It’s October, a supposedly busy autumn travel season. Unfortunately the winter has come much too soon this year for much of the world. Or perhaps the winter is here to stay for the whole year?

Autumn in my heart

When will Malaysians be able to travel again?

Our columnist checks in with his travel friends
from all around the globe.

In autumn, golden leaves cast a glow over Hemu Village in Xinjiang, China.

It is now October, normally a busy autumn travel season. But 2020 has not been a normal year for anyone in the world.

Winter has come much too soon for many of us this year.

Fortunately, though, some have been able to stay the course and keep to their plans for the rest of 2020.

Autumn is a chilly season in the northern hemisphere. I remember being in Ontario, Canada, one autumn, whizzing north along the 800km-long Maple Road towards Montreal in Quebec province. The hills were fiery red and orange, the sky, azure blue. The vista was breathtaking and is still etched deep in my heart.

Yesterday, I replied to a message from a friend, Sister Rocky, who lives in Toronto: “Stop tempting me. I know you’re waiting for me.”

A few years back, I was in Irkutsk, Russia in October for the 9,288km Siberian rail expedition, where I was lucky to witness the city’s first snowfall. Snowflakes fluttered down the valley, which was painted in the colours of autumn, much to everyone’s excitement. You should know that the beautiful colours of autumn can easily make any traveller fall in love.

The columnist and his group at Lake Baikal, Russia in winter a couple of years back.

The ever charming 9,288km Siberian rail expedition

In short, autumn is THE season for travelling.

A group of 20 of us had earlier planned to board four train coaches on Oct 3 this year in Mongolia and move across more than 10,000km of Siberian rail tracks to Moscow, just in time for the start of winter. We were then supposed to proceed to Finland via St Petersburg.

I have taken this world’s longest rail journey twice before, and have planned a third this autumn, as I really miss the blonde Russian housekeeper on the train named Eleanor. I sent her a Telegram message and asked her to wait for me and my group next autumn.

In Malaysia, we only have two seasons the whole year round – wet and dry. My friend Nozomi Sato from Hokkaido, Japan has been tempting me to go over to her place, sending messages and pictures over the Line app. Autumn in her city means she gets to enjoy a bountiful harvest of local produce and seafood. Everything on her dining table looks so fresh and delicious.

Reports say that young Japanese men and women have been returning to the fields and coming up with creative and innovative farming ways in the past few years. One of the reasons for this is that they get attractive tax incentives from the government.

“Do you still remember that autumn in Biei where we found refuge inside Santouka, gobbling up the tonkotsu ramen, and also the roasted sea urchins at the morning market? How I miss you, Nozomi!” I replied her.

One autumn a few years back, my six friends and I were walking in northern Xinjiang, China when the temperature suddenly dropped. We were really cold, but the golden leaves of the trees along the road and the misty clouds hovering in the distance were a sight to behold.

In one of the towns near Urumqi, we saw Uyghur ladies clad in colourful costumes having a fun time, their pretty faces smiling gleefully. Making new friends in such a beautiful autumn day is one of the things I really miss this year.

I remember a tall and pretty guide by the name of Blue Moon, who loved to recite these words from The Silence of Vajra Guru Pema: “Let me into our heart. In silence, and attachment. In peace, and contentment.”

I sent her a message on WeChat: “Why have you suddenly become so quiet lately? Are you still taking groups to northern Xinjiang?”

She replied: “I have a baby now. It’s not so convenient.”

“As there is less work during the pandemic, perhaps it is the best time for you take a good rest. Your child is more important than anything else, after all, ” I said.

I also sent a message to my friend Rui Rui in Beijing. “Friend, how’s life? Stay strong! I miss the hutongs, and your mum.”

Don’t you miss the days when you could go anywhere you wanted at any time? A travel friend texted me: “Armenia and Azerbaijan are at war now. Luckily we went there last autumn, and visited the world’s first church.”

My advice to you is to go places while you still can. Don’t be like me; I regret ignoring all those chances to check out Taiwan’s Chihshang autumn harvest festival. I have no idea how many more autumns I have to wait to be able to attend it.

I emailed Ying Ping of Lovely Taiwan Foundation, the event’s organiser: “Let’s make a date next fall. In Chihshang.”

Have you ever had the most expensive and delicious crab in Japan, the echizen gani? It is only available in autumn.

Good Food, Great Fun awaits you in Taiwan Leisure Farms!

Our autumn travel fair in Kuala Lumpur has been called off, just like so many other events. The handmade pineapple tarts from the Flying Cow Ranch, pan-fried scallion pancake from Ilan, dried longans from Fairy Lake, and the three sisters of DaKeng Leisure Farm… they are no longer coming to Malaysia. Though I will miss all those things and our Taiwan partners, I am glad to know that they are keeping busy with domestic travel plans.

The Taiwan government’s “triple stimulus vouchers” have worked well for the country. Domestic travellers are thronging leisure farms island-wide to enjoy all those fine foods served at quaint “farm kitchens”.

I would like to congratulate the Taiwan Leisure Farms Development Association secretary-general Yu Wen-horng and director Shinny Chiu on a job well done. It looks like they will have an exciting season. I can’t wait to meet up with everyone and listen to their stories once the travel ban is lifted.

Unfortunately, in Japan, things may not be going as well as in Taiwan: 20% of temples across the country may have to close down this autumn, leaving 25% of monks without work.

But our future lies in our own hands. Everyone is struggling to make a living, and we are not going to give up without a fierce fight. Our team in KL, especially, is not ready to give up just yet.

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Leesan, the founder of Apple Vacations, has travelled to 132 countries, six continents and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored two books.

Published in STAR 2, 17 Oct 2020