I was 15 years younger and also 15kg lighter (if only they are both inversely related).
My only worries were passing my examinations and whether the boy whom I had a huge crush on would give me the time of the day. In my mind, we would have beautiful babies together.
The thought of returning home never occurred to me but it didn’t stop me from being an active member of the Malaysian Student Society. United Kingdom seemed far better off then.
Although it has been 15 years, I still think about the days when we, the Malaysian students, put up a swashbuckling performance at the annual Malaysian Evening gala. We did Malaysia proud by being hospitable, warm and friendly ambassadors. Our enthusiasm and solidarity were infectious and we built friendships that transcended ethnicity and religious affiliations through those years.
I miss the days when the Malay-Boys-Who-Can-Sing-And-Play-Music living downtown would invite my friend and me for home-cooked fish head curry. Apparently the fishmonger next door was selling the discarded heads for peanuts and like monkeys, we devoured every single morsel with much gusto and appreciation.
We also had a Malay friend who could measure the saltiness of his girlfriend’s satay sauce just by sniffing it. Hers was the best satay sauce I have ever tasted. To reciprocate, my friend and I would make popiah and to our great surprise, they were well-received.
I mustn’t forget our one and only Indian Malaysian student. He was known as the quiet and shy guy who was joined at the hip to two other Chinese Malaysian students. They were really nice because they never forgot my birthday when I was alone during Easter holidays.
That was the only time when I remembered being Malaysian.
Fifteen years later, I am older and the questions running through my mind are of a different nature.
Will my marriage survive? Will I become a mother? Have I done enough for my ageing parents? Will I be able to afford a vacation in the North Pole so that I can see the polar bears? Will I die for my country? Will Malaysia ever change?
At 35, I have become cynical and resentful of so many things in life. What is certain is that the years have served as a cruel reminder of how brutal time and poor eating habits can be.
Having worked and lived in four war-torn countries has somehow contributed a lot to my increasing lack of faith and respect for humankind. Although Malaysia is not at war, apathetic Malaysians combined with a morally corrupt government do very little to change my perception of human beings.
At the end of the day, I deduce we’re all just the same.
That changed on April 2, 2011 at Fort Cornwallis, Penang.
Perhaps it’s true that everything does happen for a reason. What made me leave my cushy life as an expatriate’s wife to accept the challenging task of helping Malaysians understand the Federal Constitution? I desperately needed to restore my faith as a Malaysian again.
The “Rock for Rights” concert organised by Bar Council’s MyConstitution Campaign, Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia and Frinjan on April 2 reminded me of the semangat Malaysia I felt 15 years ago, but only better as I didn’t have to be in a foreign land to feel that I belonged.
While working on this project, I got to know many Malaysians from very different walks of life and was privileged to learn from them. Many of them are either students or hold regular jobs such as teaching, marketing, public relations, writing, computer programming, event planning, environmentalist and lawyer.
Being an amateur who struggled to put together a concert, the bands and those involved were understanding, patient and forgiving. Many of them were just grateful that they had this rare opportunity to share their artistic talent as musicians. They are clearly no ordinary bands as they were not driven by monetary gain but only by their passion as musicians and being Malaysian.
I asked Darren Teh from An Honest Mistake why they had decided to participate in this project.
He replied: “We want to bring our music to the next level which is to cause change in someone’s life. Being part of this project helps us achieve that. When people listen to our song and know the reason behind the lyrics, it helps them connect with us ‘emotionally’. Besides that, knowing that we are adding value to the community, raising awareness of our rights and educating them through music — we are going beyond the boundaries of music, beyond just simple listening pleasure. We are proud to have been part of this entire project.”
I asked Petak Daud, an 18-year-old musician who stunned the crowd with his soft acoustic renditions of songs that speak loudly against the abuse of power by the police and government, what gave him the courage to sing such songs. He said: “The situation surrounding us is becoming worse. We’re like decomposing flesh which in a matter of time will disappear altogether. This is my mission. I want to wake Malaysians up so that they can see the abuse taking place in this country.”
If a seemingly shy 18-year-old boy who unwittingly scratches his head while he speaks on stage has the courage to sing such songs, why are most of us still keeping silent?
Azmyl Yunor has a theory — shopping malls and capitalism. According to him, Malaysia’s rapid economic growth over the last three decades has metamorphosised us from being Malaysians to creatures who are continuously motivated by economic gain above everything else. Before we can truly understand who we are as a nation, we occupy our time by shopping.
I told Azmyl that I was shocked by how passive the crowd was at Fort Cornwallis. While some of us cheered and danced to the music, many kept their seats warm by just watching without any expression on their faces. He smiled at my observation and shared his other theory of self-censorship.
Decades of living in a country where preventive laws and religious teachings are imposed have taught us that freedom of expression is vulgar and wrong. He said music is a form of escape. He wouldn’t be caught dead screaming on top of his lungs and rolling on the floor under normal circumstances.
The night was high when Barcode got everyone up to sing the “Negaraku”. I was exhilarated and I sang our anthem like how most kids would sing to Justin Bieber these days. And like the cool night breeze that provided us with much comfort, the affirmation that I love Malaysia came.
Ammar Khairi from Maharajah Commission shared similar sentiments. He said: “I sincerely hope that there will be many more patriotic souls in Malaysia as opposed to nationalists or, even worse, haters. The difference is, a patriotic person would give his heart and soul for the country and yet continually criticise for a better Malaysia, whereas nationalistic pride is nothing more than waving the flag and declaring your allegiance blindly and accepting everything that is told to you by the powers-that-be as the supreme truth.”
Later that night, the party continued. We, the Malaysians, shared and celebrated our identity by laughing and dancing the night away. Fellow columnist June Rubis, who had flown in all the way from Sarawak to be our emcee (and to be starved as she emceed for 12 hours straight), screamed on top of her lungs, “I love you, you and you!” She whispered to me and said she would do it all over again.
I stayed high for the next couple of days. Fifteen years is a long wait after all.
My first memory of her was how small she was. Her pale and blemish-free skin looked as if they had not seen a day of light. Her colour-treated hair was always held back neatly in a high ponytail.
She was well-groomed as how aestheticians should be - her eyebrows were shaped perfectly and her eyes enhanced with kohl and eye shadow. I was pretty sure I had the right visual when her name was brought up by Megan, my aesthetician.
"Poor Kathy. She looked the type who never had to do a day of hard labour. This must be really hard for her," I said to Megan. I was lying flat on my back with my eyes closed while Megan performed my monthly facial treatment in her home in Petaling Jaya.
I normally loath the idea of participating in perfunctory conversations with my hairdresser and manicurist but for some reason, I like talking to Megan. Perhaps she comes across as someone who is sincere and not exploitative like many other professionals relying on commission. That day's conversation was particularly interesting and I couldn't take my mind off it.
"She told me that short of being whipped and chained at the ankles, it was exactly like those slaves you watch on the movies. I mean, can you imagine this happening now?" I could sense repulsion in Megan's voice as she moved on to give me a shoulder massage while the mask on my face slowly hardened.
Kathy and Megan used to work together at a beauty spa in an affluent neighbourhood in Kuala Lumpur. I got to know Megan when I used to patron the spa and she was my aesthetician.
Slightly more than a year ago, Megan made a leap of faith by leaving the spa to set up her own beauty parlour at home. She said she had enough of slogging away six days a week for someone else.
Her former boss used to go around asking all the commissioned aesthetician what they thought of the five-digit Rolex watch she had just bought on a shopping trip to Hong Kong.
I left the spa and followed her.
The conversation about Kathy came about when I asked Megan whether she had heard of those farming programmes in Australia where people go pick strawberries and apples. "They seem to be really popular," I said.
She gave my face a quick inspection after she completed her usual cleansing routine. "You're not getting enough sleep and you need to drink more water," she said before she proceeded to answer my question. "Uh-huh. Why? Are you interested?"
"Oh no. I have a friend who's thinking of taking a year off from work to do this. Someone else I know wants to do the same thing too. It's just funny that two people said the same thing to me in less than a month." I grimaced as she extracted the acnes on my forehead.
"Do you remember Kathy? She was one of the aestheticians at the spa. The really small girl, fair skin? She's working in a strawberry farm in Australia now."
I was expecting Megan to tell me how Kathy was enjoying the farm fresh air and stuffing herself with strawberries as big as cikus while plucking them. I was wrong because for the next hour or so, Megan revealed the harrowing story of how her friend had left Malaysia to work like a slave in a foreign country.
According to Megan, Kathy left with a group of friends. She wasn't alone. Like Megan, Kathy was probably fed-up with her work at the beauty spa and wanted something more lucrative.
An agent told them they could each easily earn RM10,000 a month by just picking fruits from a farm in Australia. Such opportunity seemed too good to pass and they weren't really convinced until they were shown photos of the farm and accommodation. Everything looked lovely and sounded easy.
Working in Australia meant they had to obtain a working visa and this was where the agent came in. Apparently, each of them paid about RM7,000 to the agent to sort out their paperwork.
It seems that a few days before they were to depart to Australia, they were told that their working visas were not ready and they would have to leave on a tourist visa while their agent would continue to work on getting them the correct paperwork.
Perhaps they did not want to waste their plane tickets or perhaps they did not want to postpone an opportunity for a good income, as many of them had by then presumably quit their jobs and were left with no income. I could only presume such an investment might have cost some of them their life savings.
Whatever reason it was, they left for Australia more than four months ago. Before leaving, they were told to delete the agent's phone numbers from their phones.
"Kathy told me she has muscular legs and her skin is tanned now. She said she's ugly now. She has to squat on her feet to pluck strawberries for about ten hours a day without much break and under the hot sun. She sent me photos of the farm and you can't see the end of the strawberry beds. It's that far. She said it's very tough for her. She cried every night for a month when she first started," Megan told me. "Kathy said she never thought something like this would ever happen to her."
I know. Normally you only hear of such abuses happening to Cambodians, Indonesians and Burmese. Not Malaysians.
Kathy told Megan that when they arrived at the farm after hours of driving from the city, they were brought to their accommodation. They were shocked by the condition of the place.
It was filthy, smelly and filled with all sorts of junk. It was obvious that decent living condition wasn't part of the deal. They spent days cleaning and clearing up the space to make it habitable. By then, the thought of being victims of a scam had slowly crept in since the reality of the place did not match the photos that were shown to them back at home.
For the first month or so, they could not pick the strawberries because it wasn't time for harvesting yet and because they would only be paid for each basket of fruits picked, they were not able to earn any income right away.
On top of that, they had to pay for their own lodging and food. Apparently, mattresses were rented out at A$3 per night by the farm owner. Kathy said that this information was never disclosed to them by their agent. With no income, their expenses accumulated quickly and soon enough, they found themselves in debt. On a tourist visa.
"Why don't they report this?!" I sounded angry and to be honest, a tad judgmental.
"Kathy said she doesn't want trouble. In the beginning, when they complained to the owner, he told them that they are free to go as long as they pay off their debts. Kathy said she has no choice but to wait and pick as much fruits as she can so that she can earn some money, clears her debt and leaves the farm. Also many of her friends want to earn back the money they had spent to pay the agent," Megan said.
"Kathy told me that most of the workers there are Malaysian, Chinese and Thai. Apparently, the owner doesn't want to take anyone from Hong Kong because they are known to be vocal and they will stand up and fight. You knowlah, we Malaysians are quite submissive. Always too scared to cause trouble."
I couldn't help but think that the combination of not wanting to worry her family and the fear of humiliation and being judged by them could partly be some of the reasons why Kathy had kept this from the authorities. I wondered whether I would have done the same if I was stuck in a situation like this.
Before we ended my facial session, I asked Megan to get information from Kathy on the agent and the farm. "I want to warn my friends about them," I said. Megan nodded in understanding.
On the same night while at home on the internet, I found out that the Australian High Commission is aware of such scam. They had posted a warning against fruit picking/harvesting scam on their website.
According to them, you can detect a scam if you are promised a quick working visa, if you receive an email (especially one that does not address you specifically) offering you either a guaranteed income or job, if a job advertisement requires you to send a fee to receive your start-up materials, if an advertisement only gives you a post office box address, and if the fruits do not coincide with the harvesting season.
Later that night, I received a message from Megan. Kathy had given her some vague information on the agent and the address of the farm, which appears to be situated in Western Australia. No useful information turned up when I did a search of the agent's company and the farm address on the internet.
Before I called it a night, I received another message from Megan. It read "Kathy said don't let your friend come. Don't want your friend to go through all this."
If you suspect you might have been a victim of such scam, please report to the local police or at www.scamwatch.gov.au.
*All names have been altered to protect the identity of the individuals mentioned on this article.
Malaysians have a tendency of offering too many private information on their résumé without realising that in this instance, less is really more.
It is one thing to write pages after pages of academic qualifications and work experiences that are irrelevant to the job you are applying to, it is quite another when you give away personal details which may do you more harm than good.
Just like how lawyers who often prep their clients to refrain from talking too much while being interrogated by the police lest they give away potentially incriminating information, this is the same.
The more personal details you offer, the more you are exposing yourself to the possibility of being discriminated. A racist employer is likely to toss away your résumé without even looking at your qualifications if he or she knows you are of that particular race he or she finds undesirable. Here are 11 private information you should not give away in your CV:
Why would a photo of yourself be relevant unless it is a headshot for an acting role you are applying to in an entertainment industry? Your photo will also give away clues such as your race, gender and religion and let’s not even start on employers who have the tendency to hire based on looks. 2. Race Apart from the obvious reason of subjecting yourself to racial-discrimination, there are employers who get completely put off by applicants who feel the need to reveal their race and/or religion. They wonder whether these said applicants are hoping that they would be racially-biased enough to select them for being the “right” race.
3. Religion Unfortunately in Malaysia, just your name itself is often enough to give-away your racial identity.
Unless the job you are applying to can justify why it is necessary to be gender-specific, there is really no need for the company or organisation to know what gender you are. 5. Date of birth
Someone said this, “Hiring managers need to know what you can do for them, not how many years you have managed to stay alive.” Unless you really want to be discriminated for your age, this information is completely redundant.
6. National registration identity card (NRIC) number
Malaysia is a country obsessed with NRIC number. Whatever registration forms you fill, may it be for a membership programme offered by a pet shop, or a package you bought at a health spa, you are asked for your NRIC number.
So much so that many Malaysians think it is perfectly alright to give away this private security number to anyone.
Please don’t because not only are you exposing yourself to the possibility of being a victim of identity theft, there is absolutely no need for these pet shops or health spas to have this information.
They have absolutely no right whatsoever to have this private data of yours.
Same as number 1. And frankly, whatever for?
Note: Some studies have shown that taller people are more likely to secure a job than those who are vertically challenged.
Same as above.
Note: The same studies above have also shown how thin people are more likely to secure a job than those who are overweight.
9. Marital and family status
It used to be the case many years ago when employers assumed that a married woman with children could not be relied upon to do the job because “having a husband and children means they are not able to dedicate their lives to the company.”
Things have changed for the better albeit slowly as we see more and more family women in the work force. However, please note that these are some of the information an employer should never ask at an interview.
10. Home address
Well, for the fact that it is private information and it concerns your private security.
11. Political affiliation
Kudos, so you know you are entitled to have a political opinion and association, but does your potential employer know that?
In a country where expression of political views can be so sensitive and controversial, the chances of having an employer who tolerates or understands the importance of your political participation are very low.
Anyway, while everyone is entitled to political association, your political activities should never interfere with your job. So why should this information be relevant?
Finally, you should know that having the perfect résumé may not secure you a job because you can still screw up an interview.
The hiring manager may still judge you unfairly upon learning all sorts of things from you at the interview.
The sole purpose of making sure your résumé is free from any potentially-discriminatory information is to ensure that you are entitled to any job opportunity based on your qualifications and on an equal footing right from the start. There are only three personal information which are relevant and useful in a résumé. They are your name, telephone and email address because the only thing the employer needs to know is how to contact you if they want to interview you. That’s all.
Here are some random life lessons I've learned before hitting the big four-zero. Readers are strongly encouraged to share their agreement or disagreement of them.
Wealth and education don’t buy you class and human decency. A good role model or mentor does.
Love doesn’t conquer all. Respect and compassion do.
If there is one skill you need to master, let it be communication. It’ll get you through many life’s challenges.
Do not advertise how much work you’ve been doing. There are others who are as hard working, if not more. They just don’t say it.
Do not boast about how much you have contributed to society because there are many who have done more without turning it into a Nobel Peace Prize nomination speech.
Do not publicise how much someone owes you. It is utterly distasteful.
Let other people sing your praises. The tune is nicer and it sounds better.
Activists can be the most narcissistic people in the world. Many don’t do it out of altruism but because it makes them look good. You’ll know when they can’t resist publicising their deeds, often in subtle manners.
Do not let your guard down whenever you’re with your boss. Remember, you’re being evaluated at all time.
Losing your virginity before marriage is not the biggest deal. Neither is infidelity. There are far more important things in life to worry about.
Obtaining a higher education is optional. It doesn’t teach you about life and moral.
Practise your religion not out of fear or societal pressure, but out of conviction.
If you haven’t smoked yet, do not start. It is a stupid addiction that only benefits the tobacco companies and the rest of the institutions affiliated to making them thrive.
Do not make others look bad so that you can turn out to be the hero.
Keep your promises. Your credibility depends on it.
Every family has a dark story. Yours is not unique.
No matter how high you’ve climbed, stay grounded. Humility is a virtue that will earn you more respect.
Respect all member of the working class. No one will miss you if you go on strike but they will if the garbage collectors do. Teach that to your children.
Beware of those who talk a lot. Action speaks louder than words.
Not everyone wants to hear the truth. Some truths are better left untold.
Just because someone isn’t friendly to you, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you.
You don’t own anyone, not your girl/boyfriend, spouse or children. Every human being should be free.
Marry someone who understands and respects your individuality. You’ll know if the person allows you to speak your mind and have your space.
Nothing is too silly to learn. Learn as much as possible. All the little skill you think you’re too good for will lead you closer to independence and empowerment.
Don’t bother asking what romantic love is. You’ll never really know and you’ll still be asking after you thought you’ve found it.
Being feminine does not make you a lesser feminist. It just makes you a pretty damn sexy one.
The greatest thing you can give your children is their independence. Don’t mollycoddle them. Let them learn and take responsibility for their mistakes. You won’t be there to protect them forever.
Help your family and closest friends first before you help others. Otherwise, you’re just a hypocrite.
Getting old is a bitch and you never know when it’s going to bite you. Use sun screen and anti-ageing products even before you think you need them. Oh, and eat well and exercise, exercise, exercise.
Never give up on a chance to travel when you can. You may never have that chance again.
Smile a lot. It will get you out of many ugly situations.
Have a brutally honest discussion with your potential spouse. Having children, fidelity, religion, finance and care plan for your parents are at the top of the list.
Learn to say no and teach your children to respect that.
People cheat for many reasons. Often, it’s not because they want to hurt you.
Having strong principles is good, but having wisdom is better.
Don’t be too eager to bad-mouth someone. You never know what the person you speak to will do with the information, or think about you.
The wild animals you see at the zoo, circus or performance show are being taken away from their natural habitat, held in captivity, and used for our entertainment. Stay away from them.
When in an emergency situation, check whether there are any security threat to you first before going to someone’s aid. You’re no good to anyone if you’re injured yourself. They teach you this in first aid.
Private hospitals are not better than public. They only seem better because most people you know do not seek treatment in public hospitals.
Many believe humans are born essentially good. I, on the other hand, believe otherwise because if this were indeed true, the notion of religion would have been unsuccessful and laws, unnecessary.
Religions such as Islam and Christianity purportedly came about because God, sickened by the mess created by human beings, sent His messengers to propagate values to make us better.
Laws on the other hand, were created by societies inhabited by flawed human beings to regulate our behaviour towards one another.
At a focus group discussion attended by Malaysian law graduates, this question was asked, “Would you rape if there is no law against it?”
Unsurprisingly, a few hands were raised, some of which belonged to decent-looking men who will one day defend justice.
Whether we call it religion or law, we can agree that some sort of a moral compass is needed to help us make daily ethical decisions and actions.
As society evolves, we entrust different institutions and bodies to be our moral compass, knowing that in the absence of them, society will become chaotic or despotic.
We elect or select individuals who distinguished themselves for their outstanding character and moral standing to work for these institutions, hoping that they will do the right thing in the face of wrong.
Governments, judges, law-makers, teachers, parents, journalists, religious institutions, and civil society are some of the moral compasses in a civilised state.
The sole purpose for their existence is to preserve the dignity and integrity of human beings, to ensure the betterment of our society. Nothing else.
Perhaps the ones carrying the heaviest responsibility as a moral compass are parents and teachers because they tend to be a child’s main person of contact in the latter’s formative years.
My curiosity of what teachers are teaching in Malaysia led me to look at Moral Education taught in public schools.
The Education Ministry sums moral up in 36 values. Many of the values are extremely good but they become problematic and superficial due to its simplistic understanding and application in Malaysia’s complex reality today.
Here are some examples.
Believe in God is number one on the list of values. All well and good if you believe in a God but if you don’t, does that mean you are immoral?
What good would it be if I believe in God, but I steal from the poor to become rich?
Let’s look at family values; love and respect thy family. How do you think most families would react to having a homosexual or transgender child?
Are they still expected to love and respect the child for who they are? It seems not because Moral Education teaches young Malaysians that they should accept, respect and practise their family traditions and beliefs that have been inherited from one generation to another.
So if a family views homosexuality as going against tradition, homosexual Malaysians should live a lie and suffer in silence in order to uphold moral.
It seems that our Moral Education would have us believe that maintaining family image is a duty far more important than showing love and compassion to our family members.
Another value speaks of patriotism, explained as love, loyalty, pride and obedience towards our King and country. It goes as far to say that we should do everything, including giving up our lives to serve our country.
I do love my country and I will do everything I possibly can to make it a better place. But in reality, the moment I say anything remotely critical of how it is being ruled, I am perceived as unpatriotic because in our national context, patriotisms means blind love.
Kudos to the Ministry of Education for teaching human rights and democracy in Moral Education.
For the former, only children, women, worker, person with disability and consumer’s rights are highlighted while senior citizens, indigenous people, minorities and other marginalised groups of people are rarely touched upon.
Fundamental values such as non-discrimination and equality are only taught at the surface without genuine interest in promoting real understanding of what it means to be fair and equal.
The chapter on democracy speaks of respect for the rule of law and fundamental liberties such as freedom of expression, religion and association which all came with the caveat that they should be practised within the law and constitution.
What happens when laws are made and upheld by bad people?
When we look at the Moral Education syllabus holistically, we will notice that it scratches only the surface of what it truly means to have moral.
My problem with this is not its simplicity because simplicity often serves as a good baseline for further critical discussion.
The real problem is how Moral Education is being taught and how it does not really provide a sincere space for dissenting views, particularly for those who may not conform to the expected norms of our society.
Unsurprisingly, the curriculum has already attracted outrage from certain quarters of the community, accusing it to be useless as they are taught through rote-learning, rather than critical thinking.
Now we have a glimpse of what children are taught in schools, it is not surprising that we are in the mess that we are today.
It seems our nation’s morals are judged and measured by dogmatic and authoritarian views, one which focuses more on obedience, duty and loyalty rather than by the number of moral compasses we have; people who will stand up for what is right and fair even when it is difficult, frightening and unpopular.
For those who ask what is right and fair, and who decides, please look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There lies some of your answers.
A fundamental question this nation needs to ask today is, “Who is our moral compass?”
And more importantly, who, amongst us, will dare to stand up and answer, “Me!”?
When Mom knew I was travelling solo to Phuket for two weeks, she immediately thought my marriage was on the rocks. She gave me a bewildered look when I reassured her that I just wanted some time on my own. After about a minute of silence, she finally said, “I still don’t understand what’s going on.”
I rolled my eyes and gave her the something-your-generation-would-never-understand look, and hoped she would leave it at that. Luckily, knowing too well her disapproval has often escaped me, she didn’t pursue further.
Mom wasn’t the only one who found it odd that someone should choose to travel alone. While in Phuket, I received puzzled looks from the hotel receptionist to the taxi driver, when they discovered I was alone.
A tour guide felt sorry for me when I had to take a photo imposed by the tour company, while everyone else was accompanied by their spouses, children or friends, that he kindly offered to stand by my side despite my polite protest. I now possess an over-priced photo of me and a stranger.
Travelling solo can make you feel extremely self-conscious, because you are convinced that everyone else thinks you’re a loser. I am not sure that is quite true anymore. There was a woman who spent five minutes cajoling her two infant daughters, who had decided to throw a tantrum of epic proportion into silence, while I looked at them with amusement. Embarrassed, she turned to me and said, “Look what I have to put up with.” Another man grudgingly complained about his teenage children, who apparently love leaving things behind, for him to pick up at every single holiday destination.
My friend, Lim, spent three years backpacking solo across the world. She recalled a life-changing incident, while hitch-hiking in Sivas, a city in central Turkey. Determined not to spend any money on transportation and accommodation, she fashioned a tent out of cardboard at a community garden during nightfall. What was presumably an illegal act had inevitably caught the attention of onlookers. But after finding out that she had no money and was leaving first thing in the morning, they left her. Minutes later, a family came and offered her shelter in their home.
Just as they were leaving the garden, the police came after being tipped off by a local. The family stopped her from being arrested, by claiming responsibility for her. They fed her and took her to a wedding the next day.
When asked what the best thing about travelling solo was, Lim answered, “Restoring my faith in humanity.”
Not many of us will be lucky enough to experience what Lim had in Sivas, but for me, travelling solo has forced me to become a better version of myself.
Here are nine achievable reasons why you should travel solo. You’ll see that many of the reasons are inter-connected but for the purpose of clarity, I have separated them.
1. You learn to swallow more than just salt water at the beach
If you are arrogant about your independence and ability doing to do things on your own, travelling solo can teach you a thing or two about humility. There are times when you are forced to acknowledge that you can’t do it all, you’ll need help from others and this makes it a humbling experience.
When I was on a tour to Phi Phi Island, I learned to swallow my pride by asking a couple to allow me to park my bag beside theirs, as I didn’t want my valuables to be left unattended. Although the request was simple enough, it was difficult for me to ask because I felt like a total loser.
By doing this, I acknowledged I am not invincible and accepted that there will come a time, when I will be at the mercy of a stranger’s kindness and that would be perfectly fine.
2. You discover that the only comfort zone you’re in is your cotton knickers
I have been quite happy with a stable job, a few close friends, a husband and two cats but it has made me lazy. Making conversations and exchanging pleasantries with anyone outside that niche, is an insurmountable task. I may be an introvert but I’ve also discovered that I have missed out on some potentially meaningful social opportunities out of sheer laziness.
Of course, it is easy and effortless to socialise with your close friends because they already know you and understand all the nuances that come from your single grunt, sigh or silence. But when it comes to new acquaintances, it is a different ball game. The longer I shun away from socialising with new people, the more my social skills have suffered.
When you travel solo, you’re forced to get out of your comfort zone. You find yourself having conversations with strangers because let’s face it, being alone in silence for a whole day can get pretty boring, no matter how much you love to be alone.
I had an enjoyable time chatting with a guy from Hong Kong on a scuba-diving trip, and my Thai canoe paddler when I was in Phuket recently. I must admit that it was a little difficult in the beginning, as I struggled to piece together a decent conversation but it got better once I got used to it.
3. You learn to economise and discover that money doesn’t buy you the best experience
Travelling solo can be expensive because there is no one to split the cost of your hotel room, transportation and food with. If you run out of money, you’re on your own.
On my fourth day in Phuket, I discovered that my cash was depleting dangerously fast and I still have ten more days to go. I quickly learned to economise by taking the local bus to get around instead of a taxi or “tuk-tuk”. Travelling like the locals also means I was subsequently forced to adopt the local temperament – patience, lots of it.
One day, I waited for close to an hour for a bus to Phuket town. While waiting, I had the pleasure of talking to a Scottish woman, who has been commuting between Glasgow and Phuket to visit his son in Phuket. I gained so much information about Phuket within that hour and in the end, when the bus arrived, I enjoyed another delightful hour of riding through interesting roads which I would have never experienced if I had taken a taxi.
4. You slow down and enjoy being in the moment
Because you are alone, you are not answerable to anyone. You’re free to go wherever you want, and at whatever time you want. You don’t have a child who needs to rush to the restroom, in the middle of a cultural performance. You don’t have to leave the beach early because your husband is not fainting from the heat. Your best friend who gets cranky when everything is off-schedule, is left at home cursing you every single day you’re on holiday.
I really took the time exploring Phuket and it was such a welcoming change, from the hectic life in Kuala Lumpur. It was one of the most liberating moments I have felt in a long time.
5. You welcome your inner-voice and wave goodbye to the gossiper in you
Working in a team and living with someone, can only mean you’re constantly surrounded by noises. There had been times when I felt there were too many noises in my life, which were clouding my thoughts and ability to listen to my inner-self. Travelling solo allows you to get rid of those noises, leaving you completely alone with your thoughts.
When I am with my girlfriends, we tend to gossip or make fun of strangers together. When I travel alone, I am forced to resist the temptation of saying something nasty about someone, else because there was no one there listening.
6. You are amazed by the courage you never knew you had
Lim said that one of the best things about travelling solo is doing the things she would not normally do, when she is travelling with someone else. It is all about stretching that courage bank and crossing boundaries. She has been couch-surfing, hitch-hiking and camping throughout her journey, and she wouldn’t have done it if she were to travel with someone else.
7. You find out whether being truly single is your thing
Spending two weeks alone can really give you a perspective, of how it feels like to be truly single. There’s no one to share that breath-taking sunset you saw at Phang Nga Bay, or the best tom yam goong you had. You have no one to depend on when you’re sick, or rub sun block on your back.
If this is something you can live with when you’re fifty, and all your friends are too busy celebrating life with their families, you’re set to go. If not, you might want to re-evaluate that relationship phobia you always have.
8. You realise your family and friends mean more to you than you care to admit
Travelling solo makes you appreciate your family and friends more. You never thought you would miss them until you’re without them. By my second week in Phuket, I began to wonder why I had felt the sudden urge, to get away from the people I love. Of course, I would never regret my decision to take that trip alone, because I wouldn’t have come to that realisation otherwise.
I know there will come a time when I will feel that urge again, and I will likely succumb to another solo trip because I know it’ll bring me to my final reason.
9. It brings you closer to home. – April 23, 2015.