An introvert’s approach to travel

Toco, Trinidadwww.hotfoottrini.com

A lot of people think they know me but don’t really know me at all.

People think that because I’m Trinidadian that I must be an extrovert. Firstly, they assume I’m loud.

Not loud or even Loud.

L O U D.

Bubbling with scandalous kya kya kya laughter.

Secondly, they think I must be easy-going, like a coconut tree on a breezy beach.

Thirdly, they think I must be a big time limer (party animal) because Trinidad and Tobago is the home of Kya-nee-val (Carnival, to the more refined folks out there) and that I’m comfortable with friends, acquaintances, and strangers wining on meh bumsee (gyrating on my butt) in public.

Sorry folks, I am none of the above.

I’m one of a rare breed: the introverted Trini who grew up in an extroverted Trini culture. I hate sweaty crowds so you’ll never find me in a fete or chipping dong de road on Carnival Monday and Tuesday. Even though I may seem talkative at a party, the day after, all I really want to do is go to the most deserted beach possible with my husband. No cooldown lime at Maracas Beach for me, thank you very much.

According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a pretty well-known personality test, I’m an INTJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging). INTJs are bookworms by nature. They think strategically and move through life as though they’re playing chess. Sore points: they don’t like small talk and hate the spotlight. Also, they can also come across as insensitive because they don’t allow their feelings to sway how they relate to people.

If you read a lot of travel blogs, there is a prevailing paradigm that travelers have to be super-extroverted and open to anything in order to maximize the travel experience. Travel bloggers, Two Drifters, have challenged this notion and applied MBTI to travelers. They write (tongue in cheek) about sixteen travel personality types.  That’s right: sixteen. And guess what? Not every traveler’s an extrovert.

Under their system, I  could be classified as an INTJ traveler. Here’s what Two Drifters have to say about the INTJ traveler:

The INTJ loves to create ideas and possibilities and then capitalize them. Not content with daydreaming, INTJs know how to turn their goals into reality, and they proceed with ambition and strategy. The INTJ is highly intelligent and insightful. This type works hard to understand everything they encounter, with keen observation and an interest in understanding inner workings and patterns. The INTJ travel personality is likely to be found exploring foreign cultures with depth and passion, moving past “touristy” distractions and seeking authentic immersion.

Spot on.

As an INTJ traveler, I like to quietly observe a place and its people. To do this takes time. I have had my most rewarding travel experiences when I have spent a long time in a country. Long enough to immerse myself and peer under the glittery, touristy surface.

As a student in London, nothing made me happier than walking along the Thames or exploring the city’s dusty churches and cobbled alleys. I would spend hours on my feet, sometimes missing meals because I loved to explore the city alone. I saw a side of London few tourists ever see: a money-grubbing city, a city swollen with cultural diversity, a historical city sometimes struggling to stay relevant in the 21st century.

Introverted travelers also tend to see a country from a different perspective. Unlike many other millenial travelers, my Instagram feed shows what the place actually looks like. You will never find a picture of me in a bikini on a boat over crystal-clear water looking dreamily in the distance while clutching my partner’s hands.

I like to travel (or specifically, live in a foreign place for an extended period of time) because it challenges my natural INTJ qualities. It forces me to stretch beyond my comfort zone. For example, when I’m abroad, I rarely pass up chances to have a genuine conversation with locals. Not questions about what I would like to buy or why I love their country but stuff that transcends the usual tourist/local spiel.

When I spent some time in Japan teaching English, I had a few opportunities to make real connections with strangers. Once, I was buying lunch in a busy bakery and there was only one seat left. A distinguished-looking older woman removed her jacket and motioned that the seat was available.

I was crunching down on a pastry when she just started talking to me. In English. I thought, “Oh well, here’s another Japanese person trying to practice her English with a foreigner.” Imagine my surprise when the conversation took many turns and corners and we ended up talking about waka poetry written about her hometown in Wakayama! If I had just sat there quietly, I would not have discovered a fellow poetry lover in a perfect stranger.

If you’re an introverted traveler, you’re not weird. Celebrate your difference and share how you see the world.

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An introvert's approach to travel

 

 

What it’s really like to live in Japan

Kyoto, Japanwww.hotfoottrini.com

In 2004, I traveled “around the world.”

Literally.

At the time, zipping through six countries in three months seemed incredible. I (obnoxiously) emailed everyone I knew to let them know how amazing it was. I could think of nothing better than tramping across oceans and continents to experience alien foods, languages, and cultural practices. After that trip, I was hooked. What followed was an insatiable desire to see more, do more, experience more.

In retrospect, I realize that my perspective on travel abroad was severely myopic. I only saw the glittering surfaces of the countries I visited. I experienced the best tourist attractions each country could offer, something even the locals could not afford to do.

Working in Japan, however, shifted my perspective entirely.  After a few months’ living there, I got over the initial awe I felt when I had seen my first orange torii gate. Eating Japanese food with disposable chopsticks became routine. After all, you could even get it in the konbini! I began to see Japan for what it was really like. A regular country with regular people doing regular things like going to school, going to work, going to the supermarket, getting sick, relaxing on weekends. I started to bow like everyone else and say strange things like “douzo” “onegai shimasu” “hai” and “daijobou.” I covered my mouth when I laughed and chewed my lunch. I never, ever ate while walking (something I do frequently in Trinidad and Tobago). Slipping in and out of inside shoes was no longer a hassle. I didn’t bat an eyelid when I saw folks eating cake with chopsticks. Seeing people on public transport and classrooms with their faces half-shrouded in white gauze masks didn’t send me into a panic attack.

Trinidadian writer, Sam Selvon, writes in his novel, An Island is a World:

 “People are the same all over the world…It does not matter where you are, you encounter sadness, happiness, love, hate. An island is a world, and everywhere that people live, they create their own worlds.”

Ain’t that the truth?

Travel writer Pico Iyer talks about the art of traveling within instead of traveling without. He says:

“…One of the first things you learn when you travel is that nowhere is magical unless you can bring the right eyes to it. You take an angry man to the Himalayas; he just starts complaining about the food. And I found that the best way that I could develop more attentive and more appreciative eyes was oddly, by going nowhere, just by sitting still. And of course sitting still is how many of us get what we crave and need in our accelerated lives, a break. But it was also the only way that I could find to sift through the slideshow of my experience and make sense of the future and the past.”

So I learned to appreciate the pinpricks of incongruity in my days. Those moments when I felt transient, rootless, ephemeral. Like when students, parents, and teachers called me sensei. Sitting still allowed me to really observe and imbibe Japan, the Japan that doesn’t exist on glossy tourist websites and swish Instagram pics. The Japan with real problems: workaholism, alcoholism, kids with severe behavioral problems, frustrated folks, neglected old people. It is only when we settle down in a corner and think about our experiences that we can truly appreciate them. It is only in the stillness that we achieve those rare moments of clarity. It is only when we slow down that we know where we have been and where we are going next.

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What happens when you live in Japan

 

Bucket list Japan: see the peonies at Yuushien Garden

Daikonshima in Japan’s Shimane prefecture is famous for peonies.

Daikonshima, Japanwww.hotfoottrini.com (1)

Head to the island’s Yuushien garden to see them in all their glory. This garden is kaiyu shiki teien or circuit style: you start at one end and wind your way around many different gardens.

“The most famous place for this spectacle is the little island of Daikonshima (Radish island), in the grand Nakaumi lagoon, about an hour’s sail from Matsue. In May, the whole island flames crimson with peonies; and even the boys and girls of the public schools are given a holiday, in order that they may enjoy the sight.”

Lafcadio Hearn

 

Daikonshima, Japanwww.hotfoottrini.com

In Yuushien, Shimane’s prefectural flower, the peony or botan flowers year round, even in winter, when the blossoms shelter under little thatched roofs.  Spring, however, is the best time to see the garden’s display of floating peonies.Daikonshima, Japanwww.hotfoottrini.com (3)

Even if you don’t come for the peonies, there are lots of koi-filled ponds, moon bridges, waterfalls, moss gardens, and karesansui or dry landscape gardens to keep you interested. The gardens are arranged in such a way so that you can enjoy different perspectives of the environment. This garden aesthetic is what the Japanese call miegakure or “hide and reveal.”Daikonshima, Japanwww.hotfoottrini.com (4)

In a country often battered by natural disasters like tsunamis, typhoons, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes, the Japanese garden symbolizes how the Japanese try to control nature. It’s a place where they can contain their chaotic world and present it in a stylized form. Most importantly, the Japanese garden remains a therapeutic place that stills the Japanese mind racked by daily anxieties.

Photos: © Live Lyfe Photography

Would you like to visit Yuushien? Read more in my Savvy Tokyo story here!

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Deep travel: 5 books to help you understand the Caribbean

Think the Caribbean is just a sun, sea, and sand playground where rum flows like water and sunsets make you cry?

Trinidad and Tobagowww.hotfoottrini.com

Think again.

As a traveler, if you really want to understand the region more deeply, read Caribbean literature by Caribbean authors. Dig below the Instagrammable surface of street parties and deserted beaches and you’ll find a very strange place. It’s a place where many were forced to come, whether as slaves or indentured laborers.  Here are my picks to understand the people, the landscape, and culture of the Caribbean.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Wide Sargasso Sea tells the backstory of Bertha Mason, a minor character from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. In Jane Eyre, Bertha is portrayed as Rochester’s mad first wife from the tropics but Rhys goes deeper. She tells the story of Antoinette Cosway (her real name) and Rochester’s inability to understand his Creole wife and the tropical landscape of the Caribbean. Here’s one of my favorite quotes.

 “I hated the mountains and the hills and the rivers and the rain…I hated its indifference and the cruelty which was part of its loveliness. Above all I hated her. For she belonged to the magic and the loveliness.”

Mimic Men and A Way in the World by VS Naipaul

VS Naipaul is an award-winning writer who often effaces his Trinidadian roots. Some may say that Naipaul has a nihilistic vision of the West Indies. Others say he’s spot on. Take it or leave it, here are my favorite quotes from two of his best books.

Mimic Men

“To be born on an island like Isabella, an obscure New World transplantation, second-hand and barbarous, was to be born to disorder.”

“We pretended to be real, to be learning, to be preparing ourselves for life, we mimic men of the New World, one unknown corner of  it, with all its reminders of the corruption that same so quickly to the new.”

“I have also hinted at the easiness with which on the morning of arrival I saw through each porthole the blue, green and gold of the tropical island. So pure and fresh! And I knew it to be horribly manmade; to be exhausted, fraudulent, cruel and above all, not mine.”

A Way in the World

“We didn’t have backgrounds. We didn’t have a past. For most of us the past stopped with our grandparents; beyond that was a blank…We were just there, floating.” 

“But we go back and back, forever; we go back all of us to the very beginning; in our blood and bone and brain we carry the memories of thousands of beings…But that would only be a fragment of his inheritance, a fragment of the truth. We cannot understand all the traits we have inherited. Sometimes we can be strangers to ourselves.”

The Sea is History by Derek Walcott

St Lucian-born Derek Walcott was a literary genius who wrote several poems and plays. His work reflects razor-sharp insight into the region’s divisive colonial and postcolonial past. Although it’s technically not a book, here are a few lines from one of Walcott’s most famous poems about Caribbean history.

“Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?
Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,
in that gray vault. The sea. The sea
has locked them up. The sea is History.”

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey

Roffey is a Trinidadian-born writer based in the UK. Her descriptions of Trinidad and Port of Spain, its capital city, are faultless.

“How he loved this city. Port of Spain. Poor blind-deaf city. It spanned back, in a grid, from a busy port and dock; worn out now, ruined and ruinous and suffering, always suffering…parts of the city still renewed themselves, rising up against the odds.”

“George liked it so, that this island was uncompromising and hard for tourists to negotiate. Not all welcome smiles and black men in Hawaiian shirts, playing pan by the poolside. No flat, crystal beaches, no boutique hotels. Trinidad was oil-rich, didn’t need tourism. Trinidadians openly sniggered at the sunburnt American women who wandered down the pavement in shorts and bikini top. Trinidad was itself; take it or leave it.”

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Liebster Award Love

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Guess what? I got nominated for an award! I know it ain’t no Nobel Prize but the great thing about the Liebster Award is that it’s given to bloggers by bloggers. Liebster in German means “sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome.” It’s basically a pay-it-forward movement that gives new bloggers the exposure they crave and asks them to pass on the love. Thank you These Traveling Feet for nominating me! Here are my answers to those questions you asked.

1.What made you start your own travel blog?

I decided to start my own travel blog after a trip to the UK for a uni reunion/ friend’s wedding. It was the first long-haul trip I had taken in years since I had returned home after living in the UK for four years. The trip made me remember how much I loved traveling and sharing my stories with anyone who cared to hear them. I thought a blog was the perfect platform so I started Hot Foot Trini with Blogger in 2011. I then decided to shut down the Blogger website and migrate the blog to my own domain and website in 2016.

2. Were you raised to travel? Or did you decide to be different and explore the world?

Travel was never a big thing with my family but my parents encouraged me to read. A lot. Reading inspired me to travel across borders and time and paved the way for me to actually travel when I had the means and money to do so.

3. What/Who inspires you to travel the world?

I like the challenge of travel. It forces me to wake up and really live. It taps into my survival skills and most of all, my common sense.

4. If you can be anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

I would go to Iceland because it’s one of the most literate countries in the world and Reykjavik is a UNESCO city of literature. I also love the wild, open landscapes of that country. I could definitely be inspired to write more there.

5. What is your favorite travel essential?

My travel journal.

6. Is there a city you’ve been to but hate?

Hate is a very strong word. Initially, I was intimidated by Kolkata because my husband and I arrived in the city in the early morning. It seemed empty and desolate. However, when we started venturing outside over the next few days, we realized that it wasn’t scary, just different, and we soon adapted to the Indian way of doing things.

7. What is the best accommodation you’ve ever stayed in?

The best place we ever stayed was Kuniga-so on Nishinoshima in Japan’s Oki Islands. Our room was so clean and overlooked a beautiful port. The food was also really fresh and we got to see fireworks from the hotel during our stay!

8. And the worst?

The worst was in Kolkata. The staff clearly did not know we were coming. When we arrived at three in the morning, the gates were locked and we were shuffled into a sunless room that had not been cleaned. It definitely did not look like the picture on the website. There was also a tiny window with a huge, noisy generator in front of it.

9. What is the most amazing thing you’ve seen while traveling?

I’ve seen too many amazing things that it’s hard to narrow it down. Honest.

10. What is your least favorite thing about traveling?

Travel delays and wait times.

11. Do you have any tips for new bloggers?

Don’t write all your blog posts like personal diary entries. Dig deeper and write about topics and issues you face during traveling. It makes for better reading.

Right! That’s done so now I’m going to reciprocate. It’s all about the journey so here are my 11 questions to my nominated bloggers: Travelgal Nicole, Thrifty Family Travels, Jayraini, Sindi’s Suitcase, Little Discoveries, and The Bohemian Style. To read more about the initiative, here are the official rules regarding the Liebster Award 2017.

  1. What was your longest travel journey abroad?
  2. What was your shortest travel journey abroad?
  3. Describe your worst stopover.
  4. Describe your best stopover.
  5. How much was your cheapest flight ever?
  6. Describe your worst flight ever.
  7. Describe your best flight ever.
  8. Who is your best layover buddy?
  9. Describe your best experience with immigration/border control in a foreign country.
  10. Describe your worst experience with immigration/border control in a foreign country.
  11. How many flights have you missed?

Looking forward to reading those answers!