Last night we were talking with a good friend from England on Skype, and I was on my iPhone scrolling through the “World Clock” feature in the clock app. Suddenly it hit me how odd my life has become. It was Sunday night and, like many other weekend nights, Jessie and I were cycling through the time differences for cities all over the world to determine who might be available to Skype chat.
Not that this was a novel revelation. Jessie and I frequently look at each other, shake our heads and remark about how our life has played out: “Who are we? How did we end up living exactly on the opposite side of the world with neighbors whom we cannot understand because of a language barrier? Renting a townhouse though we’re still not entirely sure who owns it? Going nuts over finding an avocado for $2? Not blinking an eye when a motorbike packed with five people makes you jump to the edge of the sidewalk? Melting in temperatures that only fall below 85 degrees in the dead of night?”
Is Nadia or Rochelle awake in New Zealand? Sarah, in Hawaii, must be getting up by now! How about Frances or Kat or Jordan in South Korea? Maybe Evan or Ian or Kristen are online in China. How about Heather in Singapore? No? Well then, is Dave or Natasja around in Poland? Anyone else in England? Are our families and friends awake in Michigan? Would Kate be close to her computer in California? Who else can jump into this conversation?
Part of being a traveler is meeting other people who are, in many respects, just like you. For indeed, traveling is what makes the traveler. I cannot count the times we’ve sat down in a restaurant in a backpackers area and come away several hours later with a complete life story, Facebook and email information and future plans to see a person we never knew existed prior to the occasion.
I fully and unabashedly admit, it’s exciting to talk with someone and after just two minutes know that you would be best friends if you could somehow stay in the same place together. This is a common occurrence among wanderlusts. But we can’t stay in the same place. By definition we move. Whether its two days, two months or two years; migration. We are in some sense nomads, people who must eventually continue on. But in our case the cause for mobility is not the scarcity of resources. So what is the scarcity?
I’m not ashamed to classify myself as a traveler. There’s something in my marrow that cries out for adventure and new experiences, something that wants to take a big bite out of the world, then keep going back for more. Ever since my childhood family trips, I’ve had the drive to explore. Maybe it’s genetics. Maybe it’s curiosity. Maybe it’s discontentedness. Maybe it’s spiritual. Maybe it’s a present-day manifestation of the independent, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, Marlboro man mentality that has defined American mentality since it’s inception. Maybe it’s a tame form of insanity.
For better or worse, we have become people of movement. Better in that we have learned to live minimally, carrying our lives on our back, which has allowed us to focus ourselves more so on people than on ‘things.’ Better in that our eyes have been opened and drawn to the concerns of a global community. Better in that we have been stretched and shoved in ways that have made us stronger and more knowledgeable. Yet worse in that we continually find ourselves starting over. Worse in that travel becomes an addiction that desires to be continually fed. Worse in that we have no tangible, permanent community to which we belong.
Then we moved to Bangkok, and we’re encountering culture shock, but not in the normal way it’s talked about. Our culture shock comes from having to pay rent and stock an apartment with furniture and appliances. It comes from having to follow a daily routine. It comes from seeing the same people doing the same things in the same place day after day, and knowing that we are now also those people.
Lest you think I’m prejudiced, though, I see real benefits to residing. When I walk down the street people know me and they greet me. I have a sense that in some small way I am contributing to their lives without any guilt that I’m just sucking whatever experiences I can get out of them and their country. We can spread out our belongings without the worry of how we’ll have to pack them all back up in a few days. We’ve made a habit of doing yoga several nights a week on our own yoga mats, and on weekends we indulge ourselves with cappuccinos from our espresso maker. Here’s the clincher: I even have a soup lady now. She sees me coming and starts making my order before I’ve even crossed the street.
So what’s the point of all this? Only that every coin has two sides; every choice made denies another option. In the end, whether you are moving or staying, or like us, trying to figure out how to do both, take comfort in the fact that there is no perfect way to do life.