Somewhere Else I’ve Never Been

I just bought the last of the four internal flights I’ll take during my upcoming trip to Southeast Asia, from Siem Reap in Cambodia to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. I’m going for just a little over two weeks, and I leave on Christmas Day.

Something I notice as I get older is that I vacillate rather alarmingly between wanting safety and stability and wanting adventure and excitement. These swings aren’t very extreme, of course—I mean it’s not a huge leap from my normal rounds between work and friends’ houses and yoga class to my carefully planned and rather sensible overseas excursions, for which I always buy travel insurance and make finely calibrated packing spreadsheets.
I remember, when I was traveling all around the South Island and diving fiords and climbing glaciers, how I would have these very visceral daydreams about caramelizing onions in my very own cookware or about spending as much time on my laptop as I damn well pleased. Now that I sit very docilely at my day job for eight hours a day and have all sorts of furniture to my name, I moon about which temples I will visit and which delicious treats I will eat and which exciting marine invertebrates I will see under which tropical sea.

I had a really hard winter as I may have mentioned once or twice before, and it was just around the time that I was getting into the new house and I was so tired all the time and so cold and I wasn’t really going out or seeing anyone and the tiniest little stupid things felt so overwhelming and strange and difficult. In the middle of all this I basically woke up one day and heard that a couple of friends had scored cheap tickets to Malaysia and even though I have never been anywhere where I couldn’t at least read the street signs, I was all “Okay, fuck everything” and I went and got some (not as cheap) tickets to Malaysia too, just, pretty much, like that.

Me being me, of course, I’d been sort of ruminating on such a thing for a while. My dear friend Katherine lives in Phnom Penh now and I haven’t seen her for something like four years and I’ve been sort of thinking that, hey, maybe I should take advantage of her being in a continent I’ve never been to! And then my dear friend Ed, whom I was just getting to know here in Wellington, moved back to KL, and I started sort of thinking that maybe it would be fun to see him too, somewhere else I’ve never been. But even after I bought the tickets I was busy settling into the flat and then it was time to go to Tonga and though I was turning down various fun New Year’s Eve invitations from various buddies (“Sorry! I’ll be in Borneo!”) I wasn’t really thinking about the trip much.

In some ways I am still not thinking about the trip much, my planning emails and online ticket bookings notwithstanding. You know how that can work, sometimes, like your mind compartments seem to come to some sort of private agreement without really consulting you. One compartment makes the packing lists and the immunization appointments, and another just takes care of the regular stuff like coming up with the hilarious Facebook status updates and topping up the feta cheese supply. If prior experience is anything to go by those compartments will just keep ticking along until I get on the second or third airplane on the way to Kuala Lumpur, where I’ll sort of snort and shake myself and look around the coach cabin and be all Wait What Am I Doing Here?

I’m content with that, for the moment: to think about spending Christmas Day in airports, or to chat with Ed about maybe going to visit his family’s holiday home in Melaka, or to receive emails from Kat suggesting that we go to “a sort of post-apocalyptic French colonial beach resort” or giving me directions to her house in Phnom Penh: “When you get to the Watt (temple) you don’t go in, instead you turn right for about 5 meters then turn left to follow the road that goes around the Watt. You keep going straight on this road for about 1km. You will pass a small beer garden on the right and the road will make a slight curve right then left at a place where there is an empty field with volleyball on your right. There will be another empty field and some construction on your left and then you get to two parallel lines of row houses on your left.“

It’s just all coming together very slowly and quietly and softly, at the back of my mind, without my having to pay it much attention somehow. I don’t even have any expectations for this trip, really—or if I do, I don’t know what they are yet.

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