I’ve travelled a lot, to many countries on different continents, often alone, sometimes for weeks at a time, sometimes for many months. I’ve also been on several trips for extended periods in and around Malaysia, where I was born.
I went for the usual reasons: I was curious; I wanted to expand my understanding of the world and my place in it; I wanted to test my abilities and limits. It worked, I think, as well as it could. One key discovery while away: a full schedule with lots of sites and stops brings me down. I travel better with depth, not breadth; as with so many other things in my life, less became more. I began to take trips to fewer places for longer periods of time. Slowly I discovered that, as fascinating as a locale may be, getting to know people living in those places was more interesting to me. What I most want, wherever I am, is to find a friend and be invited over to tea.
I know there is still so much to see and learn, but lately my taste for travel has tapered off. I find myself staying where I am more, and as my adventures in sustainability focus on local living, I am increasingly interested and invested in being at home.
Which is complicated because I am an immigrant, and home for me will always be found in Malaysia which is almost precisely halfway around the world. Most of my relatives are still there, and they welcome us so completely when we return that it feels as if we haven’t left. They remain the biggest imperfection of our otherwise perfectly acceptable transition to Canada.
My perfect dream travel with my children has a direct and easy answer: I would take them to Malaysia and we would live there, with or close by my relatives. We would visit family, close and extended, and smile and nod politely to the ones we can’t speak to (I have tried unsuccessfully with my mother to teach my children the Chinese dialect we speak, and for which there are no schools). We’d go to the hawker stalls for fried snacks, spicy dinners, and icy desserts.
We’d follow my cousin on her jungle treks and go swimming off the islands that the locals and visitors alike visit during their holidays. We’d visit the steaming cities, crowded with stores and people and slithering highways. We’d travel to the rural areas, where people live in houses on stilts to stay dry during the rainy season and cool during the rest of the year. We’d notice how much less they use and need to live their lives, doing the things we do but differently, and why that is. We’d shadow my aunt in her kitchen, observe while she goes marketing, in hopes of unraveling and perhaps recording the secrets of her catering success and superb culinary reputation. We’d be held in her arms while we stayed for tea.
The thing about this dream vacation – and there is no other one I want nearly as much for my children – the thing that makes it not so dreamy is that it’s a vacation. No matter how long it is, it will end. This doesn’t matter so much when a vacation is for fun, but when it’s for family, it’s really not very good. I think my kids would be fine and of course the hope is that they’d finish a trip like this with an expanded sense of who they are, and it would all be worth it. But for me coming home also means leaving home, and I’ve never quite gotten used to it.