyConstitution Campaign. She searches for her inner LoyarBurok at night. During her free time, she writes for The Malaysian Insider.
Ka Ea used to be a globe trotter. She has lived in Timor Leste and Afghanistan while working as a civic education and human rights officers for the United Nations. She then tried to be a full time housewife in Ethiopia and Cambodia but failed miserably. These days, Ka Ea spends most of her time at the Pusat Rakyat LoyarBurok, Ananda Bhavan and Hulu Langat. When she's not there, she can be found lying on the couch at home with two of her best friends watching So You Think You Can Dance. Among the trio, only one can really dance.
Posted on 12 February 2011.
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