Wherever we go, there we are

The sun beats down in Denver, and yet the heat doesn’t feel oppressive. When evening comes around, the air cools and a comfortable, warm breeze envelops the Mile High City. In the distance – but not too far away – the majestic Colorado mountains rise up and frame the skyline.

I never imagined I’d find myself in Denver, the city of Dean Moriarty’s ghost (fellow fans of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” will understand this reference), but yes, I’m officially 9,000 miles away from home. Our Lyft driver, upon finding out we’re Singaporeans, exclaimed, “You have come from so far away!”

But nowhere is too far away. Nowadays everywhere is a flight or two away. Distance is no longer measured in miles but hinges more on how willing we are to go away. If we imprison ourselves with reasons as to why we shouldn’t go here or do that, then it’s true, everywhere is too far away and everything is too impossible.

So why am I in Denver? The honest answer is, I’m here for no reason. We wanted to spend a month in the States, and since we were visiting our friends in Portland and our flight home to Singapore would depart from San Francisco, we figured we would visit a few cities along the way. So Denver it is, then Chicago and New Orleans after.

Wherever we go, there we are.

The joy of solitude

I’m here in Kanazawa on a two-week solo trip. I’m not really doing anything special here. My goal of being here – if there is one – is to be by myself and to reclaim some silence. As an antidote, I guess, to the busy-ness of my life back in Singapore.

I’m walking a lot here, since the Airbnb I live in is about, on average, 2km away from most places I wanna see around here (museums, cafes, Samurai houses, etc). I also rented a bike, although most days I still prefer to walk – the pace suits me better (and being on a bike still feels way too fast and not slow enough for me to savour the sights along the way). Most of Kanazawa is criss-crossed by rivers and streams that are embedded among residential neighbourhoods and shops, so now, after a week of being here, I hardly have to use Google Maps anymore. I simply follow the curves of the streams, knowing that as long as there is the sound of water flowing, I am on the right path towards wherever I wanna go.

I enjoy being alone here very much. And generally, I enjoy being alone anywhere very much. It’s only when I am alone that I can really meet myself and hear myself. I often have the experience of feeling disoriented after spending a long time not being alone. It’s almost like being surrounded by other people constantly (no matter how much I love these people) causes my internal channels to get clogged up, and for that reason it becomes difficult to know what I want. Traveling solo is a way for me to declog my internal channels, to recalibrate, to clean up my mind and find my direction again.

I wrote something related to this on Instagram awhile ago, which I still believe in:

“How would you know what is really important to you if you never have time and space to listen to yourself? How would you know what are the essential things to pursue and keep in your life if all you do is run frantically on the treadmill of life? How could you be happy if you never allow yourself to rest, to wander, to not be found by others? There are all kinds of invisible rules that imprison us to a life that we never wished for. But the rules are not real. Someone made them up. I think if we want to live a happy life we must learn to unlearn those rules and live according to what is personally important to us. But for that to happen we must first have the time and space to think, to be alone, to hear our own thoughts. We must have ‘a room of one’s own’. We must have our very own well that we can climb down to whenever the noise becomes too loud, the chores become overwhelming. May you find your own room, your own well, wherever that might be.”

My well is right here, wherever I am alone.

Always on the go

It was words that made me want to travel.

Bruce Chatwin and his Patagonia. Annie Proulx’s Wyoming stories. Paul Theroux catching train after train on “The Great Railway Bazaar”San Mao’s wild tales in the Sahara Desert. Jack Kerouac traipsing across America, cigarette and beer in hand. Allen Ginsberg, journaling his way across India. Then there was Chet Lam, writing melancholic songs about New York and Vancouver and other places he’d been to…

“This morning I’m leaving New York / A place of letting go / A place of moving on / Here’s to New York… / Don’t matter where you’re from / Just matters where you go / No one clings for long / New York…”

So I did. I traveled. Tokyo, Sapporo, Taipei, San Francisco, Boston, Portland, LA, Copenhagen, Munich, Budapest, Prague, Dubrovnik, Oahu… Further and further away from home I went.

And I’m still on the go.

One reason I love traveling – especially alone – is that I fall into a zone that doesn’t seem to exist when I am home. An alternate universe of sorts, you might say. The things I see, the people I meet, even a random walk down a foreign street can cause my brain synapses to connect in a different way from usual. My awareness is heightened. New ideas bubble up easily.

Traveling has become an important part of my creative process. It allows me to escape into a pocket of peace, and in this pocket I can think and hear myself more clearly. I can write and plan and brainstorm with little disturbance. Then I bring these ideas back home and see how I can execute them later.

Traveling alone also fulfils a strange desire of mine to be apart from society. Just another stranger in a foreign city, doing my own thing. Zero attachment, no obligations and nowhere I absolutely need to be. And to be away from the daily drama and hustle and stress of being in Singapore.

Sweet freedom.

Last year I spent a few weeks in Boston. I had no agenda for being there. I had a friend in the city who was there studying for her PhD. I bunked in her bedroom. I spent the days alone and did whatever I wanted to – lying under a tree in Harvard Yard, sketching and people-watching; visiting bookstores; walking along the Charles River; writing in cafes. At night I’d meet my friend and her housemates for dinner if they were free.

I have come to love and relish that feeling of being both apart and a part of something.

Now I’m in Hong Kong, just for the weekend, typing this in a Starbucks in Lan Kwai Fong. I first came to this Starbucks maybe ten years ago. I remember it was my first time overseas. Hong Kong was rainy and grey that time. One cold afternoon I found this particular Starbucks and found some unexpected warmth in this crazy city. Today I came back here again in search of that long-lost feeling, that tiny memory of a place from ten years ago, and Jeff Buckley was singing “Hallelujah” through the speakers.

I was just listening to the same song yesterday.

I take that as a sign from the universe that I am at the right place at the right time.

=)