A tourist

No matter how much he loves a place, he cannot stay. Because he is a tourist.

Sometime when he has wronged somebody, for example, he has stared at somebody in an unfriendly way, he has cheated on the bus fare unknowingly, he has broken a casual agreement with a fellow traveller, he has replied curtly 'I don't understand' when somebody asked for his help or due to his ignorance of the local language he failed to reply a local person's warm words with warm words, he did not have to beg their pardon. This is justified in a few ways: he does not speak their language; time does not permit; and the wronged local will forgive this visitor afterall. If a smile can make some amend, he would smile. Otherwise, he feels a little bit sorry and wishes the people good luck in his head. And off he goes on.

He does not leave any mark on his trail except the carving of his name on a wooden table. Sometime he feels sorry that he cannot make a friend among the local people. If not for the stamps on his passport he would have no other proofs of his having travelled on this land. The fact that no one on this land will remember him is sometime depressing him. He cheers up himself by thinking that it is a choice between quantity and quality. Given the limited time of the trip, the more he sees and the faster he moves, the smaller and lighter are the contacts he can nurture with the place, the people and the air. A tourist may see in a city more things than a life-long local resident has seen. Difference in taste may be a reason. But it is not always the complete reason. There may be some interesting, famous and beautiful monuments or places in our home cities which we know are really worth-going and yet we have not visited. We might have visited some of them just because we have had friends froms other cities or countries and we took the friends there. Otherwise, we just keep in mind our wish to visits the places. The tourist cannot wait. For him, it is now or never. So he goes great length to see the best things and always arranges his itinerary in a descending order of the places' importance.

The tourist does smile and say Hello a lot on his way. He is also aware that the other tourists he meet on the way also smile and say Hello a lot. In fact the tourists are more friendly than local people. He wonders why and finds his answer. It is because a tourist can afford to smile and greet a lot. Because a tourist will be nowhere tomorrow. He does not expect seeing the person in front of him ever again. He needs not repeat the smile and greeting to the same persons tomorrow for the sake of consistency, nor any time ever. This person will not meet him tomorrow, will not find him moody then, will not realise that after all he is not a pleasant guy, will not be put under a duty to enquire and will not be made guilty for failing to enquire. It is this freedom from obligation and consequence that makes the smiles and greetings so easy, earnest and sweet.

Even regrets are sweet for a tourist. He has regretted many things: that he will not see again the charming and lovely girls he has met, that he had not bought a T-shirt which cannot be bought elsewhere afterward, that an important museum was closed on the only day he visited the city, that he cannot re-experience the satisfying meal, beer and low-fi funky music at the cheap, busy grassroot restaurant outdoor midnight. There are too many things and moments he does not want to let go. But during the trip these regrets are bittersweet, as he looks forward to sweeter things along his way. Saying Goodbye to the person he likes is bitter, but like the ugly duckling in Andersen's tale, it is capable of growing up to a dazzling white swan. The sadistic pleasure of severing an ephemeral but pure friendship makes such farewell so cool and thrilling. Under the excuse 'I must move on,' everything is romanticised. On the contrary, a tourist is seldom upset by little unpleasant things such as unfriendly salespersons, lousy beds, damp and stuffy bus cabins or incorrectly ordered meals. Even if he is upset, it will not last long, because he has more to look forward to and the discomfort can be mellowed with the invincible spell: 'It's an experience.'

Sam Mok