Dear Susan..

How are you? I hope Indonesia is all that you expected it to be.

In case you don’t remember me, I’m the young college student from Singapore you met in the Rainforest Bakery in Penang last month. The couch across looked cozy and you looked like a warm person. When I came up to your table, I had absolutely no intentions to steal you from your kindle. In fact, I had my own kindle in my bag. I had spent my last few days in Penang sight seeing with my friends, and I felt physically exhausted from walking around in the heat. I was not in the mood to converse, and had come to Rainforest Café looking for some quiet time, only to find opposite. And I’m so grateful for that. Talking to you that afternoon changed the course of my trip.

To be honest, I didn’t expect to hear a story too different from what I’d heard in the past few days from other travelers in the area. But when you told me such astounding stories from your work with victims of domestic violence back in Holland and your recent trip to Burma, I felt refreshed. For a few moments, I felt like I was living your life through your stories, and learning from your past.

Inspired by our conversation, I decided to spend my next three days in Penang in search of more conversation. I wandered around the streets of Georgetown’s Heritage city the next day by myself. Even though I had walked these streets before, I saw things I hadn’t noticed before, and I smiled at people more often. Sometimes I’d just wave at them, and sometimes I’d stop to talk to them. Every local and every tourist I met was very different from anyone I knew, and everyone had something new to say. As I learnt about Penang and Malaysia from the locals, I learnt about other parts of the world from other tourists in the area. I realized that although it isn’t possible for me to go every place I want to go, it is possible for me to hear from people who’ve been to these places.

So Susan, I thank you for teaching this young traveler that travelling is never really about seeing monuments and museums. Rather it’s about the people, who can take you miles away from where you are and show you so much more than your eyes can ever see.
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