When people travel, they often associate it with taking a vacation, or a break, or a short business trip. If travel is meant to be a momentary hiccup in the timeline of our lives, then what does it mean to truly live in foreign place that's not our own? Would you call expats who have lived abroad for five years "travelers"? Traveling is more than a physical relocation - it's a mental state of pursuing constant novelty, of seeking new experiences and cultures and languages and cuisines.
Recently I spent a weekend in Indonesia, one of the most beautiful countries I've visited. Driving throughout the "warungs", we spotted lines of fresh laundry drying, toddlers eating yogurt, and shopowners chatting and sitting. It's strange to witness daily lives of the locals, because what we observe is novel. In this sense, we romanticize what we observe. A motorcycle ride seems exhilarating to us, but instead it's mundane and functional to the locals just trying to get from one place to another. I feel somewhat isolated and detached from the locals as a foreigner that expresses anything more than stoicism. However, we travel to see the world and as travelers we are fundamentally set apart from the locals. We trek through the local territory and chase the same sunrises as the locals do. We travel for our own satisfaction in pursuing new experiences that keep us excited about life rather than trying to blend in. Travel is self-replenishing in this sense, and that's how I felt after this trip. I've debated with myself internally on living versus traveling. How can we extend the satisfaction we feel from traveling to how we live? Do we have to be in a drastically different place in order to fully "travel?" I don't have answers to these questions yet.
Singapore means something strange to me. I wasn't born there, nor raised there. In fact, my childhood was spent 8800 miles from Singapore. I have spent seven months out of the past three years in Singapore, surprising myself by somehow finding a way back there every summer. My arrival was accidental in 2014, and what I discovered was a utopia that made me independent and happy. It was as if I ran far away from Los Angeles, far, far enough that the string holding me back stretched until it snapped. And now I'm free.
I was talking about this recently with a nomadic friend, and how each city needs to meet your "happiness factors" in order to make it livable for you. Not just visiting, but actually for living and working and breathing. The caveat was finding out what makes me happy, and in that search, I had to observe what it is about Singapore that keeps bringing me back.
Seemingly small things that locals overlook was important to me. For instance, a really convenient public transportation system made all the difference. My social life in Singapore was much more vibrant than in Palo Alto because of the sheer mobility of getting around from event to event. This mobility enhanced my personal life, as well as professional opportunities.
Defining these happiness factors - mobility, social life, a city's energy, etc. - is a mental checklist I go through with each place I visit. I know I'd like to live in many different countries in my life, and defining what I'm looking for in each sets a good foundation to begin my many, multiple, vibrant journeys.