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An intercontinental trip a year keeps the psychiatrist away



Editorial, Penang Monthly, JULY 2015

We take global communication as a matter of course today. Not long ago, messages had to be written on physical media to arrive only after being carried across oceans and mountains. Since then, we have seen the telegram come and go, and now with the internet and the smart phone, we receive endless news and personal texts as if time and space do not matter.

We even wake up to apps waiting to tell us what we missed while we were asleep.

What this Brave New World costs the individual is being paid too speedily for him to recognize. Not all information can be digitized, but enough can be, and so we like to leave it as that. And whatever analogue data we lose, we take as necessary forfeiture.

Things still make sense after all. But just because something makes sense does not mean it is sufficiently true.

Now, one simple way of throwing yourself back into the reality of time and space—of reminding yourself of the completeness of the analogue world—is to go on a long trip, and I mean physically, and not through a Virtual Private Network or any other electronic means.

An intercontinental trip is in fact a shock treatment, and it starts at the airport. The indignity of immigration and boarding checks is enough to make you feel quite vulnerable. And then comes the reminder of how much like a sardine can an aeroplane actually is. Where are you to stuff your legs over the next 18 hours? Weary and wary looks all round. And like you, your fellow passengers are concerned with defending their space without being offensively assertive.

All this signals that you are all leaving your comfort zone. Getting away—far away—is about undermining the mind-set you have had to assume at home.

My family and I are flying from Singapore to Dublin on Turkish Airlines, recently voted Europe’s best. After settling down and fastening my safety belt, the first remarkable thing I notice are the faces of the airhostesses. What amazing features they have!

Look at that Greek nose; see that confident smile! That other one is definitely a Turk, maybe a Circassian beauty. What confident gaits.

My departure for this year from my provincialized mind has begun.

I am reminded of an earlier trip to Istanbul when I saw how cosmopolitan the population there was; and strangely, this was with hardly any West European or East Asian face included. The world is so much more complex a place than my clever e-devices keep indoctrinating me that it is. There are many cosmopolitanisms!

Arriving in Dublin early in the morning almost 20 hours later, I am met by friendly immigration and customs officers who don’t seem in much of a hurry. No stress. Yet things work fine; no need for the abrasive behaviour needed to get things done, like in Singapore.

Youthful Dublin, capital city of Ireland, a country close to bankruptcy but whose people impressed the world recently by voting in a national referendum to legalise same-sex marriages. And this is an island that has been staunchly Catholic almost since Roman times.
We rent a car and make ourselves at home in the Irish countryside among rolling hills and strolling sheep; and heavy peasant breakfasts and thick Guinness stouts to look forward to for the next three weeks. The summer here is kind this year, although the weather does shift throughout the day. Cool and blustery; and flowers busting out everywhere.

I am rejuvenated by the reminder of the richness the analogue world holds; a most basic fact my digitalized daily life keeps forcing me to forget. I feel sanity return.

Virtual reality is not reality.



About Ooi Kee Beng

Dr OOI KEE BENG is the Executive Director of Penang Institute (George Town, Penang, Malaysia). He was born and raised in Penang, and was the Deputy Director of ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute (formerly the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, ISEAS). He is the founder-editor of the Penang Monthly (published by Penang Institute), ISEAS Perspective (published by ISEAS) and ISSUES (published by Penang Institute). He is also editor of Trends in Southeast Asia, and a columnist for The Edge, Malaysia.


One thought on “An intercontinental trip a year keeps the psychiatrist away

  1. Agree Kee Beng. Travelling outside your own cocoon country is indeed a great relief from the daily stress of bombardment on news of our ali babas, thieves, robbers, mobs and racism. When we meet strangers outside our cocoon, we are indeed amazed by the rich diversity of colors, smiles and human politeness. Momentarily we know that we are not alone, forever trapped in self-imposed political boundaries set by humans. For once, we imagine ourselves in a world without boundaries, of interacting with global citizens of every color, race and religion free from forced segregation. Unfortunately with the ringgit trending lower and lower, such momentarily pleasures and relief will be less and less. We await the day when we can break our self imposed cocoon mentality and celebrate our victory as a global citizen

    Posted by ericgan2 | July 13, 2015, 3:14 pm

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