Friday, April 13, 2007

My take... but without a lot of ketchup.

I hope I'll get to post more thoroughly in the next week, but admittedly it's a higher priority to soak up every moment of actual living that I'm able to on the boat. I have to agree with Gemma, in large part. While I'd never choose not traveling over traveling, this has been rough. Two months was not reall enough time to get to know Iasi, Romania in 2000, nor was two weeks sufficient to see Ireland. A day, give or take, for Tokyo, for Bangkok, for Cape Town, for Tahiti, leaves me feeling overwhelmed and a little melancholy.

That said, I'm not going to complain too much. South African cuisine in Cape Town is not what it is in NYC, and February in the South Pacific has very little in common with the Midwest. If anything, I feel a little lopey dopey: my schedule and internal thermometer has been completely tangled in climate changes - we've passed between temperate and tropical zones seven times so far, and have crossed the equator at least four.

If there's one overall impression I've retained so far, it is the size contradiction in the world. We've been able to come within a few hundred miles of half the world's population in the last few months, yet we've also been traveling by boat, and I am even more impressed by the extent to which humans have access to humans. But the other side of the coin: human experience is so dense, so thick, so numerous and rich and varied that one just has to throw their arms up and admit to being overwhelmed.

This was echoed in an experience I had a couple days ago. There have been a series of lectures on the ship, dealing with modern politics, history, culture, and so on. I originally meant to hit many of these, but they first one I went to was so dull, and between seeing places and working on my thesis, I didn't think that I had much time. It's a choice I don't regret.

Still, yesterday, being danced-out and dined-out and half-tired but not feeling like sleeping, I found myself attending a lecture on terrorism, it's causes and solutions, and so on. It's a subject that, important as it is, I've heard so much of in the last few years that I can't listen openly anymore. Everyone knows what they think, and I'm too worn out to argue.

This was the view of the man sitting to my left throughout the lecture, and when the speaker told a joke (about flies mating, of all things) we were the only two who got it and laughed. We ended up having a conversation after the talk was over, and I came to learn that he was also a writer, interested in fiction, specifically experimental fiction. He is just married for two years, recently turned twenty six, and was sent on this cruise by his uncle who is connected to oil interests in Indonesia. He is a practicing Muslim, an Indonesian citizen, with Chinese heritage. He has taken a leave of absense from his writing program, which is in London, but he has been refreshed during the trip and hopes to finish his thesis-type project by September. His name is Joyo. We walked up to the Lido deck for a drink, and there I met his wife. We ended up talking, the three of us, for the next two hours, and finally exchanged email addresses, and agreed to take a look at each other's work. I'm still struck by how much, and how very little, we have in common.

It doesn't take a giant leap of imagination, and especially during this trip, to start to see everything in this way. I took a walk out of the tourist districts of Bangkok and it seemed, in many ways, more similar to Detroit than Detroit is to New York or Chicago. I know, numerically, demographically, that this is not so, but I don't automatically distrust my gut impressions just because I cannot easily explain them. Likewise, I felt an intimacy, almost an affection for the deep waters of the Pacific ocean, in some ways more than I've ever felt for the Atlantic or the great lakes, even though this is one of my first experiences with the ocean.

I'll go back. I'll write more about the South Pacific, China and Japan, New Zealand and Australia, India, Africa, and all of the places we've visited. Ultimately, however, travel becomes its own justification. Even in this sort of luxurious cloisters of the QE2, I can't completely escape from certain common facts, certain human truths, that are everywhere, and are pervasive.


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