BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Friday, September 12, 2008

Where’s my next stop?

My mother has something in common with taipan John Gokongwei. No, she’s not a consumer goods magnate nor does she own a commercial airline company.

But she, like the Filipino-Chinese businessman encouraged her children to see the world, to travel to different places, to reach as many corners of the universe as one can do in one’s lifetime and to meet all sorts of people.

“Save so you can travel,” that’s what my mom used to tell us when we were younger. She said that money is hard to earn and thus should be spent only on worthy things. Traveling, she used to say, is one of those things worth spending on.

Lance Gokongwei, I read once, said that his father encouraged them to spend on two things: traveling and books.

My mom skipped the books part but she certainly influenced me to go out and discover the world.

And so, despite my meager pay as a newspaper reporter, I struggled to see the foreign and the unknown. Every visit, I have to say, was worth every hard earned centavo spent.

My most recent journey was to the heart of Malaysia. I was in Kuala Lumpur for a lightning visit last year. It was my first time to explore the capital of the Southeast Asian country. For three days, I surrendered myself to the foreign and the unknown, took buses and trains, ate street food and got rained on to.

I had a glass of good beer in a high-end tourist area (it was all I could afford in that part of the city), enjoyed the breathtaking view of Petronas Towers, savored Auntie Anne’s pretzel, Malaysian version and I also bought a precious toy at the busy district of Bhukit Bintan.

Each trip, as my favorite travel writer Pico Iyer, said is about surrendering oneself to experience. It’s about being reborn and being knocked off one’s comfort zone. Indeed, nothing compares.

Reading Iyer encouraged me to see more places as one can see in this lifetime. Paulo Coehlo inspired me to travel alone. A friend encouraged me to blog while a travel mate from Slovakia taught me to eat the best cheeses and drink the best beer. A classmate abroad taught me to read maps. From a friend from Brazil, I learned how it is best to laugh when you get lost while on a trip.

Each experience is unique.

In Isabela, Basilan, for instance, I learned that life is what one makes of it whether you’re in a war-torn country or in a peace zone. With the Badjaos, I learned that the best freedom one can experience is the freedom from material things.

In Kazakhstan, I learned that time stops. On the bus from Paris to Rome (it was a bus trip second to none), I almost touched the horizon. The Eiffel Tower is magnificent but the Shakespeare and Co. bookshop is more amazing.

In Batanes, in an abandoned house, I realized that the best moments in life are free. Smoking pot in Amsterdam is legal. The Niagara Falls in Canada attracts hordes of tourists for obvious reasons.

There are no Vienna sausages in Vienna and that the beauty of Prague pales in comparison with that of Cesky Krumlov.

Bratislava is one of Eastern Europe’s best kept secret. Salzburg is more than just a backdrop of the classic Sound of Music.

London is gray and cloudy but its pubs are always alive. Scotland is worth the six-hour train ride from London.

India is noisy but mystical. Pier 18 in Tondo, Manila is very humanizing.

The universe is vast and there’s so much more to see in this lifetime. I wonder where my next stop will be.