So, yes. Seven weeks after returning from a three-week trip to Yale, Connecticut, I am here in Greece. Since we don't have exams yet, there's this Week 7 program in Yale-NUS where we get to embark on a "project" with our professors. There are projects in Singapore, like the religious experience one; then there are those to places like Bandar Aceh (post-tsunami), Bali (Miss World), Yogyakarta (Ramayana performed in wayang), aaaand GREECE! I was incredibly fortunate to have gotten my first choice. So here I am, marvelling at the history, making it my goal to be able to read Greek by the end of this trip.
It is dark: 1.49am. I am sitting at the balcony of my hotel room at the super quaint, homely, charming Hotel Pelops in Ancient Olympia. It is 22 degrees C and I’ve got a jacket on. The slight chill is perfect. The cloudless sky is beautiful at night, star-studded, constellations I don’t recognize.
My Greece trip has been nothing short of beautiful, from the touristy shops to the archaeological ruins. However, there is this slight hint of a sort of melancholic gloom in the air. Perhaps it has to do with the way they sell you stuff – they are slightly persistent, but also held back, like they expect you to walk away anyway – or perhaps it’s the graffiti you see on the walls, spray-painted declarations of frustration with the government. Maybe it’s the despair as Greece enters its sixth year of recession. Maybe it’s the knowing that all the tourism of your country is based on ancient glory, a time in the past where Greece was abundant, lavish, magnificent.
I look up at the remains of the temple of Zeus and am just blown away. It’s too majestic, too beautiful, to be captured on a camera screen. I snap countless photos on my iPhone, digital camera and instax, but nothing does it justice. Then I’m reminded of something Chris Tee taught me when we were watching the sunrise in Boston – you can never really accurately capture an experience on camera. The only way to truly experience it is to be in the moment; you can only remember the beauty, and it’s only yours.
Yes, we got to witness the torch-lighting ceremony – we didn’t have the privilege of witnessing the actual lighting of the torch at the Temple of Hera, but just being at the ceremony was incredible. Despite the pain of baking in the sun for hours, the entire experience – walking past gigantic, towering columns that date back thousands of years; stepping through the ancient archway to a large field enclosed by hills with mountains in the background; checking out the dorms in the International Olympic Academy and getting water and small bites at the reception like bigshots – was unparalleled, man. I’ve been trying to stop myself from doing the Classic Karen “OMYGAAAWD IT’S SO PRETTY IT’S SO PRETTY” squeal that some of my classmates love to imitate, but I was really generous with that today everywhere I went, from the site of the torch-bearing ceremony to the streets and even our beautiful hotel.
It’s now 3.30am (I got distracted halfway through this post because Eugene came out to check out the stars with me and show me the amazing photos he had uploaded). In a few hours’ time we’ll be checking out the archaeological site. More Polaroids and squealing! Καληνύχτα (good night)!