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Saturday, 25 July 2015

The Road to Reconciliation

"Life is no straight and easy corridor along which we travel free and unhampered, but a maze of passages, through which we must seek our way, lost and confused, now and again checked in a blind alley. But always, if we have faith, a door will open for us, not perhaps one that we ourselves would ever have thought of, but one that will ultimately prove good for us." - A.J. Cronin

And so a new chapter of my life begins as I hit the road again, bound once more for western Canada. And a chapter closes on a dark period of my life - one where, after 8 glorious months living like a nomad, I spent 2 months languishing at home, a diminished form of my former self.

I debated whether to publish this but, since I started blogging, I try to hold nothing back, and decided this is not only worth discussing, this situation needs to be discussed openly. I myself learned a lot of harsh but valuable lessons from this that I feel are worth sharing, and are thus presented as respectfully as possible regarding my family.

Upon my homecoming I learned that, since last year, when I quit my office job, a huge rift has grown between myself and my family. Being unemployed, not making money, and not knowing what to do with my life (and having the hygiene and dress of a hippie), apparently I fell short of their expectations and brought shame to the family. My travel adventures had no effect on their impressions of me. On the flip side, their conservative values and unchanging ways fell short of my expectations of them. This led to a difficult 2 months punctuated by tension, sadness, disagreements, and difficult talks.

I fell into old habits, living like the lazy, apathetic teen I once was. My energy fell, I became disengaged and lost motivation to do anything productive, exacerbated by the rural isolation, living a good drive away from Toronto.

It was extremely humbling to not receive the approval of those around me, when previously, when I was travelling, fellow travelers admired and supported what I was doing.

My situation reminded me of many Canadian-born Asian friends who have similar relationships with their parents (more than you may think). However, upon further pondering, I no longer believe it's an Asian thing. This is a common situation in families that immigrated from a developing nation to a developed nation bringing their incompatible culture and values with them. Don't get me wrong, I will forever be thankful for growing up in a privileged place such as Canada. It just shows that money and career are not enough to make one happy. And it's easy to confuse money and career with opportunity.

My struggles with my family also put in perspective how extreme my own views have diverged from not just theirs but society's. When I started to live my life differently, I told myself that I never wanted to run away from society, but to remain a part of it and to help it. Despite this, my continued experiences and meetings with inspiring people gravitated me further away from the mainstream.

One interesting common thread among the inspiring people I met on my travels became apparent to me. Like myself, a lot of them come from a place of past trauma or disconnection from their surroundings. Trauma leads us to question how we live our lives, then creates change. My own traumas in my youth fueled all the good change in my life and now, recently, came back to haunt me.

Moving forward, I hope my recent traumas lead me to further growth through change and, eventually, help to reconcile the differences with my family. We took positive steps in the weeks before I departed, having difficult discussions which confronted the tensions between us, and broke open the emotional scars for healing. These steps are encouraging.

I did manage to do some productive things while home. I stayed with relatives and helped with domestic and yard works in their new homes, got a brewing kit and brewed beer again, made a few crude homemade wallets and, along with my mom, started volunteering at a local community-owned farm, meeting some really great people there.

Back on the road again, I may still not be entirely sure what I'm doing, but at least I have a little direction. In BC, I will soon be taking a permaculture design course, maybe returning as a volunteer server for a Vipassana meditation course, then meeting up with a very inspiring friend who has been travelling since I met him nearly 3 years ago. At the very least, out west, I will once again be surrounded by loving and supportive friends.

All will be well. I am confident my energy and optimism will eventually return. And I want to thank all you lovely readers for your support. Wish me luck on this new phase of my journey :)

Monday, 6 July 2015

Let Greece's Economy Be - And Here's Why...

I have had a few conversations recently about Greece's economy and feel like I have given thought provoking points that were also valid. So let me share a seasoned traveller of Europe's perspective of the crisis.

Let Greece Be
The view from my farm in Greece
Several years ago I worked on a farm in the classic beautiful countryside of Greece. It may still be the best 3 weeks of my life (blog here): lovely Swiss-German farming family, amazing food, 10 cats, 4 dogs, goats and chickens, Mediterranean view and olive trees galore. Oh, and distant snow capped mountains to boot.

We picked olives together with a Greek neighbour. He was by far the laziest of our group, which also included myself, my farmer, one French and one Dutch farm helper, like me. My Swiss-German farmer used him to characterize most of the Greeks in the countryside: lazy.
Headlining caption: lazy Greek! Truth: content, easy-going Greek
Eventually I came to realize that though, yes, they may be lazy, they are lazy because they are content. They have everything they need right where they are: great food, warm climate, and sunny beaches. What more can anyone need? And if the economy fails they still have all that, and they can still feed themselves, and that's all they need - that is enough for any humble being.

This relationship between climate and contentedness can be seen across Europe and the entire world. In France, Italy and Spain, which round out the Mediterranean countries of Europe, I witnessed similar cultures which orbit around their agreeable climate and amazing food. They also happen to be the countries struggling the most economically in the EU.

That's because the people there are content and laid back. We in North America can only dream about taking siestas during the work day! They have everything they need right where they are. This garners the people from these countries the reputation of being proud and sometimes snobby. And, yes, people from these countries tend to travel less than other European countries, with the notable exception of France.

Conversely, the economically strong countries in the EU are in the north and centre. Similar to Canada, they have a generally colder, less favourable climate, and cannot grow food all year long. Thus, their people become economically oriented in order to make money so they can travel to the countries that have it all, like the Mediterranean countries. I also wrote about these observations several years ago (link here).

If today's world is moving towards open markets and global homogeny where the strongest economy wins, if I were Greece, I would want no part in it. Because I would not want to play in the economic game. I would rather live a simple life, tend to my goats and chickens, harvest my olives, then go to the beach, relax and read a good book. And even if farming is hard work, it toughens me up and is more rewarding and enjoyable working outdoors (anyway, it didn't seem like hard work to my Greek neighbour.)
Harvesting olives in February 2013. Mmm, the olive oil was unbelievably smooth
Sure, lots of Greeks do want to take part in the globalized economy. But those are mostly city folk, and they're vastly outnumbered by the agrarian folk. Unfortunately, the city folk are the ones making the policies, which is why farmers tend to get left behind, not just in Greece, but all over the world.

As a traveller, it would suck not to use the Euro currency in Greece, but I would rather suck it up - it's only an extra currency exchange. Greece doesn't need the Euro.