Being in a foreign land is always a bit of a rush. It is a constant overload of information flooding through your brain. It can be thrilling to acclimatize to the new language, signs, cars, buses, trains, taxis, people, customs, rules, and food. Although, sometimes the food is not such a thrilling experience.
In my travels all over the world, I always have life changing experiences. I call these experiences “gifts”. I receive priceless gifts from the people, cultures and environments where I am visiting. I always come home a better person and I attempt to remember these gifts as I live day to day. Some days it’s more of a struggle to remember, but ultimately I end up remembering, even if it’s the hard way.
This nearly six week adventure to Asia did not leave my gift basket empty. In fact, I was given some of my most valuable and precious gifts yet. In all honesty, I find myself not being able to put into words my emotions, gratitude and the peace that was given to me by the beautiful people, and lands of Korea, Japan and Malaysia.
It is not easy to be away from home for long periods of time. Hotels night after night, living out of a suitcase filled with clothes you just want to burn after a week is hard. Japan and Korea are particularly hard places to adjust, for me at least. There is absolutely no way of faking that you know what is going on. The language alone would make the blood pulse behind my eyeballs just looking at it. Humiliation and embarrassment waited for me around every corner, day after day when I would walk through the wrong door, or hold up a line because I kept putting the wrong currency in the bus box. I was continually shoved aside and yelled at in the subway because my luggage was blocking the whole car. There were many moments when I just wanted to curl up in the fetal position on the dirty concrete floor yelling for my mama. And then it would happen, I would look up from under my embarrassment and see one little precious Asian face looking at me with a slight smile. Maybe it was man, a woman, or even a child at times, but always there was one smile to snap me out of my frustration, take a deep breath which usually led to an out loud laugh which then made several people around me laugh as well. I was happy that I could be a source of laughter for these people who were most likely on their way home from a long hard day of work. Like I mentioned before, I can’t put into words what those simple smiles taught me.
There is a certain confidence I felt when I’d make it through the day in one piece. There was a profound sense of accomplishment when I realized I was on the right bus or train, or I said a word that was recognized by the locals without getting laughed at, well maybe just giggled at. The best feeling was when I would order my meal using a few native words and I would hold my head high smiling looking around to see if the locals heard me speak their native tongue so skillfully. I learned the right doors to walk through and the right currency to use and even the right corners of the subway to jam myself into with my luggage to not block the doors. I would walk down the streets (on the right side) starting to recognize symbols and words and being able to buy things and communicate to some extent. It was a nice feeling. By the time I felt I had learned how to “fit in”, it was time for me to move on to a new place. And the cycle of embarrassment would start over. But, I quickly learned to look for that one smiling face amongst the crowd and laugh. It wasn’t long before I had the smile that others were looking for. It was a humbling experience for me. Humbling and special.
I have a brother who recently moved to Malaysia with his wife and little boy. I was able to stay with them for a few days, and I’ll tell you, it felt so good to see familiar faces. I am proud of them for taking on this new adventure and also envy them in many ways. I’ve been home a couple weeks now, and I miss already pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I miss the excitement each day brought. And the deep gratitude I felt everyday for the life I had waiting for me at home. To Matt and Kay and little “Budu”, love every moment you have there, learn, grow and laugh until your sides hurt.
Out of all the many “gifts” I brought home with me that I can put into words are simple thoughts that I hope I can remember day to day and share with others. It seems like we are always in a rush. Life goes by to fast anyway, why would we want to rush it. I have learned to just slow down. Drive slower, stop and look around more, reflect, enjoy silence, breath deeper, cherish every moment of every day, be grateful for what I have instead of always thinking about what I don’t have, meet new people, try new things, get out of my comfort zone, eat more burgers and fries and red velvet cupcakes, laugh, laugh, laugh but mostly at myself, and above all, be the one smile among the crowd.
How fun to have such a unique experience! I hope you are doing well, Jenna! Take care, Alison