Holy moly, Mary, Mother of God India is big! I'm doing some preliminary research on the place. Glad I got a six month visa. I think I am ready physically and mentally. I sure hope so. It's strange, I've been there twice, but this time it seems so daunting--as I know what to expect, but then again, you never know what's going to happen in India. Toss in Bangladesh to see Ihtisham and man, I've got a lot on my plate.
Anyway, I'm just kind of thinking out loud. There are so many things to see in India I don't know where to begin. Of course, only a fool misses seeing the Taj Mahal twice! That would be me. I guess the third time is the charm. And I will see Fatepur Shikri (sp?) and Old Delhi this time, as I pray I won't be puking my guts out in a hotel room for five days straight in Paharganj. And hopefully I won't leave a week early as I did the time my father and I visited India due to back problems. (Not to mention I had tea spiked with hash--unbeknownst to me, by the way.)
I'm having a hard time concentrating because a guy from Tamil Nadu is talking my ears off right now and I'm not in a talkative mood. I'm trying to be diplomatic about it, but, well, it's good preparation for India. Irony, indeed.
In the meantime, I'll keep looking around for interesting, off the beaten track places in India and report back. I'm going to gorge myself on duck rice for the next several days, as I won't be around this way again or quite some time. My, how I have loved South East Asia. This was never a region of the world I planned on extensively traveling in, but I'm glad I did. A full six months here. Amazing.
Traveling in this part of the world has changed me, as well. I used to be very diplomatic, laid back and soft spoken but not so much any more. I still treat the locals with a great deal of respect, but when the locals, like yesterday in Medan, are in utter chaos, well, I just go with it, pushing and shoving my way to the front of the line like the rest. In the past I would patiently wait my turn. It paid off when it came time to get off the ferry because I was the first one through customs. Having a 25 kilo pack on my back also helps--it's big and intimidating and I swing it around and get lots of personal space that way. Kind of rude, I know, but when in Rome . . .
Hell, I even got a tattoo. 38 years old and I got a tattoo. No, it's not obnoxious or huge. It's small and special and says something in Chinese that I specifically designed myself. I quite like it. Funny, I always swore I'd never have one. Look at me now, Dad! ;-)
I think it has changed my writing a bit too. I never self-censored, but I always felt duty bound to observe the proprieties, especially when it comes to commenting in posts. I don't give a shit any more. And I'm more inclined to observe things I would not have in the past, especially the lives of women. Perhaps this is because my mother and I are no longer estranged and my experience in Da Nang where her brother was killed in Vietnam really enlightened me about her life. Nothing like context to add to understanding and empathy. Also, I've always marveled at how certain male writers can create these amazing female characters. And I've tried even harder to observe women and listen to them and really, really pay attention. For that I am grateful.
The reason for some of these changes? Well, I don't have anything to prove to anyone, anymore and I just don't give a damn. It's my life and I'm living it for me now. Not for anyone else. Just compare and contrast these two photos: here and here. Who looks happpier and more at peace with himself?
I'm also pushier--maybe a better adjective is assertive, inclined to pop my mouth off on occasions I wouldn't normally do so. A good example: the other day in Lake Toba an Indian tourist was driving like a jackass in the road and damn near hit me. He did manage to run over the leg of the dog that was beside me. I ordered him to halt, get out of the car and apologize to the owners of the pet. He did as I asked.
Two years ago I would never have done such a thing.
I've never had time for bullshitters and it's growing even more intense now. With all the travel I've done I'm a much keener observer of bullshit than I used to be. I know when someone is full of it and when they are sincere. Strangely enough there are a lot of charlatans on the road. Not the locals mind you, they are usually almost always harmless--scam artists are pretty easy to pick out, especially since I've been mugged in Moscow, scammed in China and pretty much cheated in every country I've ever traveled in. It goes with the territory and there are always new scams. But one's radar does get better and better over time. No, what I'm talking about are the backpackers, some of whom, well, I believe in 'road karma.' I've gone out of my way to help people out in many different countries but for some reason, on this trip in South East Asia most people I have met have just been really, well, shitty. Now Toba, that was different. But the in Thailand, Laos and here in Penang? Blech.
I'm also much more at peace with myself. I guess that's an effect of finally letting go of some of my sillier dreams, getting over my demons (and all demons are usually pretty stupid too) and doing what I love: traveling and writing. There is something to be said for following one's muse.
Will I be a better person when I return home, or worse? Or does it really even matter?
I don't have those answers. And I don't really care. I'm me, living in the moment. What else matters?