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When was the last time you did something for the first time?

It’s a question I have often asked myself as I go through the rigours of daily life. Waking up, readying myself for the day ahead – seconds, minutes, and hours already laden with expectations – it’s easy to grow tired without feeling it. Numb – that is how it is; I’ve grown distant to my own feelings and have been desensitized to what life throws my way.

And this is perhaps why visiting a foreign land for the first time had such an impact. Away from everything I have grown accustomed to, and surrounded by the unfamiliar, both mind and heart struggled with pleasure to attach meaning to all that was new – the sights, the sounds, the motions. Lost in transit and lost in translation, I was once again afraid and unsure, symptoms of life that was lost with familiarity and replaced by weariness.

For a few days, I forgot all the complications and entanglements, responsibilities and their accompanying griefs. My dulled senses were finally recharged and I could feel, rather than think about, the moment. The world appeared endless once again, a vast expanse that could be viewed while frantic, and panicking in flight (I’ve taken planes a few times but this was the first I had to seat for hours thousands of kilometers up in the air). I never knew the plainness of the skies – chunks of white clouds flattened across intangible surfaces of the atmosphere, crowned by the auburn layer of a sun we tried to escape from – could be so beautiful.

So maybe this is why people braved their fear of flying. There is an ecstasy in travelling, an adrenaline in the escape, that when you finally land and plant your feet on the ground different from the decades you’ve always trotted in, all the imaginings you enjoyed battling sleep and consciousness was finally manifesting itself: colors, tastes, scents, and textures. Almost otherworldly in its appearance it leaves you in a state of dislocation from reality; and perhaps because it was a dislocation from reality, a spatial machine that extracts you from the present, and spits you out in the wonderful chaos of the unfamiliar.

The bubble I had always lived in was suddenly pierced and deflated. People and places I only once read about finally laid themselves out to be discovered, experienced, and understood. My native self wept as I unearthed the customs and philosophies of the locals; my selfish ways forgotten upon realizing fellow men – workers who left so much of their hearts at home to keep those loved ones alive – endured this strangeness for such great lengths, only to become almost home: familiar but unfamiliar at the same time.

It was a new kind of ecstasy, and its lingering effects have yet to be rubbed off. Coming home, I did leave a part of myself in that foreign land – in some subway station, at some cafe, bits and pieces of myself scattered like autumn leaves in their first-world, well-paved sidewalks. This was the ecstasy of travelling – that no one came out unscathed or the same. Pleasure in pain. Pain in pleasure. Finally understanding that you do not have to be the same forever, and that first time doesn’t have to be the last.

Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.

― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky (Discworld, #32)

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