Roads are the pathways to our destinations. They are the “between” space.
This month I have been thinking a lot about peoples’ paths and the roads they chose. I see countless faces, all different, but all resolved in pursuing their passions or discovering their purpose. I am reminded how lucky I am to know such inspiring people. And then I am left seeing my own face.
For the first time in years I have had the freedom and opportunity to dig into myself and ask the questions that swirl my head, but often get pushed aside. How did I end up in Korea? Where will my future paths lead? What makes me happy?
What triggered these questions to be unleashed? Simply alone time, something we often don’t get enough of.
This January I traveled Southeast Asia alone, visiting Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. Boarding the plane, I found my seat and I sank into my chair with a grin on my face. I was proud myself. “Street-smarts” is not ranked high among my strengths, but I chose to travel alone anyway. I knew this was an opportunity I wanted. And more importantly needed. I craved for a chance to rely on myself and test my ability to explore, adapt, and connect.
I first started thinking about roads in Vietnam in a small town called Ninh Binh, famously called the Halong Bay of the land. The name did not disappoint. The limestone rocks ascended high against the foggy sky and jutted over the landscape of rice paddies and a rolling river. When I visited, I was told it was poor weather to see the rocks full magnitude because of the overcast. Nevertheless, I thought the weather only made the scene look more other worldly like I was in the midst of an uncharted land, where something laid in hidden in the clouded veil.
I was told you get the best view of the rocks through a river boat tour, so I jumped on the opportunity despite the weather. The river boats are paddled by Vietnamese locals. My guide was a middle aged woman who spoke little English but was my only companion for the next two hours. Her skin was sun-stained brown from working outside all day and wore a wide straw brim hat. She was sweet with a warm smile and penetrating brown eyes. Through hand mimes and charades I learned that her favorite food was pork and she was a mother of three. Throughout the tour she paddled with her feet steering and propelling the boat with natural force. We traveled around the sloping rocks seeing the grooved surface and passed under three caves where the rocks arched over the water for where we sat in darkness for several moments.
After the tour the best way to travel around is by motorbike and bicycle. Shopkeepers or locals would call to me like vultures gawking over a carcass. I waved my hand no and kept walking unsure where I was going until I saw sign post for a site. I said, “Why, not?” and walked straight ahead. I asked a few people for directions to check myself and it ended up that I got turned in a new direction and on a new path with some help from locals.
The hours drew on and I continued walking around. I visited the famous sites, Hang Mua, Hoa Lu, and Bich Dong Pagoda, but the landmarks are not what left a profound impression on me. It was during the “between” when I was walking aimlessly that were my favorite moments. Because it was in the “between” space where the unexpected happened. I saw the river workers playing cards – I met students playing soccer and was asked to play, only to embarrass myself with missing the goal completely – I got so lost that a random Vietnamese man drove me back to my hotel.
It was not only in Vietnam that I discovered the joy of valuing the “between.” In Cambodia I stumbled on a local school led by a Monk, where I led an impromptu lesson and held a short Q & A about myself and America. In Thailand while walking I discovered a sparing spot for Thai boxing and got lost (yet again) ended up at a pier to watch the sunset. It was these unexpected moments that were listed in my plans that made my trip special.
We believe the “between” is not a destination and only an amount of time until we arrive at the place. But I believe the “between” space represents possibilities.
(** I hope you enjoy my next set of posts, most of them are unfinished thought processes about my experiences**)