Post #25 from SE Asia
March 4th, 2010
Time and travel
Time and Travel:
“‘Inside every old man is a young man wondering ‘Just what the fuck happened anyhow?”
Einstein’s general theory of relativity states that the faster you go, the slower time passes for you. My corollary to that is that the more you travel, the slower time goes. I personally know this to be true.
I have been traveling now for about 10 weeks. Yet, personally, it seems like this is all that I have ever done. Every day is crammed with so many new experiences, events, locations, people, cultures, foods, languages, all coming at me so fast, that it seems like I have been traveling for years. I am learning so much about everything. In a 2 month period, I now know Bangkok, the Mekong River, Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Dien Bien Phu, Hanoi, Hue, Saigon, the Mekong Delta, The Tonle Sap basin, Phnom Penh, 4 new countries, and beginning tomorrow for 4 days, Angor Watt.
I remember when I was in my 30’s, when I was working overtime, raising kids, paying a mortgage. It personally seemed to me like I went from age 30 to 40 in 2 years. It scared me. Older folks have told me that the older you get, the faster the years go by. I find that if I am doing about the same thing every day, time, and life, flies by. Does this make any sense to you? Because it is a personal truth to me.
It is one of the reasons I travel, to fill my life with excitement and joy and simply interesting experiences. I know all too well that life is just wonderful, but far too short. But a trip like the one I am on grabs time by the balls and stops him cold. And if time stops, then you live forever. Right?
So I am already planning my next trip. I am thinking on flying to Indonesia around late November and visiting Sumatra, Borneo, Malaysia, and work my way up the South Thailand Peninsula. When I get to Bangkok, I may, or may not, build up a bicycle to go up to Chiang Mai, in NW Thailand. After that, I would go to Myanmar. And if I have the time, cross over Bangladesh and go to Southern, Dravidian India. If anyone is interested in joining me next year for a section of this trip, do let me know.
I am traveling alone now. I did invite a few friends and former students to join me for parts of the trip. I thought until just before I left that I would rendezvous with a friend in Thailand. But for various good reasons, they all canceled out. So what do I do, stay home? No. I have a gut feeling that if I don’t do it now, I may never do it.
The clear advantage of traveling alone is your sheer freedom to make your schedule and destinations, and change it if you want. That is a BIG advantage. The disadvantage is not having anyone to share it with. This is not entirely true because you can meet such interesting travelers on the road.
Traveling alone allows for serendipity. If something magical happens, you can follow it, without asking permission from anyone else. I had no idea that I would be going to Hai Long Bay or deep into the Mekong Delta. But others told me not to miss it. And I am glad that I have that flexibility in my life to be able to change my mind. Or to quote Henry David Thoreau again, “A foolish consistency is the hobgobblin of little minds.”
A disadvantage of traveling alone is that you really have to watch out for yourself, because there is no one else there for you. I am acutely aware of this in many ways. I must watch my own back. I am very careful when riding on the roads. But it goes beyond that. If I am in a restaurant and need to go to the men’s room, I carry whatever I have with me to the men’s room. I will not leave anything on the table while I am gone. When I am walking in the street or visiting a museum or archaeological site, all my gear and valuables are strapped and zipped to me. I have learned this over the years.
Having said that, it sure seems like I am sharing a lot with others on this blog. It turns out that this blog has become very important to me. It is now my major way of communicating to my friends and loved ones.
On the road, I meet ‘really’ interesting people from around the world. Great conversations in bars and restaurants, in museums and historic and archaeological sites. You meet a lot of people who have spent their lives living outside of the box doing exciting things their whole lives. I am very comfortable with these people.
A friend of mine, George, who is currently bicycling in Africa, writes of the ‘white tax’. Yes, it is real in Africa and South Asia. If you are white, you pay more than the others. Or at least they try to get you to pay more. The simple fact that you can pay for a plane ticket there proves to them that you are wealthy beyond their imagination. The price of that ticket might be more than their year’s salary. So get used to it. You can resist it, and often reduce it and occasionally even negate it, but it is there. Having said that, I have a fine room in Siem Reap (where Angor Watt is) for $7 a night. It is clean with a private bath and hot shower. Maybe I could get the price down a bit, but at that price, why should I care? I will be outside for 14-16 hours a day. All I want is security and cleanliness, and I have that.
As a bicyclist traveling thru here, I have started to develop an attitude when I listen to young travelers, mostly European, complaining of the rough conditions traveling. I see them sitting there, almost universally smoking cigarettes, talking about hot, uncomfortable, buses that are not on time. I ride into the guest-houses drenched in sweat and I have to listen to people 1/3 my age whining. I mean, just how much work does it take to buy a bus ticket and then plant your fat ass in a seat? Most of the time I say nothing, but occasionally I call them whiners and wimps.
Maybe the worst are those who rent motorcycles and then talk of how tough their 6 hour motorcycle ride was. I needed 3 days to complete that same route by bicycle. I did say to one guy “Ýeah it takes a lot of work to twist that grip” and laughed at him. At least he shut up. I think I am getting a grumpy-old-man attitude here. Cool it.
The real joy to me of bicycling across some place is the feeling afterward that I have really accomplished something. I honestly was not sure that I could complete this trip. Before leaving, I gave myself a 50-50 chance.
I have had the joy of being so close to the land and the people. I have less than 800 km left on this trip. Barring an accident, I will make it. I have not seen another bicycle tourer since Hanoi. I gather that this is not a popular route.
I pull into a bus stop and guzzle down a liter of cold water in one continuous swallow. A bus load of young white kids are standing there gawking at my water gluttony. They are university and high school kids from Vancouver, Canada. Out come their cameras. Nice kids, asking lots of questions about bicycle touring. I find myself saying things like ‘bicycle touring has soul. It takes effort. It challenges you, but it can be so rewarding.’ We exchange emails. By the time their bus pulls out, about a 1/3 of them say that they are going to do it. I do hope to hear from them.
For my last 2 weeks I may cut south to Battambang, thru the hills to the world’s largest sapphire mine, then down to the Thai beaches. We’ll see how this trip unfolds.