In a friend’s blog and in response to an on-going exchange about living in the USA versus elsewhere (see the replies to his Thursday, Nov. 29, 2007 entry), I made the following comment:
Dude, you’re right. You *NEED* to travel. No question about it. After I wrote code for 20+ years I got really, really tired of “relating” to a CRT for 9-10 hours a day. So I “jumped ship” and started teaching software instead of writing it. Now I program programmers and, yeah, it’s a lot more rewarding.
And one of the big advantages is that I’ve been able to travel, mostly in the US but, over the 15 years after the first 20, I’ve been “off-shore” many times. (And about as much as I care to — airplanes and hotels get rather old after that much travel.)
But the off-shore experience, the living life elsewhere effect is something that will change you, and it affects the core of your being in ways impossible to express.
If I had my choices, here’s where I would go and what I would do.
Sit by the side of Loch Ness for a month and watch for Nessie. The weather is awful. Good. It cleanses the soul. I like the Scots a whole lot. I found them Earthy, human and in a oddly stodgy manner, not afraid of their juices: at one moment they’d seem very British but at the next, a single malt would be sitting before you from an unknown source and everyone would be looking to see what real self the alcohol would liberate.
And there be a bonnie lass or two in the Highlands, I’m sure.
Then I’d go to Fortaleza, Brazil to warm up. I haven’t been there but an air traffic controller friend came “this close” to moving after spending many, many months. (ATCs are control freaks just like us computer hackers, you know?) John wasn’t a surfer. Instead, he went for the sun and sex and my gut tells me it may have been a consequence of the latter that changed his mind. He’s back here now but not talking too much. Something about the wife of someone of position down there. Sounds like poor judgement but the brain isn’t located in that part of the anatomy so, … … Maybe the surf is good, too?
Back across the pond to Stockholm. Get a place in Gamla Stan, the old city at the core. Shoot for the summer and make a friend of someone with a sailboat. On a nice day you can sail out to one of the unpopulated islands in the Baltic and spend the day watching the clouds. If you’re lucky, you might even see a Russian periscope as they run a practice drill on your little Eden. And yes, there are blue-eyed blondes in Sweden. And there are some stunning reds with skin like cream, and brunettes who, with a simple smile, will make you sigh. Never mind that the food is either beef and potatoes or fifty variants of Herring you’d rather not eat. Bring your own lunch.
One of the towns in Cinque Terra, Italy but watch your pocket in the cities you’ll pass thorugh to get there. We’re talking some serious pickpockets in Italy but, once you’ve run the gauntlet, stop and watch them “hit” the other foreigners. It’s quite entertaining. Once in Cinque Terra, ignore the dirt and trash. Instead, watch the people live. It’s slow. Each person has a lifetime to live and they savor each moment. I could die there but they’d ship my carcass away and defeat my whole purpose of spending forever there. But until I keel over in the dusty street, yeah, I could spend a lifetime there. Change your last name to Corleone, Mike, and maybe you’ll find a doe-eyed brunette walking some lane one day.
Prague. Old. Ancient. But they have a strong sense of self and even in the Communist era, weren’t afraid to push someone else’s buttons. Yeah, I like their sense of Don’t Try To F*** With Me!
Spend some time in Israel, not because it’s right or wrong, but because its land is and has been contested for millenia, its religeon has divided the world over and over, and because seeing and experiencing all that will knock off all the sharp edges you never knew you had. Israel and the whole middle east is, unquestionably, an unsolvable problem. You’ll learn to accept, and you’ll want to know how to shoot a gun. Israel will do interesting things to your head.
Bangkok Thailand (child porn capitol of the world) — eat, eat and eat. If you can swallow it, get it. If you can’t, marvel at those who can and then order something else.
There must be another dozen places to go in southeast asia. Just pick a couple — I don’t think you can go wrong.
Xian China. Go see the terra cotta soldiers — I can’t, for the life of me, fathom just how really long that culture has been around. But spend most of your time in the city watching the people. They have lives, children and struggles. Watch the life. Pick one individual, see the minutae of their movements and try to imagine what they think, feel and want. You may then understand why the PRC causes me so much concern and simultaneously, gets so much of my respect. China is awesome. Beware. It’s not bad — it’s just big beyond belief.
Then, it’s time for a break. Head for Japan. Stay in Tokyo. Find the intersection that’s in all the movies with the bronze statue of the little dog. Forget the statue and, instead, watch the teenage meat market that takes place there on a Saturday night. Talk about juice, Wow! Go to the Ramen Museum in Yokohama for a couple of meals. Better, go there for just about every meal. No wait, you need to walk down the street and pick a place at random every day. No, you should go to Kyoto and check-in to one of the monasteries that accept foreigners. Stay a couple of days without speaking a word. Instead, sit, eat vegan, and sit some more. Then go back to Tokyo to frizz up your brain. Go where the punk teenagers go and watch from afar. They don’t like foreigners and they really don’t like Americans so keep your distance but there’s just something about a teenage girl with Gothic makeup wearing a white tutu that has to be seen to be believed.
Then come back to the US and spend a month in Mobile Alabama. God help you but you need to do it. It’s part of the education.
And then, after all that, you’ll know why some people pray to God every day for help.
That was written in a nearly in a stream-of-consciousness manner; the words just came spilling out with very little editing.
What matters in this are not the words but rather what drives the words. And what drove this was feeling, a gut feeling about the sanctity of life, about our nature and the reason for our being.
Some might say I’ve been lucky to have travelled to many places in the world. Others would say it’s a blessing. But I believe it has been a God-sent education.
In one of the rooms of our house is a small frame hanging on the wall. Therein is a neatly calligraphied statement:
Life is not a rehearsal.
Whenever I see it I say to myself, “That’s right. It’s not a rehearsal, it’s a tryout.”
Fortunately, this “tryout” (for what comes after) comes, at least for me, with an education and the travels I have made, whether overseas or to the corner supermarket, are part of that.
Many of the important lessons were learned by walking foreign streets and alleys and watching people where they live.
I’ve seen individuals and families around the world, good people and bad, good parents and bad and, through their similarities and their differences, I’ve learned things about myself, about others. And after a lot of chewing on the ideas, talking with others and lots and lots of reading about God and about life, about why we are here, animate and with the ability to think, choose and do, I’m convinced of a couple of things.
- Life is Holy.
- It is a gift.
- We are granted Free Will.
Some take that Free Will and go in one direction. We are, indeed, permitted to waste our lives, to destroy ourselves and to poison future generations, even to exterminate all life on our planet. It is permitted.
But that is not what is hoped.
Instead, I am utterly convinced that God hopes we will cherish life, encourage it, embellish it.
Life is to be lived, and enjoyed, and in ways that promote it.
But we do have to choose to make it that way.
When I learn of what is happening in the world, I am sometimes terrified of this gift of Free Will. But I know that the destruction of life, while enabled by Free Will, is not the Lord’s hope nor wish.
We can choose to act, or not act, to the promotion or to the diminuation of life. The Lord, if asked, may also choose to act and, perhaps, answer those prayers.
But it is our Free Will, acted upon from moment to moment, that shapes the world of humanity. It is His Will that we be free to choose.
In my travels, I have discovered that I live in the world of humanity where we make choices, perform actions and directly and indirectly, in large and small parts, affect each other.
To an extent that sometimes seems very, very small to me, the current state of the world, at least one small corner of it, is my doing. And to an extent I cannot possibly fathom, the future state of the world is also, to some extent, the product of my doing through my actions, through my contacts with others, through my actions or lack of actions, with total strangers walking past me in the old or the new airport in Shanghai, across the counter at MacDonalds, or within my loving arms.
God help us, please. It’s hard and confusing. The simple, straight-forward answers you have provided us through your Son are so often drowned out by the complex din of the world. Please let me hear your words again, show me the opportunities that arise before me, help me discover the ways in which I can further your hopes, wishes, dreams and desires this day, this hour and this minute.