I took a walk with a colleague to Madison Square Park today, and we were talking about the desire to escape and have a mental reset. Chris and I are leaving for Mexico City and Oaxaca tomorrow through Monday for an extended long weekend, and I’d been looking forward to this for the last several weeks. “What are you trying to escape – New York, work, your bubble, or what?” he asked.
“Everything?” I responded, questioning. “All of the above?”
We’re so tied up and absorbed into our day to day lives – everyone is guilty of this no matter what your background, where you live, what you do for a living. It’s hard to step outside of that and think about the world around us and what’s bigger and greater than what we are and what we do. For me, the best mental reset is one in which I can get away from my day-to-day routine, away from what I consider “normality,” and experience a culture, language, lifestyle… life, that is so far removed from my own. That’s what travel is. Immerse yourself in the unknown, the new, the exciting, and completely fall into it and forget what we considered important or essential back at home. Think about how other people live, what passions and priorities others have in worlds away from you, what keeps them up at night, and what drives them. And then, after all of that, think about our differences… but then realize that we’re all doing such different things when at the end of the day, we really want the same things: a roof over our heads, warm food on the table; to be loved and appreciated and respected; to help and provide for others; to feel like we all have some sense of purpose in life.
When we were in South Africa last December, in Cape Town specifically, the water shortage made me think (and feel guilty) about my showers back home, where I’d luxuriate occasionally and not keep track of how long I was exfoliating or conditioning my hair. When outside of Kruger National Park, I got excited at the idea of being far away from any urban place and wondered what life would be like as the rangers and workers of the safari lodge, waking up every morning to the calm of buffalo drinking water in the nearby watering hole, or even a lion sleeping right outside my bedroom window. In Japan, I thought about the salarymen in their plain, uniform-like suits, waking up early, walking their everyday walk/train commute to work, having a long day in front of their computers, drinking late night in bars after a quick rice bowl or ramen, and hitting repeat for the next day and the next day. I also thought about the average Japanese man’s refusal to have sex (or want to get married… and thus the low marriage and birth rate in a country we consider so advanced), and wondered what that would be like if that were the case back in the U.S. The list goes on for every place I’ve visited.
Some people freak out and are alarmed when they are lost in translation, trying to communicate something to someone in another country that does not speak their native language. I actually thrive in that and get excited by it; it’s like a mini adventure to me: get this person to understand what I am saying, and try to figure out what he is telling me. I also tend to smile and laugh more because I find that it lightens the mood of the other person in the event any frustration arises from not being able to understand each other. Warm, open body language disarms them and gets them to trust you, and I suppose it helps a lot that I’m a woman… because how threatening could a petite Asian woman like me be? These situations also force you to be more creative in how you express yourself, whether that’s via facial expressions, gestures, sign language, acting out something. If what is often said by researchers is true that seventy percent of communication is non-verbal, then for all the basic human emotions, desires, and messages, we should be able to suffice without knowing every exact word that comes out of a person’s mouth.
The world is so big and so great – there’s no better way to remind yourself how insignificant you are in the universe than to travel to parts unknown to you and witness humanity outside of your own bubble. I’m not an ignorant ass, though; I’m aware that not everyone can afford to travel, whether it’s due to living paycheck to paycheck like so many people around the world do, or due to commitments with sick family, etc. But for those who can afford to do it, there’s nothing else that is quite like it. There’s so much humility and perspective to be had from it, especially if you choose to fully immerse yourself into your surroundings.