Featuring Tan Jun Yin
“Imagine yourself streaming through time shedding gloves, umbrellas, wrenches, books, friends, homes, names. This is what the view looks like if you take a rear-facing seat on the train. Looking forward you constantly acquire moments of arrival, moments of realisation, moments of discovery. The wind blows your hair back and you are greeted by what you have never seen before. The material falls away in onrushing experience. It peels off like skin from a moulting snake. Of course to forget the past is to lose the sense of loss that is also memory of an absent richness and a set of clues to navigate the present by; the art is not one of forgetting but letting go.”
AS DECREED by a famous Nobel Laureate of the 20th Century, one should always endeavour to write drunk and edit sober. To take a different perspective on this particular approach towards the artistic process, one might instead say, with a distinctively Singaporean lilt,
Live first, write later.
New sensitivities and intuition and doing things yourself; learning by trial and error because really, don't try, won't know. Singapore is scary but when life gets tight I will remember there are other realities; of spring water and barefoot hippies and mountain men who wait for the moonrise to sleep. These are the many ways of living I too can choose from.
With the advent of print publications like Another Escape where “wanderlust” is romanticised as a rebellion against the conventional; the language spoken by the wild-at-heart in constant need of fresh horizons and exotic encounters, the act of travel has been re-packaged and presented as the perfectly curated documentation of adventure and unbridled pursuits.
In response to this, many of us (myself included) find it easier breathing life into miniature heart-shaped icons as we embark on daily odysseys through Tumblr and Instagram, relishing the thought of leaving everything behind to confront the fjords of Norway or the boundless Pacific Northwest.
As much as real-world concerns and Singaporean sensibilities necessitate practical decision making, are such dreams of channeling our inner Kerouacs really as improbable as they sometimes appear to be?
“Some lessons learnt from travelling:
5) Be open. When you’re at your most closed an adventure might just be round the corner. Like the tea ceremony that day. I had plans to sit and read all day but saying yes to Caroline must have been one of the best decisions this trip.
And now I am dreaming of Mongolia, unending grasslands, horseback travel, tents and morning coffee alone with miles and miles of grass in sight. Mother must think I’m dead, poor woman. Please let my thoughts reach her so she knows that, I am safe.”
In the film An Education, when Jenny loses her virginity on her 17th birthday, she says, "It's funny though, isn't it? All that poetry and all those songs, about something that lasts no time at all." In many ways, the act of travel is so much the same. We forget sometimes: the quality of what happens to us is limited only by the places we choose to remain in. It isn't always going to be romance and beautiful happenstance, balcony views of the Eiffel Tower or sipping champagne on a deck chair in Montigo. It can be that - predictable and not to mention, expensive for many of us. But it can also be of epic, Tolkien-like proportions at a fraction of the cost. As long as we remember that our eventual experiences will always conform to the extent to which we are adventurous, nearly anything is possible.
Questions of travel are inevitably accompanied by questions of cost, destination, convenience and novelty. For sure, we are already familiar with the oft-repeated adage about how travelling offers perspectives that hold value impossible to measure in terms of dollars and cents. Jun defines all of this in terms of the human need to participate and take up residence in new-found communities. Since the present diversity of world cultures (Asian, African, European etc.) offers us a multitude of vantage points from which to observe and consequently embody habits or philosophies of life that extend beyond what we are accustomed to, it also means that we no longer have to be tourists or outsiders.
“This is a family unit where everyone has their place. Mother takes care of the household and all things immediately associated with eating, Ah
pa and Laloo tend to the fields and Sova does the girls’ field work and helps ah ma at home. They run like a clockwork and despite the monotony of the tasks seem to take them quite cheerfully though of course the men lift the bales of rice with furrowed brows under the afternoon sun. There seems to be little to disagree about, things are quite simple (of course, this is also because I can’t understand anything, but not once since coming here have I heard so much of an angry tone from anyone). Why do I love other people’s families yet nitpick away at my own?
Indeed Bhim changed the bus time from 4:30 to 4 to 3:30 and by 12 I have given up trying to organise myself mentally. How can people, a country, even function like this? My exasperation, no less because I don't understand anything being said around me, although the repetition of “Begnas Tal” suggests I am the topic of conversation. In another culture this would be rude.”
I was irked by Anish and Bhim’s insistence that I learn to understand and speak Nepali; they’ve never gone out of the country, or known what it’s like to be constantly not-understanding what’s being spoken around them. They don’t see how learning phrases doesn’t mean I can understand kitchen conversation. I want to say, have you tried learning something else, Bhim your English is terrible; you use “better than” reversely and its “AM’ in the morning, not PM. But of course, he wouldn’t get that either.
The act of temporarily occupying an unfamiliar environment; of being someone else (even for a little while) makes it possible for introspective realisations that can be profoundly complex or simply refreshing. It is that tangible distance from familiar conditions that we sometimes need before we are able to look at things differently. As such, travel experiences become measurable in the way that pursuits like music and literature are. They can take you to a place, or they can take you to that place.
While possessing a fear of the unknown is a most natural disposition, it continues to be true that access to a colourful existence requires one’s willingness to embrace what is likely to be both uncomfortable and unexpected. More often than not, we find ourselves pleasantly surprised. Besides, the wisdom of such an attitude doesn’t apply solely to travel. It is also relevant to the way we live. Taking this metaphor a little further: we can always go where all the tourists do, or we can venture where only the brave (and perhaps, somewhat reckless) dare.
This is, after all, what the best stories are made of. As with how we travel to find new ways of looking at our existence, we do it also as a way of seeking new things to say about what we already know to be true.
Jun is currently in the process of putting together a zine documenting the 3 months she spent traveling alone through India, Nepal and China. All excerpts and captions were taken from her personal journal. Also, most of her travel arrangements were made through WWOOF and Workaway. She can be found on Instagram.