Travel as a Journey of Transformation- My Quest from Asia to South America

I dedicate this piece to Bryan and Mafey  And of course to Jessica for giving me this inspiration

“You start dying slowly if you do not travel. You start dying slowly if you do not allow yourself at least once in your lifetime to run away from sensible advice…”

–Pablo Neruda

It started with a wish.

At the beginning I didn’t quite know what I was seeking. All I know is I was fed up with China and wanted a huge dramatic change.

So fed up that I moved into a country and a continent that I’ve never been to before. Hence I found myself at the end of the world in South America that is Chile.

And you know my basis for moving here? It was seeing the Latin American culture that I saw on T.V. and movies.

It was only when I moved here that I realize those South Americans that I saw on T.V. –those happy carefree Latinos dancing on the streets and shaking their maracas were in the Caribbean- 10 hour away by plane. And South America Chile had the most far removed image than what I had seen on Latino TV.

Dancing in Carribean Cuba

It didn’t help I came here in the middle of winter where everyone was bundled up. Few people wore bright colors- they prefer somber black or grey. Also people were quite cold outside – remnant of post dictator Pinochet era.

somber black in Santiago


If you were to ask me why I came here then, I still can’t give you an answer. I’ve stopped looking.

Later I realize I came here to focus on a writing career not learning Spanish. This I could have done in my own backyard. But the romantic in me wanted to start it in a foreign country. I dreamed of being a Hemingway in exile, writing by the light of my dusty garret. Instead I found myself on my PC surrounded by co-workers hunched on their Macs working for a start-up.

Not exactly a lofty garret but at least I was creating storiesemails and product descriptions.

My South American journey was characterized by a lot of ups and downs.

When I first started settling down, I pushed through boundaries of loneliness and battled nights of depression. I had pulled out the rug of comfort from my own feet. I didn’t have the tight-knit support system I took for granted in China and the Philippines. For the first time, I really was alone here. Everything was different. I’ve never been so far from Asia before and I had to learn and start anew again. My whole world was shaken and I had to rebuild it piece by piece.

Not knowing where we are, what to eat, how to speak the language can certainly make us anxious and uneasy. But anxiety is part of any person’s quest to find the parameters of life’s possibilities. – Reclaiming Travel

The first two months of moving to a new place are always the hardest. But once you push through that, you find that you’ve established for yourself a routine and start to feel “settled”.

When a hero in his epic quest finds a new village, he immediately seeks a new trade while perhaps waiting for news or biding his time before the next adventure. So did I and this opened doors to meeting many interesting characters and ventures. I met many mentors and acquired new skills. I also stumbled upon something totally exciting by accident. Where it would lead me professionally, I don’t know yet but the knowledge on what it can do fills me with anticipation and I can’t wait to see where that door might lead.

This is the paradox: we set out on adventures to gain deeper access to ourselves; we travel to transcend our own limitations.- Reclaiming Travel

I set out on a quest on an unknown land, not knowing where it will take me, not knowing what will happen. I guess you could say I was a fool for chasing a dream that turned out not to be what I wanted (I wanted maracas not empanadas, dammit!). But I did grow and learned a lot here and pushed through my own limitations, jumped out of my comfort zone. It also gave me something else that I hadn’t expected – another door to another dream. This time less foolish, less reckless.

Travel is a search for meaning. But in the end our wandering is meant to lead back towards ourselves. –Reclaiming Travel

I also didn’t realize I would miss Asia a lot. Living here in Chile made me realize how much I miss good cheap delicious food and cheap airlines. I also didn’t understand the depth of how far I really am from my family and friends till I came here and living literally at the end of the world.

But it did provide a lot of insights of my own limitations and what I can and can’t do. It made me realize lifestyles around the world are different and that I’m more likely suited to others than the one here. Which brings me to the decision of closing my South American chapter and deciding to return to Asia.

This is my quest. My journey and it is almost over.

It’s like I had a brief affair with a sizzling hot South American salsa dancer. She sauntered up to me with her bright red lipstick and swept me away from what was comfort routine drudgery. She and I danced all night and it was passionate, sensuous – dangerous even but I know I can’t keep it up for long. At the end of the day, I can’t wait to go back to my domestic Asian housewife where I know delicious steamy wontons are waiting for me.

The sails are poised to change direction, ladies and gentlemen. This time it won’t sail on the wild erratic winds of change. It would not wander. It would have a compass and a direction on where it would go. This time back to home, back to Asia. Herein lies the paradox of setting off on your journey, for in the end you return to where you started.

photo by 365daytumblr, worldmusic and cnn

See where it all began


North Korea is the Real Matrix- the DPRK tour

So You Want to Move to South America?


13 thoughts on “Travel as a Journey of Transformation- My Quest from Asia to South America

  1. outonvacay says:

    Kate, this post has a lot of heart in it.This reminded me of a story of the young boy in the Alchemist – to find the treasure we have to make a journey because it will prepare us to receive and identify it when all along it is where we started.I hope to bump into you in this sunny side of the globe flavored with steaming rice and wantons.

    Btw, I love this quote you have in your post – Travel is a search for meaning. But in the end our wandering is meant to lead back towards ourselves.

    God Bless, Kate!

    • Kate says:

      Thanks a lot! Now that you’ve told me, it does sound like The Alchemist. I should re-read that again. I love that story and recently did a presentation about Coelho in Spanish (ang hirap!) Yeah, I needed to go on a far journey in order to realize it all becomes full circle in the end. How funny how life works.

      Well, we might see each other sooner as I’ll be closer in Southeast Asia. Hey, if you’re back sa Pinas, give a holler. I’ll send you a PM. Needles to say, I can’t wait for satay and lechon. 🙂

      God Bless you too!

    • Kate says:

      yup, nothing offers color and excitement to your life like life abroad. In retrospect, I’m quite happy I came here- it’s so different and I know I’ll never have an experience or live this long in South America again

  2. Warlito Boondocks says:

    Ah, a Hemingway in exile . . . I guess when you become a stranger, you free yourself from the expectations of familiarity. I may not be a traveler like you but I definitely can say that traveling is the best way to learn and experience life. When you return to our beloved pearl of the orient, I will welcome you with open arms, fellow Asian who does not know kung fu . . .

    • Kate says:

      Ah Warlito, yes. that’s one perk off being a foreigner in another country- expectations. I just love the feeling I can be whoever I want to be not this person who is expected to mold into this shell. I shall miss that feeling. Anyway, I do look forward to visiting your lair once again for some pancit palabok and some goodies. I cannot wait for our feasting and karaoke again.

  3. Scribbler says:

    I hope you achieve your dream of a ‘Hemingway in exile’ wherever that may be. Funnily enough I’m in Asia, Indonesia to be exact, and although I’ve been here for a couple of years, my first foray into Asia from England was definitely a culture shock too! But I love it (and must admit hate bits of it too, mainly traffic and pollution) and wouldn’t change my decision to ‘ignore sensible advice’ for anything.

    • Kate says:

      Thanks for dropping by Scribbler. Funny, now that you mention Indonesia, I currently have a freelance writing project tied to that country now. I think I feel like a Hemingway in exile sometimes except with a computer- it’s not romantic but it’ll do. Yeah, sometimes we do need to throw away “sensible advice” every now and then. In your case, it worked out whereas mine didn’t but I’ve had such a rich experience here that I do not regret it.

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