Three Life Lessons From: Traveling

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Somewhere in Beijing, CN, 2014

I traveled through Europe and Asia after graduating from college. I visited Sweden, Ireland, England, then Denmark. I wanted to continue south and east, but a family matter brought me back to the US. I had earned some money and received a graduation gift to travel from my grandmother. After arriving home, I had some money left over. So, I went to China for five weeks, then Thailand for two more weeks.

Traveling was AWESOME. I felt full of creativity, energy, and drive. Going in, all I wanted was to find an epiphany about my purpose in life. Instead, I learned three lessons:

1. There is no epiphany

Nothing came to me in a dream telling me how to live my life. Instead, I decided I must build upon experiences, step by step. Staying open and hungry will allow me to form myself into what I’m meant to be. Deciding what to do without a guide is the longer, harder, but more meaningful road than following a pre-determined path.

2. We are more similar than we are different

Throughout my travels, I met so many amazing people. I could easily communicate with most, but with some there was a language barrier making it harder. But I still made a variety of friends. One of the most meaningful experiences was befriending a man visiting the Terracotta Warriors outside of Xi’an, China. He spoke no English, and I spoke no Chinese. Typically, I would avoid him because understanding each other would be too difficult. But somehow we gestured and smiled our way through the entire museum tour together. We ended up having lunch together after. He showed me pictures of his daughter. I showed him pictures of my family. It was deeply meaningful. I cherish that memory.

3. I yearn to learn new things

When I put myself into an environment without a plan, I found out what I value. Each day is a blank slate, ready for any possibility. I realized that I love to walk and explore, rather than skipping to a destination. I explored back alleys, met up with strangers, and climbed mountains. I downed a fifth while watching fishermen clean their catches in Wuhan, China. I cheered on a hurling match in Cork, Ireland. I created my own log-lifting and rock-carrying workouts in Öland, Sweden. I biked for hours and watched the planes take off in Copenhagen, Denmark. Every moment brought myself closer to living the present and realizing that I love to encounter the unknown.


Here’s the full list of my notes from Europe:

Sweden:

  • There are free salad bars at many restaurants.
  • Carbonated water and coca cola rule the beverage industry.
  • Swedes tend to be less pious (with exceptions), and the family I stayed with had not as much knowledge about Christianity (of which I realized I had ample knowledge).
  • The school system is free.
  • The political parties are much “lefter” than American parties. The two big coalitions are the conservative liberals (incumbent) and the social democrats.
  • Aside: I have now deemed “Swedish workouts” all workouts involving only large rocks or logs.
  • There are a ton of bikes and clearly marked bike lanes. Very few helmets. Even saw a girl with high heels biking in Stockholm.
  • The only place from which one may purchase alcohol over ~4% alcohol is a government merchant store named “System Bolaget.” One must be 16 to drink beer and 18 for wine and spirits, and must be 20 to buy alcohol.
  • There are two major supermarket chains (ICA owns about 50% of supermarket market) and COOP, and there are only a few others.
  • There are potatoes or potato products with practically every meal.
  • There aren’t many police officers patrolling around. On the other hand, there are more public cameras.
  • Similarly, I never saw an officer on the road with a speed gun, but there are speed cameras with conspicuous signs indicating their presence and admonishing drivers.
  • Kids learn English in school starting in the first few years.
  • It rains a lot.
  • Swedish people are generally really attractive.
  • There are many more VWs, Volvox, Audis, and Mercedes Benzes, for whatever reason.
  • Public transit is fantastic. The trains better shield outside noise.
  • There is public land in the non-cities. This should not be confused with the type of land that a government or corporation owns but is named “public.” This legitimately public land is just land, and sometimes cattle range throughout these areas that are surrounded by electrical fence and gates openable with opposable thumbs.
  • Öland looks like the child of Kansas and Maine. Alternately, it looks like what I imagined Rohan would look like.
  • Alcohol has much less of a negative or sensitive cultural stigma.
  • There are Blood Donating centers ubiquitously located throughout Stockholm and in higher-populated towns.
  • Stockholm beggars are predominant Old Romanian ladies.
  • Swearing is allowed on the radio. English swears are generally uncensored, from what I noticed.
  • There is less censorship. Shops and pictures show nudity, and sex shops are not veiled from prying streetside eyes.
  • Many simple services are automatic. That’s not unique to Sweden of course, but I’ve never bought movie tickets from a self-service machine at the theater before.
  • Many things throughout Stockholm’s history have burnt down and been rebuilt.
  • People in Stockholm walk slower than those in most American cities.
  • Many of the statues in Stockholm are stylistically Greek. Some depict Greek and Roman figures.
  • There is a seemingly universally Swedish vocal expression: A sharp inhale “huh” (onomatopoeia) meaning “yeah” or “okay.”

Denmark:

  • Tivoli- both Stockholm and Copenhagen have an amusement/theme park inside the city. And they’re amazing. We went to Copenhagen Tivoli, though.
  • There’s no law prohibiting open containers of alcohol in public areas.
  • Anyone may walk through the palace square.

London:

  • People drive on the left (a revelation).
  • London is noticeably diverse.
  • Speaker’s Corner at the northeast corner of Hyde Park. Anyone can speak openly here, and listeners and hecklers alike come to browse, behold, and engage in verbal intercourse with the orators. Most of the conversation is passionate, radical, eloquent, and intellectual. True Sophists and Socratics at work. I more enjoyed the pure awe I felt at the power of rhetoric than the content of the speeches. Such social dynamics were incredibly entertaining to witness. I asked one soap-box about overpopulation and he took the conversation on a magical journey of speech and language. It was amazing. I almost missed my flight because I was so enamored with a scene of a proclaimed fascist dressed in purchased military garb with a Hitler mustache arguing in support of state, institution, and racism. But it was more than that. It was a beautiful argument. And other speakers entered the fray, making both form and content of the discussion so rich and complex…

Ireland:

  • Dublin:
  • Pubs all last names
  • Rains all the time
  • Live music and drinks all day served in Temple Bar
  • The Irish are a hard people- stoic. A hard-working people. Those with experience, who can bear the load.
  • Music is usually covers of popular songs. Generally in an Irish rock style.
  • Green plots of land, rock walls, rock buildings, cows, sheep, horses, vines, rolling hills, mountains in the distance…it’s beautiful.
  • Galway:
  • Want a pint custom
  • University cheap
  • Narrow roads in city, or wide
  • 12 point system of speeding
  • Police known as the Garda or Gardi
  • Off License stores sell alcohol
  • Lashing = pouring
  • Crack = good time (gonna be a crack)
  • Mad = crazy
  • Boot = back of the car

Europe:

  • Cheers while looking at one another in the eyes

Doolin, Ireland:

  • Everyone waves and greets

Killarney, Ireland:

  • Something about Irish music. From Doolin.
  • Elbow pipe, strings, songs about work and hardship
  • Irish time, Irish distance.
  • Multiple spellings?
  • Many local, old traditions! Pilgrimage, goat worship… Etc
  • Irish sports are HUGE: GAA big organization keeping Gaelic and community alive- Irish football, Hurling, Soccer, Rugby

Cork, Ireland:

  • Signs signifying space or fullness of parking lots way prior to the lot
  • Paddy at the hosel talk… Ireland was very religious until the 1980s. Britain counterpart, Gaelic, Boston Irish/Italian, religious still (Catholic)
  • St Patrick didn’t bring Christianity, he brought Rome to Ireland. Christianity was in Ireland 200 years prior.
  • Everyone celebrates St. Patty’s day!
  • Ireland is a country searching for its identity. It has typically championed everything non-British, but now, what do they have?
  • Everyone knows where the best pubs are. And the music!
  • Ireland- pay 20 cents to use bathroom at bus station???
  • Ireland is closer culturally to countries like Spain and Italy because of the Atlantic winds and boat travels
  • All of Ireland: cars will be “clamped” = towed?
  • Belfast (could be most Europe): Street signs on buildings only
  • Parking on the sidewalk in the burbs
  • Humps for ___ mile
  • Picture of deadend: “T”
  • Northern Ireland still going through conflict about being in the UK. Streets in Belfast separated by a peace wall. Loyalists vs Republicans. Last attack in 1997 after a truce. Any small thing could set it off.

Liverpool, England

  • Scouse is the type of person from Liverpool- hard to understand.
  • Beatles shit everywhere- milking it
  • Vegetables is “salad”
  • Football is HUGE here
  • Young people in Liverpool- 3 big universities
  • Won cultural capital of the world 2008
  • Won ugliest building built in 2009
  • Shipping is huge
  • Liver is the city bird, but doesn’t exist
  • Titanic built here or Belfast?
  • Merchants contributed to slave trade
  • Liverpool has been the key to the Atlantic
  • Way more socialism here and Australia
  • People wait for crossing signals
  • Scotland is voting for independence on the 18th of September

Wales, UK

  • There are more sheep than people
  • Requirements for a town to become a city: cathedral and university

Copenhagen, DE

  • Biking in Copenhagen is the most fun ever. So nice
  • Copenhagen metro is unmanned, automated! Every 4 minutes. And recently opened.
  • Metro – clipcards for zonage, or “check ins”, and metro police and fines (risk but worth the card?)
  • New bike bridge
  • Polite but free and open people
  • Laws are VERY liberal. Open containers, pee anywhere (but decently)

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