Leaving for five months just got a little more real today. We dropped off Dexter at my mom’s last night, and it was pretty hard leaving him behind. He was so confused and scared – even though he knows my mom, he hasn’t been out of the apartment in the past few years save for a traumatic trip or two to the vet. I know that he’s going to be ok, but that he’s going to need some adjustment time before he gets used to the new sounds and smells of my mom’s apartment.In some ways I feel pretty similar – we’re leaving something comfortable and known and safe for a journey with undefined boundaries, just a one way ticket to Singapore and five months ahead of us. I’ve been getting anxious butterflies in my stomach, like when I’m wondering how we’re going to communicate when we’re in the hinterlands in China when we’re barely able to string together three words in Mandarin between the two of us. That totally makes me want to curl up in hide in the back of the closet like Dexter. But I want to take this as an opportunity to work through that fear and anxiety and to see what happens. I just need to give myself some time to adjust, to always have patience, and to drop any expectations I may have. I could learn a lot from our cat.
For the past month or so I’ve been shuttling back and forth from the library checking out as many travel and guide books as I possibly can in one shot. How to decide where to go? Read. A lot. Surprisingly, the history and geography sections of the guide books have enlightened me way more than I thought they would – I had some vague notion about Thailand as being pretty independent, but didn’t realize that it was really the only country in Southeast Asia that didn’t succumb to colonization thanks to King Mongkut. (You’d think that I would have remembered this after having played one of the royal Siamese children in the “King and I” and having that pointed that out to me on a map every day for nine months. Sigh.)We’ve been using the guide books as jumping off points to do more research online, cross referencing it with advice from friends/friends of friends/friends of friends of friends and reaching out to organizations and people that have similar goals as we do. We’ve even pulled out the giant atlas that’s been collecting dust in the corner and studied the green and khaki blobs and microscopic place names for hours. And slowly we’ve been whittling down the pile. We picked up a couple of books at Idlewild on 19th st and 5th ave. They have a great selection of world literature and travel guides, and has one of the nicest spaces of any of the bookstores I’ve been to in Manhattan. We chose The Bridge, a sort of memoir/profile about the Galata Bridge in Istanbul, which I’m currently in the midst of, and China Road, about China’s dizzying pace of development, which Wayne has in his queue. We’ve been trying to get a feel for the context of the places we’re going to visit as much as possible from both native and outsider perspectives. I also recently finished Fuschia Dunlop’s memoir Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, which was absolutely fascinating and inspiring. But more about that later.
Many people have been asking, why are you going on this trip? It’s something we’ve been thinking about for a long time and we finally decided to take the plunge. We even sat around for a while and wrote a mission statement.
Become the change you seek in the world. That phrase has always rung fairly true for both of us. We have decided to take a more positive approach to living our daily lives. Day in day out we currently work and live the American Urban lifestyle, never fully appreciating the work and life that we live, seeming to never quite be on the path of the life we want to live.
We are hoping to take a few months of our lives and start to change our lives towards a more sustainable, happier and loving way of living in the world. We don’t mean that we’re going off the grid per se, but our inclination is that traveling and getting to know the world will help better our lives and tie us inextricably to others around the world, other places, and their sense of living this life will improve our own. Our goal is that these travels will inform some ideas we have about how we want to live over the next 60-70 years, raise our family and find our place in the world.
Specifically, we believe that being physically present and aware in a place changes your awareness of yourself and your connection to that land itself. In our adult lives so far, we have heard and come to believe that our way of living is not the only way in the world, and perhaps not the best way of living. We think that learning the food rituals, the communication differences, starting to understand the environmental challenges, the economic difference and the many ways that time is passed in other cultures and countries, is important, not only towards understanding our lives and how we can create a more sustainable way for us to live together, but to help us provide our family of the future a more hopeful perspective on the world and a good ground to emerge from.
We do have these ideas about how we want to live and share our lives with other people in the world, we have so much to learn from others’ experiences, we are hoping that this adventure becomes a constant in our lives; whereby appreciation of others’ perspectives and sharing therein is something that is done everyday, starting at the table or the kitchen and moving on into the classrooms of our lives.
Right now our loose itinerary includes Singapore, Thailand, Laos, China, South Korea, Japan, Turkey, Syria, Spain, Italy and Germany. We’ve chosen these places for a number of reasons, from interest in the culinary and cultural aspects to the fact that we have so many wonderful relatives, friends and acquaintances who are so generous as to open their doors to us!
We hope to see you on the road and to keep you updated and connected through this blog.
Last week I went to Mexico for a couple of days with Natalie. Besides being totally fun, it helped me get into travel mode. I was evaluating every single item I had brought with me to decide whether or not it was useful – and I was definitely grateful for packing light! We really need to keep this in mind as we gather the things that we think we’re going to need. I don’t want to be carrying around items for months at a time that we’re never going to use.Definite useful item that I didn’t bring: a headlamp. Adding that to the list.
Also, it’s been a while since I’ve been in a place where English isn’t the main language and I don’t really know how to speak. I was reminded how much it can change your relationship with people, how you can communicate, and how you are perceived. Granted, a lot of people spoke a little English and I can understand Spanish in an Italian kind of way, but I wasn’t going to make the assumption that everyone understood English. I think it makes a big difference when you at least make the effort to say phrases like “Thank you”, “Please”, “Nice to meet you”, “Hello” and “Goodbye” in the local language.
Perhaps I should start making a spreadsheet with these phrases and their translations…
I’ve been struggling with the concept of preparedness for the past few days. The way I’m used to traveling is booking most things in advance, armed with a stack of information culled from the Internet and hearsay from various sources. But this time things feel a bit different. No matter how much I’ve read and asked, I still feel some anxiety about being in countries where I don’t speak the language and have no clue what the system is. “are there ATMs available?” “is it advisable to book a hotel ahead of time?” “where can you pick up a bus to the airport?”
“how much sunscreen should I really actually bring?”