My mind has been very pre-occupied lately with the current transition that I’m making from SE Asia to Europe. I wish I could say that it’s been easy – but it hasn’t. In fact, every time I sit down to write about Greece, I get more preoccupied with thinking about the transition. I have written about it in my physical journal many times over the last few days – hopefully by writing it down will help me make sense of it and progress through it. I need to work through these thoughts before I can move on – so I guess that means that you get to work through them with me…
On the plane heading to Athens, Greece:
Leaving Asia has me sad in so many ways. I left my family, I left my dresser, I left the uniqueness of Asia (a land where everything was so new to me and different), I left the cheap prices, and I left the feeling of being a true minority on the outside. I’m not sure what scares me the most out of that last sentence. I certainly am scared that I won’t be satisfied with Europe, the place that I used to love. I’m afraid that it will be like Australia was to me – culturally boring. The people look like me, everything is clean and organized, everyone has a car, and the cultures are more similar to what I’m used to in the states. Like usual, my love and passion steers me towards the challenges – and the road less traveled. I wish I understood why I can’t be satisfied with the normal road – the one everyone else takes. If I were satisfied with that would I be happier – or would I be boring – I think the latter. You can call me ugly, fat, or stupid – but please don’t call me boring. I want to make some sort of impression on this world – on the people I encounter – but I don’t know what that impression should be. Our days are all limited – and I really don’t have a solid grasp of what happens after death which is why I think I strive so hard to make an impression on this world and on the people I meet.
I just have this feeling – this feeling that Asia and it’s culture got under my skin and Europe won’t live up to that – granted, I will still have fun there as I blow through my savings, but it won’t give me that love/hate rush that I get from Asia or Africa. Yet I have to tell myself to stop worrying about this transition, just let it happen and enjoy it – stop overanalyzing. I can always go back to Asia or even to Africa. In fact, sometimes I think what’s really in my heart as a next step after this year of travel is to go back to one of those places and be philanthropic and give back. Does money and prestige really matter? These thoughts really scare the shit out of me though. I guess I have 5 more months to reconcile them. I hope to God that I can figure it out in the next few months but I am fearful that I can’t.
Europe arrival also marks the segment of travel that includes my very close friends. Over the next 2 months I meet up with Miles, David, Marci, and Angie – I look forward to it but am equally concerned about how much I’ve drifted from how they remember me and my lifestyle in NYC. I don’t feel like the same person that left NYC in September. I am worried that I am too far removed now and wonder how and if that changes our relationships. The one absolute that I have learned in life is that people change and when apart, they tend to drift further apart. I’ve moved all over the US and it’s takes a lot of hard work to hold onto friendships – and they are never the same – they evolve. I am not the same person that left NY – I’ve been wrapped up in my own mind and world now for quite some time now and I’m confused. Yet maybe seeing them and hearing about NY and old friends will bring some clarity on where and who I am now. Or maybe I will realize that I don’t really have a desire to go back there. There certainly is a part of me that is concerned that I won’t be satisfied in NY anymore. I really haven’t missed NY, except for when I’m all alone in a hotel room and I’m trying to fall asleep. I shut my eyes and imagine that I’m in my old apartment in my bed – those nights are freaky – I think I can hear my cat moving around and hear the cars and cabs out on Columbus Avenue. I have no idea what the next 5 months hold…but I can only hope that it brings me some answers. The one thing I have learned though is to wipe clear any expectations that I may have – and start with a blank slate and just go with it. Expectations are evil…there’s nothing productive or good about them…live in the moment instead…Welcome Europe.
Day 3 – Leaving Athens, heading to Santorini:
I’m freaking out. I am back in with all of the tourists on 2 week vacations – and I feel completely out of place. Granted, it’s Easter weekend here – so there aren’t many locals around. When I see an Asian couple among the tourists – I immediately get sentimental. I heard a woman talking to her friend today in the airport about her upcoming travel to Cambodia and Thailand – I eavesdropped on the whole conversation, hanging on every word like it was crack. I was so sad that I wasn’t going to Thailand and Cambodia again.
I started to entertain thoughts in my head about cutting my Europe trip short and going back to some of the places that I didn’t get to see in Asia such as Laos or the Philippines and parts of China. I mentally went through my commitments that I had made in Europe and thought about which ones I had to keep and which ones I could change. I figured that I could leave after Italy in June and go somewhere else more cultural, adventurous, and interesting. I had a very strong feeling that I did not want to tour my way through Europe, I wanted adventure. I guess the one good thing that has come out of all of this confusion is that I am learning what I want. Based on this – I also started thinking more about this philanthropic idea and made a mental note to research volunteer opportunities in countries that needed it. My mind was racing all over with ideas – all of which included me bailing on Europe. So many ideas, so much panic, I know that I need to just give myself some time to sort my mind out, I have to tell myself to relax, see how you feel after a month here and then make decisions.
Day 5 – Walking around Santorini
I can’t find my excitement about Europe yet. I thought the expensive Euro would bother me, yet it hasn’t. Only because I’m so pre-occupied with missing Asia (however I did have a lunch today that cost $20US for a salad, diet coke and espresso…this sucks). I can’t get Asia and my family there out of my head. I feel like I’m on vacation in Europe – nice restaurants, beautiful views, daily tours with other tourists, and gift shops. I miss my intimate cultural experiences of Asia. Everything was so new that I felt like my head would explode as it was taking so much new data in. I was excited to write about it and photograph it. I wanted to show it to everyone. I have been in Greece for 5 days and the only thing I feel like writing about is how much I miss Asia. I don’t feel inspired – so I sit here on a secluded cliff in Santorini with an amazing view – so peaceful and prefect, yet tears stream down my face as I wonder if this strange, painful feeling is part of finding myself. I’ve always said that I hoped that over the year miraculously answers would come to me – that I would know what I wanted to do next. Maybe this painful process is part of it. I still have no answers, just sadness and confusion – but maybe this is a first step. It certainly has my head swimming with crazy ideas like running back to Asia, for more travel, for volunteering, or for working. I actually started doing internet searches on such ideas the other day…I know deep down that this is how my crazy ideas start…they nag at me. All I do know is that I’m not missing NY as much as I’m missing Asia right now. I feel like I am starting all over again – like I’m back in September trying to get into my travel groove.
Everything saddens me on this day – my mind races with wondering what my nieces are doing. I am running through their daily routine in my head torturing myself. I look at the power line pole in front of me and examine it’s neatly organized wiring and am reminded of the jumbled, messy wiring of Vietnam.
Day 6 – Santorini to Mykonos
Things happen for a reason – they do – I firmly believe that. I’ve been agonizing over this transition for the past 5 days – trying to think of every possible option to fix this sinking feeling. So many ideas that go through my head, but I’m afraid to voice them aloud, because when I actually say them aloud – then I feel like I have to follow through. That’s just my personality – if I say I’m going to do something – then I will follow through. So instead, I let the thoughts just rattle in my mind – should I stay with my original plan in Europe – or should I change it . Should I go back to Asia, should I volunteer for a few months in Africa or Asia, should I go somewhere else that I want to see, should I keep traveling beyond September, should I contact the guy in Cambodia about a job, will my friends be mad if I don’t go to Europe as planned – the list of jumbled thoughts go on and on.
As Miles and I were waiting for the ferry to Mykonos, we met a family that was staying at our hotel and Miles struck up a conversation. The woman, Lisa, was traveling with her parents and her young son – she lives in Norway and her parents live in the states. It came up that I was doing extended travel and Lisa said that she did something similar when she was younger. We started talking about travel and she asked me about my upcoming itinerary and how I liked Greece so far. The question I have come to dread…there it was – out there. I told her that I was having a hard time transitioning between Asia and Europe – I was missing the Asian cultural experience and uniqueness, as well as the Asian economy. As we talked – she got it – she completely understood my struggle and then she said it – she said what I hadn’t been able to utter aloud yet. Lisa told me to skip Europe, since I won’t get what I want out of it. She said that since I was after unique, new experiences, that I should leave Europe for when I wanted to vacation and needed a break – but skip it now. She completely understood my dilemma and said that she would do the same if she were back in my shoes. Use this time to explore, take what I’ve learned about myself over the past 7 months and put it to use. She said to go back to countries that will offer that experience I’m craving, volunteer and push my limits. Even though these are the things that had been going through my mind – I felt that she was extremely insightful and correct – we continued to talk about travel while the ferry arrived for boarding. During the 3 hour ferry ride to Mykonos, I mulled all of this over – and I finally made a decision – one that I feel is best for me, and still has me keeping some of my original plans. I will keep to my original plan through Italy. I have a number of big commitments there that I want to honor – the language school, and a couple of friends that I had planned to travel with through Italy. However – once June 23rd rolls around and my Italy leg is over – I have decided to not go to Germany, Geneva, Prague or Spain…I will save those countries for another time…instead – I think I will head to Northern Africa. I want to go see an Arabian culture – therefore I will head to Morrocco and Egypt. At the same time I have decided to look into some volunteer opportunities in Asia or Africa for the month of August. As I did some research online about this new plan, I felt that familiar excitement come back to me.
When I left on this trip back in September, I remember telling my friends and family that I would be disappointed if I actually stayed on the exact itinerary I set out on. I was hoping that something would pull or push me in a different direction and become unpredictable. It took a stranger voicing verbally what was going on inside my head to finally bring me some clarity. I feel like I can now move forward again…and I am excited about every step!