The Difference of Actually Being There

I have a lot of friends back home I talk to daily via the Internet, and all of them it seems, have a pretty strong image in their head, of what they think my life is like here in Asia. Sometimes I think they imagine me surrounded by guys in pointy bamboo farming hats, firecrackers going off in the streets, and ninjas hiding on the rooftops as I eat my rice with chop sticks.

People might think that Asia is poor and those around me are poor, but everyone that lives around me has far more money than I do. They own cars and houses, and all their necessities of life, and are usually debt free because they tend to not buy on credit here.

Just because I am in Asia, it doesn’t mean you can imagine anything about what my life would be like, your mind wants you to, but its impossible. The same if someone told me they were in North America, it is just too little information. For all I know the guy is living in an igloo in the north of Canada, or the slums of New York, or maybe even in a penthouse in Mexico City.

I find too many people when I mention where I am, imagine something in their mind of my life and actually believe it. Reality and imagination is just not the same thing.

Asia is the largest continent on earth, as you change your latitude and longitude, the local plants and animals change, as does the food. The languages, clothing, religions, politics, and customs.

Before I go to a new country, I have usually watched news about it, or maybe some television programs on it before I go. I try and educate myself about the country I am going to visit so as not to do anything that might be considered rude. I look at pictures and surf the Internet to read about them. The amazing thing is though, every new country I get to, is nothing like I imagined it would be, even after all my research.

I came to the conclusion quite quickly that “I know, I know nothing”.

Honestly with the vast amounts of knowledge in the world, not to mention the infinite things on the earth humans have not understood or documented yet, let alone other planets, the total sum of all my knowledge is so infinitely small, I know nothing. None of us do.

I remember one time back in 95 while I was in Vietnam, I met a guy in Saigon (Ho Chi Min City)that showed me these amazing pictures from Cambodia, of these ancient temples that were being eaten by the jungle and a bunch of the ones the french had done a good job of restoring including the Bayon and Ankor Wat.

That was enough encouragement for me to jump on the local bus that was leaving to Cambodia the next day

There is a long story I could insert here, but I will save that for a later date. I will give you the very short version now.

Even though I read newspapers everyday, watched the news on television, and had read books on Cambodia, I didn’t realize that the bus I was taking into Phnom Phen was actually taking me into an active and live war zone, we passed through military check points over and over again on the long road from the border of Vietnam to Cambodia’s Capital City Phnom Phen. Almost everyone, including children were carrying Machine Guns and Rocket Launchers, and gunfire could often be heard in the distance.

I had time to contemplate my lack of knowledge as I sat down at my guest house located on one of Phnom Phen’s lakes. I didn’t realize I was going into such a dangerous place. I came to the conclusion, that this particular war had at this point gone on so long, it just wasn’t news worthy anymore.

While I was sitting there contemplating, with other fellow travelers, we were actually watching tracers from large artillery firing across the lake in our general direction.

Over 5000 people died withing three kilometers of us that night, we could see a clear view of the fire that was killing them as it crept up the side of the lake towards our guesthouse. We had a knife ready to cut away the dock we were sitting on, if the fire got too close.

There is a difference between going to a place and actually experience it, when I go to a place, I do not travel in large packs of camera wielding tourists, where my guide speaks English as do all the people with me, as do the people at the restaurants and hotels I go to. I do not stay in my little western bubble of being surrounded by people that are trained in how to deal with foreigners. That is not really going anywhere as far as I’m Concerned. I actually get a little upset on the inside when people say to me, oh yeah I’ve been there, and when I see their pictures, it is all inside a gated resort where the “locals” are wearing uniforms. When they do go out to see the sites it is in a large pack. Basically doing absolutely nothing that involves getting involved in another countries culture, if they eat what they think is the local food, almost always the resorts have “westernized” it so as not to upset their customers.

I remember someone telling me about this beautiful resort they stayed in in Jamaica, and the outside walls had barbed wire on them, and that for some reason gave them the impression that outside of their walls was chaos. Too much imagination and too little information. If they had been brave enough to walk outside the resort gate they would have really traveled. Why on earth they bothered to take an airplane to a foreign country is beyond me, maybe they just should have gone swimming at the local swimming pool and saved the time and money.

Anyhow, You haven’t been “there” when you travel like that, and you didn’t “Do” the country. Please take a step back and realize you traveled on a tourist trail and all the people you met were there to try and part you from your tourist money. You probably didn’t meet any normal locals of the country at all and learned nothing about them.

Now there are a lot of great travelers out there and I met them in every place I went that I would consider really traveling, so I am not saying I am unique or alone in what I would consider “real” traveling, far from it, but still people that do it are in the minority.

There is only one place you can see a good view of the whole world, and that is the moon, have you been there? Do you think because you can see it from earth and you have seen pictures that being there wont be any different?

Anyhow I don’t know where you are, and you don’t know where I am, so lets not assume we know anything.

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