Waking up before dawn, we groggily made our way by foot to the boat dock. We passed red robed monks doing their usual rounds of alms-begging, rendering the morning an air of tranquility. Our boatman was ready to take us out to the lake and we settled into our hard seats, tucking our legs comfortably under thick blankets. The chilly morning breeze was tangible on our skin but that would soon change with the rising sun.
The lake grew wider as we went deeper, and mist blurred the horizon between lake and sky while mountains painted a faint backdrop and fishermen on boats dotted the foreground. Not just any odd fisherman, but ones that skilfully paddle with their leg while their hands are free to wrestle the interminable fishing nets. Their graceful silhouette was seared into my mind that very morning and I could not take my curious eyes off them. How did they master this skill that fishermen from other parts of the world don’t know of? How is it not more widespread? It seemed like a very clever way to fish.
As the mid-day heat started bearing down on our necks, we slowly approached the floating gardens and villages of Inle lake. We passed young ladies with tanaka-smeared faces maneuvering their boats around lush vegetation. While the men fished, the women harvested and pruned. It was a simple life living off the lake and passed down generation after generation.
Traffic on the lake started picking up as speedboats whirred past, transporting locals to other parts of the lake. But the fishermen were still hard at work using nets, cages and primal tools that have served mankind for centuries. We slowly made our way back to the boat dock, taking cover under our umbrella. We will soon be back in town, walking amongst other tourists back to our hotel rooms with precious pictures in our camera to remind us of our day out at the lake.
The most fascinating aspect of travel is the people. Being able to observe the locals in their element is what sustains our interest in long term travel, as opposed to the big sights and wonders which wear thin after a while. If I had to pick one culture of people that stood out to us it would have to be the Tibetans.
Tibetan faces were some of the most exotic we had ever come across. The men were rugged, flamboyant, well built and embodied the ‘Eastern Cowboy’ persona which took us by surprise. We had imagined pious and meek stereotypes which were not untrue, but we hadn’t expect to see a lot more diversity in this race. The women were beautiful with their rosy cheeks and exuded elegance in their traditional garment and cowboy hat. And then there were the monks, who stood out in their red robes in contrast to their humbled posture and demeanor. It was hard not to be captivated by this race of people.
While we were drawn to their faces at first sight, we were held amazed by their deep devotion to their religion. It was not an uncommon sight to see Tibetans repeatedly prostrate themselves in prayer at holy sites or circumambulate in meditation around temples, some interspersing with full body prostrations every 3rd step along the way. It certainly taught me a thing or two about devotion despite our vastly different faiths.
Tibetans are not without their flaws, as I found them to have a lower standard of hygiene which could be a result of the tough environment, conflicting history and slow development especially outside the capital city. Nonetheless their resilience in surviving such harsh living conditions particularly the farmers and nomadic tribes is something many other cultures can learn from.
Two years ago we sold almost all our belongings, packed up our modest home and left Sydney for an adventure of a lifetime. It wasn’t a decision made overnight. It was calculated, planned and executed over the course of at least 3 years, leading up to the day we left Sydney. Many believed in us, but some gave up on us long before we came home. We traveled to amazing places we used to only dream of going, experienced so many highs and a fair share of lows in our journey and met so many interesting people, some we plan on keeping as lifelong friends. We started off together, eager and came home together, stronger.
We have been back in Sydney for almost 2 months now. Life has caught up with us again, and we are back in the mundane routine of work, commuting, bills and society. In short, we are back to being “busy”.
It is incredibly difficult to summarise my thoughts and feelings about our entire travel experience in one post. I have drafted this blog post a hundred times over in my head and none felt ‘final’. I have come to learn that there can’t be one, as I am still reaping from my travels long after it’s over. I will have the rest of my life to regurgitate the memories, stories and faces, slowly digest them and find strength, meaning and purpose from these moments for my present and future.
But for now, I am contented. I am still young, but I feel filled like an old lady who has seen and done much.
“A long life is not a question of years. A man without memories might reach the age of a hundred and feel that his life had been a very brief one” – Graham Greene from ‘Travels with my aunt’
Sunrise in Bagan, Myanmar, one of the very last places we visited.
In the space of 72 hours I came face to face with whale sharks in Churaumi Aquarium, learned about the Ryukyu Kingdom in a visit to Shurijo Castle, feasted on fresh sashimi and combed the shopping street of Kokusai Dori. Okinawa may not be on the top of most visitors’ to do list in Japan, but it was refreshing to see a laid back Japanese city that traces its roots back to the dynasties of China. It had a distinct culinary flavour and an island vibe that you’d expect, but not lacking in the eccentricities and quirks unique to Japanese culture which most travelers are fond of (the ubiquitous vending machines, ‘chirping’ pedestrian traffic light crossings, heated toilet seats and so on).