Wednesday, March 01, 2006

I Won't Be Traveling to Japan

Today I got an e-mail from my friend C. She’s self-employed like I am, but I am far more successful in monetary terms. She just barely scrapes by.* She doesn’t have health insurance or a pension plan. If a brake pad falls off her, car it’s a financial catastrophe. A couple of months ago, her funds were so low, she was cleaning houses to make ends meet. Yet. Where was she e-mailing me from? Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. In fact, she’s always e-mailing me from places like that—Siberia, China, Mongolia, Turkey, Uzbekistan, India. She’d go to Iraq in a heartbeat if she could find a way to get in.

Her priorities are so different from mine. I could not live on the edge like that. I need to have money saved for a rainy day. What if disaster strikes? Even as a kid I saved up my 55 cents per week allowance and all my babysitting money. I've never been rich, but I have never been broke. I don’t know what it’s like, and I don’t want to find out. So that’s the way I look at life. Caution and fear are my guiding principles, which is why, I suppose, I double and triple book myself with clients, thus ensuring, ironically, that I'll have enough money to (in theory) go on an extended vacation, but never have the time to do so. Self-sabotage.

But back to C. She was in Siberia on 9-11. She saw the Twin Towers go down on Russian television in a room of people who only spoke Russian; she spoke only English and French. She didn’t know what was going on really, but she knew it was something beyond belief. She was in Siberia by herself—a lone American. I cannot imagine. She sent out an broadcast e-mail to her friends. It basically just said, “I’m scared. What should I do?” I think everyone told her to come home. "Stay out of the '-stans' " one guy said.

But she didn’t come home. In fact, she stayed away longer, and ignored the -stan advice completely. She decided to “trust the Universe” and went on to visit several other countries, finally running out of money in China, where somehow a Russian businessman lent her enough money to buy a plane ticket back to the United States. Apparently, he just wanted to help her out, which I have a certain amount of trouble believing, but she’s not a liar, so I guess that was just a case of the Universe coming to her rescue. I cannot under any circumstances imagine myself in her place. Part of me really admires her; part of me feels that she is putting herself in danger; part of me censures her for not subscribing to the Puritan work ethic the way I do; part of me wishes I could spend many months a year traveling (although I’d chose different places to go and I’d have to stay in reasonably nice accommodations).

In her e-mail to me, she mentioned that she has a friend in Tokyo who has an apartment there, so C is planning to go to Tokyo at some point and she wants me to join her. I have to say Japanese culture has never piqued my interest the way, say, Indian and African culture have. Seeing Lost in Translation clinched it for me. I would feel exactly the way Bill Murray does in that film. After watching it, I felt like every one of my senses had been battered. Tokyo seemed very, very alien to me--cold and impersonal and isolating. Of course, it was just a movie, but I'm pretty sure I'd be uncomfortable in Japan. Too much formality. Too many opportunities for faux pas. And, let's not forget, very expensive, even with a free place to stay.

I don’t think C knows how I feel about Japan. She’s certain that I could get a cheap flight from Seattle to Tokyo, but even if I could (which I doubt) I’d rather use that money to go somewhere else. Alternatively, she’d like me to join her in Kyrgyzstan or Georgia (the country not the U.S. state). She remembers that I once said I was interested in Georgia. I probably said that just to be affable and demonstrate that there was maybe one place in Central Asia (her favorite part of the world) I might consider visiting. I mean, if I won a ticket to Georgia (I’m sure there are lots of contests where the prize is a ticket to Georgia), I guess I’d go, but, again, there are so many places I’d rather go first. Like the Yorkshire Dales or Iceland or Idaho. I’m not a Lonely Planet person, although C is always trying to make me one.

I just took a look at the e-mail again and did a bit of reading in between the lines. I notice that she mentions that the flat in Tokyo is a big, Western-style apartment. She knows I’m not quite the budget traveler she is. She's the person who persuaded me to stay in a youth hostel once and, even though I tried to hide it, I guess it was clear that I was not a happy hosteller. I like certain amenities and privacy. She also mentions that there is amazing hiking in Georgia--she knows how much I love to hike. It's obvious she’s really trying to get me to join her on another continent (any continent), I see now. She just got to Kyrgyzstan a few days ago, but I think she’s lonely. Or at least tired of always traveling alone, even though she’s a solo traveler par excellence.

And maybe I should just do it. Maybe I should go to Georgia. Do it before another global disaster strikes or before the environment is flushed all the way down the crapper. (I just read today that the Alps are melting.) I mean, how would I feel if the world ended and I’d spent 99% of my life working?

*About a month or so ago I wrote about a friend whom I claimed was always on the brink of penury. This is not that friend. This is a different penurious friend. I have a lot of penurious friends--friends who make me look like Diamond Jim Brady.


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