The stories are coming, fret not.
But first I wanted to reflect on the first ten days of traveling. No doubt by the time this adventure is over, I will be a different person altogether, with entirely different thoughts and God knows what else. I have acquired a motorcycle helmet, God knows anything can happen now.
An Adventure Without the Ukulele
First things first: the ukulele didn’t make it on the trip with me.
It wasn’t destroyed or stolen. I simply left it with my parents and I presume it is sitting at home, in my room, safe at a healthy distance from the ferocious teeth of my sister’s dog.
(Okay, that’s a bit mean. Bambi and I are on much better terms now. Bambi would never gnaw on my ukulele.)
The ukulele didn’t travel because I was too heavy already.
Packing proved a terrible activity and my parents drove me to the airport in the wee hours of the morning, sleep deprived and furious with myself for taking on too much baggage. More than anything, it felt like I had packed up my mother’s fears to take with me and I was mad that I hadn’t been brave enough to say no to that. I spent the drive dumping the little things out of my bag.
I don’t blame my mom for any of this. She was simply being a mother, facing the fact that her daughter was trying to do something she didn’t know the first thing about. And I mean, neither of us knew what this trip was going to take. We did our best and this is what I’ve got.
I left the ukulele in the car too. I decided two bags was too much, one bag would do. I asked myself why I wanted to bring the ukulele and I realized that it was to bring the music with me, and the happiness that music always meant to me. And I didn’t need the ukulele for that. I could bring happiness and music with me somehow. Music would always find a way.
Truth be told, I haven’t quite found a way to get the music to show up. Meanwhile, every turn of this trip has yielded plenty of opportunities for ukulele playing. On the slow, karaoke-less evening on our cruise in Ha Long Bay. In Quy Nhon with my couchsurfing host, who was also a Big Bang fan. In Pleiku, with the English students who wanted to know what my hobby was.
No matter. Life is about what you have, not what you don’t have. I’ll think of this trip as a forerunner for my trip to Europe, which will CERTAINLY have ukulele or some other kind of busking with it. The challenge then will be to whittle myself down to just my ukulele bag.
Trusting My Soul
Don’t be alarmed, but I think I will “die” on this trip.
Not that death, but the kind of death I experienced in South Korea where everything I thought I knew about myself got taken away. It got shed, and all that was left was a raw Cat. A new Cat? The real Cat? Is the distinction all that important? All I know is that I keep striving towards my dreams and I get closer all the time.
I had and have so many fears on this trip. That I wouldn’t be safe. That I would lose all my money. That I would be all alone. These were the big fears operating under the surface of my life anyway, and this trip is forcing me to come face to face with them. And so I say, bring it on. If that’s what the trip is going to do to me anyway, I might as well invite it to take all it can.
This trip has become an exercise in trusting my irrepressible, ridiculous, beloved soul. That stuff of sunshine from Beomeosa, if you recall. There’s my brain and my nervous system with its thoughts and its memories and its feelings and its powerful, unbreakable desire to stay alive. And then there is the soul who is steady always. And it is a creature given to wildness, illogic and delight in anything and everything. In twenty hour train rides and beautiful, beautiful strangers. In lush, green fields and noodles doused in too much oil. I have spent so much of this trip just unbelievably happy, for no reason. Except perhaps, why not? Why not be in the moment and be happy? I still grapple with my fears, my memories, and my feelings, but somehow I always come back and stand in the present.
I wish, I truly wish, I had a partner who would be with me every step of the way on this journey. Someone to split the bills, someone to keep me safe, someone to hold me as I fall asleep at night. I’m only human after all. But my only current partner is myself and that will suffice. Life is about what you have, not what you don’t have.
And you may have noticed, but I am pretty damn awesome. If I take my time and listen within, I’ll discover things even I didn’t know I knew. Because I am a consciousness and I am also a soul, and as a soul, I am connected to everything in the world. Including you.
Traveling As a Cypher
Sometimes I know words and I don’t even know how I know them. I read them in books years and years ago, and I’ll use them, but I’ll have to check the dictionary to be sure the word means what I think it means.
And so I’m using the term “cypher” to refer to a mysterious, unreadable thing that people just read in any way they like.
I am a cypher that people just read in any way they like.
I’ve been this way for ages, and to be frank with you, I delight in it. I enjoy people’s guesses, and I’m playful enough to enjoy their mild discomfort when they realize that whatever guess they throw out will be wrong. (This is a hint to guess wildly and more wrongly, people. I enjoy filling out the mental map of where I’m supposed to be from even more.)
I seem to exist on the border for a lot of people, a person who might or might not be with the in-group. In Japan (and outside of it), I was “Japanese.” I was “Vietnamese?” and once “French.” The truth is so plain, it cannot be true, I suppose.
With such a face, I feel sometimes like I have a responsibility. I don’t actually have one, it just presses on me in a wistful whisper, “perhaps you are one of us? Perhaps you can bridge this language/cultural barrier I am up against?” I think a part of my drive to learn so many languages comes from this place– can you believe what kind of mind-breaking I could cause when I can speak Chinese/French/Spanish fluently? Could you believe what kind of bridges I could build, what kind of gaps I could close, what kind of good I could do?
Perhaps this is part of why I have the life mission that I have: to bring people together, to realize and make felt our shared humanity. I feel, all at once, like I belong to no one and everyone. Apart, but pulled to be a part of so many, so much more than just America or just the Philippines or just the two of those.
Though, let’s be real, I don’t need to be a cypher to feel that way.
One thing’s for sure, I’m traveling while not-white (but possibly half-white?) and that is a very interesting way to travel. It’s something I haven’t completely unpacked yet. I seem to travel in a weird twilight zone because I don’t stick out the way white people do. White people in the places I’ve been to are WHITE PEOPLE. They carry with them a strange privilege that gets them fawned over in some places and highly taxed in others, sometimes both all at once. And white people out here come from so many different places with so many different backgrounds that it’s terrible to fit them all in the same strait-jacket.
But I chafe against the white, partying backpacker stereotype I’ve seen walking in all too many places. I just want to see historical sights and natural wonders and to meet amazing people, local and foreign. Seems easy enough, right?