He planted a seed in my mind, that man did. Ever since I found him one day, sitting on a rock overlooking the rolling mountains of the Hana Highway with only the small collection of bracelets that he sold, I was entranced. And the words that came out of his mouth will stay with me to this day.
You can never get the full picture without a backstory, so here it is. If you’d like to continue, however, without one, jump ahead.
It was two weeks before I was to uproot my life and start anew as a college freshman. As a kind of graduation gift, my parents took me to Hawaii. Although, it wasn’t exactly my choice to go to Hawaii–what I really wanted was a Eurotrip–, so I guess it was more of a farewell trip. As a child, I’ve always loved traveling–there was never the option of hating it because it’s been so ingrained into my lifestyle. I was lucky enough to be born in a family so open to the world and its cultural experiences. And on top of that, gifted with grandparents that lived so close and were so active in my life; I often had the opportunity to piggyback on their international trips. And I did so frequently!
Many of my friends have never ventured outside of the state, much less the country (although when they did, it was always to their parents’ native land). You may say that logically, these friends would have a greater desire to travel because they never did. And I’m going to tell you that you would be wrong. My travel experiences has only exposed me to the possibilities of the world! Although most of my them (other than that of Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan) have been domestic, there were still some cultural differences that could be learned. And if I had been overseas? Ha, the possibilities would have been endless!
I can only tell you two ways in which I’ve been limited in my travel: one being the act of accommodation that comes with traveling with others (be it family or friends) because you can never have absolute control unless traveling alone. And two, financially; there’s no point in going somewhere if you can’t participate in cultural festivals, shows, or even paying for a stay overnight. But I hope to change that in the near future (the traveling with someone, I mean. Unfortunately, my funds will remain limited–and therefore, so will my means of travel).
Anyways, back to the man.
Along Hana Highway are extended shoulders where you can park, much like on the scenic routes of Yellowstone National Park. But these were not only for scenic pictures. No, no. Many of these lead into trails on which you could hike and discover little pools of paradise. For example, around one of the miles, I hiked down to a little pool surrounded by rocks. One of the rocks protruded high enough that you could cliff dive off of it. Needless to say, I did, and started the trend for people watching from the road.
This was one of those nooks. About 20 feet into the trail, I was startled to see a bearded, extremely weathered and tanned man sitting on a rock, weaving bracelets. In front of him on a big stone was a small display of bracelets that he had already finished and was selling. I stared at him. Beside him, sat an average-sized backpack. He seemed to have no other belongings in the world and I wondered how he got there–there had been no other car parked in the nook.
My mom was especially interested. She wanted to know where he was from, how he got there, and why he was there. He seemed quite friendly and answered all her questions–I’m pretty sure he was asked often.
The man wasn’t particularly from anywhere, but he was born in the United States. He had been traveling and living out of his backpack and off of the money he made from selling his bracelets and other services he bartered. As to why, well, that’s what hooked me. That’s what resonated so deeply within my soul. I’m upset that I don’t remember his exact words.
Basically, he wasn’t happy where he was while doing everything he was supposed to–hold a steady job, settle down and work his way into retirement. He didn’t need all the materialistic things that companies try to sell–why would you when you had a view like this everyday? He didn’t know exactly where he’d be in the next few weeks, but he knew that he’d be enjoying life and enjoying nature.
Of course, after hearing that, my mom barraged him with questions. This perspective was utterly foreign to her and to me. We both grew up in asian culture, in which normalcy was encouraged and thinking out of the box discouraged. “How do you eat? Where do you earn money?”
Again, he answered them. He picked up odd jobs here and there and made enough money from that and the bracelet revenues to eat. Not much else was needed.
With that little encounter, the world as I knew it was blown apart. And at the worst time possible, right? I was about to start my new life building for the life I would have after that….after which I could finally live my life in retirement.
This “modern nomad” theme can actually be seen everywhere we go. You can compare it to the “pennies-to-riches” dream that people had during Rockefeller’s time. Back then, it had been lodged in society’s subconscious. And similarly to this “modern nomad” idea, people desired it, yet no one knew how to obtain it–it was just a dream that got you through your life. But if you think about it, how sad is it to dream about someone else’s live in order to get through, in order to tolerate your own life?
Another example where you’d find this theme is in Jimmy John’s (It’s strange where I learn and embed these things–first traveling, and now food?). On one of those little black and white posters they have hanging all over the walls.
An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow-finned tuna. The banker complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied: “Only a little while.” The banker then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish. The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.
The banker was puzzled and then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”
The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, swim a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, Señor.”
The banker scoffed, “I have an MBA from Harvard and could help you. You should spend more time fishing, and with the proceeds you could buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats. Eventually you’ll have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middle man, you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles, and eventually to New York City where you will run your expanding enterprise.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, Señor, how long will this all take?”
To which the banker replied, “Five to ten years.”
“But what then, Señor?”
The banker laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company’s stock to the public and become very rich. You would be worth millions!”
“Millions, Señor? Then what?”
The banker said, “Then you would retire, move to a small coastal fishing village, take siesta with your wife, play with your kids, stroll to the village in the evenings where you would sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”
As I grow older, I find that this idea resonates within me stronger and stronger. As frightening as it may be, I’m starting to question the norms of our society (it’s also interesting to see how this relates to my women’s studies classes, in which they say that societal norms are not always the best for the individual). In fact, sometime during junior year, I spent months looking up odd jobs like working on a cruise ship, working at national parks that also house you, Mackinac Island, etc but I could never act upon it because I had some other academic and/or familial obligation.
No one else I knew wanted to do that. All the people I met working at national parks were international students. Now they have it right, as other countries usually do, I’ve realized.
Did you know that in Spain, employees are given time off in the middle of the day? This is usually used for lunch with the significant other, siestas (literally nothing is open during this time), and perhaps some midday sex. According to my native French teacher it’s customary to take extended vacations every year! Their idea of extended is up to 3-r months! If not extended, many of them travel during the weekends to other countries! Why can’t we have it that good?
Ever since meeting that man, I’ve been unconsciously searching for ways to achieve my dream. I’ve even tried denying my dream countless times—oh, I have no passion for anything, really. I’m not really good at a specific subject like most people are. When am I going to find my passion? I don’t think I wanted to admit that my passion is so hard to attain, so out of the ordinary, yet completely ordinary at the same time! Everyone’s dream is to travel the world, but to live as a citizen of the world? To live in places for months at a time and then move somewhere else?
Don’t get me wrong, I do question myself sometimes. Do I want this because I’m an escapist? Because I can’t deal with modern life and its demands? Because I can’t compete with my peers, locally or globally? For many of those, the answer is yes. Sometimes I wish I could live with the flow. If I were successful in my endeavors, I can picture myself happy with a steady, well-paying job and living by myself in a nice apartment in a nice city, occasionally going on vacation 1 or 2 weeks at a time PER YEAR. Sometimes I want to be the norm–there’s something comforting in living within the boundaries that society has set you. But then I realize. That’s just it. That’s the allure of it!–being in your comfort zone and not risking almost everything to see if maybe you like living off the grid.
Realizations like this are quite hard to stomach. Because after this one hurdle is crossed, the others come at you like a hurricane. What have I been doing with myself then? Why did I choose education, where debt further ensconces you into the system, making it harder for you to break free until you eventually put your dreams back on the shelf and tell yourself you’ll come back for them later. That’s too late. Later is always too late. Later can sometimes mean… never. And never, well, never is unacceptable.
There’s also the factor of time against my side. A person is rather malleable and when feeling like you’re the only one that wants this fighting against an entire ocean of people fighting for normalcy, well, you’ll eventually lose. I want to do this before my fight gives up. Before I’m that smooth, weathered stone you find in the ocean, pretty from being beaten down by those waves. I want to be that ugly rock you pick up and throw away–one that insults your senses by being so unrock-like. I want to leave before people realize that I’ve been infected with these thoughts and try to convince me otherwise.
On the other side of the time factor, I want to go because I’m malleable right now. I want to be able to learn from other cultures, to soak in the lessons I can pick up along the way. I know there’s a different person waiting for me on the other side, but only if I go when I’m open enough to accept these lessons the world has to offer.
Have you ever felt like this?