Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past.
– James Joyce, Ulysses
This quote (from a book I’ve never read, I confess) floated to the top of my mind when I opened this blank page. At any given point on this trip, I am busy trying to experience everything that is going on, synthesize it, and be thoughtful and retrospective at the same time, especially for the blog. You know, I just want to catch up on the latest for all the folks following along at home. The last time we saw our heroes, they were catching an early flight to Kuala Lumpur…
Simply being in the moment and enjoying it is a luxury that has been hard to take advantage of. So instead of a retrospective, here is an attempt at the now, however mundane.
The now is a dusty but surprisingly serviceable inn off the Main Bazaar drag in Paharganj, India’s backpacking district. We have soft beds, I’m listening to a TV which is broadcasting Al Jazeera News, and there is exactly one outlet that I am monopolizing to power my computer. We had vegetarian thalis with butter naan an hour ago on the crowded, dirty street, listening to the cars and scooters and tuk-tuks continuously honking at each other, and later found an optician’s office where we filled up on contact lens solution.
We are looking at each other and gratefully admitting that eight hours in, India has not been quite as bad as we had feared. Indira Gandhi Delhi International Airport (DEL) seemed practically deserted, for some reason, and the same went for the Airport Express Metro which brought us into town after a short 20 minute ride. They were undeniably modern, but very underutilized. Outside, it was a reasonable 75 degrees, and the walk through New Delhi Railway Station was dirty, but not unexpectedly so. Families and individuals lay and slept on the ground with barely a blanket underneath them. Small boys with deformities and old men with seldom-washed shirts begged for change. The smell of it was not significantly worse than most bathrooms I’ve seen in China. We passed a small parade outside of the train station, people with headdresses and trumpets blowing and marching along, carrying a few people in wigs and costumes. Neither Steve nor I could recognize the religious figures in the parade, but we both agreed that one guy looked just like David Bowie. We were grateful to find our hotel soon, and promptly slept for more than an hour with the television on, waking up to realize we were listening to a broadcast about database management in Hindi. The Internet is at least responsive, if a little slow, but the power in the hotel (and presumably, the neighborhood) has already shut down and come back on several times this evening, a phenomenon we were dreading a bit.
The now is also sitting on a small loveseat with Steve, trying to hash out our options for travel from now until April 1. Two days ago, we had vague plans for traveling around India, then Israel and Turkey. Instead of solidifying, they suddenly vanished, as we found ourselves listlessly exploring Kuala Lumpur and dreading the thought of uprooting ourselves every week for another month. We have been traveling for more than a month since leaving Kaohsiung (O Taiwan, so far away!), and are desperately seeking structure and stability to our days, instead of drifting from one tourist attraction to another. Travel fatigue is catching up with us again.
Labor, the symbol of man’s punishment; Labor, the secret of man’s happiness.
– James Montgomery
In Chicago, we used to have this James Montgomery quote on a whimsical drawing by Andrew, one of Steve’s best friends from South Carolina. As we’ve traveled throughout Asia this year, I feel like I’ve begun to understand another dimension of that quote. I used to daydream at work while listening to Chinese songs, wishing I could be wandering around East Asia, breathing in the (somewhat polluted) air and eating the food (of dubious hygiene), but now that we’ve been essentially unemployed for six months, I find myself wishing for more concrete deadlines and list of tasks every day. Give a person enough free time, and they’ll hang themselves with it. Both of us were already dreaming about WWOOFing in France or Italy, abandoning ourselves to weeks of a set routine, refreshing manual work, and the specter of someone else’s disapproval to waking up at a certain hour in the morning.
So I started looking for work. Workaway provided a wealth of volunteering opportunities that promised a mix of accommodations and meals in return. We could help out at a beach resort in Goa, promote camel safaris from Jaisalmer, in Rajasthan, be an au pair in Naples for a five year-old Italian boy, or babysit a dog in a rooftop apartment in the New Territories, Hong Kong (man, were we sad when this woman told us she already had somebody!). We received tentative replies from a garden café and guesthouse in Mysore and an NGO that sounds like a creative commune outside of Dali in Yunnan Province, China.
So here we are, juggling these different ideas in the air and testing and judging their weight, with six days in a guesthouse in Delhi stretching ahead, and nothing planned after that except for an AirBnB reservation in Dubrovnik, Croatia, for April 1. I feel like I did when we had been in Taipei for a weekend in October, and were desperately trying to figure out which city to settle down in. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the possibility of heading to another country on the fly sounds romantic and free, but in reality is worrisome, expensive, and fraught with indecision. On one hand, Dali sounds really nice, I could use a few weeks of stability in a familiar environment and possibly doing photography for a good cause, and Steve is eager to reapply his fledgling Chinese. It would definitely offer more stable Internet and electricity, and be cooler than Mysore, which is about to plunge into Indian summer (real Indian summer). On the other, we just flew to Delhi, and tickets back to China will be at least $700, and tickets onward to Croatia will cost more if we backtrack. I am also a little fascinated by this crazy, dirty, chaotic country we have finally arrived in, and something tells me we should stick this ride out.
At the moment, the future is still an open-ended question. Take a stab at helping us answer it.