I woke up, pulled on my pack, and was in a taxi to the airport in minutes of opening my eyes. I had woken up before my alarm, I usually do these days. Hardly any of the little things that used to ruffled my feathers do anymore. Six full months of diving into the unknown everyday has had an effect on me. My mind fights back, it tries to be on time and organize my surroundings into orderly boxes like it was back home but it never really works. Its just an old habit, its about as much use as picking up bricks as souvenirs.
The other day I was stuck for ten hours in the middle of a bus journey, it was suppose to take 17 hours total and instead it took 34. I asked “how long until we arrive?” so many times, no one knew the answer and no one seemed to think it was an appropriate question. I’ve ever heard that people in Myanmar see it as bad luck to ask how long the journey will take. Over time I asked less, it started to dawn on me that it didn’t matter and the mindset that needing to know came from doesn’t even support me in the US. No one knows the future, every time our guess is wrong we get upset and ask for compensation. In Myanmar no one seems to care if their bus journey takes two days instead of one, they just curl up where they can for a nap if they get tired. I look at all the signs of a different way of seeing the world as an alien must look at a new world. I have the suspicion that it is very different but everything I see is judged on learned patterns of behavior.
The other day on the plane I had a little girl digging her feet into the back of my seat. My first reaction was to get upset for her disturbing me, but then I realized that there was nothing negative about what she was doing. It didn’t hurt, it wasn’t uncomfortable, it actually almost felt like a massage but still something in my training told me that it was against my social customs so it was rude. I tried the whole plane ride to see it differently. She wasn’t trying to hurt me and the idea of disturbing another person without causing them any real physical discomfort seems to be less or lacking in the Asian countries I’ve been to. If I am in the way and someone needs to get past me they will usually push me aside or just push past me, not in a rough way, they just don’t seem to feel a need to apologize for entering my version of personal space.
I shook hands with a village elder the other day and I noticed that a handshake is very different here, the act of sharing touch with another human being seems to have similar meaning but it feels more free to enjoy it in most of the places I’ve been. Men will hold their hands together while smiling or continuing to greet each other, its not the firm quick kind of custom that it is in the US. Men feel comfortable touching other men gently. There isn’t the strange aversion to what seems to be seen as non-masculine types of touch. I quite like it, handshakes in the US don’t make me feel the kind of connection that they can here.
Even after six months I can barely take a step back to see my cultural training for what it is. I wonder how long it takes to learn to be a different way from the way I’ve always known. When I arrive home in two months I will have spent almost a year abroad out of nearly twenty-three. This is all, the rest of my life was spent on the west coast of the United States.
I needed six months to even start to see the way I am as a type of training.
March 27, 2016 at 4:07 pm
Pretty neat realization Mike. The sky is no longer the limit! 🙂