Happy New Year from all of us here at Travelogue by Travitas! There is no better way to kick off 2015 (or ease that ever-present wanderlust) by reading about others’ travels. Have fun reading, and continue indulging yourselves during the festive period!
Travitas has always advocated integrating travel as part of our lifestyle, but the general consensus is that this is easier said than done. In this two-part year-end special, we will explore travelling as a lifestyle from both the individual and global perspective. “Self-Realization” proposes some baby steps to begin integrating travel into your day-to-day life, while “Global Perspectives” features the voices of individuals who have either uprooted themselves to live overseas or have travelled widely.
Following our previous instalment on taking baby steps towards becoming a traveler in your own right, we move on to feature 5 individuals from varying backgrounds, each with vibrant experiences of their own. In today’s post, we feature Singaporeans who have ventured overseas. Also look forward to Sunday’s post, where we will feature individuals who have lived in multiple countries!
Understanding local societies
by Rayner Teo
I’ve been told that I’m not a good tourism ambassador for Cape Town, the city in which I’ve lived for the last four months. And for good reason. Though I have enjoyed Cape Town’s proximity to nature, spectacular hikes, and pristine beaches; kayaked with whales and dived with sharks; visited the best city markets and farms and had some of the freshest produce and pastries; and partaken of the great locally-produced wines at prices even a student can afford, these once-in-a-lifetime experiences have been accompanied with a cognitive dissonance that I can’t fence off from the rest of my mind.
This cognitive dissonance stems from the social marginalisation evident throughout Cape Town, which persists even though legal discrimination under apartheid ended twenty years ago. It is most obvious in most upmarket restaurants, cafés, bars, and department stores where a largely African service staff serve an almost-exclusively white customer base. But the same marginalisation also permeates Cape Town’s efforts to rebrand itself and gain global visibility, if one looks hard enough. Cape Town, the World Design Capital of 2014, still exhibits the same racial residential segregation designed by the urban planners of apartheid. This spatial exclusion was reinforced by the ‘slum’ clearances that the government undertook when it hosted the World Cup in 2010. Stellenbosch, a quaint European-looking town an hour’s drive outside of Cape Town in the heart of South Africa’s world-famous vineyards, still wrestles with alcoholism as a result of an outlawed—but quietly condoned—system of paying farmworkers with wine. And many conversations I’ve had with South Africans have led them to express concern for my safety as I conduct research around some of Cape Town’s rougher neighbourhoods.
As a traveller, what should one do? As a student in South Africa for the year, I’ve had a little more time to think about this than most. There exist well-meaning initiatives for conscientious tourists, like the “township tours” into Cape Town’s poorest areas. But these can easily degenerate into demeaning spectacles which do little for the residents’ agency or dignity. These are not the solution; neither does labelling them ‘poverty tourism’ really do justice to the fact that they do open horizons for many tourists from richer countries. Instead, I’ve come to the conclusion that a single tourist’s fleeting engagement with a society of 50 million people will not dramatically help or hurt anything. Rather, South Africa’s problems are for its own citizens to solve. The country is comparatively well-governed, while NGOs and community media organisations are helping to hold the state accountable. Most importantly, South Africans of all backgrounds are genuinely proud of their country and eager to show it off to visitors. As guests in foreign countries, being mindful of the imperfections of the societies we visit is a practicable minimum bar we ought to expect of ourselves, that nevertheless respects the fact that we remain outsiders relative to a system we can hardly begin to comprehend.
The periphery meets the centre (20/11/2014): Residents of a Cape Town informal settlement meet to discuss the outcome of the court hearing they just attended, concerning their right to housing, minutes before bursting into an impromptu toyi-toyi (protest dance) as they head home. (Source: Own photo)
Rayner graduated from Yale University in 2013 and has been studying in South Africa for the past four months. He will be returning home in June 2015.
Overcoming language barriers and lifestyle differences
by Low Jian Liang
Guten Tag! My name is Jian Liang. I am currently studying Chemistry in Berlin, Germany. It may not be a mainstream option, but it was nonetheless one of the best decisions I’ve ever made! German universities have negligible tuition fees of up to 800 euros per semester (I pay 300 euros, and this comes with a semester ticket for buses and trains in the city/state). Some of these universities are pretty well-known too. One can surely expect an affordable and good education.
The biggest hurdle living in a foreign land, of course, the language barrier. It is not an easy feat picking up German. I had to do a year of extensive German courses in Singapore during NS and another half a year of intensive ones in Germany itself. Nevertheless, it was a fun journey learning the language. At that time, I totally immersed myself in the language by, for example, by listening to German news, watching German Youtube videos, and communicating in German even when people tried to switch to English. When I passed the language test with the best possible grade, I felt that my hard work totally paid off, and that I was ready to officially live in Germany.
At least for me, life in Germany is simple compared to that in Singapore. Buses and trains have fixed timetables and are usually punctual, people are straightforward (eg. if they need a seat on the train, they will ask for it, otherwise it’s not your duty to give it up). The almighty bell curves don’t exist in the German education, as least until graduation. Personally, I enjoyed life in Germany much more than in Singapore.
However, this does not mean that I do not miss Singapore at all! Certainly, no matter how good my life here is, I will get homesick sometimes. Besides my family and friends who I miss dearly, the one thing I can’t forget was the food in Singapore! I constantly crave for Laksa, Chicken Rice, Kaya toast and the huge variety of international food that is available and affordable in Singapore. Germany do have delicious dishes as well, but they are somehow never enough to replace the food that I grew up with, which is probably why I have already lost 20kg ever since I flew over!
Living in a foreign country has its pros and cons, and I am happy that I decided to come over to Germany. It is a great experience all in all and I do not, and will probably never, regret the decision.
Shopping for winter wear in Hanover, Germany! (Source: Own photo)
Jian Liang is currently a sophomore at the Freie Universität Berlin. He began German lessons after junior college and moved to Germany in 2013.