Traveling has been like my own personal eccentric Kung Fu master. When I began I expected to be gently washed of my narrow world view, but that is not what the teacher had in mind. Rote repetition, bruises, and often just straight up weirdness was to be my guide.
Here are six life changing lessons I learned on the not-so-glorious side of the road:
The Original Position
A friend of mine who lived in Korea for a year gushes (pun intended) about how much better squatting toilets are for the body, and I’ve started to come around.
I noticed how my toddler niece could squat down effortlessly to play with a toy car and how, from 8 months to 80 years old, people in developing countries look as comfortable squatting as they do sitting and it got me thinking about how unnatural it is for me not to be able to squat. (To this day I pull the four-year-old move and take my pants right off.)
Since that realization I have embraced the squat and am working at improving. It helps the digestive system!
People are People
When I first walked down the street in Vietnam, I honestly thought there was something horribly offensive about the way I looked. It took a while to clue in that my ultra-paleness and blonde curly hair basically made me a rock star. And, since I always wanted to be a rock star, I embraced it, smiling warmly at every unblinking stare.
One time a group of students asked if they could take my picture which kicked off a very long and very awkward photo session with literally everyone who walked by. That was the end of my love affair with being famous. It is a revelation that being popular and famous might not be fun. I look at celebrities with new found compassion. They are real people too, just like me!
The Art of Control
The passage from childhood to adulthood was a total mental change, but the change from adult to traveler completes the transformation.
There comes a time on a 12-hour bus ride when a decision must be made about who is the boss, the mind or the body, and I have found nothing to be more helpful in achieving Zen-like control as the fear of peeing my pants in front of a bus load of strangers.
I am not claiming that I am David Blaine, but I have survived a 50-hour bus ride in the backcountry of Tanzania. I have become one with my body.
At first, Real Food Sucks
My theory is that cheese has ruined everything.
In developing countries, they have some of the most natural, organic, lovely food imaginable, and I sit around craving cheeseburgers and pizza.
I had heard that Vietnamese cuisine is some of the finest on earth, but when I got there I realized broth made from scratch and seasoned with wild herbs has nothing on MSG, beef grease and a load of salt.
However, by refusing to give into my cravings and not imagining cheese on top of every meal, I learned that I had been cheated by this fake variety of goodness. There are actually flavours other than greasy, salty, and sugary!
Happiness is not Comfort
I think that one of the greatest givers of wisdom is the 12-hour bus ride, and if this is the case, bus rides in Africa are the key to knowledge. The sheer physical pain of sitting on a solid seat with five people in a three-person row, eating my knees while trussed up chickens squawk pitifully on the ground for six hours straight was enlightening.
But, when combined with the vibrancy, vitality and warmth of the people I was jammed in with, it was altogether revolutionary. It is not about getting used to it. Those people staggered out of the ‘bus’ stretching and laughing with relief the same way I did. It is about rising above the pain and loving life anyway.
The Glorious Simple Things
Hot showers. Not worrying about spiders and other crawly stuff while sleeping. Drinking water with ice. Real chocolate. My own bed. Routine. Smiles from people I know. Not having garbage everywhere. Shopping in a clean well organized space. Not thinking about safety.
After a year of having my world view thrashed and my body bruised by the proverbial wise man (and maniacal bus drivers), is it ever good to be hugged by the ones I love, and wrap my hands around a hot cup of coffee made my way.
Written by: Greg Kamphuis
Greg Kamphuis lives in a world where purpose and meaning are king, conscious consumerism is essential, and adventure is life. He is currently building a website to help people ‘Buy Better’ and freelance writing while living for a year in Cambodia.
All photos by Greg Kamphuis
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