Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Traveling Solo

I can't tell if I'm a people-person or a loner. At certain points in my life I have been a people magnet, consolidating large groups of unrelated individuals into one big happy family. At other times I have been painfully alone, watching the groups around me with sadness and a tinge of envy.  

This trip has not made things any clearer on that account. On days when I'm alone, I find myself looking around longingly for someone to share a meal with. Then on some days where I've managed to attract companions, I've found myself counting the hours 'til I can be alone reading a book. I think that in order to be one of those really engaged travelers who gets to know anyone they share a bus-stop bench/train ride/random glance with, I'd have to be genuinely interested in what others have to say. And truth be told, after 5 and a half weeks, I'm just not interested every hour of every day, in everyone I meet. Often it's the Indian dudes wanting to hold me indefintely in conversation and Ive found myself just ignoring their "namastes" and walking on by. Believe me, that conversation can go from "Namaste" to "Do you want an Indian boyfriend?" in 30 seconds flat.

The more I think about this companionship problem, the more akward I become around strangers. For example, this evening as I was reading a book at dinner, a buddhist monk got up from his table, paid his bill and walked up to me smiling, "where are you from?" he asked . "U.S." I responded. 

**On an side note, I'm starting to hate this part of the conversation, and you can't have a conversation while you're traveling without someone asking where you're from. First of all, "U.S" is a horribly boring name for a country, as I've realized after repeating it 500 times in 5 weeks. And for those of you who haven't traveled internationally of late, I assure you the response to an American in the post-Bush-era is exactly what you thought it would be! The Europeans I do talk to never fail to tell me over the course of the conversation all that they hate about Americans. Now, I like America-bashing as much as any good liberal but when I'm the only yankee around it gets kind of annoying. In case you were curious: we are insincerely friendly but really only care about ourselves. We use the word 'awesome' and 'amazing' in nauseating excess. We are frightfully ignorant of any other languages, and often, even our own. And this is their opinion of the Americans who TRAVEL. God forbid they ever make it to the heartland.  

Many Americans, I've found, also try to avoid anything other than the briefest contact with me, afraid that any extended affiliation might expose the Canadian flag patch on their backpack for the fraud that it is.

So far the friendliest person I've randomly met and spent a few days with was a Korean girl who sold beauty salon products and smoked like a chimney. She told me no one wanted to hang out with Koreans. We became fast friends.      

Anyway back to the monk. 

So the monk comes up to me while I'm reading and asks me where I'm from. In the next sentence, he tells me that he has written a book, and its for sale right over there! He was a political prisoner for 6 years in Tibet. The Chinese fired bullets into his legs. He was in a french hospital for 2 years. And he has written a book about it and it's right over there! Yes right over THERE! This entire exchange takes place in about 12 seconds. At this point I'm kind of stunned. If this had been any old Joe I would have not been that keen to the sales pitch and told him to move along. But he's wearing a freaking monk robe, prayer beads, and pointing to the bullet holes in his leg. I say I will definitely take a look at the book. He smiles at me, expectantly. I say, akwardly "well it was good to meet you, thank you for pointing out your book!" And he shakes my hand and leaves. 

So at this point I'm feeling incredibly akward and on all accounts unpersonable. I feel like i should have asked him to sit down. "So tell me, exactly how many bullets were there? What was the prison food like? And the Chinese - good hosts? Does being a refugee, like, totally suck? I bet the journey to India was AMAZING." Im being flip here, but only partially. I need to be in a certain frame of mind to engage in that kind of conversation, and I definitely have to be eased into it. The truth is that sometimes I just want to be alone, reading about OTHER people having interesting conversations. Does that make me so odd? 


aviva5271 said...

doesn't it just suck to be the physically obvious foreigner? that's part of the reason for the attention you're getting, you know. maybe you should just play the dumb blonde and tell people you can't understand them with a hair flip. craig said that when we go to italy in the spring we're going to be "australian". you'd better not expose our flag for the frauds that we are...

Sumeba Miyako said...

Yeah you better start working on that Australian accent. And Australian geography. I find it's hard to claim I'm from Canada when I have very little idea of where the big cities are. I blame the California public school system, frankly.

Amber Kneen said...

Wow Jen your blog is beautiful. I never even thought I'd want to got to India and I am now officially painfully jealous. :) Oh and no one knows where towns are in Canada so you can totally fake it ;) You could pick a providence or say your from Quebec. The French Canadians prefer to stick to themselves and you could just say you know very little of the rest of the country.... On the flip side I was in Montreal and told a gentlement I was from Tucson, AZ. He got very excited and said he had a cousin super close -- in Dallas TX. So you can get away with it too :)

Miss you!