How Travel Changed My Life

The Sweetest Smile in Macau

I travel because I want to defy the clutches of time and never ending working schedules. I want to challenge my paltry finances and extend them into something creative, affordable and satisfying expenses in the forms of plane and ferry boat tickets, museum entrances, hotel bookings, local foods, souvenirs, books and what not.

I travel because I want to have a shot with love. If not romantically, then maybe falling in love with new found places will do. I travel because I have known ever since that my soul deserves to be free and happy by seeing and experiencing the ‘world view’.

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Seaside Barra, Macau

Most of all, I travel because I wanted to be kind—this is the most important lesson that travel has taught me. The demand at work is turning me into a machine—my heart, a mechanical clock that beats only for the deadlines; and my head, a vacuum full of static routines lacking creativity and vibrancy. It is slowly eating away my humane side.

In fact, travelling has challenged my heart multiple times on how to be kind and gentle as I meet people, mostly strangers, with different stories written on their faces. One fragment of those beautiful stories is when I was touring in Macau with my friends.

There was this beggar, a Macanese old man, skin wrinkled and overworked, waiting patiently outside the Am Ma Temple in Barra. He sat himself comfortably in the first few steps of the stairs while resting his right arm and back on the pillar of one of the Komainu or guardian lion statues.

He looked neat wearing his purple cap to protect himself from the sun, striped maroon-and-white long sleeve polo paired with sleeveless cream jacket, dirty white to light brown pants with hems slightly folded up revealing a newly changed bandage to cover wounds on the lower shin of his right leg, and a pair of black sandals.

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The old man and his Komainu

Though his bandage was a painful sight, it was even disappointing to see the small aluminium pot he was carrying; it was empty yet there were a hundred of people going in and out of the temple. To most of them, he didn’t exist. No Macanese pataca dropped on his pot, no food for the day or the next. He needed to wait longer under the shade of the temple’s paifang or gate. At that moment, waiting sounded alike with hard work.

I was thinking of giving him some of my pataca because old people will always have a way in my heart. I bled many times before seeing seniors begging in the streets, and Macau didn’t spare my heart. Not that I haven’t seen beggars in the Philippines but I have this soft spot for old people.

For some reasons, I was lost in my thoughts for we were in a hurry; my mind was protesting in urgency to explore the temple. I still needed to see Buddha. In short, I forgot about him; I went on.

Half an hour later, I found myself walking outside Koi Kei Bakery not far from the temple after purchasing almond cookies as souvenirs. I bought two boxes out of curiosity or maybe to look fancy because tourists looked sass when holding shopping bags while travelling.

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Locals and tourists alike flock at Koi Kei Bakery for their goodies.

Once again, I saw the old man who was begging outside the temple heading home still holding on to his aluminium pot but this time with a few coins; those patacas might be enough for his food for the day. He walked slowly with his head down and slumped shoulders due to old age; I suspected that he, maybe, was suffering from osteoporosis.

This time, I took the chance. I ran to him and gave all of my Macanese pataca inside my purse; I still have my Hong Kong dollars inside my wallet, but I couldn’t give them all away. I always knew that people who hated the culture of mendicancy will criticize me but old people, no matter what race, deserve help in whatever forms. You can choose to be kind or otherwise.

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He was surprised and then his face gave off the sweetest smile I have ever seen while I was in Macau. It was even greater than the smile of satiation and excitement from tourists who set foot in Macau for the first time, from sidewalk vendors who sold off their jerky, egg tart, pork chop bun and almond cookie, from middle aged businessmen who won thousands or even millions while gambling in The Venetian’s casino, and many other smiles I have seen that day. His was the sweetest, sincerest and purest, and it was really infectious.

He uttered some Chinese words and smiled again; I couldn’t understand him but I hope he wished me good luck or “you’ll be more good looking” or “you’ll have a happy love life so you won’t be a lonely wolf grazing the world” or “bless you with more meaningful travels” and etc. I was kidding myself but I really wanted the old man go home happy with something in his pot.

I bowed to him and went my way. I was smiling in the outside but the insides of my heart were dying slowly. Believe me, I am not a good person or even rich but old people deserve better and more dignified treatment.

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The gift of travel has taught me a lot of lessons, but being kind is the best one yet. Through travel, I have learned that one individual can share love and hope; not just taking photos and buying souvenirs. Any form of kindness one can afford to give away will add one smile of happiness to the world. When your act is paid with smile of gratitude, it could be the best gift you would ever receive in a day of your life.

So, travel and see the world because places and people will complete your missing character.

#TravelokaPH, #WhyITravel & #TravelokaStories

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