At the time, I must say that the more I travelled, the more unsettled and unmoored I was; and I was nowhere near finding that equilibrium or pivot on which I would find proverbial BALANCE.
The truth is, I stopped travelling because my Mom asked me to. One morning in New York City, while in the midst of writing the next line to an un-finish-able novel I was working on, my mom called me long-distance and posed THE question:
“My dear, don’t you think it’s time to come home and get a job?”
The truth was, I had already run out of money some months before; and I was trying very hard, with a career counsellor, to get a job in New York City’s very saturated cultural scene. I could’ve decided to go on a while longer on claims that I was “finishing my novel.” But I decided that it was time to move on, or rather, to move home.
It was the best decision I ever made.
I found a job in the museum world almost immediately – its a world I’ve always loved. In fact, I started work three months before I actually moved back from New York for real.
I immediately re-connected with old friends and family; and discovered again, the pleasures of company and conversations about life, fueled, of course, by wine. =) I’m no teetotaller.
And best of all, I found out that I COULD hold on to a full-time job, and STILL achieve my dream of travelling, (self-)discovering and writing.
As you, my readers, all know, I recently published my very first book – The Romance of the Grand Tour: 100 Years of Travel in Southeast Asia – a gorgeous, coffee table publication that was based on that first year of travel I did (after I returned to Singapore) to the major port cities of Southeast Asia, and that features my writing, quite a bit of my photography and my own collection of archival postcards, maps, prints and other ephemera.
I did this – I’m proud to declare – EVEN as I was working full-time.
So here goes some conclusions I’ve made three years after my return home to Singapore:
Fact #1 – If I did not return home to Singapore, I could never have written this book and gotten this book published. Singapore was the only place I could’ve have done this.
AFTER returning to Singapore, I finally discovered what it is that I was meant to do – my PURPOSE. And this purpose was to travel to as many of Asia’s cities as I could to learn more about their histories, cultures, and peoples; and in so doing learn more about myself and the state of being concurrently Singaporean, Southeast Asian, Asian and Global.
And I was very very fortunate that there was a publisher here who was willing to take that journey with me, and an old friend who was there to introduce me to the publisher; and that there were heaps of passionate, talented and driven people that I had the privilege to know and to work with in the course of putting my book and its book launch together, some of whom I have the double privilege of being work colleagues with!
Fact #2 – If I did not have a full time job, I could never have finished this book project and gotten it published.
In fact, the full-time job gave me the DISCIPLINE and the RESOLVE to manage my time as best as I could – “If I don’t do this tonight I won’t have time to get to this tomorrow!” – such that I could balance both my professional duties as well as my need to write and create and to explore. It took many late nights – but it was worth every minute. I became more efficient in my writing – able to write good quality stuff in increasingly shorter periods of time. I honed my craft, so to speak.
In New York City, I had ALL THE TIME in the world, and so, stripped of any limitations, I was unmotivated to finish anything. There was no innovation and creativity. No craft and discipline. I aimed for perfection, not understanding that at the end of the day, it is the DEADLINE that is more important when you want to accomplish something.
Fact #3 – If my mom hadn’t called me that morning in New York City, I would not have DRIVE nor PURPOSE nor BOOK.
So in hindsight, I have to thank my mother for finally losing her patience and (nicely) asking me to come home; and the gentle but firm insistence thereafter on my getting a proper job, even as she listened to and supported everything I did to achieve my dream to be an author.
[Mom: “Where are you off to again?” Me: “Manila.” Mom: “Why???” Me: “Oh it’s for my book.” Mom: “Oh that’s alright then.” No questions asked, even though I was months ahead of securing a book contract.]
To quote her remarkably pragmatic words of wisdom, which she continually dispenses to me, even NOW as I work towards my NEXT book project:
“My dear, of course you should keep writing books and aspire to be an established author; but please also keep a job. Any job.”
Thanks Mom! I will. And thanks to everyone right here in Singapore, without whom, I would’ve been unable to achieve this Dream – this Romance of a Grand Tour of the fabulous Port Cities in Southeast Asia.
Here’s to finding one’s purpose and achieving one’s dream, right here at Home.
[Incidentally, my book, The Romance of the Grand Tour – 100 Years of Travel in Southeast Asia, is available in all major bookstores in Singapore, Southeast Asia and Hong Kong. It will be available at Waterstones in London from late June. And it is also available now on amazon.uk and bookdepository.com]