Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die tomorrow.

James Dean

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ramblings of a weary traveller

I often wonder what people love about travel in all honesty, it can be very exhausting and a little disheartening.
I read this quote somewhere and as an experienced traveller it's meaning really rings true. I am now back to work after 2 weeks holidays, the first part of which I spent in Hong Kong. I came back from Hong Kong feeling a little let down and disheartened. I was really looking forward to my visit there and was a little disappointed in what I saw and experienced. I was ready for adventure, a mind blowing cultural experience and instead I got a big city that could easily have been Toronto or New York or London. Don't get me wrong, it was a beautiful city and it was refreshing to be around so many english speaking people and to have access to familiar products from home like doritos and diet coke, but after a few days I was bored. I came to Korea looking for a unique experience and although I have done some interesting things here, I still feel like a visitor, travelling where the other foreigners go and eating where the other foreigners eat. I returned from Hong Kong really questioning why I was here. I made some sacrifices to come here. I left friends and family behind. Although I have enjoyed myself there are days when the lonliness can be unbearable. I am rarely alone and yet I often feel a little lonely. I have made some great friends here but I have spent years cultivating the relationships that I have in Canada, so how can they even be compared. I left Hong Kong wondering why being an expat was so appealing and was it really worth scarifice. By the end of my vacation I am able to answer with a resounding YES. Here's why.
On my way home from Hong Kong there was a little airplane trouble and we were forced to spend an extra night. While standing around the airport trying to sort what was happening I started talking to a man who has lived in China for 4.5 years (from Mexico). He was coming to Korea on holiday / business and after talking to me he decided to come to Daejeon. We had dinner in Daejeon and he suggested that I come to Busan (another city in Korea) since I still had a week of holidays. I am not normally that impulsive but I didn't even hestitate to say yes. Our connection was purely on a friendship level so I knew I was safe with my own hotel room and could easily catch another train home should I change my mind. We spent the day at the beach and the night eating Korean bbq. The next day we caught another train to Seoul where we spent 2 days wandering areas in Seoul that I never knew existed and are rarely frequented by foreigners. We ate only korean food and stayed up until 3am drinking copious amounts of beer and having great conversation sharing stories of our travels and experiences. I left there feeling, for the first time, like I am embracing Korean life. I am not just a tourist who eats a bit of rice and then says they have been to Korea.
This is why I love to travel. It's not about the temples and the landscapes, anyone can visit those places. It's about sitting in a dingy little bbq restaurant, down some back alley at 3am , while an ajumma is trying to explain the menu to you. Going anywhere you want without worrying about the language barrier. Knowing that you can make yourself understood and enjoying the process of doing that. To me, this is what it means to travel and experience a culture. Being catapulted away from your comfort zone, being forced to react and recognize your strengths. I feel a great deal of pride in the travel that I have done and knowing that I am capable of going anywhere on my own. I feel smart and competent, adventurous and independant. I feel happy.