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As Travelers, What Do We Leave Behind?

Dear,

It is Sunday. I’m seated at the open patio outside our room. Tobi is inside, watching something German. Gags, he said. Across the narrow alleyway that is wide enough for a car to pass through, the caged birds sing these lovely melodies. Caged and singing. Odd, like Vietnam’s. The next-door villa’s dog barks. The leaves of the bananas, plumeria and young coconut tree in the yard rustle with the breeze. Widi’s kids are talking about something in their local language. The boy passes by our gate in his bicycle. He gives me this questioning look upon seeing me smiling at him.

This is Bali. Well, at least for me. It is Sunday, and Cadek (I don’t know how to spell her name), won’t be coming over for cleaning. Eletia, our Polish neighbor, left this morning for Nusa Lembongan. She forgot her orange floral dress, which she used to cover her room’s leaking water dispenser. I loved talking with her. Like me, she works online as she travels around. Unlike me, she starts her day early, catches some swells, comes back with coconut in her hand, showers, goes out again with her scooter, and hunts for a cafe where she can work for hours, takes a walk on the beach by sundown.

Tobi just asked, “Love, can you boil water?” It will be our third cup of coffee. I just finished my third cigarette of the day. Tobi is done with his gags and has moved to Red Hot Chilli Pepper. I haven’t done anything significant today. How many tenses have I used in this short 200-word rambling?

Tobi went out of the room and checked something in the kitchen, “Oh, you’re boiling water.” I showed him a photo of Freya, my niece, and her mother. She lost weight, I said. I actually miss my nephews and nieces. It’s been seven months since the last time I was in my hometown. It will be another three months. Or four. Or ten before I see them again. Who knows. I miss the sources of my super hugs and their cute ways of saying Mommy Yaya. I miss Hiphip, the sleek black Cleopatraic queen, who must have forgotten me by now.

By now, you might be wondering what the hell is this entry about. I don’t have an answer for that. Reading a photographer’s profile on LA Times was the trigger. Anacleto Rapping asked his friend and fellow photographer [the writer of the essay], “What do we leave behind?” He is asking from their own context and truths: photography as their medium of choice.

And I felt the need to place the context in where I am today: What do you leave behind, Jona? As a traveler?

This will be a self-induced guilt trip.

I fly twice a month. From Point A to Point B to Point C, the carbon footprint I’m making is pretty high, perhaps higher than my credit card bill. I’m part of the climate change problem. But, but, but. I’m settling down in one place by 2019, and the first plan is to plant all the beautiful fruit-bearing trees of my childhood in my own backyard. Partly because of nostalgia. Mostly to atone for my carbon footprint sins. The low fence surrounding my humble house will be eatable too. You don’t want to know the hours I spent watching interior designing DIYS and gardening videos on Youtube. I just finished sketching the floor plan of my future home. I hope the money needed for its building won’t be that futuristic.

I love meat. Pork especially. I’m unapologetic about that. I don’t buy the dominant, western, and privileged take on the connection of vegetarianism and global warming. In the countryside [Cebu, Philippines], we know where we sourced our meat. They are far from being organic, but they are not manufactured by big-scale meat company. Don’t you care about animals? I do more than I care about humans. But meat consumption is cultural. I’ve seen a chicken killed for my birthday. And for my sibling’s. Have you? They taste fucking good. And so do vegetables. Humans are omnivorous, a science word I learned from fourth grade. The world has changed a lot since then.

My parents know the butchers in town. I don’t like beef. My younger brother’s common-law wife’s father’s business is selling cows. So many possessives there, I hope you don’t mind. It is a lucrative business, I think. But the consumption is somewhere else. Beef is not a popular pick in this part of the world. No forests in town are given up to feed the cows. That’s ludicrous. But so is the American food consumption. I’m just a countryside girl from the Philippines standing in front of the world, asking to question Her and Her humans. 

Tobi just made coffee for us. He went back inside the room after placing my cup next to my laptop. Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s “I Like Dirt” is on. He just posted  a photo of me by the gate of Taichung’s Confucius Temple. I opened FB and browsed through. I saw someone posting about “You Don’t Find Your Purpose—You Build It.” Coincidentally timely. I clicked it and read.

So let us go back to the questions at hand. What do you leave behind? What is your purpose? As a traveler? Errrr, it can be tricky and cliche-laden. At first, as I have mentioned before, traveling can be a medium to find yourself. So many movies are made out of that. White-privileged movies, mostly. Not a fan. Seriously, can we have an Indian traveler exploring the United States or Europe kind of movie? Not some over-privileged humans venturing to the exotic Asia [I fucking hate that word] and demanding that they have the right to own the beach. Oh yes, this is my minireview of The Beach, which I just watched. I still have to watch Eat Pray Love. Eletia found it pretentious. I think I will too. 

It can also touch to another question, what kind of traveler are you? From the context [a word I remind myself everytime I am thrown questions] of a typical working millennial in the Philippines, traveling is an escape from deadlines and stress. And there is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with being a full-pledged tourist. For Eletia, I mentioned her earlier, traveling is her revolution against the 8-5 work routine. At the age of 24, she already suffered burnout and hair loss. She visited her doctor several times for all this work-related stress. She even thought she had a brain tumor because of the chronic neck pain she suffered from. So she packed her bags and booked a ticket to Bali and juggled several jobs online while traveling.  Well, for an eastern European, she is not as privileged as her fellow Europeans. But certainly, she has more privileges than most Asians. Coming from a relatively poor Filipino family, I don’t have the means to just say, that’s it, I’m outta here. I spent at least two years saving for my long-term trip. A pessimist of my own choices and life, I calculated so many risks: visa, race, money, oh money. I have so many issues with money. Just flow with the world and don’t care about it. Shut up. We live in a capitalist world ever since: when the humans realized trading and greed can go together. And frankly, I love paying for my own food, beer, and my whims. If you are a free loader, remember someone else has to pay for you, and you called it kindness. Yeah, it is. Relying on someone’s kindness all the time is pure sloth. You’re welcome.

Traveling can be inspiring. Selfishly inspiring.  It helps me a lot of how my future home will look like. Damn, that door is awesome. Oh, look at the quaint frames.  But then again, I can find most of these inspirations by watching DIY hacks on Youtube. Or by reading good books. I’m pretty sure I mentioned this before. Somewhere else.

But beyond the selfishness involved in traveling, what do you leave behind aside from your burgeoning carbon footprint? And instagrammable photos that scream YOLO or you should envy my life?

Honestly, I don’t know. Traveling is selfish. As a blogger, you might say, you can inspire others to find a purpose-driven life. You can change lives. This sounds like a pitch for Huffington or a travel-related job. Aside from having a self-enriching life, traveling as a game changer can be a pure hype. Traveling is a brand.

What does it do to me? Well, it does have some merits in my own life. I’ve found some poems and stories written in Cebuano, which will be read by twenty people, at most. Am I fine with that? Not really, I want to be read by at least a hundred.

This Sunday rambling is getting out of control. It is three in the afternoon. I’ve watched three Sorry Girls DIYs while writing this. Tobi is now listening to “Torture Me,” while editing our Taiwan photos. I’ve smoked six cigs already. I have a deadline and work test to do before the day ends. I haven’t showered. I smelled like unwashed armpits and vagina.

The Bali sun blazes out. The ducks quack. The caged bird goes on singing. The wild doves keep on “krok krok kroking” in the distance.

Till the next Sunday rambling without the thoughts of SEO.

Thinking of My Hanoi apartment and thinking why I’m writing this,

Jona

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Jona | Backpacking with a Book

Hi, I’m Jona! I write stories and poetry and take a lot of photos, which I’m too lazy to upload. If you want to receive some photos that I don’t share here on the blog, please leave your email here. I’m crazy about cats too. Feel free to browse through BWAB, and I would love it if you say hi! For collaborations, projects, and other things, please email me at backpackingwithabook@gmail.com For more stories about BWAB, check here. Connect with us through

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