About a year ago I realized that I regretted having titled my blog – modern nomad in the USA. I expected to be travelling across the US for some time, trying to figure out the vast wastelands of the inner US. But I got stuck in this place called Fuckville, North Carolina, primarily for a piece of paper that apparently takes three years or so to get. My nomadic days ended abruptly, but my desire to travel never dissipated. I couldn’t afford to go travel, and my damn conscious prevented me from enjoying the glorious life of a Trustafarian. So I waited for the opportunity to manifest itself. I guess this summer my patience was rewarded by the Trustafarian Gods, and I found a way to free ride all the way to China.
The truth is that I’ve never been to Asia before, but somehow I ended up leading a four week trip to China with 10 young men and women. For the first time in my life tomorrow I will cross the Pacific and go explore not only a new country or continent, but also a new culture, and most interestingly, a new perspective.
For so many years I’ve seen my friends and my brothers’ return from Asia (although it was mostly India and Southeast Asia) with a sense of awe. I’ve always explained that as “you find what you’re looking for”, and it made so much sense to me. But now as I stand on the doorstep of my own experience into the unknown, I find myself preparing for this trip not by trying to understand what I will experience, but rather by asking what I will be looking for. And the truth is that where I am in my own life right now is a place I’ve never been in before. I feel so comfortable alone, so secure in my own answers to other people that it’s become hard to ask what I’m looking for. I’ve gotten used to being the one who gives answers, but now the time has come to ask, and seek. I don’t know what the questions are, but they are there.
I’m glad my first time going to such a foreign environment is going to be with students, because as they experience something so new and raw, their questions will become my own. I’m trying to embrace the humility in me, and learn from the people around me, but I’ve become so arrogant that embracing this humility has become so hard. I’m glad my first time going to travel, to really travel will require me to navigate and give answers, but to go through this journey with other people too, will allow me to ask my own questions too.
When I write, I sound like such a cliché.
So maybe it’s time to backtrack and explain the past two weeks. For some odd reason, the company I’m working for this summer decided that I should lead a trip to china. This company prides itself in authentic travel, teaching global citizenship and global awareness and takes super rich kids to go see what real poverty looks like. Most of the students are highly driven, ambitious young men and women who also want to change the world, or at least build up their resume. And I look at these goals and it seems like such bullshit. How the fuck can a group experience “authentic travel”? How can such cushioned teenagers with so much money even experience anything real? I came to the two week orientation as a cynic, as you might tell. I was going to piggyback on some else paying me to travel with kids for a couple of weeks, so that I could go travel by myself after.
The orientation began with hugs and flowers the moment we got off the bus in the Sierras, to which I responded poorly and tried to shy away from strangers attempting to engross me with their pathetic false love. That night it delved into a ceremony in which one hundred people “intimately” shared their inner most thoughts about why they do this work, as they symbolically threw a stick into the fire. I wanted to yell “because it’s a free ride to china”, or at least “because of the money”, but I held back and practiced humility. These people surrounding me weren’t jaded yet by the presumptuousness of trying to change the world one student at a time. But as the ceremony continued, what I realized is that it wasn’t that they weren’t jaded yet, it was that they made a conscious decision to believe. Up until two years ago I was a believer too, I was one of them, but standing around that circle reminded me of whom I once was, and I had to make a choice. I grasped my stick tightly in my right hand, struggling to let go and find the words that would suit the occasion. In a moment of clarity I finally spoke up and said “I do this work because it reminds me to believe, and sometimes that’s really hard for me.” I did it, I let go of my sarcasm, and allowed passion to penetrate the cold air of the Sierras, to let it flow through my skin and finally reach my core. I didn’t expect it, and immediately returned to analyze the power of ceremony. But for one moment I was able to articulate what I was looking forward to – to believe.
As the orientation continued, I realized how similar to the Kurs Madazim (the Israeli teenage instructor course), this whole experience was to me. I was able to reinvent myself, and decide who I wanted to be, but I also wasn’t sixteen anymore. My ability to let go of my image of self that I have created over the years has diminished significantly, and I can no longer just be whoever the fuck I want. In the 13 years that have passed since then, I’ve built a repertoire of behavior that suits me, and I was more reluctant to let go. I decided early on that I would not hesitate to be my direct self, even though everyone around me was talking about respecting other cultures. I wanted to understand, but I also wasn’t willing to let go of my abrasive side that tells people what I think. It’s effective, and it gets shit done. But I also felt secluded, and that I could learn from the people around me. The constant tension never disappeared, but I thrived on it, joked through it so people get to see that even though I am sometimes an asshole, that it could be playful and most of all, just fun.
The two weeks lasted an eternity, but looking back on them now, they flew by. The people became gradually more interesting, and my desire for humility began to manifest. My three years of training in an overwhelmingly formal American society have at least taught me how to play along. At least that. I know my value and I know in what areas I can shine. I didn’t hide behind a shadow of myself, but I also learned to accept.
I’m still not sure what the four weeks of travelling with students will entail. I’m still not sure what parts of myself will manifest in this trip. But more than anything else, I’ve willing to play along. At least it’s a start.
Upon reflecting about what I wrote for a moment, I was reminded of what a good friend once told me about my blog. That even though I sometimes feel that way, the world doesn’t revolve around me, and that’s it’s nice that I can share so intimately about my experiences, but I also have to remember to share what exactly is going on. Albeit at the end of this post, maybe I should share some more about what exactly I’ve been doing. Two weeks ago I left Israel and landed in Los Angeles. After spending a day with my cousin, which was great, I got picked up and was driven six hours north-west to the Sierras, which are the California Mountains. We camped for two weeks of orientation and had multiple workshops about education, risk management and inter-cultural communication. The assumption is that most people on these trips have been to the countries they’re going to, and that they know a lot about these places, so we spent very little time talking about China. The main focus of these courses is the cultural experiences, so we won’t be speaking much about politics or economics. They shy away from the macro, because they want to intentionally focus on the micro and what people are experiencing. Although I find it frustrating, I’m willing to play along.
Tomorrow the students arrive and I leave for China.
I’m still not sure what to expect, but I know it’s gonna be good. Next post will be from Chengdu, which is in the Sichuan province. Yeah, that’s where Sichuan beef comes from.
So at least the food is gonna be good.