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Posts Tagged ‘exploring’

I wrote this over a year ago. It had been 14 days since I was in Asia, and it sums up many of my thoughts about this whole over-arching experience.

Asia is gone to me, snuffed out in a way I anticipated but didn’t fully acknowledge. And I feel a sense of loss. I miss having no preconceived notion of what I will find around the next corner. I miss the signs of life that are unavoidable on the street, in every window. I miss the interactivity that comes from being a curiosity.

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Pleiku, an altogether nondescript Vietnamese town becomes a forced, one-night stopover on the way to Hanoi from northeastern Cambodia. No map, no Vietnamese Dong, and we don’t know where the center of town is or where to find a cheap hotel.

Ryan remains at the bus station with our luggage as I shuffle off to source some money. The asphalt is burning under my feet and I can feel my skin sizzle as I trot off along an empty highway, head hanging low. Nobody speaks English and I am at a loss as to where an ATM might be this far out of town.

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Weightless, we are propelled along by a forceful current, 18 meters below the water’s surface. Beneath us, the deep blue fades into an almost black, never-ending void. In front, the equivalent to a towering, vertical cliff is covered in a kaleidoscope of colorful coral and creatures of the sea. Above, below and behind and sometimes stuck together I see Caleb, Michele and Sabrina.

The idea of this ‘drift dive’ is to descend, maintain a depth of about 18m and allow the current to naturally and effortlessly guide us along like a conveyor belt. We ‘just’ recline and watch the production unfold. (more…)

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It is 2 am and Michele, Caleb, Ryan and I, all in a state of delirium, stumble onto the street. We just spent 30 hours in a vehicle that remains a sorry excuse for a bus. Having passed through various cycles of pain and numbness, impatience and resignation, I find myself surprisingly composed and despite the late hour, capable of one last ‘rational’ thought.  It’s decided, this time for real:  I’m finished with buses! This resolution, like its predecessor, of course doesn’t stand a chance. In fact, adding it all up I have made and broken a version of it some 47 times – after every one of our travel days in the last four months.

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This was written in mid-January, when I first arrived in Bangkok from Kolkata, before flying to Burma.

Preparing myself mentally for Bangkok, I thought: I am not ready for the hyper-modern critique that this place will demand. To go from India and Bangladesh to Bangkok is too big a leap, too many eons of wealth, technologies, too big of a shift of position vis a vis Western culture.

Now I am here, and I am overwhelmingly preoccupied with the food. New flavors lurk everywhere, and so far they enthrall me. Noodle and lemongrass soups with fish sauce, chillies and sugar, squid on a stick with spicy and tangy sauces, fruit with sugar and chillies on top, Thai coffee, condensed milk in a good way, seafood a delight. Here is an adventure of unfamiliarity. (more…)

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A sign at the entrance to a pagoda complex in Yangon. Entrance fees would be fine if they were paid to the monastery and not directly into the government's pocket. Myanmar. Burma. This land is two separate places. Myanmar is the place where the government has fixed an unrealistic exchange rate, so we must purchase bundles of 1000 kyat notes on the street, counting each stack and griping over every tear or hole. We are forced to travel on expensive buses with obnoxious music videos on continuous loop, no other transportation allowed for foreigners. Government checkpoints at the entrances to touristic zones demand our US dollars for passage; faded or folded bills are rejected firmly. We are forbidden from straying from these areas; our bus windows look out on empty, dry scrublands as we are shuttled to the next town with guest houses licensed to admit foreigners. (more…)

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A prayer for the long-term traveler: Let me always remember that this world rewards my attention handsomely. Beware the whirlpool of meaninglessness that lurks when I lose sight of the horizon, when the world’s endless mosaic before me seems daunting and impossibly demanding. There is a hazard to travel over the long term: that it become a chronicling or mere tracking of the “galvanic twitches of the eternal pointless present,” as Wallace Stegner memorably puts it. Too many people and sights that become interesting in the same way, too little agency to act beyond my prescribed role as a stranger in these contexts. But I have faith that, as I keep learning about my surroundings and keep my eyes open to new kinds of surprises, this experience can be endlessly engaging. (more…)

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