Quest for a World Home
After graduating college, I had no defined direction, and a lack of ambition. I graduated from the University of Massachusetts and made plans to continue living in the area.
After four months, I decided to find someone to take over my lease so I could save more money. I packed up everything I owned and fit what I could into my car. Anything else, I got rid of.
I spent the next seven months living primarily out of my car, making periodic returns home, never for more than a couple days, sleeping on an assortment of floors, couches, and beds of friends, acquaintances, and sometimes people I did not know very well at all.
The experience was often hectic, stressful, and, on a few occasions, miserable. I absolutely loved it. This lifestyle gave me an opportunity to develop stronger relationships then I’d ever before experienced and helped me learn things from all the people around me.
I grew to love the way my constantly changing environment gave me an opportunity to experience the lives of many different people with range of personalities and learn from all of their different experiences. The amazing thing was, I never went that far. I loved the lifestyle, but I wanted it on a larger scale.
During this time, I took a class to be receive a certificate to teach English as a second language, and by the end of July I was on a plane headed for Taiwan to take my first job teaching English.
First Time Abroad
I left for Taiwan in the summer of 2012 during the Olympic games, a time of national pride and nations coming together. Competition is a natural and important characteristic of human nature, but there is no question that it can be, and often is, taken too far.
During these Olympic games I found myself supporting Taiwan, and some other nations, just as much as I did the US. I was swift to develop a connection to Taiwan and, since then, have done the same with other countries I’ve visited. The more I travel the less significance flags seem to have.
By getting wrapped up in the competition between flags we tend to forget that those flags are ultimately symbolic representations of boundaries. These boundaries – sometimes geographically significant, sometimes entirely invented – and the difficulties created in crossing them, are the catalysts behind the separation of people and their lack of understanding towards one another.
Resonation in Takayama
The Japanese nation is no stranger to war, and they are also guilty of committing great ‘War Crimes’ such as the atrocious Rape of Nanking where the terrifying Japanese Imperial Army massacred about half of the 600,000 civilians and soldiers in the city.
In Takayama, a beautiful city located in Gifu Prefecture of Japan, I visited one temple which had dedicated itself to repentance of the terrors the country once committed, and preserving the part of a new Japanese code which states it will never again wage war.
There were acknowledgements of the terrible acts Japanese soldiers had committed and directly addressed a question that resonated with me. What is a country, really? What is the significance of a nation? Do we only make these boundaries so we can consider somebody on the other side of them an enemy? Is the goal to create conflict? How significant are these invisible lines?
The Big Picture
Any traveller in a foreign country will become accustomed to hearing this question often, “where do you come from?” You are likely to hear this question at some point, even if you have never left the country where you were born. This information does have a base significance, but I can no longer believe it has as much value as many have been led to believe.
There is a lot to see in the world but none of it is very far away. These days, the ease of travel makes it possible for us to go anywhere as long as we have the patience and motivation to do it.
We can now cross these boundaries and make them as significant as their transparency suggests. Many nationalists will be quick to anger because of the difficulty in letting go of the, “us versus them” mentality, and that makes sense. It easier to know what to do and what to think when you have something, or someone, defined as the competition.
Boundaries are not real and frankly neither is the significance of many of the things that separate people. Take religion for example. There are hundreds of different ones by name, but they all generally operate to help people deal with the stresses of mortal life and live more righteously. Having a different way of going about it doesn’t make one much different from another.
If my travels have taught me anything – and I’d like to think they have, but I’m biased – it is that the world is far more united than people like to believe. For anybody who harms or degrades other people or cultures, they are only successfully doing the same to themselves by ignoring their connections. I don’t expect there will be a day when hate no longer exists across borders, race, or religion. People will always define, to their own preference, the things they don’t understand. But, I know, with better education and better exposure, we can move towards beating the odds.