Traveling and attitude


just sitting

 

I know it sounds horrible for most people, but I just wanna be honest here: I am not interested in traveling.

Yes, those last six words.

I have betrayed my ancestors – and my very distant ancestors – whose survival has depended on walking, and sailing, thousands of miles across continents, only to find out this poor boy of theirs, sitting surrounded by cubicles (laptop, with research papers beside me, table, and a wooden wall), is going to a layer of existence where it’s untouchable, but it’s everywhere, and is air-like: Internet.

 

Not that my life is completely miserable though. Throughout my lifetime (I’m now 21), I have been to 7 countries – or I should say 6 countries and 1 special political entity, which I listed here:

  1. Malaysia (last time: May 2013, been to Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Malacca)
  2. Singapore (last time: October 2010, been to downtown mostly)
  3. Cambodia (last time: June 2015, to Phnom Penh)
  4. China (last time: April 2014, been to Shenzhen and Nanjing)
  5. United States (last time: April 2016 (this year!), only to Houston)
  6. United Arab Emirates (just for transit to US)
  7. Hong Kong (studying in HKUST as of August 2013)

I don’t call it travel, however. I would rather say most of them – except for the trips to Cambodia and US – are annual family trips, lasting for a week (sometimes almost two), and the only aim is relaxation (although we ended up mostly tired). I went to Cambodia for a global health project, and to US for a related global health competition held in Rice University.

In fact, one rather heavy-hearted truth I must confess is that the reason I can continue my studies in this university is the last 4 years spent by my family not going overseas. The last overseas family trip we had was one to Hong Kong, in August 2012, a year precisely before I ended up pursuing my university education here, most of which is supported by my parents’ financing and partially through university scholarships.

Is that why I lose my interest in traveling? While you and I see the correlation – and indeed there’s a correlation, it’s not so much a causality, either.

It’s inevitable that money is one big factor diluting this curiosity of exploring the world – especially given the depreciation of most currencies across the world in the last 2 years. Indonesian rupiah, the richest currency in the world (simply because we have so many zeros), has seen its value depreciated more than 30% within the same period, and the climax was that it almost reached 50% as of mid-2015 before it appreciated. That, in one aspect, has been a major headache not just for me and my family – especially as we are saving a lot to support my younger brother’s future university education, but also for some other Indonesians studying here. Nonetheless, one can argue back, and ask: “What if the currency never weakens, do you want to travel?” Still, the interest is not there yet.

The actual causality, I would argue, is the challenge of adapting to life and getting accustomed to a huge diversity of values in Hong Kong.

I have spent 18 years of my life living in Medan, my hometown, and also Indonesia’s fourth largest city, before coming to Hong Kong. If I could reflect back in the last three years, the biggest challenge is adapt to social standards here, excluding the fact that with Hong Kong as a global city (or so they say), it’s got people from hundreds, and hundreds, of nationalities, each of whom carries norms, values, and mindsets that might not be always suitable to the values I have grown accustomed to while back in my hometown.

At its simplest, let me mention HKUST as a microcosm. I can’t deny that it’s an amazing university – we have people, either full-time or exchange-in students, coming all around the world. Indeed, I am even quite proud to say I have befriended quite a lot of people from various backgrounds in addition to Indonesians alone – Hong Kong locals, Mainland Chinese, Koreans, Malaysians, Indians, Americans, other Southeast Asians, fellows from European countries, some from Middle East, and the list goes on – and discussed various issues, in-depth, with them to understand better about global affairs. In spite of the three years well spent here, I have always been faced with such existentialist-themed questions.

  1. Many of my friends are exchange-in students, and they ‘only’ stay for either a semester or a year. Is true friendship that kinda fast to forge?
  2. Overcoming culture shock is another.

Talking about the second matter, overcoming culture shock is the biggest impediment. Even as I approach my final year pretty soon, there are still quite some aspects that I am still struggling to understand from either local folks or some fellow foreign students, and to a certain degree, even fellow Indonesians. How am I going to create a positive attitude out of traveling when I haven’t fully ‘recovered’ from culture shock after three years studying abroad?

Another reason is what I can say as ‘settle-down attitude’. Again, this is my personal opinion. Having no interest in travel does not mean I will stop visiting countries forever. I still aim for postgraduate studies in US (yeah, ‘American dream’), but based on my experiences of already living here for three years, I have learned a lot about the attitude of settling down in a place and getting used to the pace of daily life here (in spite of constant ebbs and flows of culture shock). Immersing oneself in a place is not as simple as traveling to 10, 20, 30, or even 50 countries alone, let alone an annual one-week overseas trip; it takes quite a considerable amount of effort – and time – to completely blend in a brand-new environment, in a wholly new culture. Being here for three years, I have felt very comfortable with what Hong Kong has to offer (despite constant shouts of housing and inequality issues), but I do realize that this place itself is not going to be an end goal of my life journey. Which country I will eventually permanently settle? Will it be US, or will it be going back to Indonesia? Your guess is as good as mine.

Also, when I go to other countries, the constant feeling that lies in my head is this: “Is there something useful I can always do?” This response may make you think I sound like an overworked jerk, but unless there is something really useful or what I am really passionate about (research projects, deployment of new technologies, competitions, but not voluntouring), I will not be really trying to get myself into those places. Why sightseeing alone? Except for differences in building styles, historical experiences, income levels, infrastructure quality, social and cultural norms, food, infrastructure, and availability of people and goods, people everywhere are just the same. They live as we do, they work as we do, they eat as we do, especially with the advent of globalization. Again, this doesn’t mean I encourage you and myself to stop going overseas. It’s just that we may have different expectations. I care about other countries’ history, but unless there is something important (and money is one thing), I will not be really there.

Furthermore, we’ll just acknowledge that everyone has his or her own peculiarity. People will assume that I am weird due to my disinterest in travel. It’s the same thing, either, for some people like me to judge those having traveled to 30, 40, 50, or maybe 100 countries. Some will argue that lack of travel causes less world peace due to low understanding of other cultures; I would refute back and ask, “Where is the supporting evidence?” It may be true that some correlation exists, but it doesn’t always mean causality. Some people, having lived extensively in many countries, will in the end stick to people they are most comfortable with (mostly the same country) and will always remain as narrow-minded about the world as their exclusivity implies. Either having been to dozens of different places or simply staying in your hometown or home state does not necessarily make you a better person. That’s where we can see the differences between ‘well-traveled tourists’ and ‘well-traveled travelers’. Others, probably never leaving 100 miles beyond their hometowns their whole lifetime, would just find solace through the conveniences they have been familiar with all their lives. Does one simply have to go through the countries only to experience the cultures themselves, discounting the fact that they have families to support, and lack of money is another thing? At least books can be either a supplementing or complementing alternative. (I choose this because it depends on how you interpret your choices) Everyone is unique on his or her own, so being less judgmental actually reduces these gaps.

Last but not least, I am a homeward-bound person. As I only take an annual vacation (during winter), the only thing that lies in my head is going back to my hometown. It is dilapidated, no doubt about that; crime is high, yes it’s true; transport is very uncomfortable and unruly, especially. But what becomes inevitable is how that city, that poor sweet city of mine, has become part of my identity, particularly after the experience of overseas study. The only thing that lies in my head is to reunite with my family, that’s all. For the rest of every university year, I have been studying and working hard enough, and again, the attitude of traveling after all the exasperation is just not there. I would still choose to come back to my hometown and stay for a month, despite the discomfort compared to everything one has in Hong Kong.

(Once again, I have to put a disclaimer to say that this doesn’t stop me from wanting to visit other countries.)

I would have to say that it is very fortunate the university I study in actually encourages people to explore the world through programs like exchange-out, gap year, or gap semesters. A lot of my friends have taken these chances, and traveled to dozens of countries (still, mostly in Europe, North America, and not so commonly fellow Asian states). It is undeniable exchange offers numerous benefits, but again, what I can advise here, from someone who has no interest in travel but sees the benefits in it, is the matter of ‘attitude’. I neither encourage nor discourage you from traveling, but at least get yourself to think these questions. Are you ready for the discomfort of constantly moving places? Are you willing to learn and immerse yourself in other cultures, and adopt their values? And are you ready to spend, especially with the fact that most of our university education is from our parents’ money? If you are prepared, then the benefits are there for you. If you don’t, travel ideals themselves are just not suitable for you. Some people are ‘destined’ to explore, some simply will find solace in the places they stay in. Let’s respect each other from that regard (or at least learn to agree to disagree).

The best thing about 21st century is that people are more free to define how they are going to live their lives (and I do cherish in this regard). If there’s just this ecstatic impatience to explore the world, just do it. Otherwise, just enjoy all that we have.

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