Samseng Zhabor

By Kirsten, the Samseng Zhabor

The travel that I miss

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Samseng Zhabor
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A million years ago, in 2019, I had a pretty packed travel schedule. I bounced around the world—Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, Taiwan, Nepal, Scotland, Ukraine—for work and leisure, growing accustomed to wandering foreign streets and soaking up the sights.
Then Covid-19 hit.
I haven’t left Singapore since January 2020. This might just be the longest stretch of time I’ve spent within Singapore’s borders in my entire life—I’m not super sure of this, but even as a baby I’d gone on trips to Malaysia to visit (or be shown off to) family.
My mother liked to travel, so we’d either go on holidays as a family, or just take mother-daughter trips. We’d chase winter, heading south during the June school holidays, north in December.
As a kid I looked forward to these overseas adventures, recognising even then what a privilege it was to be able to go on them. We often looked for new places to go, emphasising novelty, wanting to see and experiences places we’d never been to before. Even if we didn’t go on tours, we’d study guidebooks and plot out things that we wanted to do and see.
These habits shifted as I grew older and started travelling solo. I don’t bother with guidebooks anymore, nor do I even really bother to Google all that much. My philosophy is that, if I’m in a new place, anything and everything I see can only be a new experience, and therefore nothing is a ever really a waste of time. Besides, I revel most in pretending to be local in a city, even if I have no idea where I’m going.
This strategy can be quite hit-and-miss. But I always learn something. For instance, I now know that if one chooses to walk from the Macau Taipa Ferry Terminal to the Taipa Food Street (about a 45-minute walk), one will not be rewarded by many great views, but will be filled with a sense of self-righteousness that tells you, yes, you can indeed eat two Portuguese egg tarts, for you have earned it with your walk through that drab highway tunnel with the lorry truck fumes.
This was probably the most scenic sight on my walk in Macau. Not bad, but no prizes.
This was probably the most scenic sight on my walk in Macau. Not bad, but no prizes.
I now also know that, if you wander the streets of Kathmandu a little bit, you might be rewarded with the best damn lassi you have ever tasted in your life.
It made my fingers sticky for awhile but it was totally worth it.
It made my fingers sticky for awhile but it was totally worth it.
I miss doing this. But what surprised me was that I don’t miss it as much as I thought I would.
Today, when I think about travel, I don’t think about new places that I want to explore, although I see photos of them and accept that they do seem very nice. But what I really want, what I really really want, during this period of involuntary grounding, is to return and revisit.
I long to go back to places where I have family, places where I have found peace of mind and comfort and joy. I want to be at my in-laws’ in Scotland, surrounded by family and petting the only dogs in the world that this cat lady has befriended. I miss being surrounded by that half of the family.
Hanging out with Betsy.
Hanging out with Betsy.
I want to go back to Taiwan, where I don’t have family but have many friends, where I’ve been able to toggle between social gatherings and lots and lots of cherished solitude. Where I’ve been able to switch my English-speaking brain to a predominantly Mandarin mode of operation, and find relief and satisfaction in doing so.
I also learnt that if you stay in Jiufen overnight, the entire place empties out of tourists and you end up getting to wander around in perfect peace and quiet (as long as you accept that pretty much everything is closed).
I also learnt that if you stay in Jiufen overnight, the entire place empties out of tourists and you end up getting to wander around in perfect peace and quiet (as long as you accept that pretty much everything is closed).
Holidays used to be jam-packed with energy and excitement because I was a kid and wanted to see everything and play everything and collect stories that I could tell my friends when we were back in the classroom. As an adult, I want vacations to be rest, less about packing the itinerary with sights and more about finding places where I can take things at a leisurely pace, with no pressure. One already has to deal with too many obligations as an adult, to be bothered with more to-do lists while travelling.
Apart from keeping me home—which, considering the frenzy of 2019, is a break in and of itself—the pandemic travel restrictions have brought some perspective to what’s important to me. While this by no means suggests that I never want to explore a new place again, it does bring into sharp relief that the act of ticking off new destinations on a map isn’t that crucial. There are places that aren’t just new adventures, but places that now hold lots of personal meaning for me. They are the ones I miss the most.
What do you miss? Where would you like to go, once travel isn’t so onerous again?
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Kirsten, the Samseng Zhabor
Kirsten, the Samseng Zhabor @kixes

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