Travelversary, how I got where I am

So, that little bump in the road with the site being down marks my third year of running this blog. Well, technically I didn’t start writing on here until I arrived in China in January… but is technically three this week.

Additionally, this week marks another anniversary of sorts. It was November 11, 2003, that I left Canada and began travelling for five months living out of a backpack and on various kind souls couches, spare beds, backyards and floors.

The recognition that it’s been four years since that fateful day has led me to take a moment and consider exactly how I got where I am.

So, lets see how my memory does:

The Magazines

cmshirt.jpgSomewhere in my first or second year of college I got it in my head that I wanted to travel to Thailand upon graduation. A lot of things got in the way of that, the least of which – I’m certain – being that once graduating college few people have money and I was no exception. However, the big stopper was that before I even had my diploma in hand and hat in air, I was working at a magazine publisher spending my days pointing out other’s mistakes as an assistant editor.

With what was quite an awesome gig for a recent grad – interviewing some of my favorite musicians, getting backstage at concerts, and making more money than I’d ever made – the Thailand plans were swept aside as something to be done in the rather undefinable “later”.

I worked at the magazines for a few years, and what was exciting and fun at first quickly became stale and painful. I was tired of writing the same things over and over again, just changing the names. Tired of meeting the same fake people, listing to the same “new” bands, playing with the same “new” music gear.

Somewhere in there echoes of former plans began to swell up again. I became a bit obsessed about wanting to leave it all and travel. However, as much as it doesn’t seem like it should be, your mid-twenties are a tough time to jump off the ladder you’ve been told you need to get your ass up and have, however reluctantly, begun to climb.

It took me the better part of a year to get up the nerve to quit, and I stayed on three months past that as a grace period.

UK, Europe and an Aussie

venezia.jpgI’m not really sure why it was that I left in the second week of November 2003, but there it is. I had spent endless hours on LP’s Thorntree forums and lots of time connecting with various people via GlobalFreeloaders so that I felt at least somewhat prepared for what awaited me on the other side of the Atlantic.

Actually, looking at my apprehension now, it’s damn amusing to me just how nervous I was. I mean, it’s England. But for this small town boy who had only travelled around the safety of his own country and the mixed up place just south of it, the UK couldn’t be more foreign.

meamalfi.jpgI travelled England and Scotland for November, ending up in Belfast at my cousin’s for most of December. Spent New Year’s in Dublin with friends and was on the Mainland (of a Western kind) and in Paris at the start of January. In the 30 days that followed I thoroughly used and abused a comped Eurorail pass my “journalist” credentials had gotten me. Paris, Venice, Rome, Amalfi Coast, Athens, Olympia, Barcelona and Florence were all (far too brief) stops.

Upon arriving back in London for a couple of days to await my flight to Thailand, I ended up returning to a Globalfreeloader’s home that I had befriended (and remain good friends with today). It was there that I met Cass. An amazing Tassie that had me at “noi”.

It’s strange thinking of those three days with her now and realize how short that time actually was. Certainly a lot shorter than the number of times in the following two months that I got drunk in Thailand and blabbered on about her. Or wrote songs about her.

Thai Smiles, An Intro to Asia

angthong.jpgWhatever bits of my young heart I didn’t leave at Heathrow, Thailand stole. The country that started the journey, and I was finally there. Everything about the place appealed to me. The people, the culture, the food. Everything.

Now, with the perspective that comes with time having washed the memories a great deal, I approach the country with a slightly different feel, and it saddens me. The memories I made there, though dimmer now, still flicker in my mind and give off chemicals that remind me of those initial tastes.

fullmoon.jpgFrom taking cooking classes and volunteering at an orphanage in the North, to full moon parties and camping on a lonely island in the south – there is very little of those two months that I don’t wish I could repeat again and again. Even the scar that marks my arm, from experimenting with motorbikes and inertia, is something I took from Thailand and still hold dear.

I’ve returned several times since, and each visit was great – but when it comes to all the travel I’ve done since and all the travel I’m likely to do in the future, it’s hard not to think that perhaps those two months were the high water mark.

A Return to CNN and on to BC

After returning from travelling I landed back on North American soil in the Boston airport. While waiting for my connecting flight to Buffalo I couldn’t escape CNN. I had spent five months avoiding the news that most people busy themselves with, and getting such a strong and forceful dose so quickly left me feeling ill.

roadtobc.jpgFor the next several months I lived in a bit of a limbo, happy to be home but unsure how to fit back in. Five months isn’t long in the scheme of things, but it’s enough to disconnect you from your life. It’s enough to give you opinions outside the scope of those that have never gone. And it’s enough for the presumed pretentiousness of that fact to distance you from those that were close only six months before.

And so, when given the option to move across the country and live at my Aunt’s in British Columbia, I jumped on it. Leaving, it appeared, was becoming a bit of a hallmark for me.

BC was a mixed bag, but stopped me from getting too cozy and complacent for staying in one place. I still had a nagging desire to get to Australia. Unfortunately I wasn’t saving much money in BC and so not a month after arriving I began planning my departure – to China.

Eight Months To Oz

After typing various random things into search engines, a planned developed whereby I would go to China and teach English as a Second Language for eight months, all the while saving like a fiend to eventually end up in Australia on a one year Holidaymaker visa.

Though my infatuation with the quirky Aussie had cemented itself into one of the closest (and at the same time furtherest) friendships I’ve ever been fortunate enough to have, I was still extremely eager to see what this big island where the water drains backwards and mammals lay eggs was all about.

The eight months in China passed pretty quickly, and everything was going to plan; got my health check, got my Aussie visa, saved enough cash, finalized my itinerary…

One very good reason to cancel a trip to Australia.But then something unexpected happened. I couldn’t leave. While it’s easy to summarize these eight months in a sentence or two, it’s harder to explain all the things that were going on behind the scenes – particularly between myself and a quiet, semi-English-speaking receptionist at my school.

The one thing you have a lot of when you’re an English teacher in a small Chinese town is time. This was time I was more than happy to spend chatting with random people, and ecstatic to spend chatting with a bright and beautiful Chinese girl. Falling in love with her was an unexpected side-effect.

And one, in the end, I was quite willing to trade my best laid plans for.

Now, looking back on those initial feelings of what it was to leave my home and enter an unknown world of different cultures, languages and people, it amazes me to see how much that experience snowballed into what I now call “my life”. It also acts as a reminder of the excitement and anxiety my wife must feel about heading to Canada next month.

Seeing my own country as a foreigner is a trip I can’t wait to take.

10 Responses

  1. Wow! Such history! Mine is much simpler. Got sidetracked on the way to Taiwan. Ended up never leaving.

    Hope you have a blast in Canada. Let Maggie experience the joy of being pushed into a snow drift or have snow shoved down her shirt.

  2. humm, very nice story!being a foreigner, have you ever felt yourself like a small sand particle easily drifting with wave in this world? I do sometimes.

  3. Hey Ryan,

    That’s a great story, and quite the read. Moving, really… (and really shows your voice)

    Do you miss Thailand? Still thinking about living in Australia for a bit someday?

  4. @AL: Sometimes it feels life is just one big side-track.

    @Marco: There is definitely a current under us that travel or live abroad that isn’t under those that live further inland (so to speak). Harder to grow roots in the surf.

    @Jeremy: Haha, yeah, hadn’t quite meant it all to be so long, but just started typing and couldn’t stop. Like flipping through an old photo album I guess. Lots of memories.

    I miss Thailand all the time. When I think “where do I want to go?”, Thailand is the first place that comes to mind. As for Australia, I would love to go. The problem now is that travelling with a Chinese person in tow is a lot more confining on where you can go and how long you can stay.

  5. Ryan,

    “The problem now is that travelling with a Chinese person in tow is a lot more confining on where you can go and how long you can stay.”

    When I was trying to convince my wife to eventually apply for an immigration visa, I tried listing all the benefits of being an American passport holder. But the only one that seemed to spark her interest (she could care less about being able to vote), was the ability to pretty much go anywhere in the world. She’s not real keen on paying taxes overseas though (nor am I). Sigh.

  6. Very cool. I’m starting to feel the same way — was originally planning on staying here for a year, but now a year and a month has passed and I think I’ll be here for quite a few more. This country has such a strange, yet deep, appeal that (for me) is hard to shake off.

    “Re: Being a Canadian. Hocky on the brain and maple syrup in the veins. That’s all.”

    You forgot “and Tim Horton’s on every corner”. 😉

  7. @Nik: I’ve been meaning to put a “best of The Humanaught” list together for a while, not really entries that are great, but just ones that sort of sum up me… this one should be on that list, no doubt.

    And a wonderful journey is right.

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