Months earlier I had plans to travel to Europe with an old friend and her colleagues during the year-end holidays as a refreshing booster and incentive trip as a reward for working so hard this year. Those plans had to be forgone when mum was not keen on the lengthy vacation periods and bore the upbeat enthusiasm of our own ‘family retreat’. I was not convinced by mum’s argument that too long a vacation would only tire us out more than energise us, but I relented. So my personal agenda this holiday was to travel to Bangkok and Koh Samui with three other colleagues (‘batchmates’) for slightly under a week, and a short getaway to Changi Beach Club for a ‘family retreat’.
I must admit that the idea of both these short vacations did not sit very well with me. You must understand that I am a person who loves wide open spaces, mountains, green rolling hills, and cool fresh air, in temperate countries, sheep, goats, cows and horses, sunsets, sunrises, panoramic views of nature at its finest. I try my best to stay away from crowds and built-up city areas where people indulge in hours of shopping as a form of relaxation. Bangkok was not exactly the kind of place for a relaxing holiday. Furthermore, at least one of my colleagues had been (more than) eager to introduce me to the wilder and probably more open side of Bangkok, force me out of my comfort zone, make me try things I may never get to in my little bomb shelter of a life in Singapore. That… really made me uncomfortable because I never believe in the philosophy that we should ‘try everything in life, we live only once’. That is rubbish; we don’t go tempt fate and put ourselves in undesirable situations just because.
Our family retreat to Changi Beach Club was also awkward. Mum has this long drawn out hunch that we need to “detox” ourselves and our relationships with one another, and spend some happy, uninterrupted time away from everything else, and “talk it out” – her exact words. Bam Bam Bam. Put four young adults together and tell them you need to “talk things out” is not cool (ha ha). It is a noble thought, but to explicitly tell us that is akin to telling us that this vacation is a “reflection vacation with this agenda behind it”. Relationships take time to build up and mend itself, and they cannot be coaxed or compelled unless into pretense.
Well, nonetheless, the two trips came and went, and I guess there is some magic in vacation that tinkles its way through the few days we spent with each other. Despite our differences in personality, preferences and opinion, we did not end up arguing or pulling each other’s hair out. In fact, I found that spending time with others away from the usual drones of life does help one to unwind, whether you expect it to or not.
This is along the Changi Beach, when we decided to take a stroll along the boardwalk to our dinner destination. We walked, the five of us together, as a family, and yet strangely and comfortably apart. Each of us visually looking out for one another, but almost as if we worked it out through telepathy, we kept a comfortable distance away from each other, just enough to give us time to think, reflect, listen to the whispers of the wind and the waves, and pray and meditate. At least, I suppose that was they were doing while walking that evening – I was praying and talking to my God, and it was a beautiful evening.
I realised that although we have our disagreements and fair share of fights and grudges, we are not that much different. We enjoy the time of solitude, and we understand one another when planning the agenda for the day. We are not picky eaters, and we are not stubborn and selfish when it comes to making decisions. The brothers giving in to the sisters and the sisters being considerate to the brothers. We had a good time.
I learnt most of all, that our squabbles often begin from misunderstandings and foul words that sting. When the words we fashion against one another sting, it hurts so bad that sometimes, we would rather let the scar stay as a testament to the grief and wrong we bore, than treat the scar and let it heal with love and forgiveness. Sometimes we forget that God’s love is among us, and we should not stubbornly cradle the hurt and anger.
Mum was right. We did have grudges we were bearing against one another, siblings we tried to avoid communicating with lest we end up exchanging poisonous words again, and we did need some time off to spend together. But the “talking it all out” was not necessary. I found that just spending time away from all things together as a family and praying together (for others) is the grandest cure.
Our trip to Bangkok also came to an end. I insisted not to visit any late-night places which might spell a night life too active for my taste, and with the help of the other companions, we steered away from places which might have make myself (or any one on the trip) uncomfortable. It was a fairly easy trip, travelling light and experiencing new sights and sounds which were novel and exciting. In Koh Samui we took our time to enjoy the slower pace of life in the beach resorts, just staring out at the waves, letting the salty winds blow through our hair and sinking our bare feet in the sand.
Again, I think the part of the trip I would remember most dearly is the conversations we had. Back in Singapore our conversations always ended up trailing back to school, the education system and our students. But right then in Thailand, it almost seemed as if our conversations were uninhabited by locations and expectations. During our six hour wait for the terribly delayed train at Surat Thani, we had a candid discussion about values, character, morality and conscience, and education, and this stemmed from homosexuality and social conventions. I would never have expected to ever engage in such an honest conversation about such issues with them. Pity. These are the precisely the issues we should be discussing, not kicking under the carpet.
They are difficult issues, but if we do not face them squarely and address them, we can only learn how to be content with the repetitive and superficial character development lessons that produces little more than mindless drones who are capable of repeating the same textbook notes back at you.
These two short trips have taught me the importance of doing everything with an open mind and appreciate the moments of honesty, friendship and communication we have with family and friends. It is the magic of vacation and the blessing of God to commune and fellowship with others around you during the holidays. :) Happy holidays everyone.