We are down to the last few days of our long trip in Southeast Asia and I honestly cannot say that I’m glad to be leaving. I am looking forward to some of the comforts of home. The stability of staying in one place. Familiar foods. A place to take a rest from the realm of moving,waiting, engaging and engaging again with moments of cultural elation and cultural frustration. Though I’m not looking forward to completing the coming assignments I do look forward to the prospect of gleaning from my experiences.
There are a lot of things I could say stand out about what I’ve experienced of Asia: Bartering. Food. Interesting lectures on culture, politics, and contemporary issues. Rain forests. Mountains. Rats… the list can go on. I don’t want to sound idealistic or cliche but one of the best parts of this trip has been the relationships made with the local homestay families and local students. I’ve been invited into people’s homes, into their family and their everyday life. I’ve shared in their wealth or their lack of what my North American self would think of as normal standard of living. There is nothing else that has broken down my feeling unfamiliar with my surroundings like the genuine welcome and friendship of people I have met in the Philippines, Malaysia or Thailand… and it happened for me in each of these countries. The sharing of a name, a meal, of a conversation or the struggle through a conversation.
I’m becoming a greater believer in the idea of the “conversation”. It seems ironic to think of “conversation” when you have two people who are trying to talk to each other slowly and dumbly in two very different languages. But it’s more that we were there, we may have been laughing at each other but we were trying. Barriers seem to break down when people allow themselves to be vulnerable and open-hearted. The best conversations I had were simple. But they happened when I was willing to say “hello” or ask a name. Looking back, I hope that I will remember the hospitality and openness of the people who took care of me while I was a stranger in a far away place, and how even simple smiles and hellos can break barriers as wide as the ocean.