Some traveling notes on me

I just got done talking with my friend Chris and he pointed out some very interesting things and made some very astute points. And he speculated as to their causes, which really got me thinking.

He’s been following the posts since I left and has seen them transform as my trip has progressed. Basically, it’s that my posts have gone from me being really amazed about the stuff I’ve been going to and seeing and me having experiences with locals and what not, to me talking about the people I’ve been traveling with more, to me just kind of talking in an isolated and sarcastic manner about everything I see, with some experiences thrown in, which I think is entirely right. So I’ll talk a little bit about why.

First, I would divide this trip into five segments, so far:

#1: South America:
The beginning of my trip and a completely new experience for me in every sense of the word new. It was my first time in third world countries, my first time on my own, my first time in a place where they didn’t speak English and I even stayed with a rich family which allowed me to see the destitute poverty and the converse wealth in very real senses. I also speak a bit of Spanish which allowed me to get incredibly closer to everything. It was great. That newness certainly showed itself in my travelogues. In addition, I wasn’t a professional traveler yet. I hadn’t gotten sick of cheesy traveler chat (actually, I loved it) and I felt a genuine connection with my fellow backpackers. As you have noticed, that certainly has changed. I also wasn’t sick of going to see museums and stuff like that yet, as well.

#2: New Zealand and Australia:
This travel was very interesting. They are developed countries, so I didn’t feel that things in my culture were any better than things in theirs (with regard to little things like washing your hands before you prepare people’s food or after using the toilet, we are all on the same page). Also, I did most of this travel on my own. I did travel in NZ with people, but for the next half, I discovered that I loved trekking and I spent a lot of time in isolation. I focused my logs more on the stuff I did alone, although I did still mention a lot of people in my logs. In Australia, I had my own car, and that was a complete adventure and I loved it. I went where I wanted and I did it mostly alone and I loved every second of it. I also tried to see (in the limited time I had), that which really embodied Australia in my opinion: the outback. I started getting sick of the dumb backpackers that just go to the beaches, hook up with chicks and guys and waste their money on beer, seeing none of the actual culture. These guys and girls were in New Zealand too, and I actually started to feel a bit of hostility towards them. I realized that there are two main types of backpackers: those to travel for a break and those who travel to learn. I obviously think I’m the latter, and I soon started trying to avoid contact with the former. The people who were different were the ones that were mentioned in my posts unless it was me putting them in to point out how I was different. Fair enough, no? That was the beginning of my getting jaded. It was also verging on nearly a year of me having traveled. I was also seeing a lot of stuff and many things were starting to lose their novelty. I was starting to see things how they really are and not how my excitement for doing something different was distorting it. It’s not as fun, but more realistic.

#3: China:
I started seeing things that both disgusted me and made me shake my head in amazement. In poor countries, lots of people are ignorant and it is because they are in a poor country. Many don’t have access to quality education like we do in developed countries (at the same time though, anyone who has watched the bit where Jay Leno asks normal people simple questions knows that rich people can be ignorant too. But that is beside the point.) They have a different culture too, and some of the habits you can’t help but see as backwards. For example, in China, people spit everywhere. Lots don’t see it as anything bad, but we used to spit too in the West. We stopped the practice because it is unsanitary. Do I think it’s disgusting? Yes. Yet I had to live with it for 6 months. And how does one cope with that? Well, me? I get sarcastic. I make use of satire at others’ expense. When you see people doing things that you think are dumb over and over and over and realize that it’s not your place to say anything (that is to say, if it truly is detrimental to their society, this habit will change on its own as the country develops) you just kind of band up with other people and create a cohesion amongst each other while you talk about how stupid these things are with the group. I tell you, to this day, one of the most shocking things I’ve seen and see over and over again is someone getting done with some trash and then just tossing it out into the street. It makes me soooo mad, but who am I to say anything? It’s not my country. I don’t have to live in the filth as I can just go home if I want. I’ve seen some pretty shocking things, but for some reason, something as simple as that gets me every time.

My time in China was also with a purpose. I wanted to learn Chinese and about Chinese culture and I wanted to improve my speaking ability and how I work with large groups. I talked a lot about myself and how I felt I was achieving those goals. This was a very self centered time, but then again, a travelogue is about both me and my experience and, as such, it is actually quite impossible that it wouldn’t be self centered. It was also a condescending time. Do I think we do some things a lot better in the West than they do in the East? Ha! You can bet your life. That was reinforced every time I had to squat over a toilet and then go hunting for the one sink (without soap) in the building, perhaps two floors up. My posts reflected this feeling. Perhaps it was self righteous, but it’s how I felt and still feel. I didn’t meet so many vacationing backpackers during this time, so you were unlikely to pick up on any animosity towards them. Since this time was purposely more about me though, I didn’t mention all that many people in detail either, although I did room with a Chinese guy (Brad, you’re the best!) and learned a tremendous amount about the culture through my students. This was a very unique experience and I’m glad my logs reflect that.

#4: Southeast Asia:
This place is trendy and has incredible tourist infrastructure present (with the exception of maybe Laos) and it’s not really all that strange. There are some really different things there, but it’s not all that crazy like I imagined. There is no isolation, either, and so you don’t really learn all that much about yourself unless you really try. I managed to escape the tourist trail in Malaysia and Laos and get in touch with some backpackers that I really liked and had a great time in isolation at the same time, but for the most part, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand are filled with a bunch of kids who think they are conquistadores because they bought a plane ticket to Thailand and got drunk out on the beach for two weeks. Do I think I am on a different level as a traveler than these guys? Yes. Does my travelogue reflect that? There is no denying it. It was hard to focus on the details of the places I visited though because these people were everywhere I went, and to be honest, a lot of the “must see” sites were a bit disappointing, in part because they had been built up by these very people and also because I had seen quite a bit already and it was getting hard to impress me with a temple I had seen a hundred times before. This was a very difficult time for me because a lot of the stuff was really disappointing and I wasn’t enjoying the company, but the places I did like were surely talked about enough in this travelogue.

Although I talked about how cool I was and how uncool the people I was meeting weren’t, believe it or not, I’ve gotten a lot more humble as I’ve continue traveling. When people ask me how long I’ve been traveling, I usually just say how long I’ve been in that region, not on the whole trip (which, if they do keep on me about it and I tell them, blows their minds) and I make it a point to never tell people what they HAVE to do, I just casually recommend some places if they ask. Although I talk about the fact that I speak Spanish on this travelogue a lot (damnit, there I go again!), I don’t flaunt it on my trip. People travel with me for weeks sometimes and only realize I speak it when I strike up a conversation with someone from Mexico who I happen to meet. I don’t think I’m better than all the other travelers I meet, either. With the exception of that jackass insurance fraud Canadian (who I didn’t lecture, I just casually questioned whether what he was doing was moral or not), the people I mention in my posts are genuinely special people and I’m sure that there was never even a bit of condescension toward these people in any of my posts.

However, my experiences in Laos, how much I enjoyed the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam although I didn’t like the rest of the country so much, Angkor Wat, Taman Negara (the subject of probably one of my best posts so far), and the Cameron Highlands were all among places I really enjoyed and you can bet that the people mentioned in these logs were indeed very special people as they actually caused me to take note of them (I really want to remember these people). Since I was seeing the same old stuff over and over and because it was remarkably hard to get a feel for the culture because there had been such a barrier put up between “Tourist” and “Local” life, I didn’t get all that much out of this section in my trip in a personal sense, except for the special experiences with locals in Cambodia and Vietnam I had. I did at least make lots of friends and got lots of cool pictures, but I don’t regret it at all. It is a part of my trip, just like the others, and I would repeat it again. I was also missing my Beijing life a bit and after a year and a half of being away, it made me start missing home. I thought about home more than any other portion of my trip and it was difficult.

#5: Nepal and India:
A bit worn from my SE Asia experience, I started on Nepal, where I had an incredible time. I met lots of cool people, I challenged myself physically, (need I remind you how I beat everyone on the trek! Wooooo!!!! Seeing as how when I started this trip, I was the last one to camp every day on the Machu Pichu hike and was constantly embarrassed my physical state, I think that was quite an accomplishment), and saw some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. I saw a lot of the culture first hand (a lot of the experiences I had didn’t make it into the posts) and I enjoyed my time considerably. I also got really sick. After recovering, I headed to India at the last moment and was assaulted by “Extreme.” I tried to convey the extreme I experienced in my post, but it didn’t work because it’s impossible. There is no way you can ever understand that kind of extreme until you have seen it first hand. India is unlike anything you have ever seen in your life and I was handling it quite well until I got sick again and felt like I wanted to die. And India showed no mercy, it smashed me to the ground. The heat was merciless and I was really unprepared for it and I just had to escape. If I had stayed, it would have eaten me alive. I would have kept getting sick and it would have just kept getting hotter and I wouldn’t have been able to continue. I saw things that blew my mind, though. My one post from there was not what it could have been, but then again, neither was the time I spent there, I got so little from it.

And so, I want to clear up some things about the nature of these posts. First, they are remarkably incomplete. There are millions of details that they say nothing about and that you, the reader, miss out on entirely. Second, although I enjoy the little bit of fame I get from these posts (awww, shuuuckks), they are primarily for me. They serve to document a rough outline of what I’ve done so I can go back and reread them and remember places, things and experiences. Every post is a flashback to a novel of experience and sadly, you guys won’t ever know about it unless you buy a ticket and go there. Although I keep a personal diary, I write in it once every few weeks or months about anything I feel and I keep it in Spanish. It’s more just Spanish homework than anything. What I put online is pretty much it. I hate keeping journals because it is so frustrating and time consuming to have to write so many things (it’s an incredibly overwhelming experience every time I try to even do a post for this travelogue).

Third, although the way I am surely shines through in this travelogue, I do keep quite a bit private. It’s important that you keep a bit for yourself and it makes that bit all the more special. Because I am that way, even in my life, I am sure that my parents (who read this travelogue religiously) have learned quite a bit about their son that they didn’t know before. But at the same time, it’s important that people don’t think that the one hour a week (and I don’t reread this stuff before I post it, so it’s bound to have lots of mistakes) I sit down to write a bit about what I’ve been doing is a complete reflection of me. It’s really not. Again, you guys don’t get the whole story, and I don’t really even want you to ­čÖé But for those who do read this travelogue, it’s important to keep in mind that travel is about both you and the place. You can’t separate the two and any experience I have, because I’m me, would be completely different for you, because you are you. Experience and personality change perception.

Wow, those are some things that I’ve been wanting to put into words for a long time. I’m glad I finally got the time to sit down and type it all! What’s the future of my trip? Well, I’m back in China as I write this. I’ll be in Hong Kong for a few days and then I will go to the mainland, a place from where I’m sure you will see the nature of my logs change yet again. I imagine that they will get more thoughtful, seeing as I have a bit of insight into the culture, and seeing as there isn’t much that can shock me now, will be less extreme. I’m going to some supposedly beautiful places and we’ll see if they measure up to what I’ve been told. But, if anything, this next month is going to give me a chance to confirm my experience obtained when I lived in Beijing. How is the rest of China different? I don’t know. But I’m sure that I’m going to find out.

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