So our four months of travelling through South East Asia came to an end…and our New Zealand adventures are only just beginning. But, as is life, before we can continue on our wanders through the world, first of all we need to stop and collect ourselves again..surrender to routine, get saving up those pennies and accept the slower pace of life for a while.
For anyone who has ever travelled anywhere for a substantial amount of time, you’ll know how I feel right now. It is simultaneously comfortable and uncomfortable to return to ‘real life’ – as humans, we instinctively look for security of some nature and for some of us the feeling of being secure is enough. As you may have guessed, I am not one of those people. Naturally, it is difficult to settle back into a strict routine after travelling, but the difficulty stretches further than that, for your mind is forever altered from all that you have encountered and experienced, which is near impossible to explain to those who have been on an alternative journey to yourself. This is what makes it incredibly difficult to simply settle back in to real life.
In saying that, like slipping on an old favourite pair of slippers, I immediately feel at home in this world where supermarkets have replaced the authentic street markets full of unrecognisable fruits, and where I simply blend into every day life rather than my white skin morphing me into a walking attraction. Before too long I am conscious of my mind slipping back into the Western way of life, and yet there remains a quiet voice who – just when I think she has disappeared – whispers to me every morning as I get up for work, ‘this isn’t what it’s all about.’ I have to remind myself everyday to stay true to that simplistic way of life I so admired in Asia.
It is so easy to get caught up in superficial wants and needs in Western society but when I drag my mind back to days spent surrounded by large Asian families, I try to embody their genuine happiness. In my opinion, it comes down to materialistic desires – the people I met didn’t own many material goods but they were content, for what they lacked in materialistic goods, they more than made up for in spiritual contentment. Stepping back into a world where our definitions of success and happiness are morphed by our consumerist attitudes, I am trying to embody the values and outlook of the local people we met on our travels who continue to inspire me. I have to remember the things that matter – the minimalist life so many families in South East Asia live by.
After living and breathing South East Asian culture for 4 months, I reveled in such small, minuscule details of western life – things you would never think about in day to day life, but which alter when you immerse yourself in another culture. I was ready to walk down the street and not be hassled; not be shouted at ‘TAXI, MISS, TAXI TAXI’, to be able to buy a bottle of water from a shop and not have to barter for it. But by god I miss it. I miss the way of life. I miss learning something every single day just by watching how individuals go about their lives. I miss the people, and their good-natured souls. During my 4 months in Asia, my idea of the ‘norm’ was reassessed, and then reassessed again and although I have always questioned this concept of a decisive ‘norm’ even in Western culture, I now have no set answer to what I trust to be a normative way of travelling through life.
I’m fortunate that I haven’t hit complete post-travel depression because I’m not home. Although New Zealand is yet another new adventure and there is so much we have yet to explore, western societies have a much closer overlap than developing countries and thus those notions of culture shock I experienced – and loved – in Asia don’t apply. I don’t walk down the street and stop and start and stop and start while I gaze at women of all ages carrying long sticks balanced on their heads, or baskets of fruits, or children shrieking as they run down the street bare footed with large, gaping grins taking over their sun kissed faces.
The quiet here is strange. Typically, S.E.Asians have large families and obviously because of the beautiful weather, they spend a lot of time outdoors so we always heard them. Big family dinners – shouting across the streets at each other, the general hustle and bustle of day to day life which to me, is so enchanting to witness. The families we met and witnessed didn’t hide away, they weren’t private – that is one of the many things I adore about their culture. We tend to hide away in our houses and are often all too concerned with what we should look like or should do. In comparison, the culture we experienced was open and loud, and unapologetic in every form.
It’s strange now – stopping – being in one place for more than a few days and being inside for at least 8 hours a day. They say sunshine and nature is good for the soul and by god do I believe that – who would’ve thought that sitting at a desk is difficult? After basking in the world’s beauty for 4 months and spending everyday outdoors, being inside for that long every day pretty much feels like I’m crushing my soul. I have to remember to engage my mind and not just sink back into the routine which so easily numbs. It’s peaceful to settle, it’s good to have a base but those feet are getting itchy again and so for now I have to remind myself to breathe – to get outside and experience all that I can – before I lovingly haul that rucksack onto my back once more.
The transition back into real life is never an easy one and with it comes questions which many of us aren’t ready to answer – what will you do for the rest of your life? How will you make money? These are questions which we manage to avoid when we’re hauling our backpacks around Asia, sipping on 20p rum and cokes. The silent assumptions that you’re ready to settle down – now that you’ve got that out of your system – come hard and fast. Smile and nod at these people…the ones who are too comfortable in their routines to even dare to dream to do as you have done, for they will never know the wonders and delights of the world which you have experienced.
For now, my soul remains with those beautiful people in those beautiful countries. But I think the thing I’ll try to focus on for now is to continue to integrate the practices and ways of life I learned and loved in Asia into my day to day life…because isn’t that what’s important? In a world where we are constantly being pressured to divide and to shut out others in need, it is so important to spend time exploring these countries and fall in love with ways of life so amazingly different to your own.
It is a good life. It is a damn good life.
Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman
Be weird. Be wonderful.