italy, travel

A stranger in a strange land: Excerpts from a travel diary



11 December

Casa Monteripido, Perugia, Italy

Tonight we celebrated Christmas at the monastery. Mass in the chapel was a very moving scene. All in Italian, I listened hard to pick up on what was being sung. I was pleasantly surprised that I could understand almost everything. The melodies created by the friars’ steadfast voices was beautiful, taking my breath away and giving me goosebumps.

Dinner was truly an event in itself. A long table set for sixty laid with napkins, candles and fresh foliage from seasonal bushes: the picture of Christmas. We started with cold meats, polenta and cheese, followed by rice with pumpkin (?) and sausage. Next came lentils and crispy chicken…I was starting to feel green at the magnitude of this meal. Of course, they wouldn’t let us go without sweets: panettone, nougat and sweet, sweet oranges. While we munched away, we played Tombola, a version of bingo traditionally played in Napoli to the south. Gianluca, the only Neapolitan at our casa, read out the numbers in his impenetrable accent. Under the influence of good food and wine we took to squabbling between us. Who was cheating? Who was winning? Who had eaten all of the oranges?


15 December

Maryam’s house just down the road, Perugia, Italy

Today was very much a day of noticing things happening around me in the town.

As I was walking to afternoon class, I found myself among black-clad mourners, walking slowly and silently behind the hearse as it made its way through the narrow streets to the church.

On my way home I saw a light on inside a tiny workshop. I peeped in to spy the skeleton of a violin, guitars in pieces and a long bench where the craftsman perched over his work.

I’m almost starting to feel nostalgic for the town. Despite the dog poo on the streets and the crazy drivers trying to sideswipe me and the one-hour wait at the bank every morning, I really enjoy living here. It’s peaceful without being boring, foreign without being alienating, and filled with pockets of human warmth and kindness.


21 December

Somewhere in the air between Italy and Singapore


  1. There are Christmas decorations on this plane.
  2. What day is it? What time is it?
  3. Where am I?
  4. The stars look pretty from here
  5. “Death Penalty to Drug Traffickers. Welcome to Singapore.” I love whoever proofread this and thought, “Yes, that’s scary and haunting, yet appropriate for new arrivals to our land.”
  6. Oh, they turned off the lights.
  7. Are we landing?
  8. MY EARS



22 December

Esplanade Park, Singapore

I’ve walked all the way over to the Merlion statue- no mean feat considering I’m sleep deprived, hungry and sweating all over the place. My new shirt is doing its job well – I’m feeling relatively light and breezy despite the humidity.

It’s strange how still, at midday, many places seem to be only just opening for business. Indeed, all of Singapore seems a little like that, as if it’s rushing to get ready for something. There is construction work everywhere, yet expanses of emptiness: huge malls void of customers, the harbour traversed by a single vessel and streets safe to cross due to the lack of cars. There are exorbitant price tags, yet there are beggars on the streets and men piled into the back of trucks. The outside air is thick, sticky and carries with it an unfamiliar smell, while the air inside every shopping centre is icy and dry.


23 December

Somewhere in the air above Australia

The man next to me is reading to himself in German. Out loud. And laughing.


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