Being back from Asia (or anywhere, really); it is a strange thing. It is not that being back is strange because I am not in The Philippines, Thailand or Malaysia in particular, it is just strange moving from one thing to the next.
I was just thinking to myself that I have been away from home at university for two years now.
That time has flown by. It seems like just yesterday I was deciding to leave Minnesota and come to this far off land called St. Stephen. But, time passed as it does, and what seemed long while in the process became quick.
The time passes and all of a sudden we are changed and we barely notice it.
This “almost-time-travel” mentality applies to my time traveling through Asia with St. Stephen’s University. When you are in it, you are in it; time moved slow throughout my trip and suddenly, after a long (yet remarkably quick) two day trek I was back in Canada, back in St. Stephen. And it seemed as though I had never left.
Life keeps moving when you are moving, even when you expect it to stop.
And, the days passed. The school work began to build up, the trip, the being there lost focus and the being back took over. And now, weeks after resettling I am beginning to recall the times I had, the hard and marvelous times I spent traveling. Memories I had already forgotten have begun to float back into my mind, to prove that I am alive, that I am living and breathing and doing.
And the time, it keeps moving.
The dictionary defines comfort as:
1. A person or thing that gives consolation OR to soothe, console, or reassure; bring cheer to (thanks, Dictionary dot com).
Some would say that “comfort is complacency disguised” (thanks, Shandra O’Connell).
Both are right in part. However, personally, I say comfort is found in peanut butter.
Okay, okay. It seems childish, right? However it is just the opposite. Comfort is clearly important. Each of us seek it out in our own way and in our own time. Maybe it is a baby blanket or teddy bear (both of which I still have to this day). Maybe it is God, a husband or wife, a close friend or a wonderful cup of coffee first thing in the morning. These simple pleasures remind me of something I once had or desired. They are familiar, and often it is familiarity that brings for us comfort. And, despite this trip throughout Southeast Asia going amazingly well, small comforts are always needed.
Tonight my comfort came to me in a bag of Lays potato chips, some chocolate and a bottle of Coke along with, of course, the aid of a good book; Owen Flanagan’s The Problem of the Soul (this I know makes me a geek). Last week it came through saltine crackers sandwiched with peanut butter melting through its edges in perfect, gooey bliss. Maybe tomorrow it will consist of going to the Irish Pub down the way here in Chiang Mai and enjoying a Strongbow; something that takes me back, something that is familiar.
Travel has a way of tugging at the deep, weary parts of you. It teaches you what is important, what can be left behind and forgotten and what you always want to bring with you. And peanut butter of course, can only help along the way.
There are differences, and there are similarities. These things exist in all shapes, forms and sizes and quite obviously in all cultures and regions of the world. However, on this trip I have been noticing the similarities between people, and it has been a joy to observe.
People seem to initially have the same wants and needs. We all need food to live, beverage to quench our thirst. We all need shelter; beds to sleep in and roofs over our heads. Even more than these outward items used for our personal survival I have noticed that people quite simply need each other. Whether I was in the house of my home stay family in the Philippines, on the bus with all of my fellow SSUer’s or staying here in this Muslim Village in Malaysia, we need each other. And even more so I am noticing on the trip, we want each other… we as humans want community. Life together is what makes humanity, it is what makes culture. Sometimes life together is what creates hatred, but on a good day community can create peace.
My home stay mother created peace in our house in the Philippines by always caring and looking out for me. She was nurturing and loving and cared for our entire group of travellers. She wanted us around as well; she desired community with our group. She was similar to any other mother figure, which seems to be something you find in most any culture whether North American or South East Asian.
Other similarities consist of the way children laugh and have fun. Here in Malaysia I see kids being rascals just like anywhere else. Their smiles fill up this community. Even Crystal said the other day about the boys in the village that, “Boy will be boys, Muslim or not.”
These are the things that make up our world, there is much more for us to see and recognize as the same (or close to it, at least) instead of seeing all those things that separate us. This trip thus far has opened my eyes to see all that we as humans in the world share just through our humanness; it’s beautiful.
I am not one for traveling. Well, let me rephrase that.
I am not one for change.
I enjoy the comforts of home. Whether it is waking up with the assurance that there is a decent cup of coffee waiting for me, or the knowledge that my parents, brother or sister are just a phone call away. These things among others give me ample reasons to feel safe and out of harms way. Because of my love for being within the norms of my everyday life, this coming trip to South East Asia has me feeling a bit of anxiety.
I was not anticipating my pre-trip classes to prepare me mentally as much as they already have, seeing as we have only been in class for a little under a week. However, they are getting me excited about learning in a new place, with new and interesting people. I am anticipating that my cultural anthropology course will prepare me the most for dealing with the concept of culture shock as I prepare for this coming trip, and that gives my mind ease when reflecting on this new endeavor of traveling thousands of miles away from everything I seemingly know.
Other than the obvious anxiety of traveling to a destination away from the common comforts I have become accustomed to, there is one other thing I am nervous about.
St. Stephen’s University does a wonderfully excellent job of preparing their students to embrace other’s worldviews, and doing that is a part of the curriculum for our travels abroad. One thing I worry about is that a person, any person, can cater too much to other’s concepts or ways of life, and in doing so lose the ability to embrace their own.
One example of this has to do with the theoretical South East Asian perception of what it is to be a Christian. I come from the opinion that done under the right circumstances (not for the sake of mutilating one’s body in a morose way), body piercing and tattoo’s are not a problem in the eyes of God. This is important to me for the fact that I have two tattoos and a facial piercing, all of which in my opinion are tasteful and not overwhelming.
I am in no way opposed to upholding the social code of covering up or taking out such things while studying in Asia, if there even exists such a code. I do wonder though if doing so will only add fuel to the fire of, in my opinion, poor theology and untrue cultural exchange?
Despite my probably common worries about this coming trip, I am more than excited. Classes have started, soon to end, and the next thing you know I will be flying high until my peers and I reach our first destination. My greatest hope is that God will teach me to let go of my fears and fall freely into His hands of trust for this trip.