Both The Thief and Giver of Happiness


I caught myself staring outside the bus, at the tall buildings lining the highway from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, and I thought the idea of being in a strange country, or strange city or town or whatever territory that is not what you’re used to — it felt like coming inside someone’s house, uninvited, and you watch the people who live there with so much curiosity, and perhaps romanticization.

You watch them and their home detachedly, like it is the nicest thing ever — do you know how Americans (or Touristy White People In General) would go to a poor country (Manila) and say, look at them, so happy in the midst of poverty?

It felt like that, except I don’t mean it in the sense that I glorify poverty or suffering, but in the sense that there is something charming in the (artificially) unfamiliar, the undiscovered, the unknown.

While checking Facebook before our flight to Kuala Lumpur, I saw a friend post a quote: “Comparison is the thief of Joy.” I mulled over that statement, and now I can confidently say, no, not always. Because Comparison can also be the benefactor of Joy.

When you think of it, knowing something strange can become beautiful as well with the idea that one can always pull one’s self back and return to the place of familiarity. There is a point to come back after the strangeness.

My friend Katrina calls these travels abroad as entering the Matrix (yes, the Wachowskis film) — and I think it is a very apt description. At the end of each trip, there is a creature comfort to coming back to one’s Zion, to boomerang to one’s origins, as ugly (or beautiful, from refreshed eyes!) as it may be. Like fish swimming back to their birthplace, we tunnel our way back to our home, grateful to know our anchor is still firmly set.

As much as this trip excites me, I know that I long to come back to my family, to my friends, and to my Platypus. It isn’t a choice between the exotic and the known; one enjoys each by the context of its other. I like traveling — being a guest in someone’s home, but not more than staying put, going through the habit, the routine.

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