travelogue – this is the end – Asia

I’m back.

Back in the best country in the world.

Where better be than a sunny Canadian summer?

I’m a year older than when I left home — 41, and still clinging to life.

Actually, I feel good. Undiminished. Not yet a “Silver-back packer“. I was buoyed by the “New Passages” research that found, over the last generation, people are thinking and doing 10 years younger.

It has been a bad hair decade, though.

And I’m still unadorned as a Mahatma — lacking rings, tattoos, jewels, chains and piercings all which, as I understand it, make a face handsomer. (apologies to Count Leo)

The highpoint of my trip?

Definitely the wild frontier of the Himalayan plateau in China between Chengdu and Lanzhao; horseback mountain trek, endless grasslands, hundreds of thousands of yaks and goats, the largest Tibetan monastery in the world. Amazing sights. Great times.

That was Sept. ’98 when I was still euphoric. I lay awake nights planning multi-year, worldwide itineraries.

Travel euphoria exhausted itself by Christmas. I learned that 4 months is the longest I would want to be away in future.

Wandering the world for amusement; escaping the tangles of “reality” at home; meeting and travelling with people from all over the world might sound good … It is! I recommend it.

But not for TOO long.

What are my future plans?

I’m thinking of shaving off my beard. Beyond that? I guess a year wasn’t long enough to answer that question.

When considering my future, first priority is a simple, healthy, happy lifestyle.

I want to be able to “follow my bliss“. Spend my time doing those things that I most enjoy; those things that enervate me, compel me; interest me in a sustained way. And still earn a modest living.

The Internet attracts me. I’d love to find some way to work on the Web and do gymnastics as a hobby.

I still want to travel.

And you? Dreaming of an adventure holiday?

If you go to Asia I’d first recommend Nepal; fantastic ancient and modern attractions, Buddhist and Hindu cultures, the Himalayas — almost hassle free. (My friend Liba is going on the Annapurna Circuit trek in October.)

If you crave more excitement then definitely Cambodia, Laos, or Myanmar.

The most under-rated country? Malaysia. It’s an Islamic version of how Thailand used to be.

Finally, to challenge yourself, test your limits, “change your life” — go to India.

Did this trip change my life? I don’t think so. No transformation. Perhaps I’m slightly less deluded. Perhaps slightly more appreciative of the magic moments in life.

No great romance to report. There’s a lot of sex on the backpacker circuit, but mostly for chickens, dogs, goats, monkeys and (most frantically) yaks.

Gandhi shoulderWithout question the most meaningful experience was the week at Gandhi’s ashram. I was really inspired by Gandhi and his follower Vinoba, their philosophy of service to mankind. I’m still ruminating on how that inspiration might change my life.

Vinoba said that the established religions will continue to decline, replaced by personal “spirituality” (which can certainly be practiced with others). We need some new mechanism with which to educate youth in ethics and morality.

As for me, I have firm principles that I occasionally stick to. I admit it. I’m a compromiser. The utilitarian formula (“greatest good for the greatest number“) is good enough for me. I sleep great.

Suspect extremism. Look for a middle path.

Almost all backpackers in Asia are attracted to Buddhism. That philosophy challenges many of our ingrained cultural preconceptions. It has something to teach us.

Most of the press goes to colourful Tibetan Buddhism, mainly, I think, because the Dalai Lama is a great world spiritual leader.

For the record, “real” Buddhism to me is that practiced in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia. There they are more disciplined and more closely live the philosophy.

Buddha factoryBuddha factory, Cambodia

I took no camera on this trip. It’s much more relaxing to travel without being slave to the photo-op. It helps me, a little, to “live in the moment“.

And there is something wasteful about photography. Maybe I’ll go digital when the resolution gets good enough. (I’m conflicted. I love looking at photos, but hate taking them.)

I keep notes on my travels but fewer, I noticed, this trip than ever before. And I never even glance at junky tourist souvenirs.

Since I have a terrible memory, as time passes only these e-mails will remain.

Actually, I’m fairly happy with them. They’ve touched on most of the important themes of the trip. Given a glimpse into where my head’s been.

Warren Long has been posting them on his personal web site. I’ll clean them up a little, add some additional photos, and then let you know where you can find it on the web. (If I’m smart I’ll use some pseudonym. Can you think of an anagram of my name?)

Web-based email (e.g. Hotmail) is a glad revolution for travellers. Even the brokest backpacker is lavish, often spending more on computer time than on food and accommodation combined.

You can imagine how notoriously unreliable Internet Cafe computers in the developing world would be. And Hotmail, software from the evil empire of Microsoft, makes many, including myself, break down and cry at times.

(I just read that 1/4 of all Internet users are registered in Hotmail. Over 50 million! It’s time I get out.)

I’ve totally enjoyed writing these e-mails, though. It’s a selfish pleasure. I hope I haven’t offended too often. I can rarely resist the vanity of a smart-ass remark. As a traveller I’m not nearly as arrogant and condescending as I sometimes sound in these missives.

I worry that sometimes my canons have been aimed at my allies. Have you suffered friendly fire?

If so, I apologize for my offence. Just trying to keep the monologue lively.

A very special apology if you are a Communist, smoke, support the Chinese liberation of Tibet, speak French, are a beggar or other societal parasite, own a suitcase, or drive a Mercedes.

Like a reporter, I admit I sensationalized at times, highlighting the freakish, pathetic, extreme, hyperbolic.

But the beauty of e-mail is that you can skim and delete. I know that terrible sinking feeling of opening a loooooong e-mail when you’re very, very busy. I’ve got an itchy (delete) trigger finger myself.

I would never have sent you these e-mails as letters. You would have felt obliged to actually read them.

Cost of the trip?

I’ve yet to calculate it but, wild guess, no more than C$600 / month plus airfares. That’s about average, I would think, for the typical Lonely Planet backpacker in Asia. It’s very inexpensive.

This is not the end. I’m booked for most of the summer hiking, camping, visiting.

Hope to see you soon!

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Rick Mc

Career gymnastics coach who loves the outdoors, and the internet.

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