taking stock

8:57 PM

Nine years ago, right on this very day, I graduated from university. Since then, it has been a journey to self-actualization – which, I have to admit, is still very much a work in progress. In these past years, I got my dream job, lost my mother to cancer, and I suspect, fell in love for the very first time.

Fine Arts Graduates posing with our beloved Ms. Rica. 

Hamming it up with Randy and Jenie.

Glowing with joy, we were all grateful to have graduated.

In the midst of all that, I also found myself on a literal journey to different corners of the world. Which as it turns out, what I’ve always wanted to do. Maricar, a good friend and the block’s bona fide beauty queen, remembered succinctly our conversation one cloudy afternoon.  We were sitting along Ateneo’s SEC upper walkway and throwing our wishes out into the universe. “I want to see the world,” I apparently said.

Muni-muni along SEC upper walkway. 

I honestly don’t know how it came to pass but what I am sure of is that the Almighty had a hand on it. I had this strict rule that trips – may they be local or abroad, are only funded by side jobs. Salary goes to savings and paying bills. Hence - No “Raket”, No Trips.

But I was blessed with a style editor who would dream up of articles that best be shot outside of the city, an editor-in-chief that allowed us such things and who sent me to assignments both here and abroad, and editors from other titles who would give “raket” to a very green editorial assistant.

And of course, there are my friends who also suffer from a severe case of wanderlust. They willingly endure my face and company so much so that we go on holiday together, year after year.   

By the graces of the Almighty, I have stepped on land beyond our shores and these are only but a few highlights:

1.    Looked out into the open sea from the lighthouses of Cape Bojeador and Corregidor Island
2.    Walked along the cobblestone street of Crisologo in Vigan
3.    Saw the Petronas Towers up close.
4.    Waded in the waters of Kuta Beach in Bali
5.    Watched the sunrise at the top of Bali’s Mt. Batur
6.    Explored the hilly town of Ubud on a bike
7.    Dug my toes into the powdery white sands of Boracay
8.    Went spelunking in the mountain town of Sagada
9.    Snowboarded on the slopes of Jisan Forest Resort in Seoul
10.  Climbed the Great Wall of China
11.  Went down from the Great Wall of China on a Toboggan
12.  Enjoyed a bird’s eye view of Shanghai from the top of the Pearl Tower
13.  Climbed the temples of Bagan in Burma
14.  Gone the distance in Cambodia on a tuktuk
15.  Survived the three-hour train ride on Yangon’s circle line
16.  Gone cross-country on train from Paris to Rome
17.  Swam with the whale sharks in Donsol
18.  Paid my respects to Ho Chi Minh’s remains in Hanoi
19.  Slept in a Junk in Ha Long Bay
20.  Set foot inside the Forbidden City
21.  Witnessed F1 cars flash before my very eyes in Singapore
22.  Watched the sun rise at Angkor Wat
23.  Went on the longest zipline in South East Asia in Davao del Sur
24.  Survived a scam by the women of Pat Pong, Bangkok
25.  Almost missed my flights in Kuala Lumpur and Qatar
26.  Got left behind by my plane in Melbourne
27.  Saw the blue mountains of Sydney
28.  Crossed the border to North Korea inside the DMZ
29.  Breathed in ancient history at the Colosseo in Rome
30.  Saw Magellan’s Cross up close
31.  Watched the lights show of Hong Kong Island from Tsim Sha Tshui
32.  Marvelled at the Genius of Gaudi in Barcelona
33.  Got kissed underneath a street lamp along Las Ramblas
34.  Saw Kangaroos and Koalas in the wild
35.  Slipped on ice along the streets of Itaewon and had a wound to prove it
36.  Cooled off with a Gelato in Rome
37.  Stepped inside the Sydney Opera House
38.  Cruised along the Great Ocean Road
39.  Gawked at the sheer grandness of St. Peter’s Basilica
40.  Frolicked in the Mediterranean Sea
41.  Ate a croc in Siem Reap
42.  Saw the Eiffel Tower
43.  Crossed the U Bein Bridge in Mandalay
44.  Gone island hopping in Caramoan
45.  Slept in a traditional hutong in Beijing
46.  Was shouted at “Bella! Bella!” along the streets of Rome
47.  Successfully navigated the labyrinth that is Chatuchak Market
48.  Stepped inside St. Igantius’ tower house in Loyola
49.  Broke fast at The Peninsula Hong Kong
50.  Gorged on Chicken Inasal in Manukan Country
51.  Took in the beauty of Rome from the Giardino Degli Aranci
52.  Walked through the lights and sounds show of Malinta Tunnel
53.  Caught the sunrise along Malacca Strait
54.  Strolled along Marco Polo’s West Lake
55.  Watched the sun set over a glass of halo-halo at Saud Beach
56.  Soaked up the sun at Puerta del Sol
57.  Biked through the flooded streets of Siem Reap
58.  Sat on the serpentine bench in Parc Güell
59.  Ate authentic food at every stop
60.  Met the most interesting people along the way

Whenever I planted my fourteen-year-old-self in front of the telly during nightly episodes of Inntimate Escapes on Discovery Channel, I dreamt of a very proper England, an elegant Paris, and a dramatic Italy.  My dream holidays would always vacillate between the House of Parliament, baguettes, and a gondola ride along the Grand Canal. Back then, Europe was the be all and end all of the ultimate trip.

I still dream of London, do not get me wrong, but my country and our Asian neighbours proved to be amazing destinations as well. We, Malays, might all look alike but we each have our very own distinct culture and history. However, more importantly, I learned that travel is equal parts self-discovery, understanding of the Other, and life-affirming adventure.  

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