The fan blades above whooshes in earnest, swapping hot with hotter air from one corner of the room to the other. The searing summer heat lingered into the night like an obsessed ex refusing to move on. With a cold shower and staying perfectly still under the perpetual fan, sleep usually comes past midnight when neighbors have exhausted their beers or conversation topics, whichever comes first; what remains are the songs of crickets in midnight blue.
A Life of ‘With’
Spending enough time away, a day of life then and now resembles alternate lives separated by a sliding door. Pressed shirt, pleaded pants and knotted tie retain their crisp lines in temperature controlled environments: in the car, at the office, on the metro and back at the apartment.
Pickup at McDonald’s morning drive through, lunch a block away at PF Cheng’s, and Chinese takeout made to order for dinner. A keyboard and a click away, movies, music, electronics, clothes, even food, delivered to your front door the very next day, and if that won’t suffice, Wal-mart or Target are usually a ten minute drive away.
A world of abundant choices: five brands of mineral waters, ten brands of breakfast cereals, fifty flavors of ice-cream, and two hundred channels of television. A perfect cup of Starbucks coffee tailor made in 7 steps - Espresso, Latte, Cappuccino or Americano? Tall, grande or venti? Regular or decaf? Whole milk, two percent, nonfat or soy? Single or double shot of Espresso? Regular sugar, skinny or no syrup? and to top it off, foam, half foam or no foam? - What is the value of custom ordered coffee?
A Life of ‘Without’
Half a globe way on hot summer days, I pray for the choice of air conditioning and ice slush from 7-Eleven. But those days are far and few in between mostly because the options simply don’t exist. Here, the choice is finding a safe hotel to drop my bags, a clean bed without the worry of bed bugs, a street corner food stall with clean meals, and occasionally when available, a good cup of coffee not made from instant mix.
Next to the bed lay a 50 liter backpack, scuffed, stained and taped, holds every belonging of this journey. A pair of sandals, another pair of hiking shoes complete with three tops and bottoms wrapped around essential medicine and electronics. In a separate daypack, a travel novel for long overland rides, a soft cover moleskin to write down impressions and a camera to capture what words insufficiently describe. The choice for something new to come along for the ride, means something else stays behind – a life of ‘without’ is simple at 50 liters, no more, no less.
In solo travel, choices are yours alone along with outcomes. The beginning is always the most daunting because you have lived handicapped without knowing and without the opportunity to fail. Fail-safes of good colleagues, trusted friends, and loving family look out for you and lend their strength.
But half a globe away without safety nets, you are forced to confront those weaknesses. There you fail; fail hard, fail fast, and learn because you have no other choice. Your gut that began as a mess of travelers diarrhea, overtime, becomes something to rely on navigating places, situations, and people. You learn to make and live by those choices, and trust where they take you.
Although there is simplicity and beauty in a life of living without, I am not advocating, upon return home, selling your belongings, joining a religion before turning to a life of perpetual nomad. Back home, in life of “living with”, from the moment we open our eyes until shutting them close, a sea of never ending choices flood us between home and office, beckoning for decisions like the ringing of unsolicited telemarketer calls to which we involuntarily answer out of habit; forgetting that sometimes the right choice is to not play. Not get distracted by inconsequential choices, and remember the lessons imparted by ‘a life of without’. Because in the end, all we have are our choices. So make them important and make them count.
- Will (LiChung)
2013, southeast asia