Sunday, 30 December 2007
We had spent the last month just waiting to come home really. The anticipation of getting back had become bigger than the distraction of being away. That's not to say the last month wasn't still good, but we very much had one eye on the ticking clock for most of it.
It's funny reflecting on a full year away, trying to answer the one question that everyone has - "Where was you favourite place?". There were places that were real highlights and places that were not. The trip all done and dusted now, Vietnam still sits under a black mark. Borneo, Cambodia, Nepal and Goa all stand out as real highlights. Not to take anything away from the other places too.
There were surprises on the way too. We had expected China to be a very difficult country. In our ignorance, we expected the people to be closed, abrupt and of course to speak absolutely no English. This couldn't have been more wrong. You can't sum up an entire country's people of course, but on the whole, we found the Chinese people to be some of the most helpful and lovely of the trip. We didn't expect to find such a diverse culture, changing as we crossed China in degrees comparable to crossing Europe. In fact so hospitable were they, that it wasn't until we reached Tibet that we remembered why we weren't supposed to agree with China, as a government.
Tibet although tinged with sadness, was still more upbeat and optimistic than we expected. Again, in our ignorance, we had expected to find a disenchanted and disenfranchised population. But that's not the case. True, they are an occupied country, and true they are severely restricted in their personal freedoms. There's no denying the Chinese occupation in Tibet is a bad thing, but the spirit of the Tibetans is such an inspiring one. They're still chipper, getting on with life as best as they can, and smiling.
Vietnam could learn a thing or two from the Tibetans, and the Cambodians. It was striking in Cambodia to consider the brutalities of the Khmer Rouge, so recent that the bloodstains can still be seen. Talking and engaging with most of the population, you know they had to endure it, and you know that they weren't all on the same side. Cambodia wants justice for what it has endured but that justice looks slow in coming. It will probably not happen until most of the proponents of the massacres have died themselves, but despite that, again, a country is trying to get on with things. The people of Cambodia aren't best impressed by their big chief, but still, they're smiling and making visitors welcome. Cambodia is possibly the least developed of the countries we visited, and yet it is one of the most clued in on how to deal with tourists (except maybe the immigration officials).
In terms of looking after tourists, Nepal does exceedingly well too. They have such an abundance of natural resources from the mountains to provide no end of adventure sports and electricity. They have the sports and trekking nailed, now they just have to sort the electricity.
Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Laos were all excellent countries, and sat well positioned on our itinerary as we slowly immersed ourselves deeper into the world. New Zealand, a homecoming for Nikki, and a 'meet the family' for me, was sort of like a pre-trip trip, preparing ourselves before launching into Asia. Alabama, with everything that came between there and home feels like a decade ago, but not so long ago to forget the fun we had with Sarah and Brennen, camping in Savannah and Chellis taking us out and about all the time too. (Remember me asking for a beer at the Cracker Barrel?). India had the unfortunate privilege of being our last stop. Competing for our time with too much to show us too late. We barely scraped the surface there, but it seems likely we'll be back.
Has the trip changed our lives? Given us a new perspective on life? Yes and No. There was no one life-changing experience but there were a number of real eye opening moments, particularly with the poverty. The staggering number of people with so little for themselves was one of the hardest things to walk past. Everyone wants your money, and everyone could certainly make use of it, but giving to one person while ten more look on in earnest is very difficult. Children are trained by their parents to beg for money or beg you to buy a trinket and it breaks your heart to say no, but to say yes exacerbates the problems. We tried different tactics, saying yes to everybody, saying yes to some, saying no to children, saying no to everyone. No tactic worked. All we could do was listen to, or sometimes ignore our hearts.
The corruption in government across Asia, the reckless standards of driving, the poor sanitation and provision of amenities bring home the privileged conventions we take for granted in the West. We might complain about traffic or government policies here, moan about rates and other such things but we really don't have it all that bad you know. In many ways that is probably one of the biggest things we got out of the trip, perspective.
People keep asking where we're going to go next. Do we have itchy feet yet and so on. We don't have itchy feet. More importantly, we don't have any money. A year away from home is a long time, I think it'll be a while before we need to get away big style again, but having said that, there's still a couple of corners of the world to see. For now though it's time to settle back into life, here in sunny Scotland. It's true what they say, there's no where quite like home - New Zealand came close though.