Since y’all pretty much grounded now just like me, here’s a shot at some travel nostalgia inspired by the wild and wonderful reality that is my life as a global keynote speaker 😀 I have started wondering whether I actually miss it. Maybe that’s the insanity settling, or it just goes to show how adaptable us humans really are. Anyway, here goes.
Hotels aren’t my second home. They are my first. Bouncing the globe a good 250 nights per year makes me what us innovation folk call an extreme user of the hospitality world. Living outside the box therefore means living inside one, for the most of it. I love a good hotel, it’s a nomadic mini-civilisation in a cultural microclimate of mutual interests. Trouble is, the inherent draw of swanky hotels comes with a natural drawback: staying in them all day makes one feel like missing out. It always happens that I find myself exploring the neighbourhood on foot.
So it was one recent rainy recent evening in Saigon. I’d ventured out of my deluxe panda enclosure of a suite at the fabulous Park Hyatt Saigon (thank you Hyatt for that incredible upgrade) in search of nom nom. Ten minutes of wandering and a pathetic google maps query for ‘food’ later, I found myself in a restaurant hawking creative Viet cuisine. A loud party of foreigners and I were the only guests. I should have seen the signs, but I’m the adventurous kind. So I started ordering dishes with interesting photos, which inevitable led me to try a skewer of stuffed snails. This turned out to be an awful mistake.
I love snails the way Italians and French prepare them, but my restaurants’ take on this very classic dish worked out less desirably. I followed up my first bite with an immediate web search on what I’d just ingested. Unfortunately, it made me realise I was chewing on the endlessly bland body of a water snail. Water snails are possibly a good idea for a home aquarium, but their appeal does not necessarily extend into culinary dimensions.
As I read on, I make the pleasant discovery that water snails are typically infested with parasitic flatworms, causing major waterborne illness in subtropical regions. Human infection happens through contact with infested waters, or ingesting of undercooked snails. Such are the wonderful moments where one deeply regrets having left the capitalist paradise of a top-tier luxury hotel.
Keen to read up on the nasty possibilities dormant in what I’d just eaten, I learned that snail parasites take control of their host by hacking into their central nervous systems. This turns an innocent (tasteless) mollusk into an evil Zombie snail, at the mercy of its resident.
The plight of the Zombie snail made me reflect on some of the relationships my friends had reportedly been in, and extend that metaphor to some of he world’s top politicians (without any of it generating enough distraction to take my mind off the nasty surprises nature has for life on earth). If you feel like a Zombie serving your quarantines or SHNs, I hope it’s not because of deliberate culinary adventures. It might just be your siblings, or parents, or (consider this!) – yourself. But hey, the world is upside down. Toilet paper is a luxury and who would have thought you’d miss those annoying colleagues and bosses? Perhaps the plight of a zombie snail pales in comparison, or maybe you feel lucky COVID-19 is keeping you safe from including snails in your diet, you eternal optimist! Either way, like all those times something weighs down your mind, I had to do something proactive to feel better about the situation.
This inspired a visit to the pharmacy, and got me thinking about how much we romanticise being adventurous and leaving our comfort zones. The more we get around this planet, the more we realise that travel isn’t about charting the unknown. It’s got little to do with eating the longest caterpillar, or taking selfies with the highest waterfalls. Travel is about absorbing the atmosphere of a place and culture, and understanding oneself in this new context. It’s this self-discovery that holds a mix of pleasure and intellectual contentment for us. That makes me confidently skip the Zombie snails in future.
It also makes me feel like there’s a massive silver lining in how we live at the moment. I think there’s so much to discover in and around us even if we are in familiar territory. In many ways, a change in perspective is as immersive, if not more enlightening, as travel itself. This reminds me of the keycard pouch at Alila Seminyak in Bali, which features a quote reading ‘paradise is a state of mind’. Or, as a wise man said, ‘if you’re by yourself and feeling bad, you’re obviously in bad company…’ Escaping the mundanity of routine living is hardly enough when we keep our minds rigid. Equally, substituting your daily grind for monster snails is likely to thrust you from an unsatisfactory state of boredem towards an equally fruitless sentiment of regret. FODSS (fear of doing stupid s***) is as problematic as FOMO.
So, there you have it, paradise is a state of mind (I’m not entirely sure why an upmarket hotel whose entire business model relies on people believing paradise is a place would print such a thing on their keycards, but the mystery intrigues me.) Point being, craving travel, adventure and more social interaction right now is natural, but a dead end. Much better is stopping to smell the flowers (just leave the snails alone, please.)
So why is there Swiss bliss in the title? Well, I was really looking forward to my skiing trip to Switzerland right about now. I could have written this from the slopes, except of course I wouldn’t have, because I’d have been busy taking selfies and beating my personal best descent times. Not to mention that the deal I secured was super hot, possibly once in a lifetime. No biggie.
Did I just contradict myself?
Stay healthy and safe!