Monday, April 13, 2015

All Too Civilized

One day you’re walking down a road that is under water for half of the year, amongst naked kids playing soccer with plastic bags and houses on wooden stilts. The next day, you’re riding down an escalator in a shopping mall with a Starbucks cup in your hand. Travel has a way of messing with you.

It’s strange - We’ve always felt more culture shock upon arriving home from a developing country than the reverse. Everything is just SO convenient! There are SO many things to choose from at the grocery store! Portions are SO big! People have SO much stuff! We always return to the first world overwhelmed by the excess, and determined to live more simply.

But inevitably, within mere hours it seems, we’re right back into the swing of things. We upgrade to the latest iPhone. We become particular about the kind of cheese we buy (New Zealand grass fed extra sharp white cheddar). We need new clothes and new shoes and our apartment slowly gets filled with new stuff. How are we all innately so hard wired to consume?

On our recent transition from the remote dusty village of Kompong Phluk to the metropolitan city of Manila, the shock was a particularly strong one. Because over the past several months, we’ve grown to feel so connected. To those around us. To history. To the earth. Okay, I know I sound like I’ve gone completely off the reservation here. But I’m telling you, long term travel heightens our senses in a way we could never have understood before experiencing it. We found on our 2010 trip, and again now - when we are constantly surrounded by strangers, judging who we can trust, finding our way, navigating the unknown - a sort of sixth sense emerges that enables us to read the energy of a person or a room or a place in an instant. The longer we’re gone, the stronger it gets. And when we return home, it fades right along with the desire to live simply.

So I find myself on this escalator in the mega Greenbelt Mall of Manila, and everybody around me just feels so… disconnected. Wandering the air-conditioned halls like zombies. Phones in hand. Shopping bags on arm. It felt so empty to me in contrast to where we had just been. Sterile. Soulless. It was difficult to comprehend how both of these worlds are happening simultaneously, less than a day’s travel from one another. It felt like another planet.

We sat down at a generic, overpriced restaurant in a spotless booth with colorful, laminated menus in our hands. I asked Reece – Why is it that sitting on a dirty stool on the sidewalk, breathing the exhaust of passing motorbikes and eating whatever their serving up that day, is so much more satisfying than this? I don’t get it. He answered - Because it makes us feel human. Funny, I bet a lot of people out there would argue the opposite.

We both felt a bit sad by the realization that we weren’t excited to be back in “civilization.” That we missed the dirt roads and lack of technology and the connection with perfect strangers. Cause after all, this is the world we’d be returning to in LA. Were we ready for that? Had we been too quick to book our flights home? The feeling made us uneasy.

Ultimately however, there are a million amazing things about going back to California. We are so, so lucky to call it home. And it goes without saying that we’re excited about everybody we get to see when we get there. To enjoy the existing, lifelong connections of friends and family, instead of perfect strangers. And we are so insanely blessed that we have the choice to experience both. To get lost in a third world country, and then return to the comforts of the US. 

Further, we are grateful that places so unlike home still call to us so deeply. That we share the desire and apprecaition. And that hopefully, even after going home, it won’t be long before we return to them again J


  1. I came back from Thailand feeling the same way several years ago. I have gotten rid of a lot of material things and now spend money on memories and not material items. Great blip on your blog. I love reading it!