As I stitched up another of the mysterious holes that keep appearing in my tattered mosquito net I was struck by the idea of how strange and foreign this simple task was. Here I am , a Canadian , being forced out of bed at 6 am by the burgeoning heat at daybreak, to sew up holes in the mosquito net that hangs over my bed like a billowing tent. The presence of the net is exotic and just a tad romantic. It’s childish of me to relate to it like I was camping out but I adhere to the sentimental things in life. I used to get up before dawn to enjoy a hot cup of coffee , it just can’t be done after sunup due to the heat, I don’t do that anymore. The most Canadian of customs is no longer part of my day.
My habit is to leave the window blinds open so as not to interrupt any flow of air that may pass by in the night into my stifling bedroom. By doing so I invite in the first rays of the sun at the crack of dawn to start suntanning me for the few minutes it takes before I wake up sweating profusely . Leaving off the mozzie net or untended would be inviting such things as malaria, dengue fever or encephalitis. These are the little concerns in every Canadians life. ..right?
It’s occurred to me that I’ve spent more of my life living away from Canada than within her borders. I know more about living out of a suitcase in some antipodal tropic than I do about what my fellow Canadians are doing day to day. Where does that leave me in the multicultural quilt? My only contact with my homeland is electronic. I bank , maintain business relations and friendships over the net.
I read the local Canadian newspapers from time to time and relate to nothing that happens there. The reportage seems to be fixated on contention, murder, covetousness, labour strife and apology. When I look at the weather I wonder if I’d survive the frigid temperatures. What would I wear out, shorts and thongs? If I showed up on the doorstep of Canada today I would be as alien as , well….an alien. The hockey stats….fugetaboutit!
I was always one of ‘those kids’ who found everything in my white bread world to be unbearably boring. I grew up bored, I went to school bored, I snored through a promising career and one day I left, determined never to return. Why I found Canada to be the least interesting place in the world has it’s roots deep in my upbringing. I grew up in a place where absolutely nothing happened, I couldn’t stand it.
Like many mendicants who hit the road in a search for deeper meaning I took my first tentative steps, only to return home and regroup until I had the wherewithal to depart again on another journey. Cats act the same way when scoping out new territory, two steps forward, one step back. I felt like one of those explorers of old who vanished on a tall ship for years , to be presumed dead by his society, only to return , a revenant with a twinkle in his eye and plenty of outlandish stories to tell.
After a while I realized that most people don’t want to hear stories of life in an exotic land as experienced by someone else, it brings out a self loathing and feelings of personal inadequacy, they project that jealous negativity back to you and ultimately things turn nasty. I didn’t find it fun to be envied. I was horrified that someone should covet my lifestyle when it was in fact designed to be heavenly. The ‘keeping up with the Jones’ syndrome’ is not just a suburban myth. ‘Sometimes’, as it is said, ‘You can’t go back’.
It takes a particular frame of mind to want to live in this novel way. I have nothing to call my own except the clothes on my back. I have never decorated a house or had to fix a broken down appliance. I don’t cut grass or negotiate with the neighbors for baby sitting so that my spouse and I can sneak away once a month for a ‘date night’. I have no religious or social ties to any community aside from the temporary. When I consider moving it is not to a new condo, it may be halfway around the world. I’m not sure this butterfly lifestyle would keep the average Canadian sane, there is no grounding. Car payments and mortgages are concepts so incredibly abhorrent that I felt my stomach flip just writing the words.
Instead of having the solid foundation of a material life, you must satisfy yourself with personal freedom if choosing the life of a ruin-bagger. So, choose carefully, the rabbit hole is deep. Once you’ve changed your life anew, it doesn’t mean that your old life will change along with it. Prepare for isolation and alienation. People run in herds, they don’t welcome outsiders. In modern terminology it’s called ‘networking’. If you’re ‘off the grid’, you’re also ‘out of the loop’. I know people that have taken this philosophy to the ultimate conclusion. An old friend of mine is a die hard routard who hasn’t spent a winter in Canada for thirty plus years. Instead he is an itinerant actor, never married, no children, no ties, who sub lets his co-op apartment between October and April of every year so he can travel.
His level of commitment to the calling is admirable. I consider his dedication to his calling an evolution in character. Most people get sucked in by the temporal advertising of materialism and social norms. It is extremely rare that a person will live on his own terms. One of his many endearing colloquialisms has been ‘You don’t have to earn if you don’t spend it,” brilliant. Life can be lived without an ocean of ‘stuff’, who would have known?
How is this accomplished? Of course it takes a certain amount of money to live anywhere. many people opt for foreign assignments if they have the professional credentials behind them. Teaching is a popular route, it’s temporary by nature and there are plenty of opportunities in the world where increasing numbers of people want to learn English and the skills of western culture. There are stumbling travel writers and novelists like myself whose pay is only adequate for a third world economy.
The cost of living here in Thailand, for example is generally one sixth of what it would cost me to live in Canada with the same lifestyle. In fact I would be living far below the poverty line and have a very miserable life if I were to live in Canada on my income. Here in the tropics where the sun shines every day, we live quite a bit better even without money to exchange. I never found Canadians to be an intrinsically happy people, the cost of living is far too egregious. Instead they borrow huge sums of money to buy ‘things’ that television and print ads tell them will be good replacements for the emotions they’ve suppressed. I was never able to justify the idea that a new car would make my manhood more pronounced. Give me a trade wind and the sweep of a curving wave across a pristine beach any day.
Am I too far gone to call myself Canadian anymore? Have I been away to long? I can’t imagine living the life I see written about in the newspapers. Are they trying to keep people depressed for some nefarious reasons? If what I read is reality in Canada then a team of wild horses could drag me back there to reside permanently. I’m not going to fall for the siren song of the banks who insist I should be saving millions of dollars for a comfortable retirement. I’m pretty good with math and realize that propaganda is only going to benefit the banks and the tax man. Thanks, but I’ll live until I die in a manner and lifestyle of my choosing. I’ve made my bed and now I’ll sleep in it. If I could only figure out how those damned holes get into the walls of my mosquito net.