There are somethings which we haven’t thought about or ever had to deal with back at home. Things which would never be a issue because you would know how to handle it. We have standards for instance and rules and regulations for pretty much everything. Take for example bus journeys or train journeys, there on time and you feel safe when travelling. You also have a seat and most days, you can sit back and enjoy the ride. SEA – it’s a different story. I mean coaches not running on time, I can live with, in fact you get used to it, the non-stop air-con, again I don’t like but you deal with it, the blasting karaoke music, gives me a headache but thank god for ear-plugs. What gets me on some of these journeys is that you never really know if you are going to make it, now of course you pray, hope that you do but the driving, the gunning it down the motorways – well it leaves me with doubts each time.
Local buses are no better, in fact they are worse, in most countries – Vietnam, Myanmar, they are more often than not, packed and there is one guy going through all the possible bus stops but of course not in English so you don’t have a bloody clue whether or not you should board. These buses don’t stop, I mean why bother, people just jump on and jump off, quite literally. What health and safety? Local people have mastered the art so why change it.
So, this leaves me really appreciating London transport, didn’t think I would say it but here we are, our transport system back home is great. Ok so train fares are sky high and buses get diverted but compared to here, it’s grand. Travelling around makes you appreciate the small things in life. The day to day things that we perhaps over look or take for granted. Take for example; having a shower, we all love to shower and hell we all have some standard on where we would shower. Being on the road for 5 months and having stayed at various hostels, this changes. All of sudden, just having running water from a tap is good, if there’s a shower that works then its a bonus! You do without hot water, showers, sharing with god knows how many people and waiting in line sometimes just to get in. Taking a shower or being able to use the bathroom is of course a basic requirement, need that we all have but standards drastically change when your on the road. I’ve managed to find great showers here in Malaysia that have hot running water so I find myself showering twice a day!
What else is important? What else is deemed a basic need? Sleeping or being able to sleep each night whether on a night bus, train or hostel room. You become used to sleeping on night buses, well you do your best, regardless of the numerous stops, the lights and the blaring music. Hostel rooms are great especially when the room is clean, no bed bugs and you get a blanket. But not so great when walls are paper thin and you can hear someone snoring next door and someone throwing up two floors down. Again, you learn to block out most of the commotion and okay so people stroll in at 3am every other day.
The last thing, that I deem pretty important when travelling or just in general is food. Being able to eat is always good. I’ve been lucky, I’ve managed to find vegetarian food in most of SEA even if it means eating fried rice or noodles every other day. Indian food is plentiful, thankfully so worst case at least I can have nan and a curry!
To be fair, whilst each of the three are basic needs and we all manage to meet them everyday, when travelling neither one is a priority. You’re not travelling around so you can have a great night’s sleep or great, familiar food every night – if that’s what you wanted, you wouldn’t be travelling around, uncovering the unknown, right? These things take a back sit on the best of days and again you appreciate the things around you and the people a great deal more. I’ve met so many different people from various countries and cultural backgrounds and the thing that amazes me the most is their story.
We each have a story, a reason we are here in SEA, we are all here for different periods of time, exploring different towns, each with a list of things to do all mapped out. Whilst there are endless differences, there are a fair few similarities. One of the things that connects us all is this urge to explore, this desire to break free from our ‘normal’ lives and try something different, see something new, meet someone else. Some are out travelling having taken a gap year, others have a few months off and some like me, have given up their job.
I’ve found a fair few people, that like me, questioned the meaning of life. Where are we all headed? Why not try something different? Break free from these conventional ideas and norms. It’s almost like we are a little lost together, all hoping to find this something which may well be nothing but hoping to have this enlightening moment, this great epiphany where suddenly everything makes sense and what we were searching for is in front of us.
I’ve met a fair few people that have given up the Western way of living for example. They have left all of that and moved to SEA. Men on the whole seem to favour or find SEA to be more appealing then the West. This left me questioning what is so amazing about SEA or so wrong with Western society that people make this shift? Why is it men and not women that move to SEA? I’ve been told that the people are more friendly here, life is less chaotic, less complicated, people care about one another, you have everything and more here so why not move to SEA?
Moving half way across the world is one thing, I’ve also met people that lead very minimalistic lifestyles, their travelling with no mobile phone for instance, wear no watch and don’t own a television back at home – crazy? Maybe for the average Western it is a little crazy, unheard, why not surround yourself with all the technology in the world – right? Why not move with the times? Well, these travellers travel light, their happy, content with what they have and essentially it is very little but more than enough for them.
It also comes down to culture, we are bought up in the West to compete, to strive for perfection and make money, money is what makes the world go round, without it life is miserable. Some of the travellers I’ve met however, have a very different stance on this world view, because of course, it doesn’t all have to be able money, it’s not all about competing or being greedy. There are plenty of societies that come together, help each and share ideas. It’s a society very different from the West but one which is happy.
Is it better to be happy or is it better to strive? Is it better to help yourself or someone else? Is it better to enjoy life or get caught up in the system? I’ve pretty much questioned everything for as long as I can remember from religion to gender roles to society and rules. This trip is increasingly pushing me to question my lifestyle, what I really want from life and how can I achieve it. I want to break free from tradition/conventions/expectations but how far does one go? Could I give everything up and move into a society where everyone helps one another? Where there is no competition or greed but community links and understanding?
Some of you reading this may think I’ve lost the plot, you may think it’s not possible for such places to exist or for us Westerns to move into them. But here’s the thing, they do exist, I have yet to see/experience them first hand and maybe, just maybe, it is the place to be rather than the West. Yes, we need money and yes I don’t lead a minimalistic lifestyle but could I? I would love to try, have a stab at living like some of these travellers that I’ve met, that have inspired me to perceive day to day things in society differently. I’ve come this far and I still question how I got here but I have yet to explore these kinds of societies, yet to see how they manage and flourish. I may fail miserably, I may not manage to adapt but whilst on this trip, I think I owe it to myself to try, else I will be left forever wondering, what if…?