Beach Vacation 2016

I usually don’t take vacations. Every year, the HR lady calls down to the sunken storage closet I work out of and tells me that my two weeks of vacation time will expire unless I use them right away. I always let them disappear, I have nowhere to go anyway.

This time was different. My mom’s side of the family (40ish people) got two houses at Sandbridge in Virginia last week. Instead of working, like a productive member of society, I spent the week swimming in the ocean, walking on the beach, eating good food, drinking responsibly, watching the olympics, and playing card games with my many relatives.

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It was great. Now, I want a beach house.

I didn’t get nearly enough reading done, and I’m not looking forward to the mountain of work waiting for me in the office, but overall, it was a great way to shake things up. I think that’s the point of vacations, not necessarily to relax, family trips can be more stressful than daily life, but just a change of pace. I’ll catch up with the workload and everything will be back to normal soon enough, so it’s always worth taking some time, and a few hundred dollars, to ride the waves, kick the sand, and re-connect with increasingly distant family members.

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Beach Vacation 2016

River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze

Remember that retirement party back in June?  While I was there, I spent some time talking with a guy who had spent some time teaching English in China.  We discussed travel, career goals, volunteering, and seeking authentic experiences abroad.  He recommended that I read River Town, especially if I was thinking about TEFL in China.  There’s a very short list of people whose recommendations I take seriously, so I put this on the “if I get to it” list, and moved on.  Months later, I found a copy at my local library sale, paid the old lady 50-cents, and finally got around to it.

The first-person story chronicles the experiences of Peter Hessler, a Peace Corps Volunteer, as he teaches English Literature in China’s Sichuan province.  He discusses many politically difficult topics with the people, learns enough Mandarin and Sichuan-dialect to communicate, and runs in the pollution-thick air until a sinus infection bursts his eardrum.  He ends up in many awkward situations with the cultural differences, and lives much more completely than I ever have.

I realized that as a thinking person his advantage lay precisely in his lack of formal education.  Nobody told him what to think, and thus he was free to think clearly.

His remote site meant that the Peace Corps officials didn’t stop by too often, so Peter and his site-mates were left to navigate the political minefields without interference.  It was refreshing to hear that, even as a Peace Corps Volunteer, he was paid enough to live in Fuling.

That was one of the best aspects of life in the Peace Corps: my salary was so low that it was pointless to save money, but my Fuling routines were so simple and cheap that I didn’t have to worry about budgeting my expenses.  In a sense it was the richest I could ever be, because it was like toy money and I didn’t have to think about it at all.

I had thought about the Peace Corps before, a friend from high school volunteered in Peru, but I’d have to be much more qualified to get accepted.  I also don’t think TEFL is right for me, I’m no teacher.  That said, long term international volunteering is still my eventual goal.  I’d love to spend enough time abroad to learn the language, connect with the culture, grow and change.

There were good days and there were bad days.  To some degree this was what I liked most about Fuling: it was a human place, brightened by decency and scarred by flaws, and a town like that was always engaging.  For two years I had never been bored.

River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze

Eat Pray Love

Contains the best description of the life-changing effect good pizza can have:

So Sofie and I have come to Pizzeria da Michele, and these pies we have just ordered–one for each of us–are making us lose our minds.  I love my pizza so much, in fact, that I have come to believe in my delirium that my pizza might actually love me, in return.  I am having a relationship with this pizza, almost an affair.  Meanwhile, Sofie is practically in tears over hers, she’s having a metaphysical crisis about it, she’s begging me, “Why do they even bother trying to make pizza in Stockholm?  Why do we even bother eating food at all in Stockholm?”

The book is such a good example of throwing oneself into pleasure, devotion, and balance.

Now I’m on to “The Remains of the Day,” another book recommendation I’ve received.  I can’t believe there was a time in my life when I couldn’t find things to read.  Now the pile just gets bigger.

Eat Pray Love

The Great Blog Hunt

Since I’ve recently returned to WordPress, I’ve started looking for interesting blogs to follow.  Over the last few days, I’ve found a few that look promising, and I look forward to reading more of their work.  Today I waded into some travel sites, which I usually try to avoid.  You see, I want little more right now than to travel the world, see incredible sights, and amass thrilling tales of my exploits.

However, I’ve learned that pining after something I can’t achieve anytime soon, and feeding that hunger with travel journalism, is not the best choice.  I look at the clock hours later, shocked but not surprised that I tumbled down the black hole of researching my theoretical future instead of doing what I can to make it happen.  As much as I appreciate auto photography blogs, if I have no money to build a project car, there’s little I can do with that desire.  As much as I love the vibrant posts of the world-citizen nomads, I still have student loans keeping me here.

I did follow one travel blog though (so far).  They’re posting from Hanoi at the moment, and I was immediately snared.  The writing is amazing.  I’ve never read something and wanted to grab my passport more than when I perused Hanoi is for Fugitives.  I highly recommend The Squeaky Robot, for what my quiet voice is worth.

Do any of you have other blog suggestions?  I’m mostly interested in short fiction and personal posts, since my bank gets nervous whenever I stay on a travel site too long.

The Great Blog Hunt

India

This morning, I wrote “Move to India” on my To-Do List.  It’s still there for now, but I’m not certain it will stay.  You may remember a while ago when I figured moving to Bhutan would be the best thing ever.  There are a few caveats with Bhutan though: they aren’t so keen on outsiders, I really should be Buddhist to live there, and it isn’t exactly a bustling economy.

India is very different.  After a few seconds of research this morning, I learned that India has the lowest reported cost of living in the world.  Those numbers might be because almost half of the sizable population lives well below the international poverty level, but I digress.  India also looks to be very diverse, the young democracy recognizes many languages and many religions.  The somewhat unique landmass has climates varying from hot and humid to cold and mountainy.

Although, internet access isn’t as widespread as I would like, and the major cities seem to be in the hot-and-humid area, which I’m not sure I could live with.  But it is so cheap, and the economy is growing faster than any other industrialized nation, so that’s a good sign.

As with all my harebrained plans, we’ll see what happens in a few years when I will hopefully be moving on with my life.

India

On Freedom

This morning, I watched these videos from the ongoing Mongol Rally.  I’ve really wanted to participate in the Mongol Rally since I heard about it last year.  It’s one of the biggest, most ridiculous, most dangerous, most foolish adventures devised.  Of course, like with all cool things, it costs more than I have.  So maybe in another 3-4 years I could think about it.

In the third episode of the video set, they met a French cyclist.  This guy was on day 638 of his bike ride from Holland to India.  He spoke several languages and was a nomad in the truest sense.  His journey put even the epic 10,000 mile Mongol Rally in perspective.  The bike was loaded down with panniers and bags.  Holding everything he needed to get by no matter what nature threw his way.

All this got me thinking about Freedom.  I think once I have no debts, no obligations, and no reliance on other people, I would be free.  But as I was running today I realized that isn’t entirely true.  Being out of debt and on my own as a self-sufficient individual is still the (unfortunately long-term) goal.  But freedom is a mindset.  If I lived in Singapore and didn’t owe anybody anything, just going from the internet cafe back to my bungalow on the beach, I wouldn’t necessarily be free.  I would still be worried about where my money was coming from, when does my visa expire, am I breaking one of Singapore’s crazy laws right now, I’d be in a cage within my own head.

Even once I eventually get out from under the external forces holding me back, I will still need to overcome the internal chains.  Only then will I be free.

On Freedom

Citizen of the World

Yesterday, I read an article on Matador about literature leading to travel.  I tend to escape my tedious day-to-day life through reading, but it hasn’t inspired me to travel yet.  I had always thought of reading and traveling as two separate related entities, but they’re more connected than that.

Because it was not traveling that inspired my love of the world and the need to experience it. That inspiration, that love, pressed itself against my malleable heart the moment I learned to read. The same qualities that have made me a voracious reader have made me a natural traveler.

I enjoy reading, and I want to travel.  I just never put it together that my appreciation of the one might lead to realization of the other.  The article’s author Nikki Hodgson devoured literature set in (for lack of a better term) the real world.  Reading stories based in actual places like Alaska, Paris, Jerusalem, and Germany would focus one’s desire to travel.  Because I tended to read fantasy, that didn’t happen.  I’d want to go to Hogwarts, Middle Earth, or Narnia instead.  But until I receive a letter, find a ring, or walk through an old wardrobe, I’m not likely to visit those famed locales.

You don’t have to leave home to be a citizen of the world. A ravenous appetite for new perspectives is all that’s required because it is not the act of traveling that shapes a traveler. It’s the insatiable curiosity, it’s the hunger.

Now that I’m reading a bit wider, I can see what she means.  Memoirs of a Geisha did make me want to visit Japan, if only to see how it’s changed and remained the same.  Crime and Punishment is the first work I’ve read set in Russia.  And now I’m desirous of travelling there as well.  When I throw myself into another world, either fantasy or not, I want to go there.  Reading stories set in places I could actually go to, would be a great way to build my hunger to travel while showing me places I’d want to visit.

Citizen of the World