02 March 2014

Through the eyes of a tourist

I remember the first time I set foot in Singapore. I couldn't believe how everything looked like it just jumped out of a page of a magazine I've been looking at for a while. If you stand at the bayfront, no matter if it's in broad daylight or in the evening when the city is most alive, and you see Marina Bay Sands, a majestic showcase of architecture that it is standing across from you, the Singapore Flyer by the wing, an expanse of water stretched out in front, and the famous Merlion standing grandiosely to your side, I dare you not feel moved. My first night there last time, there were fireworks too, and it felt so surreal witnessing all that. That night, when I first declared adoration towards this place I never even dreamed of going in the first place, I did so because of that funny feeling I had that it was the beginning of a long and wonderful relationship between myself and this country. It didn't make sense then. But standing there, all I knew was that I felt a sense of belonging—like I was going to be standing there, elated, many more times in the next years of my life.

Little did I know, that inkling would bear meaning just a short while after. Not six months after that first encounter, I was back.

The second time, it didn't take long for me to settle like I would never leave. For the first week of my stay there, I lived with a lovely Filipino family. They had an extra room—their renter just moved out—and my friend and I moved in. We went out in the mornings in our pj's to buy food from the little store a building away. We went everywhere in our flip flops. Went to Ikea one too many times, stuffed ourselves like turkeys on Thanksgiving with their scrumptious food court meals, and made silly little videos about princesses, dragons and unicorns. We wore the same clothes too often in a week, did laundry, and only ate at places where our 5 dollars would buy us a complete meal, including a nice refreshing glass of teh ice—my favorite.

Those would be the exciting days. On most days, we would just laze around listening to music and heading out at night for dinner and then drinks. And then repeat all of that the next day.

In retrospect, maybe we should have done something useful during our stay there, but the truth is, I regret nothing. I realize now that the advantage of having enough time at a destination is that you have the privilege of slowing down. You are not rushing to cross things off your to-do list and, in a way, you get to blend in. You see things better. Understand better. And isn't traveling all about that in the first place? I learned that to travel is not just about seeing and setting foot in all those landmarks you see on Nat Geo. I realized that traveling is about observing and learning about how each country, and its people, are different but the same all at the same time. And at a country like Singapore where the culture, however so diverse, co-exists in harmony, that could not be more true.

"Sometimes are you still able to just look around and realize how great this country you live in is?"
"No, not really."
"Well, you should. Because it really is."
"Yeah, I know. That's why I appreciate when I get to hang out with travelers and they tell me how much they like this place. It's like, in a way, looking at everything again through the eyes of a tourist, and then I realize how lucky I am."

—my conversation with a local

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