Mary PW Chin
To be out in the world, to be free.
This site compiles some of my footprints along the sands of time. I have neither wish lists nor tick boxes to be in this country or that city. I just happened to be there — setting off, settling in and bowing out gracefully whenever called. Some stints as brief as a day or two; others up to several years. Some are documented here; still many are treasured in secret.
Asia & Australia
➀ Ipoh (Perak, Malaysia), where I went on a
horse-back for the first time.
➁ Penang (
Malaysia), which is more cheerful and care-free than many other parts of the peninsular. There is unceasing fireworks at Straits Quay.
➂ Java (Indonesia), where people hold true to their traditional genteel manners. Indonesia is not Malaysia; the two are mutually exclusive though mistakenly and randomly interchanged by foreigners.
➃ Bangkok (Thailand), where the people's love for their king is unseen elsewhere.
➄ Chiengmai (Thailand), where the Jesuit fathers run a
retreat house. People go debug their lives at Seven Fountains.
➅ Singapore, where every kid I met wore glasses.
Perth (Australia), where there was an inmate in Freemantle Prison who could memorise and duplicate keys by sight.
➇ Bangalore, Ooty, Kodaikanal (
India), where mountains are majestic, cows are programmed and drivers are the most skillful. Here is also where I had a memorable encounter with the deer.
➈ Mumbai (India), where the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) is centered with a number of staff that dropped my jaw.
There's a school of thought which sees only the present moment; drop the past and the future and we would attain full, enlightened awareness. That school of thought I can't refute. But I'm also tempted to propose a symmetry: if I am able to consolidate all that I have been and all that I shall ever be, at this very moment I live my life to the fullness.
Japan & Korea
➀ Tokyo area (Japan), where I had a
➁ Nara, Osaka, Kyoto (Japan):, where
deer and I sat side-by-side for over an hour.
➂ Hiroshima (
Japan): , where I walked from the railway station to the Memorial Park. Not recommended because that isn't really walking distance.
➃ Seoul (
Korea): where I met one of the most courteous people.
➄ Jeju (Korea): one of the most scenic I've seen. Like, like, like!
England, where I landed with a scholarship by the Association of Commonwealth Universities to do a Masters in Medical Physics — a turning point in life I am eternally grateful for. Saddler's Wells was my favourite dance theatre for Flamenco festivals.
Wales, where I landed for a PhD studentship by Cancer Research Wales. Acknowledgments in my thesis remain valid till this day. I learned about contours from the horse back around Brecon Beacons every Sunday.
Scotland, where my trusting nature was put to test and I had a close brush with danger. Everything else was great, transport and nature were superb.
Sweden, where I had the awakening to architecture and quality of life.
Denmark is yet another place to get fishy.
Germany, is where I discovered a lot of science.
➆ Netherlands, where I lodged at an art gallery.
Belgium: where I found a doggie's toilet.
➈ France: my favourite is
Aix. Lyon is the only place where fashion dolls grinned at me through the glass window of the shop. Thich Nhat Hanh's monastery, Plum Village, is not far from Bordeaux.
Ⓐ Switzerland, where I got a rail pass and criss-crossed scenic routes for eight days, without knowing I would one day live here. I did, four year after the tour, to work at CERN — the largest laboratory in the world. Switzerland is also where I joined the queue to share a meal — a transformative experience.
Ⓑ Austria, where puppets threw me a surprise.
Ⓒ Hungary, where history doesn't feel ghostly.
Ⓓ Italy, where I stumbled upon the Roman ruins whilst on a random walk; if I had a hundred jaws I would have dropped them all in awe. Assisi is where a live baby was presented to the crib at Christmas Mass. Perugia is a town modelled to a multi-tier wedding cake.
Ⓔ Spain, where I went to see John Paul II. Sevilla was where the seed of Flamenco was planted for me in the years to come.
Ⓕ Portugal: yet another place to get fishy. Most of the time, salty. This comes in the form of a bakalau.
➀ Montreal, Quebec, Toronto, Ottawa (
➁ Washington DC (USA), where a
puffer fish popped out from the neuroscience textbook.
➂ Chattanooga (USA), where I
➃ San Francisco (USA), where the
Malaysian's Bersih movement is flaming.
➄ Reno (
USA): no, I wasn't there for the casino.
& DTES (Canada). Vancouver is yet another place I visited without the faintest clue that I would ever relocate there; I did, twelve years later. DTES stands for Downtown Eastside — the place for a lifelong lesson on life.
➆ Rio de Janeiro
& Sao Paulo (Brazil), which is worth a highlight here.
My photography is hesitant if not reluctant. I still do not know how to ask plants, animals, landscapes and monuments for consent to be snapped this way. I tend to chicken out and archive those moments in the heart instead. One definite hindrance is that I still do not know how to digitise or record smell.
I travel as a clean civil servant, supported by public transport, a pair of feet plus a map in the hand. No booking or hailing of cabs. Not only for the principle but also for the touch. Buses and trams give us the local touch of the local charm of the local pulse. Cabs don't; cabs are more or less similar everywhere.
I avoid hop-on-hop-off tour buses, tour coaches and guided tours. Door-to-door escorts spoil the wonder and the awe. The only exception was during my visit to the
favela in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil); the tour guide was herself from the favela. Instead of filling our time with tales about people's concubines, she gave a testimony which made me choke. Our resonance made me choke when she said, "All we need is an opportunity. An opportunity is all that we ask for."
I'm always ceremonious about the approach, be it an opera house or a waterfall. It is in the speed and the relative height we draw ourselves close to the site. Also the angle we subtend. Motored vehicles are usually too hurried for an appreciative encounter. Approaching by foot is the best.
I do not pack my schedule beyond my capacity to absorb and to digest.
I make no analysis or conclusions claiming to know the local scene until I have lived among the people for at least a year.
Not speaking the language is not an issue. It always works from the most critical to the most benign moments. In
Aix-en-Provence (France) one of the chanting priests left his seat, came down to point to me where they were on the hymnal! I chuckled. What a genuine gesture of hospitality towards a stranger. For once the uninvited attention did not bother me.
I never pose by the Eiffel Tower or any of her peers or rivals. The many moments are neither captured in selfies nor posted on Facebook; they are archived in my heart. After all, missions are meant to be transformative. We are not supposed to come back the same.
One of my physiotherapists at Fatimah Hospital (
Ipoh, Malaysia) noted the birthmarks on my sole; she foretold that this child was destined to travel. No subscribers in the family of course; how could that be. I lacked every credential. Anyone but me. Like fellow kids of a similar profile, I was to stay at home, not even to lurk around town.
Well, as it turns out, I didn't have that much of a chance lurking around town. I ended up spending 15 years away from the continent. First, as a student. Later, as a British, Swedish, International, and Canadian civil servant. Travelling and speaking at conferences became part of my duties, which I gladly accomplished with minimal strain.
Here is the testimony: there are no credentials for travelling. We just need to be called. If called, we travel. If not called, there is then no need to — and we won't miss that awful lot. The worst travelling can do is to divide those who can't from those who can. Travelling must not be an expression of wealth. It's association with glamour is most unfortunate. The worst travellers can do is to set that elite target and make others yearn for it, setting a false standard of wellbeing. Travelling is not a must-have, as much as a television set isn't but has somehow got into mainstream psyche that it is a basic need.
The making of
The seven maps shown on this page originate not from Google Map. I plotted them using Python Matplotlib Basemap Toolkit, which is open source. Colour-coding is of the
ETOPO Global Relief Model, where blues indicate ocean depths and above-sea-level lakes, greens and browns indicate dry land.