It’s now been more than five years since I returned from my first great voyage, my around the world trip. It often feels like it was much further than that, mostly because of how much my perspective on traveling has changed.
During that trip, I visited 28 countries. Of those 28, I spent more than a month in six. Of those six, none was an unexpected as Malaysia. I knew, beforehand, that I’d spend time in Spain, Italy, Turkey, and Thailand. Nepal beat out Sri Lanka due to instability in the latter.
But Malaysia was unexpected, in many ways. And five years later, it continues to surprise me.
I’m nearing the finishing of my book about that trip. Writing was just as much of a journey, if not a greater one, than the actual trip itself. It forced me to repeatedly reflect on the meaning of travel, to reminisce on the good and bads of traveling, the wonderful moments such as teaching in Nepal, along with the moments of intense ackwardness and shyness I felt, such as the rut I was in when I entered Malaysia.
Five years later, many of the friendships I made on the road have faded. People move on, change, and distance created unsurmountable boundaries. Today, I probably only keep in touch with a handful of people.
Of those, four are related to Malaysia. Two whom I met there, two who was born there but I met elsewhere.
Only now, after writing my book, and with the wisdom of retrospective distance, do I see things clearly. Malaysia was near the end of my trip, when I was craving something different. My experiences during 10 months of traveling had changed me and made me a more open person. In Nepal, one of my students, a tall, UCLA hat wearing boy always dressed in white, took me to his home my last day in his village. There, he gave me a necklace with two stones on it – two stones out of some that his mother had given him before she died, the reason she was wearing white. It was, by far, the most touching gift I have ever received in my life.
In Malaysia, I was more open, and thus, made real friendships. That is the conclusion of my book, one that only became clear after five years. Five years in which I’ve made exponentially stronger, more honest, and open friendships than I ever had before.
Had I finished the book four years ago, as I had initially hoped, it wouldn’t have been the same. But thus is writing, ever-changing, subjective, and fluid. Which is why I love it so much.