Coming back home
Trip Start May 05, 2008
97Trip End May 09, 2009
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But do we regret it? No, not for a second. This past year we really felt that we lived; not gone through the motions of living like so many amongst us. Gradually we threw away the timidity that compels one to plan exhaustively and deters people from taking risks. We started to live in the moment, in the day, while always thinking about that larger picture of life. We understand what we feel are essential truths about life in an intuitive fashion: we acquired this intuition by experience and these truths would probably seem like platitudes and cliches to someone lacking that experience. I will only mention one of those cliches that stands out: life is indeed a journey. Tomorrow is never quite what you would expect so there's no use in fretting and stressing ourselves out about what lies around the corner. The world is indeed amazing, and every experience whether good or bad has something to teach us. It is such a welcome freedom to simply enjoy the journey and try to make the best of it. Those stresses about work, money, family that consume so many of us are simply challenges that make the journey more interesting: focusing on them is like only remembering the breaks in the path while walking through the forest.
But enough about us; what do we think about the world? We should mention that we've only seen a minuscule portion of it: 1-200 cities out of millions, a thin sample of places arrayed in a few strategic points of the global village, itself just a small though growing geographical slice of our great Earth. And out of that small geographical slice we've met an even tinier slice of people: those in the tourism industry, who are seldom representative of the larger population and who in fact are sometimes the worst of the lot. But though the number of places we've seen and the number of people we've met is minuscule, the beauty of tourism is that you get to do something out of the ordinary. We've had the incredible good luck of seeing many of the greatest cultural expressions of human history, from the Taj Mahal to the Vatican; as well as some of the most beautiful places on Earth, from the Himalayas to the beaches of Thailand and the outdoor cathedrals of nature in the Danube Delta or Cappadocia. Thus while the quantity was small, the quality was high. Same goes for people: we've met some of the best and some of the worst. We've learned a lot in a short amount of time and our vision of Earth will never be the same.
So what is it? We think that everyone on earth lives on a certain plane of existence: some higher, but most on lower levels. At the lower levels, concerns are about the simple problems of existence and so they are universal: what will we eat tomorrow? will I be loved? how do I acquire more power? We often saw t-shirts when backpacking with the slogan: "Same, same but different" and it is so true: from Marrakech to Chicago (the long way around) most people live in a world filled with these concerns and it is only the details that are different (what kind of food we eat; where we meet friends and lovers; do we work for the village big cahuna or for a corporate CEO?). But then again, there are those amongst us who realize that there's more to life and we start living on a different level: allegiance to the clan becomes nationalism, nationalism becomes humanism and concern for the economy becomes concern for the environment. It may sound presumptuous but we find that backpackers generally live on a higher level: a thin elite of romantics scattered around the world. The great ideas of the future may indeed come about in the backpacker ghetto of Khao San in Bangkok, or in the lodges of Nepal or the coffeshops of Amsterdam. Time will tell. But it is not only backpackers that live as a majority on these higher levels.
We found that whole countries seem to work in a different way which is consistent with a majority of people living on a higher level: a level where the concern becomes increasingly more for others than for oneself. We loved the Netherlands and Japan: two examples of places where people are considerate and much more aware of the need for tolerance and environmental awareness than in other places. Some countries have a wealth built in their societies: a wealth of good morals and solid relationships, a wealth of education and the right attitude to work; a wealth separate from the material one. We thus loved not just Holland and Japan, but also Nepal and Mexico or Turkey and many places in India. On the other hand, we've seen the reverse take place as well: a vicious cycle in the society where only a few have benefitted and where people lack confidence in a system that fails them. These are the places where one sees a dog-eat -dog world, where everyone only thinks of themselves and their families, and where hard work is much less a guarantee of success than is the abandonment of one's scruples. We've seen this so often in tourist areas, and sometimes in whole countries from Morocco and Egypt to China, but also in more familiar areas like the inner-city of Chicago.
There are clouds on the horizon. Our current industrial society has spread out to the farthest corners of the Earth and into the deep reaches of the human soul. The limits to its expansion have been visible to us throughout our trip. The lands of countries like Egypt, India and China are overexploited and the population continues to grow, fuelled by an economic system which favours growth, and by attempts to solve problems which only created bigger ones in the process. In rich countries, the challenge is visible in the hearts of people, reduced to consumers and workers and closing the doors of their soul by retreating away from the onslaught of the media. We think that the current financial crisis is just a warning of things to come. We live in interesting times (that's a Confucian curse, btw). A travel blog may seem like no place to play Cassandra, but then again, this is the magic of our times: the very system which created the problems created a lot of solutions in the process. The internet enables us to howl away in cyberspace about what we've seen and so here it goes:To anyone reading this then: the time to change is now. The challenges are many, but the opportunity immense. The refrain is familiar and most just tune it out, but every change, no matter how small can help turn the tide. Thank you everyone for reading our blog this past year!