First entry of this blog:
Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Some birds fly south for the winter. Smart creatures. I apparently do the opposite. The heralds of spring, the cherry blossoms petals that paint Vancouver streets in pale pink snow have come and gone and the rainy, cold weather of May always makes me think that it should be warmer. Summer plays peek-a-boo from just around the corner and my wanderlust pulls at my heart strings. Last year and the year before, I spent my summers in Tanzania doing my masters research in a small fishing village nestled in coconut palms, turquoise oceans and grand plans for development that unfortunately helped global consumers more than local people. The year before that Bryan and I kayaked from Vancouver to Alaska exploring the beautiful, rich wild coast of British Columbia that sustained a wealth of cultures for millenias to raise funds for a project in Western Kenya. The year before that I spent a semester in safari across Eastern Africa then Bryan joined me and we backpacked from Cape Town to Cairo, exploring the diverse landscapes from grasslands of the Masai Mara, the labyrinth of streets in Old Town Zanzibar, the highlands and the random Macbethian castles of Gondor in Ethiopia, driving through the massive baobao tree forests in Mozambique to the highest mountain in Africa, Mt Kilimonjaro – all hopped up on anti-malarial meds which warn of possible side effect of anxiety, hallucinations and psychosis. The year before that I did worked on an archaeological dig in Jordan and solo backpacked across the Middle East, the year before that I was surprisingly at home and the year before that Bryan and I backpacked across South and Southeast Asia. This year, I am on a plane flying to India to do my yoga teacher training – a bachelorette trip with my sister who will be joining me in a week before my craziest adventure to date, getting married.
With each trip, I always get a little butterfly feeling in my stomach as I leave the safe harbor of every day routine and working steadily to build a successful career. As I worked three jobs simultaneously this past year to save up money for travels, weaving work hours like an intricate puzzle that somehow always worked out though often forgetting my need to sleep, a well-paying, Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 job sounds absolutely delightful.
However, my daydreams fly to different places I want to visit and my daydreams become real dreams.
Some people ask me, “What is it that you actually want to DO in life? What do you want to settle in? Why do you want to do all these things and walk away from educational and career advancements?”
I think somehow it returns to Mark Twain’s quote that looking back, people are more disappointed by the things they didn’t do than the things they did. Being driven is great and don’t get me wrong, I truly admire people who build beautiful families and/or have a great career that they have worked so hard to get to – exploring, dreaming and discovering can happen a lot closer to home too. However, I just think that sometimes, if we set ourselves on just a narrow definition of success, we put blinders on the amazing opportunities for experiences that may come up.
The word for happiness in Cantonese Chinese literally translates to “open heart” and I think it is such a beautiful phrase to reflect opening your heart to new experiences and people. In travels, you meet some interesting, some awesome and some truly inspirational people – often (but not always), all three combined. Such openness is sometimes painful – but often the painfulness comes from shattering pre-conceived ideas about places and people rather than the pain of being ripped off or sore butts from long rides on buses you’re amazed they somehow keep running… though there are many crappy buses so sore butts is a quite common occurrence.
My background training is in cultural, medical anthropology and though I’ve stepped off the idealized educational path from undergrad to grad to eventual professor (with forays into the bog of self doubt, bushwacking through thick jungles of trying to finish a thesis/dissertation, swimming through shark inhabited seas of trying to get published and trudging across deserts trying to reach oasises of getting a tenure-track position) for now, I do still feel like it continues to be a part of me. More than just academics, it is a bit of a philosophy. Underlying the debates and critiques and though different schools of thought vehemently disagree with each other sometimes, I think underlying it all is a core ideal (though of course not always achieved in practice) of being anti-racist and trying to understand people and situations from local points of view before judging.
Understand before judging – I always thought there was something beautiful about that – it is critical thinking at its highest.
It is a philosophy that the world around us and the objects and people we interact with are meaningful – they have cultural values and norms of practice. Meaning is socially developed thus there are many different ways of perceiving the world but it is also constructed in contexts of power that can reproduce social inequalities. I guess in my travels and in my attempts of keeping an open heart, I try to hold on to some of these philosophical tenants of anthropology. Travelling for me is like experiencing anthropology – through all of the senses. In contrast to psychology where experiments look at effects of variables on test subjects, the anthropologist himself or herself is the site of the experiment, immersing into a situation to try to understand it better, reflexively through effects on the self. Learning about something different often uncovers more about the self just as judging non-compliant medical patients often reveals more about the barriers health discourses construct.
These lessons from anthropology seem especially salient as I embark on the adventures of this summer – off to India to do a 6 week residential hatha yoga teacher training course. I will be located in Rishikesh, nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas where the mighty Ganges River tumbles out of the mountains. The landscape is charged with stories as it is where many of the events in Hindu scriptures take place. More pop culture, it is also the place where the Beatles went and wrote the White Album. For the next six weeks, I will be studying yogic philosophies and meditating through movement in yoga positions, though music in chanting and through stillness in sitting meditation from dawn to dusk for six days a week.
All of a sudden, those fluttering butterflies in my stomach return.
Sometimes it is crazy to drop everything to go on the next adventure… however, sometimes I think it is also crazy to sit back and let the world go by.