No Place As Home
Contact Daniel: noplaceashome at yahoo.co.uk
General Musings (2)
Guide to this site
At home in the world
Not very heroic
Small town West Bengal
An ending approaches
Sights, frights and memories
Everyone's cup of tea
Introduction to Gari
In the hate period
Don't take this too seriously
Making the bag
Things which make me angry
October 24, 2004
At home in the world
Well, wow, it's been a long journey. This is the concluding piece to the story that began in July 2003, in "A Year and a Day"; I'm surprised at how forceful this last post has turned out, but wanted to post it as is rather than water it down. It's also very focused on first world readers, I must admit - in part it was written as a response to what I experienced going home.
Hope you've enjoyed the journey too, and hope you'll continue reading my blog life, in my next online diary: "Suitcasing".
Leaving England once again, fifteen months after I first left to go travelling, I feel very different. Then I had been in a daze, unable to take in how my life was about to change, largely innocent in the ways of the backpacker. Now I am leaving for parts of the world well known - it is as though England is the unfamiliar, perplexing destination.
At the end of it all, what do I think I've gained from travelling? I do think, in short, that the experience has changed my life - and it has changed me as a person quite considerably.
There is the obvious benefit of travelling that I now know something about the world. Not a huge amount - in most places I'm just a well informed tourist - but now when I find myself sitting next to an old Malaysian couple in Heathrow, we can laugh about how bad the traffic jams in KL are; I know that I prefer Sichuan Chinese food to Cantonese Chinese food; walking around Chiang Mai these last couple of days, various locals recognise me and cry out, "You're back! You look tired!"; and so on. But more importantly, I also know that anywhere I go in the world, sooner or later I'll acquire this level of knowledge and friendship too. It's hard to see "living abroad" in the same way, now I've got friends and know the bus routes in cities in California, Mexico, China. Now the odd option to me would be to stay in England the rest of my life - why choose England as a place to live versus all the other places the world has to offer?
I do also feel, that while travelling shows you the differences between the peoples of the world, and sometimes those differences are all you can see, gradually, travelling also shows you how similar we all are. We all feel the same things (I think), all have the same human problems to surmount. It's the responses that differ. Cleanliness, satisfying physical needs, frustration, looking good in front of others, morality - we all, I think, agree these things exist, it's just that we deal with them in different ways. Just because Thai people smile a lot doesn't mean they don't feel the same frustrations and despairs the rest of us feel.
I think I'm a much stronger, more assertive / pushy person than I was pre-travelling. Part of this came from, I think, just always moving onwards and meeting new people. At first I was very keen that everyone I met liked me - at some point, perhaps in Guatemala, I realised this wasn't actually important. I didn't care what other people thought about me, to a big extent; some people were going to become my friends, some just weren't - in fact people were more likely to get on well with me when I didn't worry about it. The other part of this involved spending time in countries like China and India - I've got used to arguing, haggling, standing up for myself. I've been conned / overcharged so many times and in so many ways, I dislike going through it again.
I've become very happy with myself, happy being myself. I've grown to know myself rather well, been alone for long periods and listened to my brain chatter away, been in quite a few stressful situations and watched myself fluster. I quite like being Daniel, I've realised; I do think of myself, my life, as being special. Not "special" in terms of being better than anyone else's, rather, "special" in terms of my own expectations.
Now for the philosophy.
Although my handle on this way of looking at the world (an outlook, I notice, that sounds suspiciously like some version of Taoism) is fragile, it is how I am thinking about my future. I don't know what will happen (although I have some goals), and I'm fairly relaxed about that, I'm quite confident things will work out well, one way or another.
Travelling has made me reassess my priorities for my life. Life is such a wonderful, varied experience - I want to live it how I want to. Working long hours for a big company is something I'm not sure I can face anymore - the loss of time and life bite too keenly. I was as keen as most University educated young people to work hard, put in the hours, get noticed by superiors - but what's it all for? Working hard during education made sense to me, as there was an end product, a final exam and a qualification, but what's the end product of life? Retirement?
What struck and shocked me about coming back to London was how people's lives seemed so focused around money as a means of security, yet the majority of us seemed deeply insecure. People are working in jobs they get very little satisfaction / enjoyment from, all in the belief that they must, that a life not focused on keeping hold of money is one destined for starvation and destitution.
The tragedy of living one's life for security, of drawing a salary for a big company, is that I don't believe these actually do bring any real security. My experiences of working for big companies is that your job is secure until the company doesn't need you any more. This seemed to often be the case for managers in their forties, whose salaries were now too high to make their employment efficient (a younger person could do their job for less), and they had reached the level they probably were going to stay at - if they were going to get selected for the top jobs, it would have already happened by then. At just the point (children in school etc) when job security became vital in these managers' lives, it vanished.
During the three weeks I was back in the UK, the government's Turner report came out. This was an investigation into pensions, and whether we in the UK will have enough money to retire on in the future. The answer is basically that we don't: not many of us are saving enough, either through state or private pensions. In the future, a higher proportion of us in the developed world will be old, and we will be old for longer, thanks to medical science. Money will probably be very tight, and as the politicians and civil servants all have guaranteed pensions, don't expect much of a solution from them.
[A fair question is this stage would be to ask me how I plan to pay for my pension. The answer is that right now I don't know, I'm in the same situation as everyone else. But my plans are to be putting money aside once I have a job again in Australia, to try to buy some property at some stage, and I'd also like to start my own business in my thirties. I also don't plan to spend my retirement years in an expensive country like England.]
I just feel that there is so much out there in the world, so many possibilities, so many lives to lead. Life, to use a poetic analogy, is an amazing canvas - are we using all the colours we could be? The trip I've just done was not that expensive in first world terms - and I think I've lived pretty well for the last year. My stomach hasn't shrunk much certainly. And far more economical trips / experiences are possible. An example I've told my friends about is the family homestay I lived with in Guatemala. It cost me 25 US dollars a week to live with them in Todosantos, this included my own room and three meals a day. I could have afforded to live with that family for a very long time - and probably could have got a discount for a long term stay... Someone on a first world salary could I'm sure get together enough money to go and live in Guatemala, Mexico, Thailand, China etc for a quite considerable length of time and do nothing except enjoy themselves, if they could keep to a fairly disciplined daily budget.
Some London friends whom I've recounted this last bit to commented, "But where's the meaning in a life like that? What's the value in going somewhere like Thailand just to take yoga classes [or whatever]"? It's a fair question, but the retort is easy: "Where's the greater meaning in your life right now"? What exactly does your working for x company each month gain for the world? The difference you could make in a place like Nicaragua or rural China might be enormous; but there are a thousand other people in London that could do your job if you weren't doing it. Even if you don't like leaving the country, a regular donation focused on a small area in the poorer reaches of the world would make a huge difference. Imagine how it would feel to know that in your last ten years of working, your annual donation kept a village school running in Bolivia (or wherever).
Thank you very much for reading this diary and sharing the experience with me. Thanks for all the comments and emails (thanks even for the semi-literate hate mail - they made me feel special too). I never expected this whole internet diary thing to grow as big as it has. I've made some amazing friends through this site, and been really cheered in the tough moments by the encouragement people I've never met have given me. Thank you again, and I hope you'll continue to read my (next) web diary: Suitcasing.
24 October 2004, Chiang Mai
Posted by Daniel on October 24, 2004 07:44 PM
Email this page