Monday, December 05, 2011

An uneasy conscience.

A couple of days ago, my friend D and I watched Before Sunrise (which I highly recommend, by the way, especially for those with a love of traveling) and the main character, Jesse, mentions that these great ideas always seem to come to him when he's on a train. I can absolutely relate. The time I spend on long journeys, trains especially, tend to lull me into a state of thought and reflection.

This was the case last week, on yet another flight: this time from Nagasaki to Shanghai.

Travel and global warming

Taking off in a plane always triggers the same thought... As the plane takes on speed, lifts up and the city rushes by me, I can't help feeling guilty, that this is the worst possible thing I could do for the environment. All those months of doing my best to take reusable water bottles to yoga, travel mugs to work, tote bags to the grocery store all disappear in one fell swoop when I make the decision to step on a plane. Ironic in a way really, because my desire to travel stems from wanting to see the world and appreciate its diversity, but in doing so, I'm the one ruining it, and am entirely conscious of my actions and of their consequences. Carbon offsets thankfully do take the edge off the guilt, at least in part, but the guilt still lingers.

English as the "universal" language.

My native English presents a dichotomy for me when I travel: on one hand, I feel so fortunate to have grown up speaking English, as it so happens to be the language most widely spoken and understood. If you don't speak the country's language, English is usually your next best bet. While in Europe last year, I was struck by the number of people and places that spoke English. Although I feel that it's useful to have a language so widely understood, at least the basics, and I agree it is beneficial to have a common language, a common ground to stand on, I can't help thinking it's sad in a way... That the widespread use of it and desire to learn it could come at the expense of other cultures and diversity. As my friend A mentioned to me, "who am I to come to a country and teach them English, to think that my language is worth learning over another?"

In Japan for example, so many of the signs, from train stops to coffee shops, had English names, or written under the Japanese at the very least. And on the idea of coffee shops, Starbucks was everywhere. In the train stations, in the department stores, in the shopping districts... Why should a company from an English speaking nation exist all over the world?
My adorable friend J sipping on Starbucks in Kyoto

That being said... I am not always as adventurous a traveler as I would like to be and the combination of caffeine, wifi and North American culture has often been my saving grace! 

How lucky I am to be born Canadian.

My younger brother, somehow much braver than I, has already been to Thailand and Malaysia, by himself, at the age of nineteen. I could never have done this. He told me that while getting to South East Asia was outrageously expensive, once you arrive the cost of living is incredibly cheap. Though I'm not in Thailand yet, Xingyi, China fits that description perfectly. Though this is clearly to my advantage, it makes you realize how unfair life truly is. I read that the economy Guizhou, the province Xingyi is located in, is comparable to the poorest of Central American countries.

Overlooking a typical porch in Xingyi
Working on temple in Xingyi

If I have a hard time saving money to make it to China, what hope does a Chinese girl of my age from Guizhou have of saving enough money not only to get to Canada, but of affording the necessities upon arrival? I just so happened to be born in a country with a good economy. That in itself is incredibly lucky.

All this is not to say that I feel nothing but guilt about my lot in life and about my trip. I just think it's good to pause and truly appreciate how fortunate I've been.

Also, on a side note, now that I'm traveling, I'm thankfully much more interested in planning each next step of my trip. My disinterest in it was starting to worry me for a bit... Like the saying "the more you learn, the less you know", the more I travel, the more I realize how small I am in the great scheme of things and how much there truly is to see. As much as I'm visiting four countries in two months, I'm only seeing such a small small part of each. I understand how people can spend a lifetime traveling.