Smack in the Middle

A few days after we left home on the cruise ship, I thought I made a huge mistake. All the time, money and energy I spent going on this trip and I was already bored sick. Coming from a fast paced American lifestyle, my mind was acting as if I still had all the same responsibilities. My old responsibilities where gone, so there was no way to exercise that energy. It took a while for me to slow down enough to enjoy the things around me. Now my responsibilities consist of finding food, shelter, entertainment, and to how to get from one place to another. I've learned that I don't want to go back to living fast and furious. I don't want to grow dreadlocks and join a farm either. There is balance somewhere in the middle I suppose.


Normally, we stay in 2 or 3 star hotels never more than three years old; or aboard a cruise ship. We've stayed in only one hostel, the first week we arrived in Europe. We are just too old to be sharing bathrooms and contemplating questionable spots on hostel linen. Most hostels are just hotels where the owners just stopped giving a crap. I guess staying in hostels can be good if you're traveling alone. It's cheap and gives you the opportunity to make fast friends with other travelers. Hopefully you don't wake up tied to the ceiling with a sock in your mouth. And bring a sleeping bag.

GPS has saved our relationship. If we had been fiddling with maps and constantly asking for directions, there would have been lots of aggravation because Tara is navigationally challenged. I carry two GPS enabled phones at all times. They have maps of every country pre-installed. We have never been lost or ever taken the long way to get anywhere. GPS is also useful for knowing when to hop off a bus or when to scream at a taxi driver for trying to take us for a ride. Wikitravel.org's offline version provides us with precise instructions on how to navigate our environment like locals. I feel comfortable going to anywhere with just these two tools. I can imagine how miserable it was even fifteen years ago with compasses and folding maps. Not to mention two hundred years ago when it took American settlers twenty years to cross the country. Lots of them died on the way. When they finally arrived, it was a whole new set of people.


As far as our health; no diseases that I know of. We feel pretty healthy thanks to How to Shit Around the World: The Art of Staying Clean and Healthy While Traveling by Dr. Jane Wilson-Howarth. The book was very explicit about what to eat and what will make us sick; "cook it, boil it, peel it or forget it." We have been bitten by no more than ten mosquitoes between us. I've had only one weird medical issue. I was having dizzy spells and felt unbalanced when walking. I went to a Chinese medicine doctor in Malaysia. She looked at my tongue, took my pulse and stared at me for a while. She said I was sleeping too much and I was going form hot weather to air conditioning too often. Now I sleep 71/2 hours and walk slow when outside to reduce heat and I feel much better. I'll visit more Chinese medicine doctors in the future as long as they have some respect for western medicine.

William S. Burroughs said, "Perhaps all pleasure is only relief." That would explain why the grass is always greener. Sometimes I miss the monotony of being home and staying in one place, while my friends tell me they wish they were traveling. The hardest thing about long term travel is only having myself and Tara to worry about. I need to feel like I'm contributing to a community in some way. It gives me the opportunity to take a break from myself and think about other people. Since we are moving all the time, I don't have a chance to do that. However I still have my virtual community and I'm very grateful for that. On the other hand, not having attachments to people, places or things is very liberating. My thoughts are usually focused on what's going on at the moment. Sometimes because I'm in survival mode or I'm in total shock and amazement, but mostly because everything is new and constantly changing. I'm always learning new things and making analogies because so many things are foreign and familiar at the same time. I don't know how I'll feel when I get home. I'm expecting to experience reverse culture shock. Hopefully I wont get too depressed. On my next trip I'll try to mix work with travel so I can have more involved interactions with different cultures. We have about five months left before the cash runs out.

Where we've been so far:

Nassau, Bahamas
Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal
Malaga, Spain
Cartagena, Spain
Valencia, Spain
Barcelona, Spain
Pompei, Italy
Rome, Italy
Florance, Italy
Pisa, Italy
Cannes, France
Marissele, France
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Copenhagen, Denmark
Rostock, Germany
Tallinn, Estonia
St Petersburg, Russia
Helsinki, Finland
Stockholm, Sweden
Newcastle Upon Tyne, Scotland, UK
Edinburgh, Scotland, Scotland, UK
Inverness, Scotland, UK
Alesund, Norway
Geiranger, Norway
Flåm, Norway
Bergen, Norway
Kristiansund, Norway
Oslo, Norway
Copenhagen, Denmark
Malmö, Sweden
Venice, Italy
Dubrovnik, Croatia
Corfu, Greece
Olympia, Greece
Athens, Greece
Mykonos, Greece
Kusadasi, Turkey
Thira (Santorini), Greece
Naples, Italy
Riga, Latvia
Jurmala, Latvia
Sigulda, Latvia
Tallinn, Estonia
Bali, Indonesia
Gili Trawangan, Indonesia
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Osaka, Japan
Kyoto, Japan
Tokyo, Japan
Beijing, China
Shanghai, China
Hangzhou, China
Bangkok, Thailand
Pattaya, Thailand

China

China is the most intense place we have visited so far. The sounds, the smells, the history, the architecture, the smells. Ancient traditions coexist with cutting edge technology. It's like stepping out of a time machine that short circuited. It wont be long before the old traditions die out to make way for the new generations. I'm glad I got to see China before it completely becomes modernized.

We found a good Tex-Mex place in Beijing, but since then it's been jellyfish salad and boneless chicken feet. We have no idea what we're eating most of the time. We can't read the menus and very few people speak English; could be anything really.

Live scorpions, seahorses, starfish and various kinds of snake on a stick.
Lots of Chinese people take our picture. They try to do it covertly, but it's usually very obvious. I try to take pictures of  them taking pictures of us. I don't have a problem with it. I just wish they would ask so they don't feel like they're creeping.


On the subway ride from the airport in Beijing, transit workers were forcibly pushing everyone into the overcrowded subway car. I was smooshed up against 18 people. When we arrived at our station, I pushed my way out of the train. Tara however, was still inside. All I could see was her forearm sticking out of the mass of people. I grabbed her arm and she popped out along with two other people just as the doors slammed shut. The two other people just laughed and walked off.


Going to the public bathroom was a communal event. There were six holes in the floor (aka squatty potties.) No stalls or separators, just guys squatting and looking at each other. That was not for me, I ran out of there. Of course all the hotels we've stayed in had glass walls separating the bathroom from the beds. So I didn't completely miss out on the experience.

Bullet Train 250 mph
Shanghai
There is not much difference between inside behavior and outside behavior. Many people talk extremely loud. There is lots of hawking and spitting. People spit and smoke everywhere: inside, outside, in malls, on trains, in elevators, women and grandmas alike. There is no respect for personal space. People push each other even when there is plenty of room and there is always someone cutting in line. My theory is they are use to living in very close quarters, so there is no difference between personal space and public space. Not all Chinese people are like this. But it's hard not to focus on the ones that are because there always seems to be someone wreaking havoc.

The Farmer's Market of Love
Every weekend, hundreds of parents take over People's Square Park to try to find mates for their children. They promote their children's age, height, salary and whether or not they own their own home on a piece of paper affixed to an umbrella.