Tourist mode was activated the moment I boarded the flight and the passenger to my left – one of my four seat mates – engaged me in a conversation. The other two were lost in their world of newspapers, prayer books, and rosary.
“Ah, you are a tourist,” he nearly exclaimed in surprise, having initiated the conversation with an explanation of why he was traveling. His opening gambit was the plane: it was old; the seat area was too small; and the entertainment system was absolutely antiquated. There was hardly any room to move without hitting the passenger to your left or right. Moreover, I had to crane my neck to watch the inflight movie; after a minute I gave up and returned to reading my book. This was only after Abe, as he introduced himself, stopped talking only to resume our tête-à-tête a few minutes after.

He lives in Las Vegas and was on bereavement leave: his 91-year-old mother had gone gently in the night. Upon learning of the grim news, he quickly booked a flight back to the Philippines, but without his family. It wasn’t a social visit, anyway.

“The second flight to Los Angeles has a bigger and better plane,” he related, “and my sister is on that flight.”

Noting my slightly arched eyebrow, he continued: “Strange, isn’t it? Our bookings are different.”

“Ah, you are a tourist, he repeated. “Galing!” (Roughly translated from Filipino as “Brilliant!”)

“You can say that. School is out so I am a tourist again,” I replied, grinning.

I decided to don my tourist hat this school break to give my teacher’s hat a break for a couple of weeks. It has been more a year since I was a bona fide tourist, traipsing through Ambon, and I was getting restless. It was time to take a break from a routine, which was fast turning into a mundane one, and lose myself in another world. Getting lost is good every now and then. In fact, stepping out of the world of teaching is requisite for those who chose to devote their life and energy to moulding minds against all odds. A teacher shouldn’t lose his/her sanity in the pursuit of bettering the minds of the future leaders of the world.

Being a tourist – a stranger in another land – gives back the worn to the frazzle Ms G (read: me) and ilk whose passion for teaching, compassion for students, and energy in marking voluminous paper and thinking of new strategies to employ in the classroom got depleted to the max, leaving them scraping the bottom of the barrels. 

Being a tourist gives the crotchety teacher a chance to breathe normally, not out of exasperation or anger. It affords her/him to inhale positive energy and exhale negativity.

Being a tourist makes it possible again for the soul-frayed teacher to reconnect with herself/himself and be whole again. Unknown or ignored by most, as a teacher, I exert great energy in and out of the classroom; every lesson, every activity, every paper, and test is done with bounds of energy, both physical and mental, which ultimately get exhausted. How do I go about replenishing my exhausted energy level? I switch to tourist mode because it’s time to rejuvenate to be whole again. It’s time for some major me-time.


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