Sunday, January 13, 2008

look both ways before crossing


The big bags are packed – we blow this country tomorrow afternoon for the most glorious land of Kazakhstan! A friend of mine asked me the other day where do I feel more real – on the road or at home. This question gave me pause. The two existences are so different.

I first answered by giving him some marriage advice. If you are lucky enough to share your bed with someone I have a suggestion that will guarantee to nurture and sustain your relationship: down comforters.

Notice – I am talking in the plural here, especially if you have a queen or king sized bed – equip it with two comforters so that you do not have to share with your partner. This is something we picked up while traveling in Europe years ago. I think it was in Amsterdam, or maybe Prague – the bed had two top quilts and we were able to roll up in them like stuffed cabbage at a Croatian wedding without pulling the blankets off of each other. We brought this custom home and Americanized it by supersizing up from the continental pair of twin sized to double and eventuall two queen sized comforters.

So, one of my favorite places on earth is twisted like a goose feathered croissant in my bed on a chilly winter morning another one of my favorite places is balancing on a rocky jetty in Whittier, Alaska casting for salmon which ranks right up there with riding on the back of a motor bike in Saigon - equal but different experience.

I am always amazed when we get met by old, or soon to be new, friends at an airport, train station, boat dock or churchyard at midnight sometimes tens of thousands of miles from our front stoop. The terrain we've traversed, the people we've passed, sleeping babies, German baggage handlers clicking their heels, car rental agents who think we are insane to consider driving three hundred miles in one day… But, it seems, things always work out somehow in the end – this is because quite literally, they have to.

When traveling great distances it is helpful to remember that no matter what – time will keep passing on and things will change, a smile opens opportunity and most folks do want to help the pathetic and while humbling, being pathetic every now and then is not fatal. I think this is the biggest lesson to be taken to heart when leaving the safety of a common culture and language, that one is not the center of the wheel.

I stood on the corner of an insanely busy intersection in Ho Chi Minh City outside the Sheraton conference center waiting for the light to change so that I could cross the street to get a bowl of soup. This is what I had done in every major city I had ever visited – not eaten soup that is – but waited at a corner for the light to change so that I could cross a roadway. Of course when in Britain I had to be sure I looked the "right" way before crossing because the limeys drive on the "wrong" side of the road – I knew that because I am seasoned world citizen.

So I waited, and waited, and waited. In the meantime, I began noticing other pedestrians simple stepping off the curb into the boiling traffic calmly walking to the other side as the cars, trucks, busses and motorbikes swerved around them as if they were wading across a river. The light never did change, and eventually I steeled my courage up and stepped into rushing traffic and purposefully put one foot in front of the other until I got to the other side.

I gleefully taught the skill to Sara by walking into the street with my head turned back to her away from the traffic as if I "accidently" had stepped off the curb. We had to learn a new paradigm as well as trust simply to cross the street.

Who knows what this trip is going to teach us?

Oh yeah, having a traveling companion that you get along with 98% of the time makes things a million times better in the best and worst situations – but that deserves a whole post on its own sometime and I'll get to that. Suffice it to say for now, just like in bed – it's good to be sure each other's butts are covered.

Here we go….

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