I really just began asserting myself in new cultures about 3 years ago and I am now compelled to continue traveling for the rest of my life. Here are 4 things that I’ve taken from these past 3 years being overseas.
It’s so amazing to go to another place that is so foreign to me because it opens the door to reflection and allows me to see how western culture has largely defined me. For instance, I noticed that in Japan a lot of people wear capri’s which, if you don’t know, is a lower garment the length that falls between pants and shorts. It’s not much of a style where I’m from in Los Angeles (maybe it is now since I’ve been away, I can’t be sure) but I’m sure it was at some time since everything has its cycle.
But in any case, it’s cool to see this difference in fashion when I jump countries and explore things such as the fashion. It’s something that may seem insignificant, but being inspired to change the way I dress means I’m changing my tendencies, which means I’m changing my thinking. It’s fostering a different approach, which can be a considerable deal if this change in fashion is broken down to the fact that a habit has been broken and can be modified or completely transformed.
I also visited Siem Reap in Cambodia and got to see the hustler’s mentality in children as young as 6 years old. They’d come up to me and tell me to support their family by buying some post cards, that they don’t have enough money to go to school. Most of the children that approached me had the same strategy and I bought a cheap pair of pants from one of them, which broke after two hours of wearing it, but for the rest I just chose to engage in a conversation with them in English and I think that was beneficial for them since English makes them more marketable on a global scale.
But again, this made me reflect on when I was 6 years old. I didn’t have a clue about what it took to hustle for money. I didn’t possess that same level of hunger for a better life, not even close because I lived comfortably. I was fortunate enough to attend primary school and a university – even though I didn’t realize it at the same. Many children in Cambodia don’t attend school that much because they are helping out their family to make ends meet. One of my tour guides told me that ~60% of Cambodian natives are illiterate and ~50% are unemployed, which is mindblowing. Mind you, Cambodia is a developing country and many people have never left their city, just working hard day in and day out trying to survive. This was my first time traveling to a developing country and it was an eye-opening experience to say the least.
In reflection, I’ve had my own struggles, but I call them first world problems and recalling such instances makes me understand how good I got it. One example is just 4 days ago, I traveled with my dear Kaori to Ang Thong National Park, which is a lovely batch of islands in Thailand, and I ended up getting my phone wet and sat it out in the sun for a while and now it’s broken.
First, I got mad because the waterproof case that was supposed to be good enough to do water sports in did not function right, so I was diffusing responsibility. This reminds me of Deepak Chopra when he said that
what happens to you may not be your fault, but it is your responsibility to get over it (paraphrased).
However, in actuality, the scorching heat probably contributed more to damaging my phone than anything because my phone could have probably cooked an egg if you dropped one on it. So, I was at fault.
Secondly, I got even more mad because I lost all of the pictures and videos from the trip, which I wanted to share and keep to relive the memories. But losing those pictures and videos could never take away my experience with my love over there. Sure, it will cost me some money to get a new phone but I’m nowhere near starving, my family won’t suffer because I broke my phone, I won’t lose my apartment in Japan, I won’t lose my job, nobody was able to access any personal information on my phone without my discretion…I just broke it. This allows me to realign my focus and gives me an ample opportunity to upgrade myself.
So yea, cheers to diversity and all the wonder it brings.
2) Don’t trust someone just because they are nice
I learned this lesson the hard way while in Bangkok for a night. It was my responsibility of course but I made a sucker decision to buy what I was told was an official Armani suit for $450. Is it really Armani? I will get it on the 17th, but I highly doubt it for the simple fact that Bangkok has tailor shops virtually on every block with the same set-up. It was a pretty elaborate scheme that the tuk tuk driver and his accomplice laid on me and I take it as a lesson to be really cautious, especially when traveling alone. I acted very foolishly to go along with it, especially since I’m very interested in living a minimalistic lifestyle. Goes to show that my conscious priorities are still not aligned with my actions. New learning experience and I realize that I am susceptible to getting taken advantage of partially due to my curiosity and friendliness. It conveys to really look into something before making a sizable investment.
Don’t buy into pressure without doing your homework (tweet this).
3) Realizing how much my thinking is based upon my own cultural norms
Coming to Japan and living there for 1.5 years, I was immediately surprised by the sensitivity regarding personal space and touching. I’m a physical person – I don’t elbow people in the forehead – but I enjoy using my body to communicate. For example, I habitually tap people on the shoulder before departing as a friendly gesture and this can make people feel uncomfortable if they don’t like being touched. That breaks rapport. I also make a lot of eye contact and it’s not that common in Japan to do so. Gesturing and eye contact connotes power and certainty, but that’s defined by western culture and I’ve been conditioned by that. Does that mean that these people who don’t gesture and use strong eye contact are less confident than me? Not necessarily.
Even when you look at people from western culture, it’s clear to see that confidence takes different forms. If you look at Jay-Z, you’ll see a humble, soft spoken, and likeable dude. He keeps his cool and respects people’s space. On the other hand, you have his good friend Kanye who is very outspoken, in-your-face, short tempered, some might call him arrogant. But they are both clearly confident in my eyes. So, in other words,
understand the culture and individual before stamping assumptions as a sure thing (tweet this).
4) How similar we are
Lastly, it seems that everyone I encounter, whether they are from Los Angeles, Ko Samui, Siem Reap, Okinawa, Tokyo, London, they all want to be happy. It’s that simple. Sure, we express our search for happiness in different ways. Some may find happiness in externalities like clothes, fast cars, and receiving praise by others, while somebody else may realize that there’s nothing that needs to be done to feel happy. It’s just a decision, a perspective one chooses to embody. In any case, we are more or less searching for the same thing. And besides, we all experience happiness, sadness, anger, frustration at some point – in a nutshell, we all experience empowering and disempowering emotions. I have yet to find someone who doesn’t stress over some shit. Some may feel more anger than others, overall, but we can all relate to one another in that we have encountered situations that made us feel the same way – we learn to empathize. And that connects one human being to another.
Something so simple that connects us all is the power of a smile. I realize how much people smile back when I initiate a smile. I loved my experience in Siem Reap because the natives were so warm and welcoming. I tried my best to share a smile wherever I went and wherever I go. It’s one of my many assets.
So, in spite of the many spices of human nature, we can all discover commonalities among one another (tweet this).
Here are some questions I’d love to hear back from you!
1) What have you learned through your travels?
2) If you have one piece of advice to give to someone going overseas, what would that one thing be?
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