According to my father, my first trip outside of the USA was when I was Mexico and not even 1-years-old. My muddled memories flood me that my very first trip outside of the USA was to Hong Kong to celebrate my 9th birthday with relatives that I met for the very first time in my life. Hong Kong always holds a special spot as overseas trip for me; It was the first place I traveled alone to when I was 15-years-old, met my grandparents for the first time, attended and participated in a wedding for the first time, and paid tribute to my grandfather for my first experience in death of a loved one. I still feel the oppressive humid heat of Hong Kong that can knock you over with dripping sweat and then the blast of arctic air from the air conditioners cranked up in public places. I remember all my visits to Hong Kong at 10-years-old when my uncle was getting married and I was the flower girl in a puffy pink dress, 15-years-old when my sister was living there for her very first job, my grandfather’s passing away and thrown into culture shock at his Buddhist funeral ceremony services.
I spent one summer with my aunt in Canada after my parents’ messy divorce. The area she lived in was predominantly Asians and Cantonese-speaking. I discovered and devoured new foods and tastes that I never had before: fleshy pink salmon encased in crispy skin, spicy hot Asian-styled spaghetti, and bitter fresh vegetables. I learned how to used chopsticks at 11-years-old. My aunt taught and told me: “You never know until and unless you try.”
I traveled around the world from home by writing to people in other countries, or penpalling. In the day of the digital, I still love nothing more by to curl up on my couch and travel to another country when I receive and read a letter from a dear friend across the oceans and continents and decorate stationary sheets to my dear friend overseas. Starting in roughly 2006, I started traveling alone to my “penpals” or people I never met face to face, but felt like I knew from our long, personal, and in-depth hand-written letters. I went to England and Holland where I finally met and spent time with my penpals, only for them to crash and burn. I also traveled to Germany and Portugal and Spain where friendships only strengthened as more than merely “penpals.” In all these trips, I made it a point to go to places where I could climb to the very highest to see and soak up all the beauty of a country from the very top while also feeling every step on the ground I was walking on that held history at my feet. From these solo adventurous travels, I learned that there is still NOTHING more important than spending and meeting with someone face to face and in person. I also made it a point to travel around the USA in east coast to west coast, north, and south, overseas, and declared whenever our wicked wintry weather hit New York: “That’s it! I’m moving to sunny California!”
For as long as I could remember, I traveled. I think I traveled because my father traveled and told me, “There are some people who have NEVER traveled and do not even have a passport. It is a lot of work, money, time, and energy to travel and even more so now than before, but so well worth it to see the world and understand more about others and yourself.” I wanted to see and taste the world and inhale any and all customs, cultures, languages, and life of the unknown and what seemed as “odd.” In all my travels, I wondered about this world and where was the perfect place for me. Although I was fearless to travel around the world, I had never moved to anywhere else different and new in my life. I was born, grew up, and am still living in the same small suburban county that is a mere dot on the map of the entire state of New York. I had thought about and even spoke about moving somewhere and anywhere because the mere thought of just packing up my crap and leaving everyone and everything behind to start anew where no one knew me and where I could “find myself” was invigorating and thrilling. What does “find yourself” actually mean, though? Do people find themselves by leaving and traveling or by committing themselves to where they are and with who they are with?
I once asked my aunt who took care of me in Canada and who now lives in Hong Kong: “Where is the perfect place? Do you like Canada or Hong Kong better?” She responded, “It is never about the perfect place. It is never about the place. It is about the people. You can travel and see the world and it is important to do this, but being a traveler and visitor is different from where you eventually live and commit to. You will live with the people who mean the most to you, and the where will not matter.” My mere conclusion then is: “You live where love is” and the ‘loves’ or ‘love’ in your life differs from person to person and in the places and periods you are in your life. I traveled to see the world BUT I never moved because the perfect place was about the people and NOT the place.
How important is it to travel and see the world versus not? Have you moved around to different places and, if yes, what led you to pick up and start a new life in a new place? Do you think you have to travel far and even around the world and different places to find yourself and understand yourself better? Or maybe as a way to escape? Can you find and understand yourself if you grew up in the same place all your life? Where is your perfect place?
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,