In the U.S., or even in Europe, it seems a regular rite of passage for one ascending beyond adolescence to take a sort of a roadtrip to find oneself – to know what it is that one can accomplish and live with beyond the comforts of one’s environment. The roadtrip gives one the opportunity to experience different cultures, different opinions, different surroundings, and most of all, the chance to test the limits of one’s endurance and character, and what one would make of one’s resources in situations where your family or usual go-to friends would not be of assistance. In other words, you find out who you really are and what you’re capable of because you’re forced to and with limited resources.
When I told friends and family I was taking a roadtrip around the U.S. for several weeks, the reactions ranged from shock to worry to ridicule. When that failed to faze me, they’d find some logical reason to justify my wanting to go on a solo trip – sans husband, sans friend and sans familiar connections. “Are you alright?” “Is there something wrong?” “Are you going there to look for a job?” “Are you going to look for a boyfriend?” My mum called me several times to ask me what my husband would do for a month in Singapore without me. Well, I guess he has lived decades before he met me; he’d do fine without me for a month.
The reason I wanted to go on this roadtrip to the U.S. is that I’m turning 30 next month. To many of you, it might not be a big deal, but to me, it is a turning point in my life where just months before, about the time I started this blog, I experienced a quarter-life crisis, and pondered seriously the direction of my life as I cross the next lap of this long race. It seemed to me that I have worked so hard all my life – from the time I was a little girl, where I strived to be the best pianist, best student, best at art, best at Maths, best at English, best at writing, best daughter, to when I was a teenager, where I worked multiple odd jobs to be independent from the parochial claws of my family, to when I was a young adult, where I worked backbreakingly to put myself through college, in the hopes that one day I will be the best journalist or writer I could be and that one day, I will be able to study in America, which has produced the “best minds of our generation”, such as Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes, Martin Luther King Jr., Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, T.S. Eliot, among countless others.
But at one month before age 30, this has not happened. Not because I’m not capable enough or that I don’t work hard enough or that I just don’t try hard enough. It took me long enough, but I graduated with a 4.0 GPA and summa cum laude in the top 1% of my class. I have not been able to be the best that I can be, because I’m stuck in a country, where real journalism is non-existent and true professionalism is an industry marketing façade and where education is a farce for middle-class half-wits to feel good about themselves.
Being a writer, I’ve often told others, is not an occupation one chooses. Ask Picasso or Dali (not that I’m comparing myself to those greats) if they chose to be artists. You are born an artist and a writer as much as you’re born gay or bisexual; it is an affliction that one learns to live with and make the best of, like a drug addiction that refuses to go away. It is not a job you can leave behind once you clock out at 6 p.m. It is something you carry with you every minute of the day, something that will not allow you to tolerate injustices and absurdity in society just to earn a couple of bucks and kiss a couple of cozy office asses. So, I’ve said “fuck you” to several bosses, stood up for colleagues and strangers when no one would even utter a word, and gone way beyond my job scope to help others to gain some sort of justice in a seriously messed up material world. You can guess how well that has turned out for me, but I’m just not the kind of person to profit from indifference or acquiescence to another’s discomfort or misery. So, I might die poor, with an idealistic principle branded to my chest, but I will die knowing I’ve been true to myself.
That said, being in materialistic, shop-happy, zero-creativity Singapore has seriously messed with my head. I find myself beginning to wonder about the sanity of my writing mind and the practicality of my lifelong dream of being a writer. Surely, turning into just another rhinoceros in a sea of absurd monotony can never be a good thing. But in Singapore, where can I find the sort of people who abhor the materialism, strait-lacedness and bigotism so prevalent here? Nowhere, except the occasional foreigner who expresses his or her discomfort but goes on to enjoy the easy life afforded a foreigner in foreign/white-talent-pandering Singapore.
So, since it has always been my own personal American Dream to go to the U.S., I decided I should make a trip here and try to find some answers that are not readily available in tight-lipped and harebrained Singapore. And I already know, from mass market and pop culture, so much about America and Americans, and having studied at an American college under American professors, I also know a great deal about U.S. history, American literature, music and the arts. In a lot of ways, people like me inundated by the reach of American cultural hegemony feel very American (just ask the Filipinos). Being an excessively talkative person, I feel more at home in the U.S. where people chat each other up randomly about life, love and the weather than in Singapore, where the national objective seems either to talk about property, kids or marriage, or not to talk at all.
And it is in this spirit of making new connections and friends that I decided to check out Couchsurfing.com and rely on the kindness and friendship of interesting strangers for a worthwhile adventure. From the initial two weeks, I’ve extended my trip to 26 days. The prospect of being able to meet new people and share stories with each other keeps me alert and ridiculously happy every second. Not sure I’d want to come back after that. Haha.
Family and friends have frowned at how dangerous my little adventure to America is. They say America is dangerous and infested with gun-wielding nuts and serial killers. They also say that an attractive young woman should not travel solo and sleep on strangers’ couches in so many cities – one of the couchers was reported to be raped by her host. Well, to that I say, if bad things are meant to happen, they will happen anyway. I think that fear will eat at us (watch Fassbinder’s movie), before anything bad would actually happen. Besides, I’m on Twitter and got a swanky new iPhone, so if I end up in a ditch somewhere, you’ll be the first to know. In that case, adios amigos, I’ve had a nice run. *wink*