I guess that comes to no surprise to anyone who knows me well.
I’ve seen a lot of the Philippines ever since I was a kid, thanks to my parents’ insatiable wanderlust. (Yes, excuse me for using that word: I know it sounds so corny, how it’s thrown so easily nowadays.) I have fond memories of sitting at the back of our pickup truck on our way to Ilocos, bringing back to Manila sacks of onions from our relatives up north.
I’ve experienced riding a non-airconditioned bus all the way to Sorsogon, taking in all the soot and grime during the nine (or was it twelve hours?)-hour trip. I remember my Nokia 3210 taking a dive in the chilly waters at the pier while waiting for our boat to Uson, Masbate (my mother’s hometown) one early morning. Our family picture at Mines View Park is displayed somewhere in our house in Las Piñas, to remind us of a happier childhood.
I don’t mean to paint a rosy picture of my family, of course. We’ve had our ups and downs, and I would be lying if I say I’ve resolved all my issues with my parents. Still, those times we’ve been traveling seemed to be a metaphor to what my mom has been saying to me all along: whatever it is you’re going through, just go through it. It will pass.
Recently, I ticked off another country in my list: Taiwan. I’ve never been outside Southeast Asia until this trip, which makes it a milestone of sorts.
(Digressing: I always tell my friends that I’m expanding my travel circle slowly: first Southeast Asia, then the surrounding Asian countries, and perhaps after North and South America. Afterwards, Europe and Africa. Antartica could go last.)
We had booked the ticket months back, in February (thank you, Philippine Airlines for the seat sale.) The time leading to September was spent fixing our itinerary (which wasn’t that difficult, actually, as Charz has already been to the country and was well aware of the best places to go.)
Jox and Norman (who were my friends from different circles and eventually also became friends through osmosis), Norman’s close friend Randall, Charz, and I stayed at a spacious room we booked via airbnb, which happened to be near Ximending. The neighborhood was brimming with color and sounds and smells. It was fun to walk around the area at night, with the stench of stinky tofu wafting in the air (a delicacy which I wasn’t able to taste, unfortunately.)
Most of our nights were spent eating at cheap diners. Not complaining: I had a lot of vegetarian options to choose from. As a traveler, one of my worries was not getting to enjoy the local cuisine. I got lucky in Taiwan, obviously. (Thankfully, my friends were kind enough to let me choose the restaurants which had vegetarian options.)
(Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers makes a fascinating argument about how cultural perspectives and philosophies have been shaped by the crops one’s society has chosen to farm. That theory is somewhat mentioned here.)
We also got to check out the local gay scene after visiting Gin Gin bookstore, which offers a variety of LGBT literature and artworks, among many other things. There was also a nearby LGBT-friendly cafe called Hours, which was very chill and could easily pass off as any other coffee shop, if not for the rainbow outside.
It was fun seeing these welcoming spaces, where one could feel a sense of community that is much necessary in countries where LGBT rights have yet to take a strong foothold.
(Not to say that Taiwan hasn’t been making substantial progress; in fact, the country is said to be very open regarding marriage equality and same-sex relations. This is a stark contrast to what we experience in the Philippines, where our own anti-discrimination bill has taken the backseat for far too long.)
Though I know it would be silly to romanticize traveling as a necessary component to self-actualization (because, come on, let’s be real: a plane ticket is not a gate pass to enlightenment, as a lot of boorish tourists you meet along the way attest), I have to say though: exposure to other cultures does open up a world of possibilities, to the interested mind.
If there’s one thing that I am constantly reminded of every time I get to see people from other cultures and countries, it’s that shutting out other perspectives makes the world a little smaller, and a lot harsher. Pigeonholing people into harmful stereotypes without recognizing the spectrum of their realities only builds more walls. It’s hard work to empathize, undeniably–but the effort I think helps us become better people.
(Thanks Taiwan for the fun times: I promise to be back.)