They all told us that the return would be hard. Like, really hard. I also assumed it would have stages, like a kind of grief. Perhaps we are currently in some kind of fog stage, wandering around sunny, beautiful Vancouver (yes, I know – it’s only an oxymoron ¾ of the year), wondering if indeed time has passed since we left.
And the stuff. How much STUFF we have! I of course wrongly assumed that our Olympics-honed packing regimen of pack/unpack would apply to the return home. But I somehow forgot that it wasn’t just our trip bags, but all of those niceties we squirrelled away, forgot that we needed – or wanted. And here they are, complicating things again.
I asked Emmet and Asa yesterday, "you just survived a year with only Legos. It was essentially your only toy (they brought others, but they slowly faded away) and you were happy with them. In fact, you looked forward to them each morning. Now you are surrounded by mountains of things to play with. Do you think stuff makes you happier?"
To which they both replied matter-of-factly, “You can be happy with either.” I think that’s kind of the running script these days – you can thrive in all sorts of places, cultures, lifestyles, and environments.
So we are settling in and wondering about time, how to tell our stories, who we are now, and how to apply who we are to our new context. I can’t say any of those thoughts are intentional right now. It’s more a blur: a slow entry, remembering how to be social, taking it one step at a time, trying to remember those feelings/perceived identities of freedom, stufflessness, flow, agency, flexibility, and often, seeing more forest than trees. Travel certainly wasn’t perfect, but there was a spaciousness that allowed us to be who we wanted to be, or at least have a throughway to that sensed vision.
So I think a final trip post deserves something of an overview of that forest, so here it goes.
US (Orcas, Boston, Rochester, NYC, & Michigan at the end)
Thailand (Chiang Mai and surrounds, Pai, Koh Lanta, Bangkok)
Vietnam (Hoi An/Da Nang, Hue, Phong Nha, Hanoi)
Malaysia (Penang, Kuala Lumpur)
Taiwan (Taipei, Hsinchu, Tainan, Qilai Nanhua trail, Wulai, Yangmingshan)
Sri Lanka (Negombo, Sigiriya, Jaffna, Trincomalee, Kandy, Ella, Weligama)
UAE (Dubai for a day/night!)
Italy (Florence, Venice, Bologna, Elba, Sorrento, Naples, Atrani, Siracusa, Noto Valley, Stromboli, Palermo, Agrigento, Sardinia, Rome)
Corsica (Bonifacio, for a day!)
All kinds of transportation (truly a Richard Scarry book)
On the rails: bullet trains, steam trains, subway trains, ferry-riding trains. In the air: large and small planes (20 flight legs!), gondalas. On the water: hydrofoils, ferries, kayaks, SUPs, motorboats, sailboats, rowboats, basket boats. On the road: buses, cars, tuk tuks, songthaews, pick-up trucks, taxis, bikes, bicycle rickshaws, electric scooters. Self-powered: walking, running, swimming, snorkeling!
Favorite moments (impossible to say, but let's try)
Asa: we had just arrived in Jaffna. It was sunset. We walked to the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil (Hindu temple). We looked at the temple and went in. We took our shirts off (the men/boys have to). We waited a bit and then looked around, saw the people praying, saw the priests use fire around the gods. We watched in one area of puja where they said prayers and rocked the god to sleep. Then they would walk to another god and do the same. We followed them to put all of the gods to sleep. [no photos allowed inside the temple]
Emmet: we had to return our scooter in Hoi An. We waved to an older woman who was farming the rice paddies. On our walk back on the trail through the paddy, we saw the same woman, but now one of her water buffalos was on the trail blocking our path. The woman motioned for us to go around it. And then, when we were on the other side, she invited me to ride the water buffalo. And I did and it was so fun! It wasn't too hairy, but very warm.
Obie: we hiked to a small lake, accompanied by five elephants in a rural village outside of Chiang Mai. These huge creatures descended into the lake, seeming to love the feel of water and splashing. We bathed with them, washed these giants. It was a mix of awe, surprise, and humbling to be alongside these creatures.
Me: our first hike in Chiang Mai, through the steamy jungle, threatening monsoons, drip drip drip, fears of snakes (me) and tigers (kid) (I know, there are no tigers in the jungles of Chiang Mai, but fear is fear), whines of worry. And all of the sudden, the beautiful Buddhist temple of Wat Pha Lat emerges through the thick vines. And we realize the value of the unknown, pushing through, being together, awash in something akin to peace.
Chris: so many, but one of the first indelible memories: we had heard from a friend about a houseboat you could visit deep in a Thai national park. We had a longtail boat drive us for an hour up the long winding lake past increasingly remote jungly mountains. We finally arrived at a set of hand-built floating wooden houses and docks lashed together -- completely empty except for us (!). We spent the day with the owner who welcomed us, chopped the head off a fish of our choosing and grilled it for lunch, showed the kids waterslides and trampolines, and took us all in a boat deeper into the jungle to explore an abandoned Buddhist temple. Uncertainty, exploration, magic -- a perfect travel day.
Places we might consider living in the future
Asa: Hoi An, Hue, Trincomalee, Jaffna
Emmet: Hanoi, Hue, Florence
Obie: Chiang Mai, Florence
Me: Chiang Mai, Hanoi, Rome
Chris: Chiang Mai, Hanoi, Rome also :)
So what now? We start our lives, slowly. We unpack and throw away stuff that doesn't spark joy. Emmet and Asa start day camp on Monday. Emmet and Obie leave for sleep-away camp in a few weeks. Obie’s friends threw him a surprise party the day after we returned, and he luxuriates in friends, newfound Vancouver independence, a new basement room in our house, and embracing the matured him. Chris is starting a new chapter of learning to code, while planning hikes and re-envisioning Vancouver life 2.0. I slowly emerge from my sabbatical bliss, put some professional feelers out there, and start my PhD program in the Fall.
And for this blog? I think most of my writing energies will slowly be transferred to my intuition blog, so I might pop in here and there when the inspiration hits! Thank you for sharing in our journey. It’s been a grounding and important touchpoint for me to chronicle this time, stay connected with community, and jumpstart a certain writing/creativity that had been dormant in me for some time.
None of us know how this trip will impact us as we embark on our new-old life in Vancouver. But as Obie said to me in our last days in Rome, “I don’t know how this trip changed me, but deep down, I know that I am changed forever.” So we go with that. And as it feels like we are slipping into the banalities of life – the to-do’s and the weight of logistics and balancing acts – I believe it’s important that we keep the faith that we have been deeply moved by this experience, and to have trust that its teachings will appear when we need them most.