But travelling in the recent years has started to become something different from that in my 20s. I no longer always want to see everything, although I am still curious about many things. I no longer regret not being able to make to a specific destination or see a particular thing, although I still long to seeing the world beyond my immediate surroundings. I no longer wish to just pass by, although I am conscious that I will always just be an observer no matter how much I try.
I guess I come to a stage when I appreciate slow travel.
It certainly comes handy when it comes to travelling with a toddler. Well, you don’t really have a choice not to travel slowly anyway. It got amplified during our warm-up trip in Auckland/New Zealand last week with Nina who just turned 22 months.
One day we spent more than 3 hours in the Auckland Art Gallery, a lovely gallery, but really one hour or so would have been plenty if Nina didn’t have so much fun.
The thing about a public space such as gallery and museum is that, when you visit these places with a toddler, you discover entirely different things. Instead of spending 10 minutes appreciating the details of some art works, you would end up learning where the fire alarm buttons are because Nina would go straight towards them and tried to press them to see what would happen. I saved the building from being evacuated for three times that day. Nina enjoyed the arrows and lines on the floor more than the paintings on the wall. She also liked the spaciousness of the exhibition hall, as she could run around and play ‘hide and seek’ game. Luckily we were there in a week day so there weren’t many people, so I didn’t feel too bad as the few other visitor seemed to enjoy watching her enjoying herself. When I mentioned this to a staff, she smiled and said ‘oh don’t worry about it. Look, she’s having fun’, and she started to play the game with Nina. Kiwis are some of the coolest people on the planet.
That afternoon at least four gallery staff entertained Nina – one went as far as to showing Nina how to swipe her staff card to open the fire equipment cabinet while we wandered around the room to appreciate the Maori portraits and history arts of New Zealand (which by the way is quite fascinating). She eventually had to tell the intercom that no action was needed. None of the gallery staff showed the slightest sign of being annoyed or disapproval. Next time when I am in Auckland and need a bit of time off, I would definitely go there again.
They say travelling with children opens the door to make connections with people more easily – this was certainly a testimonial of it in Auckland. If it wasn’t for Nina, I wouldn’t necessarily get to have the conversation with the gardener in the breath-taking Mulbrick winery of the Waiheki island (25 minutes ferry ride from Auckland city) to learn about the edible plants and tell her something about Shanghai where she wants to visit. Nina and I were invited to taste whatever growing in her garden. ‘There is no chemical whatsoever in my garden’ she proudly told me. I had never been invited like this before. So thank you Nina.
I happen to have just watched a TED talk on ‘working memories’ and it says that one can handle just about four things at a time, and beyond that we forget really fast. So I guess by slowing down to concentrate, the memories may last longer. Granted, we didn’t get to as many places as we would have gone to pre-Nina in that week. But we saw much more things in the places we did go to with Nina. Even with our hosts, we got to spend much more time wandering around their magnificent garden, enjoying the blossoming flowers, picking up flowers and arranging them in the vase. Or just spend time walking on the stones bare-footed to feel how it felt. Nina also got the honour of eating almost all of the home-grown strawberries that week!
Travelling with a toddler is a like a slow motion movie. Gone are the days when you could fit in 5 different things in a day, and finished it by taking a long distance bus. I loved those days, but I came to really appreciate to slow down, and enjoy the days going by living a bit of local life. Sometimes it’s the smallest things that make the biggest impact to the memory.
I certainly look forward to more slow travels in the next 9 months.