Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

OK, so we were ‘digital nomads’ long before, decades before, anyone had coined a hipster term for it….when it was a lifestyle few people had dared to try…especially with a family in tow. Don’t forget that these were the days before email, Facebook, social media, guidebooks or tourist infrastructure of any kind.

I have been traveling for business for decades. I was not the ‘original hippie traveler’ but….my career did start in the late 1960’s when I discovered that I could manufacture and transport items for trade in the popular culture from one exotic place to the next and finally sell to the ‘wanna be hipsters’ who couldn’t imagine leaving home for a rugged life ‘on the road’.

My inspiration was Adam Smith’s quote in the 1722 ‘The Wealth of Nations’ …” to transport goods from where they are abundant and cheap to where they are rare and dear’. You had to be very tough, open minded and extremely organized to travel in the days when cities like Bangkok only had one long distance phone line.

Hi-Tech communications back then consisted of the Telex system and telegrams. There was a bulletin board at most American Express offices…but those were few and far between. Letters were sent like ricochets from a distant GPO to another Post Restante where a traveler either had to soldier on…or backtrack for a week or more to pick up a single piece of mail that might have been sent months before.

I started in the jungles of South America manufacturing leather products from cattle butchered, tanned and cured in the swampy no mans land between Columbia and Ecuador. I’ve sold and bartered trade goods from one third world country to the next and traded up until finally I had what I wanted to sell into the west for an enormous profit.

I have traded some odd goods…with some odd people…from fresh mint and blue jeans from India for Lapis Lazuli in Afghanistan to rough cut diamonds in Bangkok to exchange for goldsmiths labour to finish my original design garnet and moonstone jewellery…..a process that sometimes started down a muddy mine shaft in Sri Lanka. This is my 43rd anniversary of first arriving in Thailand…and strange to me…I’m still here and sometimes loving it….other times…not so much.

My genius wife Trish changed things up when she came into my life. I was living in a world that was  borderline a thousand or more years years ago. Trisha is a star child…she’s from the future. She was an educator with a beautiful mind at a major university and a computer scientist engineer. Trisha was one of the very first to design functional database technology, and had been recruited away from the university to manage a reorganizing of the worlds largest telecommunications devices manufacturers. At the time they had been communicating between isolated silo’s with post it notes and needed to be brought into the 21st century.

I introduced Trisha to my travel passion within weeks of meeting her. Her first trip was a short hop to get married on the island of Maui where I’d ‘grown up’ stringing naturally produced Puka Shell necklaces from the surfing beaches for tourists in Oahu for ongoing travel money to surf camps along the west coast. She was immediately hooked on the excitement and we began designing a system of personal management and finance for ourselves that would allow us to function as full time travelers.

At the time I thought trading would suffice and keep us ‘on the road’….but I was wrong…there was a new technology and a new way of doing things I hadn’t realized. Apparently I was ‘old school’…and it would be Trisha’s genius that would show us the way to perpetual travel.

Even though we were hi tech digital nomads with electrical equipment that wouldn’t be seen again in some countries for a decade or more…people would refer to us as ‘Gypsies’…because we weren’t ‘dirty hippies’….and we weren’t ‘tourists’….there was no other way to describe us….backpacker tourism hadn’t been seen in many parts of the world…we were something of a hybrid that no one had seen…especially immigration officers.

Trisha would begin to explain the technical specifications of the equipment we carried and that caused the eyes of border officers to roll back as if lapsing into a coma. I had an additional expertise in Emergency Medicine  and carried a portable trauma kit and strange medical devices, pharma and antidotes some of the officers hadn’t seen since their days in the military. I was ready to treat anything from snake bite to gun shot. I was described by friends as ‘The Jungle Doctor’. The moniker culture ‘digital nomad’ didn’t exist yet. Our piles of electronic and household equipage including dozens of  school books, cables, monitors, transformers and including ‘the kitchen sink’ resembled a humpy back camel caravan moving slowly through the airport.

This transition didn’t happen overnight. We had to save, plan and further educate ourselves for several years before taking the plunge. The budding technology of the internet wasn’t quite ready. Personal and financial organization are as important as the latest gadgets when it comes to really making a go of it as a ‘digital nomad’…..more on that in future installments. Big banks hadn’t yet designed the platforms for us to access our accounts by remote allowing us to maintain our trading business wherever we wanted to be. That would come in time.

We ‘practiced’ the art of perpetual travel for a few years, with long months of ‘elsewhere’ during summer vacations, building our skills, fortifying our financial base, before we took the final leap. First it was Trish and I traveling as a couple beginning twenty eight years ago…and then our son came along and his first trip was to Bali twenty five years ago.

We felt it wise to acclimate ourselves and especially our son, as we would literally ‘leaving it all behind’, including all family and friends and the close social infrastructure of school teachers and personal patterning. There is a certain aspect of culture shock creep in when you’ve been away from home for an extended period of time. Trust me, you’ll start craving, favorite foods and comfortable sights.

I remember the day it turned into reality. We’d sold our house, put everything we owned into a long term storage locker and paid two years in advance….including storage for our car…’The Shadow’….and of we three travelers went to the airport ( by then our son West had come along….I know….naming our son West almost 30 years before Kanye and Kim…we really were ahead of the innovation curve) ) to fly away unencumbered for an undefined travel experience without boundaries. Our first stop was the Coral Coast of Fiji. More about how technological change over next almost 30 years would effect our lives coming soon.

End of Part Two…..next …”Being a Digital Nomad with a child in tow”

 

 

the original digital nomads

the original digital nomads

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It was the 1980’s and it never occurred to us that we were on the vanguard of a new movement. The idea that we could suddenly do a very rudimentary form of communication and commerce over the latest invention, the ‘internet’ was an idea we picked up on instinctively. Trisha became active in a ‘cyber world’ called ‘Bulletin Boards’, originally reserved for scientists and military…a messaging system that predated email and the World Wide Web, communicating with like minded persons over painfully slow dial up modems that squawked and screeched for several minutes while chewing through the ancient bandwidth of crude telecommunications technology of the time before connecting. The term ‘digital nomad’ wouldn’t be invented for another twenty five years. People thought we were mad for even attempting what we’d embarked on.

‘Graphics’ at the time meant ‘graph’….not pictures. But, we instantly knew how the new medium would free us from our standing constraints….I could still conduct my business in the financial world and we could home school our child through British Columbia Canada’s excellent and still nascent ‘Distance Education System’. The minute we realized how quickly we could cut ties to work, mortgages and schooling….we were gone. Trish would continue to build her own ‘Franken-machines’ from remote locations.

Initially the hardware and wiring we had to carry was enough to fill several large bags and when we went through an airport it looked as if we were moving enough electronics to set up a satellite relay. Thank God for miniaturization. The industrial step down transformer we carried weighed at least forty pounds. For a time my son actually thought we were spies and we still joke about that.

That was the 80’s and the ‘internet’ as a interpersonal communications medium was only a few months old, personal computing was something only a small collection of ‘nerds’ had access to…and like my super nerdy wife, built their own machines from parts gleaned at Radio Shack and a secret coven of back alley electronics stores and mail order. The latest conversations over BBB system were about writing the latest DOS code, floppy disk space, Kilobytes and a mysterious new invention called ‘a motherboard’. The personal desk top computer was years away from being commercially available.

the original digital nomad

the original digital nomad

End of Part One

I know why I left home early to travel the world, it was to escape my pain and find freedom among strangers. What I realized was that no one I’d left behind was interested in my pain, they envied me for my escape. They thought I was ‘getting one over on them’ and enjoying life more than I deserved. My closest relations envied me for where I’d been and hated me for the stories and scars I’d bring back. The squalid objects in my rucksack were items that disappeared if I let my guard down. I found it hard to believe at first that anyone would covet the talismans of my poverty.

In the earliest days of my traveling ways the people I knew all thought I was taking more than my share from life, because we’d come from the gutter, and as a child I was the lowest of all things, among a hierarchy of creatures, myself being less deserving than all, when in fact most days I was laying my head down tattered, torn and hungry. To many I’d become a  revenant, showing up unannounced and unwelcome at a crowded table… and then a despicable stranger when years of absence had gone by without contact, proof of life, or regard. The truth about travel is that it’s a life…lived day to day, on a budget, on a shoestring, often precarious and dangerously, not a lifestyle…something you share with no one as you’re always alone.

A young person I know on Face Book recently posted ” If travel was free you’d never see me again”. I laughed, knowing that travel has always been free if you let it control your life, give yourself freely, unabashedly, and leave everything and everyone you know behind to pursue the path. It’s the possessions and people you leave behind and conversely come home to that control the amount of time you spend ‘on the road’….not money or desire. You’re either a traveler or a tourist…you can’t be both. Being a ‘traveler’ isn’t a euphemism for ‘travel’…or for having fun while others work…being a true traveler is a calling, a thing, it’s who you are because you’re not ‘one of them’…a different person than the rest, a light in your heart that no one will ever see. Travel is a lonesome profession  you’ll rarely be paid for.

If you’re one of the lucky few who organizes their personal lives to become a traveler, and equips themselves with the will, the wherewithal and skills to ‘never come back’, and the instinctive knowledge of how to deal with abject loneliness by making friends with bar fly’s and street walkers, then you’re a rare bird indeed, and the people who knew you will hate you for it. They will respond to you with veiled contempt and palatable envy.

The distance grows day by day, the vibrations in the air between you and where you came from will have changed, the correspondence between you ‘and them’ is less frequent and shorter until it’s cut off into bit’s of necessity. The money you make while working away will find itself fueling another leg of your journey, never a return ticket. There’s never enough time to go home. I’ll tell you what it’s like to forget the street names of your home town and why it’s suddenly so strange to call a distant capital ‘home’. There’s someone living in your room.

Because of the social status and symbolism we decadent westerners put on the ability to travel to rare destinations , to work in foreign countries, change the world you once knew when others can’t….you will become the focus of peoples envy and contempt. You will become the despicable stranger. Ex-friends who’ve had a downturn of fortune and can no longer ‘keep up’ will avoid returning your emails.

What was once home will become alien ground, salted and lifeless. The tribe will have circled inward and abandoned the notion of kinship with an outsider. “If travel was free I’d never go back”, that’s both funny and sad. Always be careful what you wish for. Because once you’ve gone down that rabbit hole my friends there’s no going back. By the time you decide it might be possible to return you might find the world you left behind has changed so irrevocably that there’s nothing to go back to. To travel is to be taken by the wind.

Because traveling is not somewhere you’ve planned to go or somewhere you’ve been. It’s a state of mind, an act of being true to your inner voice. It’s a statement that describes a poem written in the flesh of your soul. It’s the essence of who you are. The traveler is by nature and practice a loner….like driftwood. Travelers are willing to addict themselves to the journey without looking back at the havoc and consequence. It’s not about how much it costs or much you have left in the bank. The clock is never ticking down for the traveler because time is irrelevant.

You seek to refine yourself. Your peers are people who own nothing and carry nothing other than the bare essentials. Travel is not about coming or going. It’s about where you’d like to be next. The journey begins to explain why you don’t fit in anywhere anymore…because you’re fragments of all the places you’ve been and not the mirror image of a place where people seek to emulate each other for security. Travel is that fragile state between life and longing to be somewhere else.

Petroglyphs of modern saloon culture

Petroglyphs of modern saloon culture

I woke up staring down another Christmas on the road, just weeks away. Trish and I have had our Christmas’ in some fairly exotic places. Bangkok Thailand ranks right up there. Luckily we can buy a fuzzy Chinese faux tree and glitzy decorations next door at an American owned grocery chain store. In the past I’ve packed a fold up tree in my suitcase to have a proper Canadian Christmas where ever in the world we found ourselves.

Today’s modern technology makes it a lot easier to communicate back home. Not like the old days where a traveler had to find a post office with a long distance call box and wait between crackling sentences as voices echoed thousands of miles back and forth down a rubbery trunk line. You don’t have to send your gifts home by sea six months in advance anymore. In many countries the happy holiday was a bit anti-climactic when there was nothing resembling western culture for thousands of miles in any direction. Today’s travelers have it easy.

The Thai people have embraced Christmas as a shopping/commercial opportunity. They love everything western, so Christmas trappings are ‘exotic’ and ‘modern’ , like nonsensical English words  and slogans on T-Shirts and hand bags. People love the giant Christmas tree’s standing outside the mall entrances and can’t get enough cheesecake pictures. They do a decent job of decorating. This years theme at the mall closest us is ‘Snoopy in Space’ all in white and silver. I’m fairly sure something has been lost in translation, and there’s no reference to Baby Jesus, but…it gives us travelers a bit of Christmas cheer and nostalgia for days gone by.

The huge growth in backpacker tourism and telecommunications has initiated more awareness of Western Culture in diverse countries. There aren’t many destinations you won’t find at least a hotel bar with sparkly lights and tinsel. I’m listening to Christmas songs on my favorite Texas radio station online, 95.3 The Range. I spent my last two Christmases in Texas and the fine music got under my skin. I guess while I’m at it  I’ll admit to having a soft spot for Christmas. No matter where we find ourselves on December 25th….we celebrate Christmas…and remember why.

What a world of contradictions we live in. My own self administered paradox is incomprehensible, even to me sometimes. “How can you live like that?” an engineer we met in Dallas asked in astonishment when Trish and I  explained that we hadn’t been ‘home’ more than a few weeks in the preceding few years. In fact we’d lived in the Hyatt Las Colinas in Dallas for almost three years running when we bumped into him at the poolside BBQ one afternoon.

He’d just bought a house in his native country, the Slovak Republic, it was his goal to have security and a sanctuary. The mindset of our engineering friend is common, it just isn’t for us. “I don’t know”, I replied. “Things just have a way of working out”….and they really have. Our recent and free week long stay at the Park Hyatt Siem Reap Cambodia is an example of how ‘things’ can ‘work out’ if you’re organized and travel savvy.

Some people envy us, they covet what we have, but have no understanding of how we came to be the nomads we are. I wouldn’t describe what we have done as sacrifice, we just want different things. As a friend of mine once quipped, “You have to be very organized to be as lazy as I am”. That sums up our lifestyle succinctly, though not entirely accurately.

Trish and I have foregone many things. We don’t have a long term mortgage, own a boat or a car lease. We haven’t renovated the house and stuffed it with material goods. We have never been consumers of ‘stuff’, instead we collect experiences. Our life is personalized, we do only what we choose, and yet we have achieved a level of success by enjoying the banquet and the open bar, but never eating the worm.

I haven’t felt like writing since I wrapped up my last novel. That two year experience was arduous, and I’m not feeling the energy to do that again any time soon. My daily life is consumed with personal thoughts about today and tomorrow, but nothing too far down the line. I feel like I’ve done enough scheduling to last quite some time.

Planning the next act of travel is my only obsession these days. I have fantasies and dreams that don’t include security or pride of place. I don’t work anymore, and with retirement I have allowed myself to exercise a degree of ‘I don’t give a shit’, that I haven’t allowed reign in the past twenty five years or so since becoming a husband and father. Getting older is somewhat like being a teenager again, feckless and cynically disorganized.

I just got back from a trip to Cambodia. I was less impressed by the poverty than I used to be. I looked for happy photographs instead of images of misery and neglect. Trisha and I fed the children beggars instead of artfully ignoring them as many tourists do. I saw far too many people working way too hard at ‘getting everything done’ as they grow closer to the end. The simple facts of life lay strewn on the sidewalks and gutters like cast off flowers . I saw  tell tale signs of utter exhaustion, fear and desperation, disconnected people, no where near the completion of their guide book inspired ‘bucket list’. I seek no such frustrations.

When I was young(er) I  left ‘home’ to travel. My passions took me away for so long that I became disassociated from everything and everyone I’d  ever known. After years away I returned a stranger to family and friends who’d moved on. I remember the impression that the streets of New Delhi were more familiar than those I returned to.

Today I live in Bangkok Thailand, occasionally struck by emotions of longing and separation. Returning to BKK from Cambodia was a homecoming to familiar territory.  I walk around my neighborhood and realize I know everyone, everyone knows me. People noticed I was gone. My favorite soup stall vendor, Khun Fa, remembers what I like, it’s endearing.

I’ve lost the familiarity with what was once my home, once again I will have to start over in Canada, where communities change rapidly with new immigration endlessly churning the population and neighbors last for minutes until they’re replaced with someone elses great expectations. I have no idea what to expect if and when I return. Here in Bangkok, people reside in the same area for generations in giant family units, and give life a sense of continuity. That’s how things are going, I’m floating from one day to the next, unwinding myself. The end of the road for a happily homeless traveler has no stop signs. Fringelords

The worst has happened. Our property managers have drained our swimming pool. This is a disaster !! No not really. We just have to find another pool somewhere in the neighborhood. I had to bus around today looking…and found quite a few that are either frog ponds or not as advertised…the search continues.

I should have seen this coming…they’ve been talking about resurfacing the pool for five years. In Thailand…it’s common to hear of great plans afoot…while very little ever gets done. In honesty the pool does need a few new tiles.

Of course they didn’t tell us because we’re renting and all the strata minutes are posted in Thai. It’s a hell of a thing to wake up and find you daily ritual has changed. Like I alluded to..plenty of pools around, while ours is out of commission for 6 to 8 weeks…..bummer. Or have I gotten so lazy I can’t even travel around my own area….some of that for sure.

BTW…wrong about the silent ninja Gecko’s…they’ve started to sing.

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