This Friday, I’m flying to Ho Chi Minh city and travelling to My Tho for my friend Nguyen’s wedding.
Nguyen is a very important person in my journey to being an independent travelling woman. I can’t find a right term to describe her impact in my travelling life but the closest I can get is “travel role model”.
Nguyen and I met while I was on exchange at Xiamen University in China. She was in graduate school while I was an exchange student who was supposed to take journalism and advertising classes.
I was the first batch of exchange students at Xiamen University. There was another guy who was in Engineering so we had different classes. The staff at Xiamen University didn’t know how to handle exchange students so they dumped me at the Overseas Education College.
It was a complete mess. Instead of being assigned to real lectures, they expected me to take random classes for the students who were there to learn about the Chinese language and culture. Eventually, I sorted out half of the problem and had to solve the rest of the problem by taking extra modules back in Singapore.
But thank to the mess, I met Nguyen. I took a totally random class on singing and met her there. She was extroverted and joked with the teacher a lot. I’m quite the opposite.
At the end of the class, I invited myself to her dinner. She graciously accepted my self-invite.
Learning how to travel
Nguyen took me under her wing. She brought me around the school, introduced me to the concept of taking naps during the university’s official nap time and showed what Vietnamese coffee looks like.
She told me stories of her travel from the South to the North of Vietnam and other tales. I was amazed that she and her friend could travel on their own across a country! (Mind you, I was 21 years old and knew nothing about travelling without my family.)
During a short vacation week, Nguyen suggested that we visit the historical town of Jingdezhen. I was more than happy to go because I love history.
I also found out that a nearby town has a preserved old Chinese law court. I was enamored with a fictional lawyer in a Hong Kong drama so we made a detour to the shabby court.
After travelling with Nguyen, I was sure that I would be able to travel on my own.
Some weeks later, I set off to Shanghai on my own for my first semi-solo trip. I stayed in a hostel for a night and booked a local tour group that went to the cities around Shanghai. I also bunked at a friend’s place for a few more nights.
At the end of my exchange, Nguyen and I took the night bus to Shenzhen. We took a ferry across to Macau where I took a direct flight back home.
Without her, I would have chickened out and take a flight straight from China back. I had a wonderful time in Macau and it remains one of the cities which I want to travel to again.
Keeping in touch
I’m usually terrible at keeping in touch with people. But somehow Nguyen and I managed to keep in contact for all these years.
In 2009, I had the chance to visit Vietnam because of her gracious hosting. (I found some of the blog posts from that trip.)
During the years, she updated me on her birthday trip to Boracay, her month-long backpacking trip to Europe and other trips. I updated her on my smaller trips and told her about my round-the-world trip. She was very supportive.
We met up again in Kuala Lumpur when she was on a stopover to Thailand. It was there where I met her husband-to-be Michael. The two of them have a meet-cute story that sounds like something from a romance novel about travellers in Venice. <3
Why we need a travel role model
If I hadn’t met Nguyen, I would probably take a longer time to become comfortable with travelling alone. I think it’s important to have someone in your life to show you what’s possible.
Having a travel role model makes it easier to cross that bridge from being scared of travelling alone to being a kickass solo traveller.
For every person who wants to venture into solo travelling, I hope there is someone in your life to guide you.
And here’s a big congratulations to Nguyen and Michael who are getting married on 1 March. I’ll see you both on Friday.
Who’s your travel role model?
PS I’m bringing the cheongsam I made in Hoi An for a wedding. Talk about prophecies.