Saturday, December 13, 2008

From concrete jungle to the wilds of Africa

ADELINE LOH tells SU AZIZ the joys and travails of packing it all in and heading for the wilds

WHEN WORK became mundane and routine, Adeline Loh packed it all in and headed out to the wilds of Africa.

Having been a writer for magazines such as Juice and Architecture Malaysia as well as a TV scriptwriter, she said the best thing about stepping out of her comfort zone and into Zambia, Africa, was the “excitement of heading somewhere totally inconceivable”. That was how the book Peeing in the Bush (MPH Publishing, 2008) came about.

Adeline travelled with a friend for “one happy month” in July of 2005.

“It was a good length of time to see the major sights and experience a little of the culture at a leisurely pace,” she said.

“But it wasn’t enough to really explore Zambia, have a more meaningful experience or get a deeper understanding of the local lifestyle. If I had extra time, I would have liked to visit Lake Tanganyika—the world’s longest freshwater lake—in northern Zambia.

“And also explore the western province to catch one of the world’s greatest wildebeest migrations.

“Plus Bangweulu Wetlands—to see the shoebill stork, a rare and weird-looking bird that has a bill shaped like a clog,” she added.

“Three months would have been ideal to calm the annoying tourist in me, so that I could have had ample time to chill out, live like a local and make some Zambian friends.”

The book, however, took a longer time to come into being and that, too, was not without its challenges.

“I took about 2½ years to complete the book. My biggest challenge was myself because I was a perfectionist and I was never happy with what I wrote.

“Every time I read it, I wanted to make it better and soon, rewriting became a never-ending task. I knew that if I continued, the book would never see the light of day so I finally put a stop to it.”

Having to put her—one would guess—active social life on hold to focus on writing required Adeline to be a hermit. “So please excuse me if you had seen me on the street and I had come across as socially inept,” she added jokingly.

Nevertheless, the book is out now and is, to put it mildly, outrageous. Funny too and for those armchair travellers, it definitely will be one helluva ride while living (or reading) vicariously through Adeline’s adventures explained with humorous words peppered with humility and sensitivity.

Curiously, she had survived travelling with a friend, unscathed. How was that achieved? Apparently, not without minor disagreements. “But I’m pretty easy-going so I tend to compromise a lot and make it a point to resolve problems quickly so that they don’t spoil the rest of the trip.”

In general, she thinks the most challenging thing is having common interests with a travel companion. “If both of you don’t have common interests, you are going to have a hard time planning the trip because she is going to want to spend two days staring at paintings in art galleries when you really want to go mountain-climbing.”

All the adventure-seeking is well and good but is there a downside to packing it all in, besides loss of steady income and venturing out of familiar surroundings? “The worst thing is the fear and doubt that creeps in after you’re all packed and ready to go.”

Apparently, that’s when you step out of your dream world and reality slaps you in the face. “You realise you are really going now. There’s absolutely no turning back. So any worrying things that you were cautioned against begin to haunt you. You start to wonder whether Paris is a better idea.”

When she was asked if she would do it all over again, knowing all that she knows now about Zambia and its culture, she replied with a “Hmmm, yes and no!” with a laugh.

“I would do it all over again because it is one of the world’s most beautiful places and you can feast your eyes on the most gorgeous sunsets.

“It changed my life and gave me numerous priceless experiences. And no, I wouldn’t do it all over again because I had put myself in some dangerous situations the first time around. Pure dumb luck was the only reason why I returned in one piece!”

Adeline’s main advice to aspiring adventure seekers is: “Take a risk! It is only with risk that you can experience the true joy of serendipity.”

She strongly believes it’s important to shake things up in your routine once you get the feeling that you have stopped learning and growing. “Going through the motions is like being stuck in kindergarten, doing the same homework over and over again ... at age 30.”

In case you are still wondering why you should pick up Adeline’s quirky book, her reply is simple. “Because my book offers a uniquely Asian perspective on travel in an offbeat, funny and engaging manner.

“It’s different from the typical travel narrative written by well-travelled Caucasian writers. Most of the time, these writers seem very worldly and incredibly courageous to me.

“And how is it they’re never afraid of creepy-crawlies? That’s just not human. So that got me thinking ‘which pampered cubicle worker in the city can relate to that’?

“Plus Western perspectives on foreign destinations can be vastly different from our own cultural viewpoints.”

While you are pondering on reading her book, have no doubt that Adeline is already busy packing for her next adventure.

“By the time you read this, I’ll be disturbing the inhabitants in lovely Central America.” Those poor folk have no idea what they have coming.

Reproduced from the New Straits Times of December 13, 2008


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where is Adeline Loh off to next?

Saturday, December 13, 2008 5:14:00 PM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

She's already off to Belize (formerly known as British Honduras), a tiny country in Central America.

Saturday, December 13, 2008 5:15:00 PM  

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