As the winner of our 2012 Travel Writing Scholarship, Hanna traveled to Southeast Asia to explore the culture and traditions of Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.
I feel like I am cheating on Singapore. We just got together and only have a week, yet I have found myself back in the arms of an old flame. India and I have had a love affair for years. Our long distance love kept alive with yearly visits. This year our rendezvous was swapped for Singapore, but here I am eating a curry! Little India is however an important and legitimate part of Singapore, I have no reason to feel adulterous.
Indians first arrived in Singapore in 1825 as convict labourers for the British Empire. Continual migration has meant today they make up 9% of the country’s population. It is not surprising a stroll down Serangoon Road fills my ears with Tamil voices and fills my nose with smells of Jasmine and spices. Locals sell Indian gold, statues of Hindu Gods and Bollywood films.
While this is India, this isn’t the Mother India I know so well. Singapore’s India is a smaller, nicer, finer, littler sister. No screaming car horns, cars have right of way, pedestrians wait for the signal to cross the road! She is cleaner too, rubbish bins where piles of rubbish would be in the subcontinent.
As his name suggests Ugis’s son Rama is a bit of a god, specifically a surf god. The fourteen year old who has been surfing since he was a child has just on won the local surf competition and reckons he can get me carving it up. (Surfer speak for surfing.)
Rama gives me Surfing 101. We lie on the beach pretending to paddle and get up on the board. I actually practiced this at home before I left, even figuring out whether I had a natural or goofy stance. Doing it in my pyjamas on my stable lounge floor unfortunately doesn’t help me much when I am doing it at sea on a moving wave.
Rama hung onto the back of my board, pushed me into the waves and screamed at me to get up, get up. I got up half way, fell off. Got up a bit further and fell off. Fell off, got back on the board. On my last and best wave I hear Rama cheering me on and see him doing the surfers wave with his hand.
If you had told me that I would be surfing and getting massages in Bali I wouldn’t have been interested. It’s not that surfing and massages aren’t my thing, but the impression I had about Bali was that it is all tourists do on beaches is get tans by day and get drunk by night. I had no idea that there was more to Bali than this and feel a bit embarrassed that I hadn’t taken the time to look a little further dig a little deeper to find out more.
Eating my way through Malaysia has been food for thought. I have been thinking how important travel is for food, and how important food is for travel.
When you travel you must eat local food. I’m not sure you are really travelling if you go somewhere and don’t eat the local food. Staying inside a tourist resort eating macaroni cheese – have you really gone anywhere? Food, art, culture, history and people– that’s what takes you to that place when you travel. Food can also take you somewhere when you are at home. At home in the middle of a cold, wet Wellington winter, a spicy Asam Lasksa might just take me back to Malaysia, if I just close my eyes a little I can be back there.
Nothing can beat getting on a plane, train or bus and going somewhere, but for me living in one of the most geographically isolated countries in the world, going somewhere can be expensive and time consuming. When I get home in a few days, I am going to start travelling more, local journeys that take me around the world through food, art, people, culture and music in my own community. I have travelled around the world over land and sea, and will continue to pack up and leave, but my challenge is now to travel more from my home.