We are soon off on our second “trip of a lifetime,” this one to New Delhi, Katmandu, a six-day trek in the Himalayas, and then two weeks in Thailand, one of them unscripted.
Our trip to Europe in 2011 changed my outlook on many things. In Italy we saw Italians doing all of the daily jobs from waiting tables to driving buses. Imagine! Switzerland was just as imagined. Prague was enchanting, and the John Lennon Wall gave me an idea of the power and reach of this man. There are cathedrals everywhere, but deeply embedded in them are hints of the real history of religion – sun worship and astrology. The Vatican had the feel of powerful military fortress, and a long hallway of statues with all of the male genitalia chopped off spoke volumes on Catholicism. Countries on the euro are expensive. Those not are much more affordable, though the standard if living is very high throughout (except perhaps Hungary as we saw it in our brief glimpse*).
But most amazing was the infrastructure, excellent railways and buses running on time all the time, clean and police-free airports and terminals and the absence of the monster-chains like WalMart polluting the countryside with their Soviet-like grayness. They are there, I know, but the places that we saw were mostly small shops. People lean against cafe railings in the morning as they drink their cappuccino from real cups. They are rushed in the bigger cities, just like here, but it’s footsteps, trains and buses instead of automobiles. Parts of Prague gave us the oppressive nature of the Soviet occupation. We walked daily through Wenceslas Square famous for those powerful images and the “Velvet Revolution” that brought in the new regime. I realized that we are prisoners only of our own minds. Such a revolution is possible in the US too, though I don’t see it coming any time soon. We are deep in mind and thought control here, but I don’t think people can see that from within. Travel helps.
Our son Steve did some of the same trip that we are embarking on Wednesday AM, but he’s young and so he rented motorbikes and met other young people and traveled like a young Kerouac. We don’t have that luxury, and so will be a little more stationary. I am trying to free my mind of stereotypes and prejudices, but have a bad feeling about India – heat and cows and excrement and crowds. Gotta shake that notion! Thailand, as we will see it, is likely a first-world country catering to Americans, but I can’t just hop on a motorbike and head into the hills to live among the people in the rice paddies … oh, wait – that’s my Vietnam stereotype!
And even so, though I don’t want to be a tourist, we will be tourists and should be tourists. The non-tourist parts ought to stay that way, in my view. By definition settings are not natural once we start traipsing through them. People begin to devise ways to part us from our money, and most of those ways involve catering to our stereotypical ideas of the place we are visiting. Just by going to a place, we change that place.
I don’t know if I’ll be writing much – it’s kinda of what I do no matter where I’m at as I rise early and have my best times before the rest of the world gets up. I suppose that won’t change. i do love writing.
I am told that in Thailand they put ice cubes in beer. That’s disturbing.
*At the Keleti railway station in Budapest when we arrived, I headed for the bathroom and went from stall to stall looking for one with toilet paper. At last I saw a man at a desk at the entrance signal to me, and I went out there. He pointed at a giant roll there – he was monitoring use. How Soviet!