What travel experiences and observations have I found valuable over the years?
An experience is particular
I previously mentioned that an expensive price tag frequently carries an inverse relationship to how I value an experience. I also mentioned the possibility of exceptions to this principle, albeit rare.
First, what’s an easy test to eliminate an experience from consideration? Regardless of the price tag, I ask myself, would I pursue the experience if no cost was attached? If the answer is a no, then cost should naturally not have any bearing on the decision. Otherwise I would carry out a more complex analysis to determine what price I consider respectful with cost/benefit in comparison to at least some viable alternative.
I recall one such scenario when seeking lodgings in Chicago during a period coinciding with a famous music festival. This was a high season at it’s peak. I managed with difficulty to find a private AirBNB room within my price range. However, the room listing was shortly revealed to be a result of an oversight, but the owner had sympathetically offered a tent in the garden for the same cost. Of course I accepted!
Would I have stayed in the tent if the experience was a free one? Absolutely. I love the idea of an improvised sleeping arrangement outdoors (nature reserve or urban). Was the price tag justifiable? Yes, considering I didn’t have any immediate alternative and I was already determined to stay in a room for the same price. In hindsight, I actually prefer the tent to a private room. There is no objective value or price with respect to experiences. Each one merits an independent analysis.
Naiveness or curiosity
In my last night in Kuala Lumpur on April 14, 2012, an Indian New Year celebration was taking place, in accordance with the Hindu Lunar Calendar. On my walk back to the hotel, an enchanting candle-lit facade in the distance lured my attention. I could not resist, and proceeded down the rabbit hole. The candles, arranged on the ground, numbered in the thousands, gradually lit as part of the ceremony. As I approached, it became apparent that I was the only non-Indian in the gathering. I spoke with the first person I found in isolation. He explained to me the meaning behind the celebration. I was encouraged by some others to light a few candles, and afterwards invited to partake in the buffet. Then I interacted with some other groups over delicious refreshments.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, I applied what I refer to as the invasion technique, except I did so not in any premeditated manner, but in complete ignorance of my actions. I occasionally entertain the same technique to blend into exclusive settings.
Unplanned events lead to vivid memories
Earlier in Kuala Lumpur, I sustained a 5-hour long (fairly authentic) conversation with a Chinese guy that approached me outside an Indian restaurant. We didn’t share any languages in common, conversing in very basic English, with him largely using the phone translation software as means of communication.
Now, my memory of that encounter is registered as a 5-hour long conversation on the restaurant steps, with particular emphasis on the number five, but I’m no longer certain if this was real or reimagined. I am appalled at the idea of even a 30-minute long sustained conversation nowadays with an accidental acquaintance. Somewhere in a journal entry, thousands of kilometers from my present whereabouts, lies a more objective account of those circumstances.
As a consequence of the above experience, I later found myself as a head of a table at a large Chinese gathering in a restaurant, given attention similar to that of an ambassador at a delegation. It felt fairly natural at the time, yet surreal in my present state of reflection.
The jet-lag technique
Those rare time travel experiences into the future present an interesting opportunity. As a morning person with anti-social inclinations, I rarely find myself energized by nighttime (post 22:00) social surroundings. Yet in the few cases I sustained radical forward time-zone shifts (China -> Canada, US -> Germany), I got to explore a parallel life of a thriving night-time extrovert, be it at 2AM at a Vancouver all night restaurant, or at 3AM at a Berlin Karaoke. As I observed the exhausted night-time facial expressions on the metro, the absurdity of the situation seemed plain amusing, and not something I would otherwise value in the lack of full cognitive control or energy reserves.
Backward time-zone shifts, on the other hand, I find torturing to this day, unable to positively channel my emotions at waking up at 2 or 3AM, and generally requiring a few days to functionally readjust. I recognize that certain chemical stimulants can facilitate such a time-zone transition. However, not only do I avoid them out of principle, I find psychological strategies and techniques a more rewarding (as well as innovative) form of mitigation. I would welcome any tips in that regard!
Quest for hard work
Once in Chiang Mai, Thailand, a random conversation at an unplanned encounter led to a three week long volunteering experience stay at a Lahu coffee plantation. It involved a lot of physically intense labor I would occasionally curse, but worth the natural experience of the kind. I probably consumed too much coffee, but at least channeled those effects towards physical mechanics in a way that coffee consuming populations have for centuries, rather than towards information labor. The experience also reinforced how pathetically useless I was in lighting a fire. Yet I got to live among a population similar to no other I’ve known.