Knowing Where You Belong

I’m on the road again after taking nearly six months off from travel. The energy simply wasn’t there any more. I needed a break more than I realized. It scared me. Travel defined so much of who I am. Would I even know myself without it? I’m glad I took the time to recharge. The draw for adventure and new experiences is back. I feel alive again. 

This morning I ventured out with the sunrise. It’s been a dozen years since I last been to Singapore, and five since South East Asia. The heavy humidity welcomed me back like a long lost relative with a warm embrace. It was like I’d never left. 

One thing you notice when traveling so much is the smells. Every place has a different smell. Australia smells like eucalyptus and the sea, Germany smells like pine trees, Peru smells like sweet roasted corn, and Singapore smells like noodles with the scent of orchids and grass after a summer storm. Smells, like a good photo, touch a part of your memory so deep you didn’t know it was there. I walk further following my nose, catching sight of a local market. The smells of morning markets and frying noodles floods my memory so vividly I can remember the last dish I ate in Singapore over 10 years ago: peppered crabs, served underneath a white tent , cicadas chirping so loudly I could barely hear my companions speak. 

I sit for my first meal free from the sterile confines of airports and airplanes. I select wonton noodles from the faded signs advertising all sorts of exotic broths and tantalizing rich dishes. An elderly woman plucks a handful of noodles and drops them into boiling water. Her hands are so gnarled one could mistake them for the chicken feet lightly frying behind her. She adds a few wantons and a splash of hoisin sauce before throwing them into a wok, skillfully tossing them before serving it to me with a smile so warm that it makes Singapore’s climate seem downright chilly in comparison. I hand her my money, less than the cost of a cup of coffee back home, and take the meal to see by the water just as the sunrise spills over the horizon.

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The noodles are delicious. I savor each bite, washing away the remnants with clear fish broth soup. The meal, and even my surroundings, are not the things of instagram fame. If I look a little too far to my left, the ocean view is spoilt by large tankers wallowing through the harbor. If I turn the other way, cars and motorcycles buzz past. None of this matters to me. This place is for the locals. They are without pretense. And all the better for it. 

I finish my meal and stretch, kneading muscles knotted and tight from hours in the airplane. I’ve been on the road less than a day, but I feel my eyes have widened, my senses have grown alert and my pulse racing. The euphoria of exploration overwhelms me with a sense of peace and understanding. For some, home is a place. For me home is a feeling of belonging. And I belong on the road.