Life on the Road – Part 3: Reflections on East Asia

Enoshima 29 - Fishing

“Life on the Road – Part 1: Reflections on Europe” can be read here.

“Life on the Road – Part 2: Reflections on Southeast Asia” can be read here.

The unseen movements of time continue to march onward, kindly allowing us to collect a string of memories in their wake; the paths that we walk still continue to roll out endlessly before us, always tempting us with the anxious excitement of the unknown lying just beyond; the varied influences that this forward progress leaves with us has such an effect on who we are that we can scarcely be said to be the same people we were years, or even months, ago; and although the list of places we’ve seen and experiences we’ve had may have lengthened, the list of places still yet to be seen and experiences still yet to be had remains forever infinite, an unreachable goal for which we all still strive.

As I’ve been continuing to travel through the many and varied countries and cultures that are quite different – yet still entirely relatable, in a human way — from that of my own, the lens through which I view the world has, likewise, begun to change.  The excitement one feels upon touching down in a foreign land has faded to a degree, the novelty of walking through a busy market place replete with unusual goods on display has begun to wear off, and the anxiety about being in a land in which I don’t speak the language and have nothing to rely on aside from my own wits has long since become a memory.  This isn’t to say that I have lost my passion for travel; simply that I’ve finding it more and more difficult to push myself outside of my comfort zone – where it is that we grow as individuals — as my comfort zone has grown larger and now includes many of the experiences that I originally sought.  With a larger comfort zone, however, comes the ability to see a deeper layer within the new lands upon which I set foot, to relate to them in a way that I wasn’t able to prior to my travels, to realize that although the planet itself is large, the world is very small, and to see the image of myself – and those things I hold dear in life – reflected back to me over and over again in the mirror that is entering a new culture.

As you can tell, I’ve recently found myself in an introspective state, trying to determine where it is that I fit into this vast world and who exactly it is that I want to be and what I want to do.  More specifically, I’ve also been trying to determine the future of this expansive Round-the-World trip that I embarked on over 18 months ago, having passed through 38 countries and territories on 4 continents in the meantime.  From a planning perspective, I’ve roughly accomplished what I had originally set out to do – meaning everything from here out is just an extended bonus.  Now, however, I find myself trying to balance the cumulative effects of extended travel burnout with the ever-present desire to continue my journey.  On one hand, the thrilling sense of the unknown and the rush of inspiration that I once felt upon shouldering my backpack and hitting the road are no longer there.  It was because of this, by the way, that I have been camped out back at home for the last two months (the longest break I’ve taken away from the travel trail), attempting to refresh my mind and reinvigorate my body.  On the other hand, however, we never know what the future holds for us, and as such, I’ve always believed in taking advantage of the time we are given.  Having passed through so many different lands has only worked to increase my desire to continue to push my boundaries, to visit the places I’ve not yet been, and to dive yet deeper into the cultures that I’ve already passed through.  I’m well aware of the fact that I’ve been given a rare opportunity: the available time, necessary ability, and the means to take a step outside my life at home and travel the world. And it isn’t an opportunity that I want to squander.

It has taken me a long time to get around to writing this post — largely due to the fact that I was trying put travel out of my mind and fully experience the comforts of home and the joys of being with family and friends while I was there – but since I’ve ultimately decided to continue traveling for the time being, I figured it would be best if I finally did a re-cap of my time in East Asia (with a few scenes from East Africa, from the short visit I had there just prior to landing in Japan).

Matsu-no-ochaya 2 - View over garden

Osaka 6 - View from restaurant in MIO Plaza

Osaka Castle 36 - Mossy Moat

Serengeti 13 - Elephants

Summer Palace 27 - Buddhist Incense Pavilion

Suwon Hwasong 13 - Painting on Walls

Minami Area 3 - Reflections off building

Gwanghwamun 7 - Plants in Metal Wall

Tea Shop 6 - Decorations

The phrase “traveling the world” always evokes within me images of faraway places, beautiful landscapes of majestic mountains and windswept beaches, bustling neon mega-cities full of busy people coming and going, colorful and chaotic markets jammed with more sights and smells that one can imagine, and an overwhelming sense of adventure.  The parts that this fantasy often conveniently forgets to include, however, is that “traveling the world” involves a lot of actual “traveling,” uncountable hours spent on trains and buses staring at the seatback in front of you, mind-numbing delays and unknown problems extending one’s time spent in cramped and uncomfortable places, and the unshakable anxiety that, because you can’t actually read the timetables written in a foreign language, you may actually be on the wrong bus or train, now destined for places unknown.

I seem to have arrived a bit too early when catching this bullet train out of Tokyo

I seem to have arrived a bit too early when catching this bullet train out of Tokyo

Although flying doesn’t give you the same sense of a changing landscape that a bus or train does, it takes significantly less time (i.e. – less time sitting crunched up with my knees going numb)

Although flying doesn’t give you the same sense of a changing landscape that a bus or train does, it takes significantly less time (i.e. – less time sitting crunched up with my knees going numb)

Riding the city bus in Kyoto, Japan

Riding the city bus in Kyoto, Japan

Overnight sleepers – still my arch nemesis (luckily, this was a train, which is marginally better than a night but)

Overnight sleepers – still my arch nemesis (luckily, this particular instance happened to be a night train, which is marginally better than a night bus)

The term “airport” is used a little more liberally in other parts of the world

The term “airport” is used a little more liberally in other parts of the world

Ah yes, the always-fun task of figuring out which platform and which platform I need when the entire board is written in another language

Ah yes, the always-fun task of figuring out which train and which platform I need when the entire departures board is written in another language

The crowded subways of places like Tokyo, Beijing, Seoul, and Taipei is the stuff of legend, and with good reason, too!

The crowded subways of places like Tokyo, Beijing, Seoul, and Taipei (seen here) is the stuff of legend, and with good reason, too!

More fun with rickshaws

More fun with rickshaws in China

HK Airport 1 - Plane

Along the same lines as the actual act of traveling, the range, quality, and style of accommodation while on the road can be a fun exercise in variety, too.  And of course, given the limited budget that I’m working with, most of the places aren’t what I would refer to as “high end,” but they still come with their own charms:

Mosquito nets draping the beds in this hotel in Arusha, Tanzania

Mosquito nets draping the beds in this hotel in Arusha, Tanzania

It seems a bit odd at first to Westerners, but the Tatami Mat style rooms of Japan really grew on me

It seems a bit odd at first to Westerners, but the Tatami Mat style rooms of Japan really grew on me

Of course, the common room of any hostel is the focal point, where you can meet like-minded travelers coming from all parts of the globe.  Pictured here is a colorful example from Pingyao, China

Of course, the common room of any hostel is the focal point, where you can meet and hang out with travelers over a beer or a game of pool. Pictured here is a colorful example from Pingyao, China

Notes and letters taped to the walls from other travelers who have previously passed through

Notes and letters taped to the walls from other travelers who have previously passed through

A great way to wind down the day -- sitting over a cup of coffee with a small journal

A great way to wind down the day — sitting over a cup of coffee with a small journal

To continue the tradition I’ve started with my two previous “Life on the Road” posts, here are a few of my favorite moments from this past leg of my journey:

  • Before flying into Japan to kick off the East Asian leg of my voyage, I had the pleasure of spending several weeks in East Africa.  Given that my time spent on the road is largely a solitary existence (or at least, it is a life spent with people I’ve only just met), the largest complaint that I have is that I don’t have anyone near and dear with which to share all of these wonderful experiences.  But in the case of this African adventure, my father and brother came along for the ride, making for one of the more memorable times of my entire trip.  And in case you want a specific moment from this trip, I’d have to say it was the chance to jump with the Maasai warriors in Tanzania (although I still stand by the fact that it was merely my mistiming of this jump that makes it look like I have a pathetic vertical leap):

Jumping with Maasai

  • Another interesting phenomenon that often occurs is that as a traveler, you’re constantly meeting other like-minded travelers from all corners of the globe.  These meetings inevitably lead to some involved discussions about each person’s home country, with each taking pride in their home culture and championing the various values and merits for which they are most proud.  This time around, I crossed paths with a Taiwanese traveler (who happened to be as passionate about food as I was) while making my way through China, who then extended me a very generous invitation to come enjoy the cuisine of her home country with her through a series of visits to the famous night markets of Taiwan.  Several weeks later, I was able to take her up on the invitation, and the progression of dishes that followed (which can be seen here) is something that will be in my dreams for a long time to come.  Thanks again, Agatha!

Raohe Night Market 7 - Agatha and I

  • Although I am a beer geek by nature, I hold a special place in my heart for nihonshu (known as “sake” in the West).  And as such, I made it a point to not only sample my body’s weight in this delicate rice wine while in Japan, but to seek out some of the finest labels and brands that I could find (although my wallet wasn’t as appreciative).  This search lead me to a tiny bar known simply as “Kuri” in a back alley of Tokyo’s Ginza neighborhood.  You can read my more detailed description of the event here, but suffice it to say that what followed was a personalized tasting tour led by the extremely knowledge owner of the bar (with the help of some very necessary translations from the kind bilingual lady who happened to pull up a stool next to me, too).  The only downside of this visit, unfortunately, is that I’m now spoiled, and with the bar being set as high as it was, it will be hard to top in the future.

Kuri 6 - Sake Tastings

  • It has been called one of the most dangerous mountains in the world, at least in terms of how many injuries and deaths occur there each year (some reported, many not).  But regardless of its somewhat dubious reputation, the holy mountain of Hua Shan outside Xi’an, China still has to be one of the most beautiful places on the planet.  And not only did I come to see it in person, I’ll go ahead and declare that I conquered it!  I didn’t opt for the convenience of the cable car or the leisurely 6-8 hour normal climb up to the top, but instead tested my mettle by charging straight up along the “Soldier’s Path,” an extremely arduous 2 hour vertical climb that occasionally become so steep that the use of a chain to pull one’s self up was required.  The view from the top was wonderful, though, and made the sweat and sore legs well worth it:

Hua Shan 4

  • Another favorite memory is my valiant attempt — and utter failure — to properly eat Yang’s famous fried xiaolongbao, or soup dumplings, in Shanghai.  I won’t rehash the entire event here to save what little dignity I have left (you can reread it here), but let’s just say that by the end of the meal, most of the soup inside the dumplings was now staining my shirt and pants, the skin was thoroughly burned off my tongue and the roof of my mouth, and an entire restaurant worth of people walked away with a great story to tell their friends and family.  These are the dumplings that did me in:

Food 13 - Yang's Fried Dumplings

  • I’ve written about this in the past, but some of the most lasting memories have nothing to do with the sights, monuments, museums, or historical landmarks within a given country.  The memorable times are the fleeting moments in which you forge a connection with people from all over the world in what may seem like some of the most inconsequential times: playing cards with new friends in one’s hostel, ordering food from a street vendor, waiting in line for a gondola ride, or simply enjoying a cup of tea in the park on a sunny day.  Throughout my travels, it has always been the human connections that shine the brightest:
Samplilng a Hot Pot with friends in China

Trying our first Hot Pot with friends in China

A very enthusiastic Tako Yaki vendor in Osaka, Japan

A very enthusiastic Tako Yaki vendor in Osaka

Enjoying a cup of tea in the People's Park in Chengdu, China

Enjoying a cup of tea in the People’s Park in Chengdu

Silly games in Kanazawa

Pure, unadulterated sillyness in Kanazawa

Maokong 10 - Stamps on Foreheads

A few friends after having had their foreheads stamped instead of their tickets while waiting in line in Taipei

It may be tough to read your hand that way!

It may be tough to read your hand that way!

Showing off his moves in Tokyo

Showing off his moves in Tokyo

New Friends 3

Posing in front of the Big Goose Pagoda in Xi’an

  • Last but not least, the times that have been the most enjoyable for me have been those occasions that include food (big surprise, I know).  Whether it is tucking into a new delicacy I’ve never tried, testing my stomach’s limitations by matching wits with a row of street vendors, putting myself completely in the hands of the chef when having to decide on what to eat, or scouring a city to find the best version of a favorite dish, it all adds up to some good eating.  Some travel for the adventure, some travel for the history, some travel for the camaraderie, but I travel for the food!
Smiling vendors at a street market in Beijing

Smiling vendors at a street market in Beijing

Enjoying Makgoelli in Seoul

Enjoying Makgoelli in Seoul

A tea sweet made to resemble three fireflies on a summer evening

A tea sweet made to resemble three fireflies on a summer evening in Tokyo

The condiment selection at a Tonkatsu restaurant in Kyoto

The condiment selection at a Tonkatsu restaurant in Kyoto

A variety of sea critters brought up by hand on Jeju-do in South Korea

A variety of sea critters brought up by hand on Jeju-do in South Korea

A hearty breakfast in Taiwan

A hearty breakfast in Taiwan

One of my favorite perspectives: pulled up to a sushi bar awaiting my tiny morsels of magnificence

One of my favorite perspectives: belly up to a sushi counter awaiting my tiny morsels of magnificence

The spicy Ma Po Doufo (or Tofu) of Sichuan Province fame

The spicy Ma Po Doufu (or Tofu) of Sichuan Province fame

Large, steaming vats of something delicious being cooked up in the Muslim Quarter of Xi'an

Large, steaming vats of something delicious being cooked up in the Muslim Quarter of Xi’an

A squid vendor hawking her wares

A squid vendor hawking her wares

The shrimp version of xiaolongbao at the famous Taiwanese restaurant Din Tau Fung

The shrimp version of xiaolongbao at the famous Taiwanese restaurant Din Tai Fung

And another glass of sake just to wash things down

And another glass of sake just to wash things down

I usually resist the temptation to post pictures of silly cultural references and fun with foreign languages – seeing as it is just a novelty — but given that this post is basically a catch-all for the loose ends of a given leg of my journey, I can see no better place to put these.  Can you guess what brand each of these is?

Food 1 - Chinese Snickers

Food 16 - Vitamin Water

Insa-dong 3 - Korean Starbucks

This one is a major coffee chain…

Hmmm, McDonald's looks a little different where I come from...

Hmmm, McDonald’s looks a little different where I come from…

Every "foodie" has their own gulity pleasure that they don't willingly admit to others.  In my case, my secret passion is Taco Bell -- something that I have greatly missed during my travels.  That is, until I found this one in Korea and did a Happy Dance to celebrate

Every foodie has their own guilty pleasure that they don’t willingly admit to others. In my case, my secret passion is Taco Bell — something that I have greatly missed during my travels. That is, until I found this one in Korea and did a Happy Dance to celebrate

Mmmmm, Green Tea and Cherry Blossom flavored Kit Kats in Japan

Mmmmm, Green Tea and Cherry Blossom flavored Kit Kats in Japan

Yep, you're seeing that correctly.  Fast food chains actually deliver in some parts of the world

Yep, you’re seeing that correctly. Fast food chains actually deliver in some parts of the world

That’s about all I’ve got in regards to the East Asian leg of my journey.  As far as going forward, not only have I elected to continue my travels while I have the time and means to do so, but I’m actually already back on the road.  I’m currently writing this post in a hostel in India, where I plan to spend a month or two before moving on to Sri Lanka and Nepal.  I’m not sure how long this crazy episode of my life will continue, but I’m certainly going to do my best to savor every minute of it while I’ve got it.  Until then, Cheers from East Asia!

Enoshima 45 - Me

About andrewamiet

I'm a 29 (now 31) year-old former desk jockey who is now making my way around the world, experiencing all of the sights, sounds, tastes, people, and culture that the world has to offer.

15 Responses to “Life on the Road – Part 3: Reflections on East Asia”

  1. I want to hear more about these infamous dumplings….

    • I went back up and added a link to the full story. Let’s just say they were equal parts delicious and painful, with a slight touch of embarassment thrown in for good measure.

  2. I have just reread your posts for Hong Kong and Shanghai as I am off there next month as well as Jakarta, Singapore and Burma. This year a month off and travelling rather than photographing.Looking forward to Yang’s Dumplings. Now I know to tear the top.

    • I can’t speak for Jakarta and Burma (as I haven’t passed through either yet), but I’m sure you’re going to enjoy Hong Kong, Singapore, and Shanghai — they are three of the best cities in the world in which to eat. Best of luck with your travels, and hopefully our paths will cross again someday!

  3. Your post today reawakened my need to travel. I will be leaving the Wild Ramp and West Virginia later this coming summer and moving to Oregon where I hope, once again, to actively get back to my CustomTripPlanning.

  4. Ah, I’m sitting in the silent study room of the library, cramming for my finance midterm which is in an hour. Reading this post really put my priorities into perspective.

  5. “This isn’t to say that I have lost my passion for travel; simply that I’ve finding it more and more difficult to push myself outside of my comfort zone – where it is that we grow as individuals — as my comfort zone has grown larger and now includes many of the experiences that I originally sought.”

    This is so so so so so very true. My friend and I were discussing this today – why I am going to go travelling alone to Asia for 6 months, whereas she has no interest in it at all.

    She has been living in our home town, with both of their happily married parents, her whole life. I, on the other hand, have been living on my own for 2 years in a bigger city and have gone through a bit of family trauma. My comfort zone and pool of experience is pretty big in comparison. For her, the next step is moving out, whereas I feel that I need a bigger step.

    You are right. Development only happens when you get out of your comfort zone.

    • Exactly. Each person has there own little bubble to work with — and neither a large or small comfort zone is “right,” just whatever fits that person at that time in their life. But to grow, we do have to step outside of it, however far of a step the necessarily needs to be. Otherwise, we just keep repeating the same steps over and over again, and don’t really progress as people. Thanks for reading, by the way!

  6. Great pictures and thought inspiring words! Thank you.

  7. We love your commentary and smile every time we read a new message from your travels.
    Cherie and Jeff Reitman (Africa trip)

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. A Final Few Days in Bombay and a Special Note on the Road Ahead | Temporarily Lost - April 11, 2013

    […] written about my struggles with travel burnout several times in the past (most notably in my 3rd Life on the Road post) – previously I was able to keep it at bay by simply staying in one place for a few weeks, […]

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