Saturday, November 1, 2014

Working to travel and traveling for work

Working to Travel and Traveling for Work

Every twentysomething of this generation is obsessed with travel. In the first few years into their careers, the greatest investment they have made is in the education that comes with traveling and experiencing different cultures and places. Gone are the days when tenure in a company is what peers would admire. In this here and now generation, what is very much aspired for is to see more of the world, or even what lies beyond one’s own city. There seems to be a burning desire in the core of most twentysomethings to get out of their comfort zone, even for just a while, through travel.

The word “budget” is the best friend of every twentysomething traveler - budget airline, budget hostel, budget meal. Roughing it is part of the charm that comes with traveling, as twentysomethings actually welcome the experience of shared accommodations and living off a backpack. All it takes is a long weekend and an online deal to message fellow travel-smitten buddies, pack one’s bags and jet off to the nearest oasis to escape the cubicle nation.

Some twentysomethings work to travel, but what if one gets the chance to actually travel for work? And no, it’s not by becoming a flight attendant.

The first time I traveled for work, I was assigned to a research project where I had to fly to a different city. Although it’s still within my country, it was different enough in terms of geography, culture and pace of life. It was surreal for me because as I boarded the plane, my hand carried luggage was not my trusty travel suitcase that is usually borderine overweight, but a roomy one comprised of my work laptop and files, and I actually had checked in baggage for my stay. Instead of studying the bus route to the city from the airport to save money, I leisurely took a cab and reimbursed all transportation fees. I had a very comfortable hotel room all to myself (television, minibar, bubble bath and all) and did not have to worry about taking the top of bottom bunk or sharing a communal bathroom. Instead of eating breakfast from a convenience store (or skipping breakfast altogether), I had breakfast buffet in the morning, amongst other tourists traveling in style or curious business travelers like myself. It was a very surreal experience for me, because I had that same feeling of “I may be part of something bigger than me” that comes from traveling, but this time around, instead of saving up to travel and glorifying the nomadic lifestyle, being paid to travel to achieve an objective while still being able to explore a different place was a source of accomplishment. It was a different kind of “living in the moment” that usually comes from traveling, since you are where you are because of your talents and skills. And that realization alone seems to be the real destination of this memorable trip I had.

Both working to travel and traveling for work are great experiences to have. Both teach you new things about yourself, stretch your limitations, test your capabilities. Both broaden your perspective of the world and of life.  The greatest lesson I learned from traveling for business is that working hard, being patient, staying focused and cultivating your strengths can literally take you places. I used to think that travel was a distraction or escape from work, but through my experience, I realized that it could be an opportunity because of work.

Soon I will travel just because. Hopefully soon I will travel for work again. But regardless of what the purpose may be, I think that whenever you can, travel. The realizations that travel can bring you about yourself are worth more than that ticket you bought or those extra hours you put in work, as you meet a new and better version of yourself every time you explore the world.   

 Cebu City's Lights, Cebu, Philippines

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Party in Hong Kong

The Party in Hong Kong

Originally published in: We Said Go Travel

Beep beep beep beep beep! The MTR gates shut behind me; my inhibitions waving goodbye from the window of the zooming train. I make my way through the blur of multicolored faces, escalator after escalator, in a concrete underground maze. When I finally reached ground level, the familiar sight of red walls greet me, along with the notorious sign that reads Exit D2. As people zigzag their way into each other, the Chinese characters from the print ads in the subway become a constant reminder of how different this place is from what I am used to.
As my friends and I make our way above ground and take the last step to exit the subway, the humid evening air embrace us as if expecting company. “We have arrived,” my friend said, the twinkle in her hazel eyes unmistakable. We parade into the street, welcomed by the symphony of lights that emanate from buildings, malls and bars just like stars – much like how we feel. Instead of a blare of trumpets, we are greeted by the strangely appealing discordant harmonies of bass drops, car horns, drunken laughter and alien accents. A short uphill trek take us to the heart of the place – a 711 store that both causes and nurses hangovers and broken hearts. And with a few drinks that comprise of a surprisingly pleasant selection of world beers, tropical vodka mixes, mini-wine bottles and the occasional accompaniment of noodle bowls or pork balls, I’m ready for the rest of the night – hopping from one rooftop bar to another, one club to another, one flight of stairs to another, one group of strangers to another, one set or arms to another, one side of myself to another.
Whenever I am here, I forget who I am, or who I am supposed to be. I forget about the things I worry about. I forget about what people expect me to do or how people expect me to behave. I forget the things that hold me back from experiencing life to the fullest. Like my ancestors before me, I just surrender to the rhythm of the night and forget everything but the beating of my own heart.
When you forget everything, all that is left is you. Without the influence of the past or future – it’s just you and the present seeing eye-to-eye. You freely raise your hands up in the air, dance the way you want to, befriend a random stranger, pretend you are royalty, just do what you want to do and feel what you want to feel, even for just a night – spilling over to the next, and the next and the next until life becomes just one grand party you take part of and celebrate.
To feel most alive – that is what freedom means to me. To submit to the senses and silence the mind. To have so much energy to last until sunrise. To be open to all possibilities and not say “I can’t” or “I won’t” because in this place, both do not exist. All that exists is YOU, and that is what matters most in the world.
I found freedom in the rugged rawness that reeks from the streets of Lan Kwai Fong, because this is where, for the first time in my life, I stopped thinking and started being.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

I Had A Quarter Life Crisis After Coming Home From Living Abroad

I Had A Quarter Life Crisis After Coming Home From Living Abroad

Originally published in Thought Catalog
Turning 25 was like emotional limbo for me. For a full year, I felt like I wasn’t the same person as I was in my early 20s, but at the same time I didn’t feel like I was ready to face my late 20s just yet. At 25, nothing felt as stable as I would have liked it to be – I just moved back home after working abroad for two years, I was looking for a job, I was reconnecting with old friends, I was experiencing reverse culture shock. It is a fallacy when they say that things stay the same back home when you move abroad, at least in my case. In many ways, moving back home felt like I took a two year vacation from life, because while I was enjoying my time abroad, time had changed the place and the people I left behind. Some of my friends got engaged, some are now managers and building their careers, some I have lost touch with. Life back home did not stop when I left – in fact, in some ways I felt as if it left me behind. There I was, at 25 and back home, processing the years that were, returning to what was familiar and in denial about the things that are different, uncertain about what to do next or where to be, alternating between bursts of anxiety and creativity as I entertained the numerous possibilities of what life could have in store for me to top that grand adventure of living abroad.
I was still in Hong Kong when I turned 25 in January 2013. I moved back home June of the same year, since I did not renew my contract at the university I worked in. I never expected nor desired to work abroad when I graduated in 2010, or expected that I would stretch an initial nine-month contract to two years. When I left my previous job in 2011 I had no plan of what to do next, and the only job I applied to was my job in Hong Kong. With the help of networks and the guiding hand of destiny, my application process went smoothly and before I knew it, I was flat-hunting in Hong Kong with complete strangers at the time, who are now lifelong friends.
I found myself telling a friend I met in Hong Kong that the greatest lesson you’ll learn from your time abroad will reveal itself not necessarily when you go back home, but when you begin to fill those precious memories with new ones. In my case, after five months since coming back home I was lucky enough to be offered a consultancy project in a local company. Like everything new, it was an adjustment to get back to that 8 – 5 routine in my old-new city. But thankfully, my current job allows for flexibility in the way I do my work. I also have nice coworkers who, beyond our jobs, teach me new things about life simply by sharing about themselves. It is too early to tell if my current job is something I want to pursue long term, but simply establishing a routine back home by committing to a job helped me transition from living abroad to moving back home. Apart from the support of family and friends here and abroad, I have made a conscious effort to get in touch with my uncle who does informal career counseling, and occasionally see a professional counselor to help me stay focused on my goals.Those two years in Hong Kong are filled with such wonderful memories that even the most unpleasant ones now bring a smile to my face. Those two years portrayed everything a 20-something reads and watches online about what it’s like to live abroad – the friends you meet from all over the world, the travel adventures you have, the parties, the crushes, the local culture, the sights, sounds, smells and spirit of a city who’s pulse and energy becomes your own. In many ways the lives of 20-somethings abroad are very similar. It’s a new and exciting stage where you feel and experience the same things wherever you are in the world, but it’s how those experiences change you that makes the difference.
It has been eight months since I moved back home. In between then and now, the answer to the greatest lesson I learned from living abroad was achieving the reason of why I left home in the first place – to discover who I was outside what defined me back home. In Hong Kong, a dynamic and international city where anything and everything was possible, I found the strength to stay true to what I valued, I realized how much I wanted to spend more time with my parents who are getting older, I realized the worth of my relationship, and I finally understood what it meant to invest and sacrifice for the future versus simply frolicking in the present.
My quarter-life crisis was set in the backdrop of transitioning from living abroad to moving back home. It was during this time when life unexpectedly sat me down and engaged me in year long dialogue – it asked me if what I was doing with my time was in line with who I wanted to be, it forced me to move on from romanticizing the past, pinpoint and be grounded in my values and begin my vision for the future. My uncle wisely put that instead of escaping reality by moving countries or daydreaming life away, it was about time I created and built the reality I wanted, right where I am and right now.
I have come a long way since packing my life into two suitcases back in 2011. It is now 2014, and I am now 26. At this point, I feel more at peace with my decision to move back home. From here, at least for now, I will continue to build my skills as I plan for what is next. Nothing is certain (will anything ever be?) but the wheels of life are in motion, and I am driving towards a vision that is slowly materializing in the distance.