Let’s take a little trip down memory lane, shall we? Back to a time when our fathers used Brylcream for hair control; when our mothers set their hair in a contraption that largely involved a shower cap with a nozzle attached to a glorified vacuum cleaner set on blow; back to a time when kids played Police and Thief, and tossed little bags of sand called five stones. Back to a time when you actually had to get up from the couch to change channels on the TV set.
Do you remember? For those of you who can’t, trust me when I say that they were the best of times, the golden years of our childhood and innocence.
Those holidays are etched in memory. I remember large rented homes by Changi beach; entire families disgorging out of aging jalopies, boxy Mercedes and Ford Cortinas, packed with baskets, pillows, bags of food and a whole lot of cheer, each of us looking forward to a week of sand castles. Back then, no one really knew how to swim, so ‘swimming in the sea’ was a metaphor for wetting our toes and screaming loudly when a tiny wave rolled up to our waist.
Those holidays were the highlight of our year.
Of course, there were always tales of Auntie So and So taking her kids to Malaysia, to Cameron Highlands. It might as well have been the moon. You can’t begin to imagine how glamorous Cameron Highlands sounded. And when Uncle Whatshisname took his family to London, it was as if they were going to have tea with the Queen of England. “They’re going on a plane? Wahhh!” we cried with envy, our little brains – apparently sophisticated beyond words by school holidays by the beach – unable to comprehend an event of such magnitude. “They’re going to see Big Ben?”
So much has changed. We’ve changed. We take a holiday every few months. We hop onto a plane to anywhere that promises Wi-fi coverage, a cocktail and a shopping mall.
Recently, my mother grumbled to me, “You young people take the plane like the rest of us take the bus. You need to save money! Work hard now. Enjoy yourself when you retire!” she said sternly, pointing her chopsticks in my direction over the dinner table.
My sister rolled her eyes. “Ma, we won’t be able to lift our luggage by then, let alone get on a plane! We’re traveling now because we can! Besides, flights are so cheap now. Not like in your day!”
It occurs to me that we take so much for granted these days. No one ever takes a holiday at home anymore. Do you? We’re always on our way to somewhere. We’re on a perpetual rotation roster in airport lounges. We speak in code – Why are you taking SQ? I thought MH had a better deal. EK goes to Melbourne?
In their day, our parents took holidays because it was a treat. Today, we take holidays because we need to. Our lives are a pressure cooker of deadlines and rushing impatience. Recently, I tried to imagine a life without instant messaging, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, emails, overnight couriers, roaming handphones and immediately felt light headed.
A holiday abroad represents a chance to get away from all this madness, even if it’s to other pressure cookers like Bangkok or Beijing, but at least it’s someone else’s madness. You’re just there on a holiday.
A holiday is now a fantasy, an escape from our unbearable present into a parallel universe that involves only a passport, an air-ticket, a room key, a bottle of suntan lotion and, in the case of my flatmate, Amanda, a separate suitcase filled with all her string bikinis.
A holiday is our one true lifeline to sanity, our only escape from the spectacularly stressful drudgery that is our life in the twenty first century. It makes worthwhile all those ridiculously long hours spent slaving in front of the computer, those appalling appraisal meetings with the boss you loathe and that tiny dog kennel that you call your flat and for which you need to work another 30 years to pay the mortgage.
So, yes, we need our little tender mercies. And if that means booking a flight to another pressure cooker city (hello Hong Kong!), then more power to us.
But what scares me the most is that one day, a generation from now, someone will look back on all this and announce, with authority and conviction, that these were the best of times, the golden years of this generation’s childhood and innocence.