What becomes of travel, of reading, of meeting people, when we enter and exit these spaces with pre-determined answers to this world? I always thought of my education as a window to understanding this world, though as I grow older I realize my education too are like shackles around my feet. I think that with my knowledge, I know how to live life, I know the “things” that make happiness. But I love the way life laughs at my polite arrogance and makes a mockery out of my deep-seated views. So I abandon my “knowing”. I am a student of this life. In me is a deep eagerness to learn.
We travel, we read, we meet, not in search of answers, but in search of better questions. All these writings are travel writings. Even those without physical displacement. We are always travelling in and out of spaces. Physical spaces, emotional and psychological spaces. It never is the number of countries travelled, but the interior journey taken into one’s self that merits the exterior journey taken.
I had once lost everything I had owned, when a bulldozer crashed and flattened my small collection of things in a warehouse. When I received the news, I had an odd paradoxical experience of sadness and lightness all at once. A year ago I had been burgled and suddenly I felt a deep sense of loss. I had memories so cherished I froze them into videos, pictures, writings and art. They narrated my new life in England, photographs and sketches, little artefacts crafted on winter Saturdays, video diaries of the places, stories we exchanged, and all the love that was given and taken and given again so unconditionally. I flourished in countryside England. It was hard not to lock the memories, I say, for my grandchildren and their grandchildren. Somehow after some years of solitude and confusion, I wanted them to see how happiness became natural to me, even in a country without a sun.
The lightness and de-clutter was unbearable. I could not admit to myself how much lightness loss felt. It felt almost like a sin, a sense of careless-ness I could not partake because at one time these sketches, these videos and artefacts were the meticulous cartography of a charmingly odd, care-free, crazy, and saturated life – one I had not expected to live, one I could not have lived if a chance at a scholarship did not take me out of Singapore and into 14th Century England (my college was housed in an old medieval church).
Loss of my physical contraptions of frozen memories somehow danced tango with the end of something. Somehow life wanted me simpler. I find my distate for shopping malls, presents, clothes, shoes, and things a little amiable to the simplicity of displacement. I had once in Afghanistan wandered to and from 6 different homes with only two sets of clothing. There is nothing more beautiful than the mountains, not even my imagination, not even pandora can take my fervour and fascination away. So the little things become nothing. Loss was never a loss. Sometimes loss is a gain if one finds the perspective to notice this. Life always achieves a balance our human self cannot sometimes comprehend. I do wistfully play back those photographs of love, the artefacts we created to historicize a beautiful love that England had given space to grow in spite of its fallen leaves and bickering weather. There is so much in life to fall in love with…
The Dalai Lama has always two questions: What can I learn?, and What can I give?