Wonderlust in these Corona Times

wonderlust - header

wanderlust, n.
“A strong desire to travel”
          — Oxford Learner’s Dictionary

2020 has been, well, an experience. Even for travel-averse people like myself, the four walls we used to find comfort in have transformed themselves into what I’m sure many of you refer to as a jail. In our state of involuntary confinement, we often resort to fond remembrance and reminiscence – naively, distractedly, and probably ineffectively so – in an attempt to bring ourselves solace and comfort. It is thus no wonder that our Instagram feeds and stories began filling up with throwbacks to past travels as we lament an existence now rendered seemingly meaningless. 

But is it really? Are we really deprived of as much as we feel we are when the outside world is closed off to us? What else can we do? 

It is now then that I would like to clarify that the “typo” in the title is not a mistake, but a deliberate decision. In taking the definition of ‘wanderlust’ as stated above, I am adopting the definition of ‘wonderlust’ as ‘a strong desire to wonder’. I wonder why people feel the need to travel. I wonder why wanderlust is taken only as a form of physical exploration. I wonder. 

Of course, travelling has its benefits. Many are of the opinion that travelling gives us insights, life lessons and joys that we miss out on when we confine ourselves to our geographical limitations. It is an easy enough concept to understand: the 10 baht barbeque sticks on virtually any random street of Thailand is a joy we can only wish for in modern Singapore, while the culturally inclined might find themselves abusing free entry privileges at museums around Europe. 

Can we not find similar experiences on our humble island?

I believe that wanderlust ultimately stems from a fundamental desire to gain new experiences, regardless whether for purposes of fun or learning. Even I concede that a want for pleasure and joy requires no excuse or justification. Phase 2 has taken off many of the shackles that we, being authentically Singaporeans, have been complaining about. However, the reality of entering Phase 3 still remains a distant dream. The same can thus be said of air travel, especially when pre-covid rates are estimated to return only in 2024. There are indeed “air bubbles” that Singapore has arranged, but they do not look optimistic. Thailand requires visitors to stay for at least 30 days, half of which will be spent in quarantine, and Singapore’s travel bubble with Hong Kong has been thrown into doubt due to a spike in covid-19 cases in Hong Kong

What then can we do to once again obtain that sense of excitement and thrill? Maybe start looking within – the country, not the self. Being confined to our rooms, or at least now to our country, is not a reason we cannot explore. I suggested earlier that wanderlust takes for granted the physical element. But why should it be limited to that? What about the social? What about discovery? 

What about us? 

Our little red dot has much to offer. For those of us who require “holiday vibes”, there is no shortage of attractions. The Singapore Tourism Board has introduced the SingapoRediscovers campaign to boost domestic tourism. The deals up for steals include staycations for hotels such as One Farrer Hotel and Mandarin Oriental, or offer prices for local attractions such as the S.E.A. Aquarium and Universal Studios Singapore. (If there is one thing I am grateful for in this pandemic it is that the queue for the Cylon ride is only three minutes.) For humbler adventures, you might want to check out some of the secret cultural sites hidden across the island. There is the Thian Hock Keng Temple in Telok Ayer, which is Singapore’s oldest Chinese temple, or the Battle Box, where the British surrendered to the Japanese in 1942. So you see, our desire for thrills need not be satiated only with overseas travel. Singapore may be a small island, but there is more to be discovered locally than we realise. 

Furthermore, ordinary things, often mentioned only in passing, are more than just ordinary. The mind can wander as much as the body does. And there is no better time than now. So, maybe embark on your mission to rate every kopitiam and cafe to find the best coffee on the island (the result of which you too can write an article on, and for which all of Tembusu will eternally be grateful for). Maybe go read the book you bought ages ago and have been meaning to read if not for the stresses of existential pain (we love university life). Write a poem, join a dance studio, find a historical site, whatever you like. Who knows what you might find?

Besides, there are many ways we can still learn from the world around us without seeing it first hand. We can read, we can watch the news, we can discuss and argue, we can do so many things. Admittedly, the experience of learning and observing first-hand the different cultures we expose ourselves to when travelling can probably never be exactly replaced. But in these destabilising times, we make do with what we have. Not all is lost. Personal growth and learning can still occur. The connections we are left with now may seem more artificial than ever before, but that by no means dictates a lifestyle of stagnation for us. 

Our situation is not one borne out of choice, but what choices we have left to help us make the best of our current lives. This might sound like an overused cliche, but if we cannot change our circumstances, then we can only work around them. I hence implore all of you to forget what we have lost due to the pandemic and instead focus on what might be too close to us that we ignore them. Let’s not forget the experiences to be gotten from the ordinary. We discover when we are curious enough to look. We discover, first and foremost, by wondering.

So, in these corona times, and even after, let us remember the wonderlust in wanderlust.

Header image adapted from Simon Migaj on Unsplash. Feature image by Guo Xin Goh from Unsplash.

About the Author:

Sven is a freshman in FASS. He intends to study sociology to better understand his dysfunctional state of being and learn if it is actually a social construct. Occasionally, he also reads and writes, or at least he tries to, as if essays and readings are not enough.