Posts Tagged ‘solitude’


It has been decades since I experienced having no access to Wi-Fi. This was in Myanmar when I still worked for Frequent Traveller, a now-defunct business travel magazine published in Singapore. Internet was only available in hotels which was equivalent to having no Internet at all because by the time a website loads your bill would have looked like you spent hours on the computer. But I wasn’t really bothered by the absence of Internet. On hindsight, it was a welcomed respite from staying connected and from checking the phone for e-mails. Truth be told, I belong to the old school of communication – face-to-face was how I like interacting with people.

Nowadays, the mere thought of any venue having no Wi-Fi is just unthinkable. Indonesia is just as wired as Singapore down to their respective airports. America is a hit-and-miss; some places have and some don’t. As for Manila, I eschew using the Internet when I’m out for fear of hand phone snatchers roaming the malls. I do make an exception when I’m at cafes. Starbucks, my preferred coffee place, was a tad dark when I stepped into its Matalino Street outlet. Fortunately, Seattle’s was just next door which was brightly lit – it looked “happy” not brooding – but, to my surprise, was without Wi-Fi because of a cable problem, related the cashier. I took it for granted that by the time I returned the cable problem would have been fixed. After all, it is de rigueur to have Wi-Fi anywhere now much like it’s de rigueur for hotels to have buffets and free Internet.

classic mocha by Seattle's Best Coffee

Have a classic mocha By Seattle’s on a rainy day.

classic mocha with cinnamon roll

Pair the classic mocha with warmed up cinnamon roll

Seattle’s seemed unfazed by the absence of Wi-Fi and so were its customers including me. As I watched the rain lash at the cars and the umbrellas moving to and fro within my vision, I noted the more relaxed atmosphere as people marched inside the cafe. When I was there for four hours, people came to have coffee or order coffee and food to-go. The customers were variegated, I noted, as I sipped my classic mocha and bite into my cinnamon roll. Two nuns held my gaze when they entered Seattle’s because I was flabbergasted at the thought of holy women chilling in a café. I noted an elderly woman changed from a dress into a shirt and trouser ensemble, and claimed a corner as her own with a newspaper. A young man came, armed to the gills with his gadgets, and parked parallel to my table; with his paraphernalia were all set up, he was fast asleep when I next peeped. A lone man came and sat at the back of the room to nurse his Americano.  Two healthy cats walked up and down Seattle’s and its neighbour Kenny Roger’s. Two women and their children had a little reunion at one area. A couple came to have Seattle’s skillet meals of sausage and eggs mid-way to lunchtime, and the man almost left his hand phone on his chair which fell out of his trousers that people in the medical field wear. Gone was the busy din of a café that, I realised later on, agitated the coffee drinks. Seattle’s was quiet-busy with upbeat Christmas music playing on the loop overhead.

Conspicuously absent, and not to my chagrin, were the millennials strapped to their hand phones. There was this calming quiet enveloping the café. No one was taking selfies or photos except for me when I discreetly took shots of my orders for my blog. My thoughts just flew here and there as I spent the time organising the new sets of vocabulary for the new semester and discovering what was troubling the governess of Miles and Flora in Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw”.

The feeling I had could be summed up in the Japanese word natsukashii: “of some small thing that brings one suddenly joyously back to fond memories not with a wistful longing for what’s part, but with an appreciation of the good times.” That small thing was definitely the lack of Wi-Fi which didn’t figure during my growing up years. That very thought was soothing because Wi-Fi was never a necessity like air or water. I survived school and first-time employment without Wi-Fi. My existence didn’t revolve around Wi-Fi; my high school friends and I knew what it meant to be in the experience and to enjoy it. I don’t deny that Wi-Fi has its advantages if we’re talking about work, but outside of work is a different story altogether. There is some goodness to solitude in a café with a book and a meal, say, herb omelette with French toast.  It’s an experience these millennials should try.

herb omelette with French toast

Grab an herb omelette with French toast for lunch



The airport is one place that sees the opposite spectra of feelings: sadness in bidding one adieu or happiness in welcoming back a familiar face, a loved face. There is another dimension to the airport. It is a place of solitude particularly when you are a solo traveller. It is an isolation that provides a belated opportunity to simply be and to ruminate. There was, however, a time that being at the airport meant feelings of sadness as I grappled with the closure of one life and the slow process of picking up myself. Those days are gone. These days it gives me the solitude to collect my thoughts, process my feelings, and breathe slowly. It also gives me the much vaunted chanced to read – it is passion that has provided succor and refuge, delight and knowledge.

The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa (NAIA, Terminal 2)


A four-poster is just perfect for days of solitude. (Hotel Puri Tempo Doeloe, Sanur, Bali)

A four-poster is just perfect for days of solitude. (Hotel Puri Tempo Doeloe, Sanur, Bali)

Solitude is an alien concept these days. Let me rephrase that. The concept of solitude has been inadvertently undermined amidst the ubiquity and garrulousness of the world on all of the social media. It has, sadly, transmogrified into the cringing absence of communication because everyone’s busy checking the timeline or posting updates and photos or scrolling through the chat history, if not typing a message or nonsensical comment. Solitude has become isolation in the midst of connections which is strange to the point of ludicrousness.

A generation ago solitude meant getting away from the madding crowd to collect one’s scattered thoughts or piece together one’s frayed soul and tattered confidence. Some left to look for hope and a sense of purpose while others searched high and low for determination and patience. One left the world for a moment that defies measurement. Let’s frame it this way: one filed for an indefinite leave of absence from the world to be whole again.

My journey of solitude begins with a trip to a tranquil place where the only sounds are the morning greetings of insects, chickens, and birds, and vehicles plying the road after the crack of dawn. There are also the silent salutations of the bougainvillea and frangipani day in day out. This is, naturally, dovetailed with a room of my own fitted with a bed that invites and promises deep slumber and days peppered with quiet time.

Walk through the doors to your bungalow of solitude (Hotel Puri Tempo Doeloe)

Walk through the doors to your bungalow of solitude (Hotel Puri Tempo Doeloe)

Walk the pathway and the bungalow of solitude is on your left

Walk the pathway and the bungalow of solitude is on your right

Accompanying me on this trip are mostly books that have been neglected a while. I have this mental list of reading that I need to accomplish but, unfortunately, get derailed with both mundane and important things to do. The books though are literally arranged neatly within my field of vision at my place so whenever I pass by I am reminded of what I have to and must do. I have a self-imposed moratorium in buying books because my situation has become a case of tsundoku, or buying books and letting them pile up unread on the shelves, floors, and nightstands. Apart from books, my entourage also comprises of either my iPad or laptop and mobile phone. The former is for blogging and the other is for texting home.

Reading time

Reading time

The recluse in me needs to get away from the human vagaries that more often than not leave me enervated and almost completely jaded. I need to find stable mental and psychological ground so I can calm the anxieties and fears, and stoke to life the nearly fading embers of hope in humanity and life. Solitude affords me that opportunity even if for a moment.


The Red Dot:  It was just a little less than 10 months ago that I had a flat to go home to after a day at work. I actually had an address to give to friends and colleagues, which wasn’t a hotel address. I wasn’t a nomad wandering the concrete desert strewn with high-rise buildings, malls and apartments. I had a semblance of home to go to – not just a room. But that changed since I arrived back more than a week ago. Now, my address is the same as the next tourist.

 One friend offered her flat but her words “only for a short period as I told you” triggered my alarm bell, making think twice of accepting the offer. I understand where she’s coming from – she’s very particular about privacy and the need not to have any one encroaching in her space. Also, I didn’t want to have to grapple with a sticky situation of feeling like a nomad and having to deal with a sensitive friend’s mood swings when I got home. Walking on egg shells is something I swore to myself I’d never do again. Another friend had his hands tied because he was already playing host to another nomad while and two other friends simply didn’t have a room to spare so I landed in a hotel.

Living in a hotel was my choice for the first week. I called it my re-orienting phase where I slowly switch from tourist to permanent resident. The subsequent weeks would have been my transition phase where I’d have lived with friends for, say, three weeks for the sole reason of not wanting to live alone yet. I wasn’t raised to be a free-loader; I know how not to wear out the welcome mat. Anyway, don’t get me wrong – I’m not an eremophobic. In fact, I like solitude. I like sitting by myself at Starbucks, sipping my green tea latte, watching people and reading a book. I like going to Cold Storage alone to amble through the aisles of vegetables, snacks and whatnot. I enjoy entering the movie house with my shadow, popcorn and bottle of water in hand, ready to escape from reality for a couple of hours.

Solitude, or “me-time” as others call it, is good for one’s sanity, I believe. It’s more than a good – it’s therapeutic – way to get to know yourself amidst the world in disarray. You catch up with your thoughts, dreams and, yes, grievances. You don’t answer to anyone or anything but yourself. You don’t have to compromise for the sake of someone else. You do what you want to do – foot reflexology, walk around in your undies in your flat, watch Cartoon Network all day, eat leftovers, practice yoga, talk to the plants, read or sleep. You don’t have to deal with other people’s angst about not having money after blowing off a month’s salary on a Miu Miu bag or not playing whoopee for more than a week.

Nonetheless, solitude can get overwhelming to the point that it seems to push you out of seclusion, egging you to connect with people and the world. It’s good for one’s sanity to let other people in their world or, conversely, enter the world of people. Prior to returning and leaving to return, my “me-time” and people-time were balanced to a certain degree until my friends left for other countries and the Moor reneged on his promise. Now the lines have blurred and I’m ensnared in the world of a nomad who, like Hamlet, battles the ghostly appearances of the long departed albeit my case is more figurative than literal.

Without the transition phase of my plan, this reluctant nomad is finding it hard to keep from slipping into self-pity and transforming into a batty wanderer while keeping the ghosts of the past at bay. Drifting through life like a leaf riding on the wind, I am making an effort to find a sense of permanence in my new nomadic existence. Inhaling positive energy and exhaling self-doubt and pessimism, I get underway with my usual routine. It begins with a facial.