So I’ve stayed in some gritty places
some in the name of thrift, others in the name of compassion

In Hong Kong, a window-less room, a chattering metal lift
ln Austria, an inn with no locks on fragile doors
In London, we carried our luggage up two crumbling floors
The tap water was sandy brown from the construction site next door
In Chiangmai, I slept above the grunting family pig
In Brunei, the hut next to a waterfall was freezing cold; the ensuite toilet the shack downstream

I’ve stayed in luxury as well
some because I thought I’d arrived, others because it wasn’t I who paid

In Hong Kong, they gave warm towels at Reception
In South Africa, a private hunting lodge, our own jeep
In Penang, we overlooked the ocean; the shore a glistening carpet
In Calcutta it was the Rajah’s holiday palace, white, pristine, un-poor
In Sri Lanka we ruled the tea plantation; Starched wait staff onhand

Is the romance of travel stripped away, or made any less
if one spent that much more or less on a place to rest?

What about this notion that going without a tour group means you are
unfettered, independent, free

Free from the hoards of families, maybe
Free from aunties hoarding their belachan
Free from fathers comparing golf scores
Free from the hopelessness of wandering around
a strange city at nightfall,
then resting one’s head on bed-bug ridden beds
cigarette smoke emanating from yellowed walls
empty sandwich wrappers on the floor

Is the romance of travel made any less
if one travelled with Hong Xing Tours Pte Ltd or
booked each step through the Internet?

(Note on 23 Dec 2014: a later version of this poem won one of the top three prizes in a Writing the City poetry competition) 

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