The Beauty of Learning About Southeast Asia

My love for Southeast Asia started in high school when I had the privilege to compete and win an ASEAN Quiz Show hosted by a private college in my hometown, and along with the trophy are brochures, maps, and information materials about ASEAN and Southeast Asia. I became passionate with learning more about Southeast Asia and fell in love with the region, real hard. Since then, I vowed to visit all ASEAN countries. Nine years after casting that dream in stone, I already visited all of ASEAN. Life is sweet!

Southeast Asian region refers to the eleven countries Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor Leste, and Vietnam. However, if you are referring to ‘ASEAN countries’, we have to eliminate Timor Leste because the organization is still working out on its membership. Southeast Asian region may have been united by geography, but the countries are totally different politically, economically, and socio-culturally. Having the privilege to travel around the entire region not only expanded the knowledge I had from high school about Southeast Asia, but it also made me appreciate the beauty of my own country and how unique it is compared to the beauty of each Southeast Asian countries.

Because of my love for Southeast Asia, I took Political Science for my Bachelor’s Degree so that I will have the chance to learn more about the region, most especially its government and politics, and how they compare to that of the Philippines. I went on to pursue my Master’s Degree in International Studies wherein I took cognate classes on Southeast Asian Studies to learn more about the region. Currently, I am teaching courses on Southeast Asian/ASEAN Studies in college and graduate school levels and put up a social media microblog where I post my photos and travel stories about Southeast Asia. Since then, people have been interested about my travel stories and learnings about the Southeast Asian region.

I have a long share of my stories from my travels around Southeast Asia, but here are some of them: Brunei is a small and peaceful country and has a lot of cosmopolitan people with high respect for their religion at the same time. Cambodia may be considered by the United Nations as one of the poorest countries in the world, but it is very rich in culture and kind-hearted people. The Indonesian island of Bali is where I witnessed the best sunset of my life, with people trying their best to preserve the island’s beauty despite the continuous influx of tourists. Laos, the most underrated country in Southeast Asia, has a lot of beautiful stories to tell from its classy French bakeries and local food. Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur may look like any other major concrete jungle in the region, but wait until you explore Malaysia as far as Penang, Langkawi, or even Kuching. Another one in the Least Developed Country list, Myanmar, made me cry with the beauty of the hot air balloons flying over the stupas in the Old Bagan complex during sunrise, and because serve a huge amount of rice in restaurants as well. Singapore is more than a concrete jungle to me. It is a melting pot of so many cultures – Chinese, Indian, and Malay, and everything is so utopian and feels like a small island and a megacity at the same time. I’m not going to say that I love the traffic jam in Bangkok, but I love pad thai and tom yum, and how Thais are very faithful to their cultural practices. The coffee lover in me felt instantly at home in Vietnam, let alone its healthy set of cuisines. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what is waiting for you just a few hours away from the Philippines.

Had the Bachelor’s Degree in Arts in Southeast Asian Studies been offered by the university I attended for college during the time I studied there, I would definitely enroll in the program. It’s not too late, though. I still have a PhD to pursue, and it can be in Southeast Asian Studies. In the meantime, I will focus on teaching and doing research about the region and occasionally write microblogs about my actual experiences as I visit and revisit more places in Southeast Asia.

It is a dream of mine to let the world know how seeing and learning about this beautiful region may develop their cosmopolitanism and sense of global citizenship. Also, realizing that there is so much beauty in diversity will definitely change the way how they look at the world and what’s happening around. It would be nice to study International Relations or Southeast Asian Studies to learn more about the region, but nothing beats with actually trying out the food, conversing with people, visiting heritage sites, and observing the daily scenes in these places. This is the beauty of learning about Southeast Asia – it can be beyond the books and formal schooling. It is the actual experience which will not only widen your horizons, but will change you as a person and a citizen of your country and the world.

(This was my attempt to write an article which I submitted to Inquirer Young Blood. I know this will never get published there, so I’m posting it here instead.)

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