To complete Cousin Robb’s email from yesterday…
Here it is.
Some experiences are impossible to understand, much less mistake for mundane. For me, these usually have to do with just another example of the inhumanity of humanity:
- The hundreds of faces of the tortured in an infamous Khmer Rouge jail left me in tears (physical pain that even Hitler’s crew couldn’t touch (and against their own people, no less!)). The attached “killing fields” of Cambodia take torture and death to levels and feelings I didn’t know existed.
- Without even mentioning the Vietnam War (funny, in Vietnam, the call it the American War), did you know the US dropped more bombs on Cambodia than all bombs dropped in WWII, by BOTH side!. And the Cambodian-land mined limbless are everywhere…I gave a lot of cash to them, as many tend to migrate to begging, as they understand the heartstrings (or heartchains) that they pull on….
- Did you know we flew 580,000 bombing missions in Laos? A third of the country was injured, killed or made homeless….too bad we didn’t have CNN then! After all my time on the road, I’m not keen on judging much anymore, but the facts and stories from their side do make you think…. Funny though, through all my travels in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, I did not find one grudge against us Americans – everyone was terrific.
- Seeing the completely empty faces of Sri Lankan refugees in the flesh cannot be explained. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such resignation of life.
- In reality, as we merrily visit our favorite places like the Giza pyramids, the warriors of Xian, Machu Pichu, Angkor Wat, it should always occur to us that the millions of workers it took to create probably didn’t have a good dental plan, much less wages or dare I say, freedom. Traveling on the cheap, I have seen so much poverty and lack of basic freedoms for the masses (instituted by the rich, powerful few) that I feel disingenuous. These experiences make me wiser, but how will it make the world a better place?
Other interesting tales:
- So out of my head one night (in India)that my friend had to remind me that we were pushed head down into the sand the night before and searched by two local cops looking for anything to bring them a payoff (and not finding any drugs on us just made the experience worse)….though speaking of which, the system of bribery and payoffs can be extremely efficient in some ways to our own more ethical, albeit red-taped system (and I’m a certified fraud examiner, no less)…but only as long as you have a pocketful of cash and the courage to haggle with a mustached-laden perp with a badge and a gun. Always contentious, but never dull!
- Even burning buses and cars and gunfire in the streets of Bangkok only sound exciting to me when on CNN or sending emails to friends. There were only 15 people on my 737 from Bombay to Bangkok in April. Only a few months before, the rebels took over the airport for days, so no one but the 15 of us intrepids were willing to risk a “duck and cover.” It took five of us and a big wad of cash to get a taxi into the city through empty streets and occasional gunfire – we felt like those crazy journalist you see on the front lines. We passed the same burning vehicles I had watched on BBC the night before in Mumbai. And to top it off, the govt. Army had two sets of weapons, M-16s and Super soakers! You see, I also landed in the middle of the biggest water fight in the world…Thailand’s New Year celebration. Imagine ten’s of thousands of people in the streets aggressively shooting each other with water guns while rebels with real guns are only blocks away. I couldn’t go out to find something to eat without getting completely soaked or blockaded by tanks and machine guns…you just can’t make that kind of absurdity up!
(The local 7-11 is a woman on a rowboat, bringing everything from snacks to tampons …)
After my half-hearted attempt at a psychological paradigm shift (remembering my normal life), other interesting, yet trivial tidbits emerge:
- I have not worn shoes or socks since the first week in February;
- The last time I wore a jacket was December 26th;
- I’m outside so often my armpits are tanned;
- Doing a good turn daily in this part of the world is easy; it’s sad that losing the embarrassment and/or gaining the courage to begin took months to get over….
- In nine months, only three times have I slept in the same bed for more than three nights.
(Supper… at the market)
Well, have I diluted the extent of my personal human experience? Am I just tired with lost perspective? Maybe I need a good dose of suffering. Obviously suffering brings new awareness. Specifically: an acute realization of the beauty of not suffering! Nah, I think I’m just like you….struggling for the air of fulfillment while drowning in a bowl of mixed blessings….
Sidebar: To answer the most common question I receive: “When are you coming back,” I can only answer by saying that I am currently island hopping in Southern Thailand. It is truly one of the most beautiful places on Earth with perfect islands, beaches, cliffs and emerald waters. They filmed movies like the 007 “Golden Gun” here, as well as “The Beach.” …..I think I’ll play Leonardo in the jungle a little longer….
I miss you all and wish you nothing but the best!
(Cave exploration by walking and kayaking.)