At an airport security control on the way to visiting family in Dubai, MZ Akil was not sure whether she was a Capricorn or a Taurus.
Traveling to and living in multicultural countries and cities expose you to different people, characters, languages, accents and pronunciations attached to it. People from varying backgrounds come to an understanding based on degrees of familiarity. There are instances though when you think you’ve gone around to know and learn a lot, only to realize that it’s not the case.
A few years ago, I traveled to Dubai on my birthday to spend it with my family. At passport control, I handed in my passport to an amiable local officer who opened it to the personal details page. He scanned it, and after checking the date, he amusedly greeted me with a happy birthday. When I thanked him, he mentioned that his birthday is also the beginning of January, which I thought made him a fellow Capricorn (I’m into astrological zodiac signs; my apologies if you aren’t, but this story is related to that).
Smiling, he asked me if I was a Taurus. I said no, I’m a Capricorn. Baffled, he repeated his question if I was a Taurus. Equally baffled that a fellow Capricorn would not know that early January-born people are Capricorn, I firmly repeated that I was a Capricorn. His expression shifted from friendly to authoritative as he impatiently repeated his question while waving my passport at me: ARE YOU A TAURUS?
Staring at him, I snapped out from a combination of tiredness and jet lag to confirm that rather than a TAURUS, I was indeed a TOURIST. Bemused while slightly shaking his head, he stamped my passport and I quickly made my way to the baggage claim area, trying my hardest best to contain my laughter. In the ladies, which I immediately headed to, I laughed so hard the others were probably thinking I inhaled laughing gas.
There was a time when Filipinos mainly traveled to the United States as most of us have family there. Even traveling within the Asian region is more recent, bar trips to Hong Kong or Singapore where you get sent for business trips or as a company reward if you’re lucky.
The world somehow shrank for us, and now travel anecdotes are no longer the preserve of the well-heeled. They’re of course accompanied by instagrammable images. London, New York and Paris are no longer just the only covetable
destinations; Filipinos have recently been exploring the rest of Europe, the Americas and East Asian hot spots. While Dr. Jose Rizal and his equally privileged cohorts had traveled extensively before our generation, traveling has never been as
accessible to most of us.
COVID temporarily shut the boarding gates worldwide, but the positive (no pun intended) that came out of it was that holiday-makers looked domestically for their breaks as moving around started to ease. There was much apprehension and
reservation in the beginning, but travelers took to packing again as the lockdowns
further encouraged bucket lists and family trips.
I’m still having fragmentary desires to relive circa 1930s Kanoni, Corfu, and write in an unplastered villa by the sea, with running water and electricity.
Without a doubt, traveling shapes you into a cultured and learned individual who come to experience first-hand what you read in guides and binge-watch in travel programs (I watch Michael Portillo’s Great British/Continental Railway Journeys where he travels all over the UK and Europe by train using the English cartographer George Bradshaw’s guide published in the 1800s). What you lose in monetary terms is gained by acquiring a worldly perspective about tolerance, compassion, inclusivity, openness and humility.
On a more practical note, I get to view on the plane the films and TV series I usually would miss out on as I’m busy and most often can’t afford to sit through two straight hours staring at a big screen.
Traveling is inspiring. For the deep thinkers, idea chasers, the people watchers and silence seekers, waiting to board or being physically somewhere other than home is perfect for letting our minds wander. In my attempt to beat my deadline, I wrote this within a few minutes at an altitude of 39,996 feet, onboard an A380 plane, cruising at 550 miles per hour. I couldn’t be more inspired to write about traveling when I was in the middle of it.