Post Asia Reflections
I left Vancouver December 26th, to embark on a journey that I had dreamt about the entire year leading up to it. I had quit my job, moved all my stuff back home, spent the holidays with my family, and boarded my one way flight to South East Asia, with an unknown end date. That mysterious date has since sadly materialized and arrived, this May 26th. I don’t know if it’s relevant or meaningful that it came exactly 5 months after my travels began. It was not something I had planned, I realized it well after I had purchased my return ticket, but I started noticing small connections like this between many things throughout this trip. I suppose this is one of them.
As I’m ending my travel, people ask if I’m going home. That depends on where home is. I’ve lived the past 2 and a half years in New York. All my closest friends are still there and I definitely felt at home. But I had quit my job and cleared out my apartment there, and moved all my stuff to my parent’s house in Vancouver, where I grew up.
My parents had continued living there the entire time I lived in NYC so both cities felt like home when I was in either, but neither had exclusive rights. I don’t think now, that just because a few extra linens and t-shirts are in Vancouver, that it makes it anymore home than it used to be. I don’t know if I can consider NYC home now though, without a place to live, even though I’m sure I would have plenty of couches to stay on if I were to return. Strangely, many of my closest friends in NYC hailed from Vancouver. These are the people I used to hang out with when I lived in Vancouver and it was hands down home. People who are no longer there, and are now, ironically, in the other city that may be referred to as home.
I think what this means is that I’ve entered a unique time in life where I’m presented with a cross road. A fork in the road created by my travels which, I have to say, led me to other places I felt like could become home. Even the road felt like home sometimes. If nothing else, travel gave me an opportunity to reset “home”. To think about whether it really is NYC, whether I want to return to Vancouver, and it also gave me the opportunity to choose something completely new. I have the fortune as a software consultant to be very location-flexible, where jobs don’t always determine addresses.
That flight I boarded at the end of the trip took me to Romania so, in a strange way, I am going home, to the country where I was born. I get to see the rest of my family: my grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousin, and to cheer on my home country as they participate in the Euro Cup, among my fellow countrymen, something that has always been a dream of mine. And who knows, maybe it’ll turn out that home is where it all began.
People also ask me if I’m sad to go, but I don’t see this as the culmination of my travels. I just chose to temporarily turn my experiences elsewhere. Being a huge sports fan, and from a country that, despite loving football, doesn’t always qualify for the major championships, I felt like this was an opportunity I had to take, and one in which I could visit the rest of my family and many friends I had made throughout my travels. I’m definitely not sad about this choice. That being said, I know I’m going to miss Asia and the unique traveling lifestyle that is present within it, and that brings upon some emotions, but I’m so excited about this next adventure. I also know that it’s only a few months before I return to Asia after the summer and dedicate the rest of the year to a couple countries I missed, namely Myanmar, the Philippines, and Indonesia. I’d say that gives me something to look forward to, but at the moment, I’m only looking forward to being surrounded by fellow Romanians as we proudly cheer on our team, something I’ve obviously never been able to experience in Canada.
This trip has been so much more than five months abroad. I have learned so much, both in terms of new abilities, but also internally and how to deal with myself and others. I’ve reached moments of calmness I never experienced before and moments of gratitude that you don’t have the time to appreciate in Western life. Much of that came from the locals, who were so relaxed and happy all the time. They often invited me into their homes and share everything with me. One thing I desperately hope to leave with is the ability to maintain this calmness and gratitude that Asia has given me. These are feelings that you don’t always come across within yourself or other people in a city like New York, but which enrich your life and that of those around you. A certain experience or location will take you to a particular mental state, and these locations and their atmospheres are just different in North America and don’t elicit the same reactions, but I think I’ve learned to inject gratitude and calmness in my life even when I only have a moment to dedicate to them.
Maybe it’s because I became more aware of the types of places that bring about these positive emotions towards the end end of my trip but I felt like many of them came about in my last month of travel. Siem Reap, Chiang Mai and Pai, some of the last cities I visited had such a great vibe about them, and I definitely think I’m taking some of that with me. Pai especially, I could feel before I even arrived, as I was motorbiking north from Chiang Mai. I had planned on spending 4 days there, the last ones before boarding my flight, but before even parking my bike on arrival, I already wished I had allocated more time. I could feel the atmosphere and appreciate the calm scenery as soon as I entered. It’s now one of the places I have to return to, just like Chiang Mai was when I first visited it and stayed only 2 nights. I hope everything keeps going as well as it has and I can indeed revisit it, and hopefully include Chiang Rai.
Until then, I plan on trying to keep this outlook on life for as long as possible. I have wondered if, when I do return home, wherever that may end up being, if I can keep it. If my job and the big city be overcome mentally to resist the urge to rush, and to freak out at things that don’t actually affect your life that much. I probably won’t find out for quite some time still, but this trip to Europe could be a lite test run.
It also occurred to me over the last month how much fun I had meeting new people. I’ve always been a very social person, but backpacking exposes you to new locations every few days, and I thoroughly enjoyed arriving to a new place and making new friends every time. I hope that I can captivate that level of interest in people, and that I can continue to be equally interesting to them, even when travel ends. I don’t think this realization occurred because the past month has been riddled with people that were more interesting than the ones I met early on, there were amazing people everywhere. I just think it takes some time realize how much fun you’re having in certain scenarios versus others and it’s not until you reflect back on them that you realize what it was that made you have so much fun. Another backpacking high is crossing paths with someone you met a couple of weeks ago and getting a chance to catch up and share your experiences since you met.
Speaking of which, experiences are why people go traveling, that goes without saying. Everyone knows that travel is full of them, but it’s worth highlighting because in few environments can you have this many. Ab sailing in Dalat, the remote villages in Cambodia, and the temples in Northern Thailand, were all unique experiences but for different reasons. Ab sailing was very intense and exciting, whereas the villages were interesting and humbling, and the temples very meditative, especially the ones on Doi Inthanon that I got to experience with my sister, where I felt like I could sit on top of that mountain eyes closed, mind clear, for hours. Although not to the same extent, I felt similar in the hot springs in Pai where, despite being with new friends, all laughing and joking and not at all quiet, it’s presence in the mountains, surrounded by nature and calm, naturally warm water, still had a very zen effect.
Motorbiking was also a huge highlight. I also appreciate how different it is when you’re alone, and it becomes very meditative especially if you’re somewhere scenic or mountainous, versus in a group where it’s an absolute blast as you’re yelling and joking at one another throughout the ride.
Lastly, I need to touch on the work I was able to do while traveling. I know this might sound weird, people were already confused that I was working from the road to begin with, but I really enjoyed doing it. I like the work I do, and it brings a certain sense of accomplishment when you get something done and are recognized by your clients, which is the same on the road and at home.
The feeling of having been productive is something I missed in my first few weeks of travel before I got my clients in order, and it was nice to get it back. People have said that if I chill enough in Pai, that need to feel productive will dissipate, but I don’t think I could ever achieve that level, nor would I want to. I’m not here to become a bum and not accomplish anything in life. I just want to do it stress-free, and many places, especially Pai, provided the perfect atmosphere for that. I’m also fortunate that, as a freelance consultant, I have more flexibility in the amount of work I choose to take on, and never let it overwhelm me.
I have to add though, that this desire to get things done took over for a few days when I returned to Bangkok mid-travels. A few days turned into a few weeks as I obsessed over work and I all but forgot all about travel. I ditched the hostel for an airbnb, and simply went to a different coffee shop every day to work. I filled the rest of my time with similar activities as I do back home, ie the gym, climbing, movies, etc. Then, the realization that I had been in Bangkok for so long donned on me and I scurried over to Cambodia, where I got reacquainted with the backpacking lifestyle and it felt so good.
Now that I’m in Europe, and writing this from Brașov, in Romania, at my grandparents house, I realize I could not have asked for a better place to transition from the chill backpacking life in Asia to something a little more upbeat and western. This city is tucked inside a valley, surrounded by lush mountains and forests. The air is clean and, at least in this community, no one is rushed. The stores are small and personal and many people even identify me as the grandson of “Mr. Professor”, as my grandfather is known. But it’s certainly not the same as Asia. I’m noticing changes within myself but, with meditation and awareness, two things that were introduced to me during these travels and which I hope to always work on, I’m trying to keep all the good that came from this trip with me, and in a few weeks, I’ll be headed to Lyon to watch Romania take on Albania!
On to Part 2!