If you’re a going to be a regular reader of this blog, prepare yourself for some rather raw thoughts from me. I’m at the point where I’ve held on to so many identities so cautiously (son, husband, parent, teacher, consultant, “responsible got it together friend”) that this year is my year of letting all that go and reclaiming what’s beneath. Mostly it will be a whimsical travelogue, because I like to write those kinds of posts, and I want you to be entertained as I am by what happens. But it will not be all rosy and peppy. I’m going to put some very personal stuff up here, partly because I need to write it, and partly because putting it out to all of you is an edgy kind of honest risk that I want to take now. Since some of you have decided or been forced to, for better or worse, to join me on some part of my Life, (Thank you!), let me assure you that the only person I’ll embarrass is myself. And I’m no longer really worried about the consequences of that.
So, let’s begin. There’s an element of wanting to improve myself on this trip. To somehow find wisdom, to come back, like Moses on the mountain top, a changed man. My Ego is doing a good job on me of building expectations of enlightenment, that I will somehow gain something from this trip. That I will do such good deeds, think such deep and profound thoughts, act in such mature and evolved ways…that all that justifies this year long journey.
Instead…..I’m just sorta not doing anything. I’m meeting people, but not deeply. The language barrier, and my shyness prevent that. I’m not the Worlds Most Interesting Man here. I’m not Dave Barry, or Mark Twain, or Joseph Campbell, or Bill Bryson…. This morning I puttered around my tiny Hong Kong airbnb room wondering what to do (I’m talking TINY…the bathroom is in the closet!). Made up the story to myself of “going to the coffee shop to write” to give meaning to the day. Presumably to write deep thoughts. Instead, I wandered around the crowded sweltering streets, got mildly lost, came across a post office and mailed home a box of souvenirs from China, walked into a random low rent, claustrophobic indoor shopping mall (intensely populated by desperate Asian Indians who all implored me to buy women’s bags – “good quality”, watches – likely fake, or some other such stuff that I have no interest in).
I checked out the menu from the Outback restaurant and found myself saying ,”Really? You’re checking out Outback? Where is your adventure? Aren’t you supposed to be diving into some back alley to try Andrew Zimmerman or Anthony Bourdain delicacies, have a few beers and then like Ernest Hemingway come away with stories about a Cambodian man I’ve met, same birthdate as me, who escaped slavery on a Thai shrimping boat to make his way on a rickety craft on the South China Sea with 200 others to Hong Kong, where he’s scraping together a meager yet honorable existence so he can send back his remittances to his extended family of 15 in Cambodia? And we become fast friends, vowing to stay close the rest of our lives here on earth?” Jimmy Buffet “African Friend” stuff! But no.
Instead I’m sitting here alone, at a short table, in some random ex pat bar named Mes Amis on Ashley Street , in Tsim Sha Tsui (Hong Kong), surrounded by mostly non Asians around me, drinking a second pint of Asahi, for godssake!! THIS is the Big Year Traveling Around the World? THIS is going to make me an Enlightened Global Citizen? Harumph…
I wonder why I did this. I’m not scared or sad or anxious. I believe I can “not do anything” anywhere in the world. (Well, maybe except for war zones, where I’m not too interested in going to at the moment). This Trip Around the World became a thing in my mind a couple years ago and when nothing and no one resisted it, that idea became a Thing that gained its own momentum. And once ideas like this get momentum, you just get carried along by it.
So here I am. Sitting alone in a bar that looks no different from bars in San Francisco, or Ann Arbor, or Munich, or even Dubai….with drunk ex pats, over half of them squinting into their smartphones. Even the music is the same as it is in those other places…some sort of Western Top 40 pop tunes (with some classic stuff too, Santana’s Black Magic Woman is up now!) And, after a month of “checking out East Asia”, I’m ruminating on the questions: Why am I here? Why am I doing this?
Okay, so it’s true that I begin contributing again Sep 4 in Danang, Vietnam. Offered my pro bono business consulting services to the East Meets West Dental Clinic, whose staff seem genuinely excited about my coming. For 6 weeks.
So I’ll get to something meaningful (ie, contribution) soon. But this past month of touring Japan, S. Korea, China and now Hong Kong (okay, still part of China but feels MUCH different)…. this past month of touring has left me wondering why I’m doing this. It’s nice to SEE stuff (see previous and future blog entries). But is that enough? Shouldn’t I be improving something? Or making an impact of some sort? At the very least, being 56, shouldn’t I be in the prime of my earning potential, gathering the bucks so I can retire comfortably? I’m not rich now. I can’t retire unless I buy an RV and live in Quartzsite, Arizona. I should be making money, right?
But there was something in my awareness, over the last few years, that said….why not? These are the thoughts that have been coming back to me time and again: “You can always make more money. You can’t make more time.“ “If not now, when?” “You’re a global citizen, not just an American, so get to know the rest of the world” “ I feel more comfortable with the sensibilities (selectively chosen) of the rest of the world than of the strident chest thumping of American superiority political discourse.” (okay, that last one isn’t as pithy, but….it’s there). “Isn’t it just plain cool to know that I can live in different cultures and worlds, and connect with people from those different cultures and worlds? So get out there and do it some more!” “Your career is kinda stalled now, so why not?” “I can live cheaper on the road, than I can in SF, so this is a shrewd economic choice!” “I’ll always be a dad, but my sons don’t need me they way they used to, and it’s probably better if I’m gone for a year”. These are the questions that pushed me along to leaving everything – and everyone – to go on this journey.
New tune! Neil Young’s Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World filling the bar as one guy hauls a too drunk friend to the bathroom in the back of Mes Amis.
There are no conclusions to this sort of musing. But this sort of musing may be THE reason why I am taking this journey. To give myself space from the urgencies of making a living in the Bay Area to peel back the layers of ossified beliefs that 56 years of living has accumulated.
If you’ve read this far, what do you think? What opportunities do you feel a calling to give yourself, to lay bare and strip away the stories and filters and assumptions that you’ve accumulated over your time here on earth so far? And what would you do with a year away from everything, except yourself?