Every year during the time of my birthday I would try to travel out of Singapore, even if it is just to somewhere an hour’s flight away. When I was much younger it was because I didn’t like being in my own country, in the last decade or so it is because being in a foreign place automatically provokes me to be more mindful. We become blind to our surroundings when we’re too familiar with our environment, and that blindness can deaden us to life if we’re not careful.
We didn’t travel for 3 years or so because of the pandemic, but end last year we decided to take a calculated risk to travel to bangkok. We survived that trip, so it gave us courage to attempt to travel again for my birthday. Perhaps we wouldn’t be so lucky every time to avoid getting infected, but the risk is possibly similar in Singapore anyway now that we’ve removed our mask mandate on public transport and indoor settings, unless we’re both willing to become true hermits. But we’re taking every precaution we can by wearing n95 masks on the plane and bringing a personal hepa filter to dodgy places. We also wear kf94 masks at every indoor place and avoid dining indoors especially in air-conditioned places unless there is adequate ventilation like we can sit next to an open window. All of these is not foolproof, but I think it is the best we can do apart from staying forever at home.
This year I chose to travel to hanoi, though I made sure my partner is on board too. We both don’t feel comfortable in chaos, but I asked the James Hollis question – will this enlarge or diminish me – and some inner place within me felt like hanoi is a place that would enlarge me.
It was still a shock to our senses though. But we acclimatised gradually within the next couple of days. I started feeling inspired by all the contrasts we could experience in the city. The traffic is famously insane but they also close the most central part of their city every weekend to traffic for people to walk about and kids to have fun. I feel like this is extremely progressive?
I love travelling because of how provocative it is to my worldview. I could have the worst beliefs about humanity because I spend too much time within a narrow section of the internet, but travelling opens me up to new worlds: new ways of living and seeing. I could watch a thousand youtube videos on people’s experiences in hanoi or listen to a hundred people about how they felt, but nothing would have prepared me for the actual experience. We have different personalities, different ways of perceiving, and we seek out different types of experiences. I didn’t enjoy ho chi minh when I travelled there in 2012, but that was a different self trapped in a different mind space.
Hanoi is a city full of surprises. The same street can be home to a traditional pho street side stall, a modern cafe, a touristy souvenir shop, and an expensive-looking boutique. We enjoyed going into hidden alleys, going up some dodgy stairway and discovering there is a really cool cafe at the end.
I think in life it is really important to be surprised, enlivened and inspired. Hanoi is such an experience for me. Every day I see something that makes me go wow, this exists. I guess there would be some people who may come to Singapore and have these feelings too.
I have a lot more photos and thoughts to share, but it will take some time to organise and sieve through them properly, so I thought I’ll just share some brief thoughts first. I’m trying to tell myself not every post has to be this longwinded excursion into the depths of my psyche. Old habits die hard.