Lucky, in theory (a Burmese kidney-infection)

Have you ever had a kidney-infection? I do not hope so, because I can tell you it hurts like hell. Your brain is empty, apart from the permanent pain, the shivering and the desperate wish for it to stop. I am very glad though it wasn’t my first. Because when I felt the strange, slowly rising pain in my back, as we were walking just out of Nyaung-Shwe-village for some days of trekking and camping, I got suspicious. I knew I knew that pain from somewhere! It was not just the shitty mattress and the weight of my backpack. We sat down for the Burmese version of Spaghetti-Bolognese and I suddenly remembered that I´d had a light version of a bladder infection a week ago and hadn´t cured it properly. But I had thought it had gone away. I knew what nightmare was about to happen now. I told the guys I was with to go on and don´t worry because I was sad enough I couldn´t do the camping-trip now – I didn´t want to spoil theirs as well. They hesitated, but went after I forced them to. I tendered my back and sighed while I watched them and their carefree laughter becoming smaller and smaller in the distant of the dusty road, whirling sand swallowed their shapes eventually.

I sighed again and stood up, asked for the next doctor. There was one close by. I entered an open shack, looking like all the other shops and businesses at the side of the main road, only with a white desk and chair in the middle of the empty, shabby room. A very nice female doctor asked me to take a seat. I told her about my pain, my past bladder infection and supposed kidney-infection, and she listened carefully. By then my pain was already quite alarming and let me quite incapable of much complicated brain activity. We realized our common language was not enough to understand entirely. So she pulled out a dictionary, I looked up “kidney” and “infection” and showed her the beautifully written Burmese equivalent. She understood. She said it was likely to be possible. Yet she told me she had no “machines” for testing it and couldn´t prescribe medicine in such case. She wouldn´t have that medicine here, anyway. My heart sunk. My pain rose with every minute. Paralyzed me already. And now my help and hope faded away. She recommended to drive to Taungyii – the nearest bigger town – and see a doctor in hospital. I got scared. A hospital in another town is really far away, when you are in Burma with the syndromes of a kidney-infection. I didn´t have any energy left to do so. But apparently, it was the onliest choice. She said she was truly sorry, and I saw it in her calming smile and encouraging eyes. I realized that this was how things were in Myanmar. There was not always a doctor for everything immediately when one was needed. And I was probably still very lucky because I had, in theory, the money to pay a taxi to drive me to hospital, I had, in theory, the money to pay for medication…

Now traveling is no theory. Traveling is one of the most practical things you can experience. And when you do it well, you get sucked into the local circumstances and realities so much, you totally forget about your privileges and further options as a tourist. Which is mainly good. So despite feeling very weak, I asked around for a bus (which is in Nyaung Shwe village always a cramped pick-up with two wooden benches, bumping its way to wherever, at the speed of 50 km/h…). But as it was already 4 pm, people told me, the next one was going only the next morning. Don´t ask me why exactly I didn´t consider taking a taxi for 30 Dollars. I don´t know. It simply was a lot of money. Even in that situation, it seemed so out of place, spending that much money (five nights sleep in a comfortable hostel or 20 proper hot meals) on a diagnosis I already knew and could also have tomorrow while I was still able to fight the pain with a lot of painkillers. So that was what I did. I returned to the hostel, said I was back already because I was sick, and spent a fevered, shivery, restless night until I cached a cramped, bumping pick-up-ride, lasting two-and-a-half-hours of pure pain, in the morning.

"Bus" to Taungyii

Taungyii was bustling. The whole city was an open market place, people were bargaining and screaming, car drivers pushed their horns. Tired and far from understanding what was happening around me, I asked my way from the bus stand to the hospital and finally arrived after half an hour foot walk at a middle sized, once-white building that looked kind of like a hospital. Mainly because it had a big red cross on its outer wall. When I hung over the reception, complete lack of energy, the young nurses – white caps on pretty faces – giggled behind their hands. Burmese girls always did, I think because they were shy and totally flattered to see and serve a foreigner. In the pale, morbid waiting hall people sat with worried faces in silence. Pain was tormenting me, but I was still a lucky sick person. Within five minutes I was sat on a white bed with an enthusiastic young male doctor asking me in fluent English what my problem was. I suspected that many of the other people had to wait longer.  After I had told him, what I had already told the doctor in Nyaung Shwe, he pressed my belly, back and side, asked for pain and, nodding, began to write down something. He wrote into a small, cheap children´s exercise book – which was meant to be the professional file for every patient here – diagnosis and treatment. After a log silence, still writing without looking up, he said “I prescribe you another antibiotic for seven days.” His fingers were carefully forming letters, phrases, signatures. I sat up. “Eehh, but you haven´t tested anything. How do you know it´s really a kidney-infection? Don´t you want to test anything?” – “Your syndromes speak for themselves” he answered, relaxed, looking up now. “You said you had a bladder infection. And you say you have taken Ciprofloxacin for five days. That antibiotic has, unfortunately, a habit of not being strong enough to kill all the germs in only five days. It seems that was the case here also. So your infection has not fully gone away. Now it is very important you take another kind of antibiotics, a strong one, for the whole of seven days so we can be sure all of it gets killed.” He closed the booklet, handed it to me, smiled and wished me all the best. And that was it. – Could it be that easy? Irritated I spluttered a “thank you” and went out of the room to the counter in the waiting hall with the nervously smiling nurse-girls. They pointed to their left, to another counter with a woman behind it. That seemed to be the pharmacy. I handed her my “file” and two seconds later she placed three single plastic packages of small pills on the counter. Next to it she laid a hand-written bill. Now I had a big problem!

In theory, I had a lot of money on my bank account. In practice, none of my credit cards were working on Burmese cash machines. We had already taken a lot of US-Dollars in cash with us into the country. It was said, that there were not many ATMs at all, and even if, it was not guaranteed, that it was really possible to get money from them. We had smiled at the overly-careful advices from the two-year-old travel guide after the ATM in the capital had worked fine. Yet we had what we thought would be enough cash for our stay.  But then we finally realized that it would get tight after all. Luckily we had a friend with us, who´s Visa credit card was working on some ATMs, so he lent us money. Still our financial situation remained tight. Sometimes the machines were working and sometimes they were not. And sometimes they had limits. When my friends had left for their camping-trip, I hadn´t thought about money. I had enough for the daily life, enough to pay for food and some nights in the hostel. I had not thought about “expensive” medication.

The bill said 35 Dollars. About the same that antibiotics would cost in Germany. – A fortune in Burma. Also for the standards we had immersed into. I emptied my purse on the counter – all my remaining Dollars and Kyatt put together, removing the money I would need for the bus home, another night in the hostel and some basic food. Left was half of the money I had to pay. Delirium and fever of a painful kidney-infection overcame me. I stood in a shabby hospital in a strange city, far, far away. Realizing, that it was Sunday and all the banks were closed. That my pain was killing me and I had no opportunity to get relieve. Simply because I had not enough money to buy medicine to cure my serious illness. And my friends were somewhere in the faraway bush with no mobile phones on them. I felt like in a proper, evil nightmare. For a moment I think I felt the desperation, that for many thousands of people must be constantly real. (Although I was still a very lucky sick person, in theory.) I was devastated. I broke down. I think I cried. But the woman on the pharmacy-counter was kind and smart (and beautiful), like many Burmese women are. She understood and tendered me, wordless. We had no language in common, so she showed me, taking a part of my money from the counter, holding it, and handing me two of the three packs of pills. Gestured, pills 11 to 14 would stay here until I would come back, bringing the rest of the money. I was baffled. I smiled. Bloody cultural civilization! People just stick to it like fat blue flies to the shit because they don’t know about alternatives. I would have never ever considered such an easy solution to be possible! In Germany, or other western countries, you either can pay for medication or you can´t. Ripping apart a prescribed dose, buying single tablets, is just not a concept to think of, for us.

Delirious nights

I took the packed pick-up home, happy now, relieved (even bought new pencils at the market on a dose of antibiotics and painkillers!), between all the smiling people transporting goods, belongings, market shopping, helping me onto my place on the wooden bench. Back in the cozy comfort of my hostel I again had shivery, fevered nights with bad dreams and often lay awake in pain staring at the lizards in front of my window. But it got better with a lot of sleep. And the pills 1 to 10. Then some warm tea. Then the western breakfast on the terrace (Pancakes). Then the beloved three-in-one-coffee-mix and when I could think again, I started writing. I didn´t stop writing for three whole days without a break. Sitting on the terrace, watching guests from all over the world come and go. And on the fourth day, after a huge thunderstorm, which I watched from my comfy shelter, anxious because of my boys out there, somewhere, they came back, happy as ever, with many stories to tell. And with money for my second trip to Taungyii.

 

The ozorian mind – thoughts on a psy-festival

Culture flash, arrival, Budapest. Rich, decadent empires, Rome, Paris, high-above balconies, beautiful ladies waving their satin handkerchiefs, men, dazzled, loose their perfect manners on shiny horses, nervous, in stuffy evening sunlight.  Everything is melting into the other. Crumbling facades, birches on ruptured sills. Dour observers behind blinded windows, old widows carrying their shopping on cracked pavements, bored Roma kids playing on dusty roads, father’s fat bellies, pondering on doorsteps.

Cut. 140 kilometers. Speeding on the highway, bumping about back roads, through dozy villages, immersing into endless corn- and sunflower-fields. Arriving suddenly, in the middle of nowhere at what it says to be the official gate to Paradise.

Everything that comes behind this gate arose from pure love. It sounds like a quote, but it is true. We entered the Ozorian world! You feel it, everywhere, within everything. It’s baffling. All the little creatures and decorations made devotedly and everything human beings need for a week of camping and having the time of their lifes has been thought of carefully. Joy and Happiness, peace and love and harmony literally inflates us. People are curious and fraught and excited and overly friendly. A party, a gathering arises, with colors, cushions and comfort dotting it. Bass, lights, ecstasy. Power and abandon breaking loose. Food is plenty, music is on, everyone being exhilarated and nice.

When you’re looking for a one-week-paradise the Ozorian valley is definitely the place to be. There’s everything a more or less hippie-minded person could wish for. A full-on party, arts, workshops, finest international food, relaxing, inspiration, fun. It is a place of beautiful people and good spirits.

But after seven days of the “oh-so-beautiful-One-Love” you also see the facades crackle. People start getting tired of it. Not everyone is always smiling, always happy and caring anymore. After some days of having worn the full-psy-hippie-costume it becomes obvious that not everyone honestly has the inner peace and hippie-mind we were all pretending to have when the festivities where still at their beginning. People are littering. They get careless, get ensnared in their own problems, scream at each other on the campsite. Shopkeepers get grumpy, people in queues get annoyed and reckless and 200 plugs are full of smartphones.

We all came for the nature and the love-one-another-experience. And it has been amazing. But in the end most of us are still normal people from luxury backgrounds who get tormented by permanent baseline, the lack of retreat and comfort. That even the beautiful bees and fairies and pixies can’t turn into a happy smile all the time…

 

Liebster Award – 11 surprising answers, 5 excellent bloggers

The team of the great surf- and travelblog saltinmyhair was so kind to nominate me for the Liebster Award (“favourite blog award”). Thanks a lot! With that, they asked my 11 questions which I am going to answer in a minute. But what is the Liebster Award actually and how does it work?

The Liebster Award is passed forward from blog to blog for the reason of connecting and getting to know new blogs. Great thing! 11 questions are asked and after having answered them, the award is passed on again to different new blogs with new questions.

So these are the questions I got and my answers:

1. What drives you forward?  My natural curiosity to see places I couldn’t dream of to be real and to meet people whose lifestyle I couldn’t imagine before. My longing to feel, what I have never felt before, to be surprised and challenged in my mind by things that are far apart from the “norms” I know.

2.  What is your favourite post?  It’s China – a parallel universe. After many strange feelings for this fascinating country and not knowing how to define the reasons for it I finally managed satisfyingly to get it black on white. I like it to have some founded (political) criticism – or at least reflection – in posts, which is not often with me but worked quite well with China.

3. At which spot on earth did you think “this is paradise?”  It’s hard to admit (because I wasn’t totally convinced from Thailand as travel-destination and we disliked the existing tourist-patterns for everything) but it was on a small Thai island on the west coast, named Koh Phayam. Palms, fine sand beaches, warm crystal-clear water, colorful jungle bursting with life, very few people and a hut next to a beach bar with fresh-fruit-yoghurt, Phad Thai, beer and a kayak rental! It was a place where everything was given to feel comfy and not to worry about anything.

4. Which languages do you speak?  Unfortunately my laziness overtakes my motivation when I get to the point in a language, where I can make myself very basically understood and understand the other. I always feel it’s enough when I know the most important nouns, verbs, adjectives, one simple past, simple future and just put it all together.  That’s what it’s like with my Spanish and French. (I am a little more eager on English.) On our trip through Kyrgyzstan I learned a few basic words of Russian and I would like to continue learning it until my personal level of “making myself understood” is reached.

5. Flip Flops or Trekking boots and why?  Definitely Flip Flops! (If not even bare feet.) Trekking boots get smelly and wet in rain and make me a lot of blisters. And they’re heavy. I experienced that even worst paths can be walked carefully in Flip Flops or bare feet. (Watch how the locals do it!)

6. What is your treatment against homesickness?  a) If it’s possible: connect with back home. Skype with a friend, post a blog or read facebook posts of friends. Otherwise b) distract myself and get drunk with locals or fellow travellers. c) If alone in the wilderness: Make fun of myself. Sing stupid made-up songs about my feelings in another language flavored with a saxonian accent and record it on cam, look at it and laugh my ass off. Or, always welcome: Make friends with little animals or plants and talk to them.

7. Did you ever get stuck in one place?  Quite often! Mostly because of laziness after exhaustive traveling. I got stuck in Goa for a month because it was just too convenient after two months of Indian hustle-bustle and again in Kashgar, China, for two weeks, almost not leaving the hostel, because of the security, comfort and the laziness after 9 months on the road, just enjoying internet, fellow travellers, story-sharing and no need to rush on and “having” to see new things.

8. What was the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten on a journey?  It was probably the dog we accidentally had in Yangshuo for breakfast because of the lack of common vocabulary. In China we often just pointed at pictures of meals that looked good. And although the restaurant owner was reassuringly asking whether we really wanted that dish, we were only making an effort to understand what it was about, when the unusually high bill came. Some young passing-by Chinese guys took the time to stop and translate because we were loudly complaining about the price. In the end the surprising answer was ”Well, it is that expensive, because dog is that expensive…” After the meat had already been really disgusting and chewy so we had to leave half of it (what we NEVER do), that information really turned our stomachs.

9. What was your most impressing encounter while travelling?  It’s really hard to tell. Impossible in fact. I remember, letting different faces of people I met slide in front of my eyes, that I very, very often thought: This person – his lifestyle, his story, his responsibility – is so impressive! In a way, most of the encounters left me baffled and in deep thinking.

One of them was surely our friend in Nyaung U, Bagan, Myanmar, whom we met down by the river when the sun was rising beautifully behind thick haze. We shared not a single word of the same language, but he was really patient and generous. Living in a tiny straw-hut with his three children and wife, he let us store our luggage in the hut and promised to take care of it (again: wordless) while we were looking around. After he had fetched us with gestures from the village square for dinner, he and his family were rapidly improvising a pure luxury dinner-set: They were getting chairs and pillows (sitting on the floor or standing themselves), installed a light bulb out of nowhere and provided a reach traditional meal while they were not eating themselves but smiling about our happiness and giving….

Another impressive encounter was our selfless friend Mr. Li in Guangzhou, who lend us bikes and showed us around town for two days, inviting us for dinner, insisting on paying all the bills, and revealing after we had got to known him a little better, that he had another “hidden” child, living with his relatives some hundred miles away, because of the strict one-child-law in China. He showed us a video of his hidden daughter, sighing, because despite he and his wife were working fulltime they couldn’t afford to pay off the government for the second child, which is about 40.000 Euros.

We met many “children” in Kyrgyzstan working as responsible shepherds already, looking after siblings and earning money for the family, having big dreams in their heads. So did many youngsters in India, working hard, selling, making business, being clever and focused and very responsible at a very early age. There were woman with heavy burdens of poverty, responsibility and husbands they didn’t love, sometimes couldn’t even stand but they never complained and never neglected their responsibilities.

And then there is our friend Alek Leka, who is traveling the world on his bicycle since 20 years. Living on nothing, not having a bank account, nor insurance but being one of the happiest and funny and wise guys I’ve met.

10. Where is your “secret spot” in Europe?  In the wilderness of the Scottish Highlands; in its history and mystery. Somewhere between… nah, I wouldn’t tell 🙂

11. Catchword “Eco-tourism”: Do you travel thinking about sustainability?  Sure whenever it’s possible we rather leave kids with a repair-kit for their bike than with a handful of candies. Eco-tourism is a delicate topic. It’s much talked-about and definitely difficult to place oneself in it. When it is possible, we rather take a bus or bike than a plane. But we are no Messiahs – when the duration and expenses of an overland-journey overdo the price of a flight by far, we still take the flight. We always eat at small unknown places, stay in the hidden hostel and don’t necessarily follow the number one recommendations of the lonely planet, so at least we naturally spread the money around community.

———————————————————-

For the next Liebster Award I nominate Alek Leka of aroundtheworldnomad, Helen of Helenstakeon, Sara & Matthieu of aveloversl’orient, Thom of ThomsTravelTime and Stefanie of Kurzvordersonne.

The questions are:

  1. Three places you want to travel (no matter if realistic or not)?
  2. Which feeling does blogging give you?
  3. What differs you from others?
  4. What is always with you on journeys?
  5. How important are travel-companions to you and why?
  6. Something you wouldn’t recommend anyone to do?
  7. A situation you doubted to be real.
  8. What are you doing while traveling when you want to withdraw and switch-off?
  9. How is your relation of planning and spontaneity while traveling?
  10. Did anyone ever say anything to you about yourself on a journey, that is still lasting until today; that changed concepts about yourself?
  11. Something you experienced on a journey that you decided to never forget.

 

And the “rules” for enjoying and getting connected are:

  1. Show on your blog that you’re taking part in the Liebster Award.
  2. Name the person who nominated you and link him.
  3. Answer the 11 questions.
  4. Nominate another 5-11 people for the Liebster Award.
  5. Create 11 new questions for the nominated bloggers.
  6. Write this rules in your Liebster-Award-post.
  7. Inform your nominated bloggers about this post and their nomination.

On the run 1: War of the Worlds

Possessing, not possessing. Settling, wandering. Security, adventure: Responsibility and binding – constraints of too much to care about, or freedom and fighting – constraints of too little to live carefree. What is easier? What makes happier?

Some days I only wanna run. From my habits, my laziness, the boredom, the dullness, my fears. From my history, my fate, my existence. From convictions. Rules. Routines. Expectations. Far, far away!

“Feeling free” – after basic human rights are fulfilled, the further necessary extend of that tickling feeling is discussable. It’s relative, it’s about hedonism, it’s about sense. We are, all, already relatively free – the standard westerner with standard wealth. Has a bloody lot of options. So I don’t want to complain, feeling silly doing so. But, still, somehow everything does not feel right! Someone close to me recently just nailed it and illuminated me with the discomforting truth: I still haven’t arrived yet from that big journey which changed everything. I am still staggering between life-concepts of there and here. Because such a trip does change everything. It changes you in a way you can’t explain. It changes your mind in a way that doesn’t make sense in our world. You can hardly explain the feelings you had in single situations during that trip, so how could you ever explain the conglomerate of “weird” feelings that stick to you afterwards? And suddenly you don’t know any more what is meant to be your way, your home, your meaning of life. You feel misunderstood and question yourself. What is reality? What is real? What is important? And what is you?

It might be tough to acclimatize to a strange culture. But after having immersed into several others, that are so far apart from your own, it might be the hardest to acclimatize to your own culture again. Seems to be the strangest. In this weird world of ours (freaking weird norms, expectations and demands!) people seriously are complaining because the decoration on their cocktail is made from the wrong fruit! (“But it said pineapple on the menu…”! “Yes dear, you are right. Sorry I forgot. In this world you have the right to get what you paid for. I’ll get you a new cocktail in a sec and, of course, sorry for your inconvenience, it’s on the house.” Epilogue: She sips it, quiet now, her red-colored lips tight around the black straw, but she still does not seem happy…) In the evening (9pm, finally home, daylight long gone, macaroni in the microwave) you get short-time-sentimental over a documentary about a small boy in a favela of El Salvador, smiling with pure, genuine joy, because he got out of the crimes of the merciless drug scene just by starting Capuera lessons that took him to a new environment! And the next morning you put the papers away (full of things, real things, you can’t even imagine but wished you never heard them) and you are supposed, expected, to just snap back to our world of smartphones, paperwork, enormous bills and leftovers again with a smile on your face – being so lucky in life – just sighing occasionally that you can’t save the world anyway.

Yes, our life is, for most parts, not comparable to that of billions of other people (really lucky, huh? But is that actually true?) And yes, on our own, trapped in daily-life-routines, no one of us can save the world. But as well as I sometimes feel far apart from the world I am currently living in, I feel part of it all, I feel trapped in it, I feel responsible. I feel pain. For things we are collectively doing wrong. Or not doing at all. I do feel guilty and unhappy and as much as I want to do things differently, I feel I can’t, I don’t know how, so I just want to run away. To the favelas, to the boy, to something that makes real sense.

It’s about fucking turning-time. (We all carrying at least a piece of that awareness.) And – for I haven’t arrived yet anyway – I don’t feel right about joining in again into some sort of life I do not totally agree with its terms of use…

 

The feeling of the Patiala

Everything starts with the right trousers.

One year, four months and ten days after I have bought my pair of Patialas (extremely wide Indian trousers worn under a Punjab dress) in a tiny shop  in Varanasi – busting with colorful fabrics and smelling smoothly of incense sticks – I have worn them for the first time today. And suddenly it all came back to me – the heartily smiles, the overwhelming noises, the exciting confusion of being thrown into a totally strange world with countless details to absorb. And suddenly I knew I would travel again. Soon!

When you wear such trousers, you feel as free as wearing nothing. You feel so feminine like the whole world would fall down to your knees. You feel so exotic like everyone was looking up to you. You feel so safe, you know, whatever you are going to do will be the right thing. You feel so cool as if you have seen the whole world already and you feel so ready for the whole world that nothing can stop you.

Of course I had considered another trip already. But the feeling of the Patiala had given me what I needed: The feeling of pure freedom that felt totally right. And the soothing conviction that it was a good decision when doubts where on the forehand.

So thanks to this amazing piece of purple Indian fabric I will be on the road again, starting on 17th of July in the direction of Hungary to the Ozora festival, with my Patiala of course. Having no idea where this trip might end I do not claim it isn’t a run from something I haven’t understood yet. Because it certainly is. I am on the run. But it is very likely I will some when end up somewhere I will feel happy. Because only when you move you can arrive at the right place.

Close to the meaning of life

Ants exist because someone has to milk the lice. Worms are there so the plants have a fluffy ground and the rain can drain. Deer walk about for there is some grassland left without forest suffocating all the fragile plants closer the ground and the wolves don’t starve.

Even the stones are there to provide the moss and plaits a base, to challenge the down-coming water in it’s run and to save some precious warmth for the lizard. The grass grows to feed the cattle and to give the ticks a spring board to their victims. Trees grow and fall and rotten and become rich soil again… Ok, admittedly, all of this is a philosophical or a question of belief. But everything at least seems to have a working order! What in hell is the meaning of the mankind? What is our reason, our excuse for being? What are we supposed to contribute?

I would love to send a questionnaire around the world to thousands of different people with different lives and read all the diverse opinions of this maybe most interesting and yet most difficult question of our existence. What answers would you get? I bet a list from A to Z! Maybe starting with “we exist to amuse ourselves”, “to become rich” and “we are made to form the world” or “to save the world”.. I have lost myself in that question long ago and keep struggling with the sense of human and my personal existence.

But there is a growing number of other people nowadays asking the same question. Since we don’t have to worry about surviving anymore but about the size of our TV and the best restaurant to eat at, we do have too many choices of everything – what to do, buy, think, become… Since we are let to decide for ourselves and not been decided about (yes, suddenly we are actively responsible!) by the nature, fate, the church, the parents or community which we were not long ago so dependent on, the meaning of our individual lives became blurry.

I think today two kind of people might be happy: those who don’t ask themselves that question and those who have asked it themselves long and insistent enough to eventually find wisdom in it. All others, I believe, must sometimes feel the same slight melancholy pain I do of that hidden and unanswered question. When they gasp for breath and realize people are just running about, chasing vague aims they don’t even know, feeling the need to achieve something the norms prescribe while they are distracted by things that promise a happier, more fulfilled life though those just pursue to push the nonsense they don’t need still in the hope to gain something they think they want.

When you turn your head towards nature it’s obvious that between birth and dead every living creature was given the duty to do certain useful things to justify it’s existence. What do we actually contribute to the world? What are we supposed to do? Some people would say they do useful things like they are involved with charity, help other people or they pay for reafforestation or things like that. Those things are good, no doubt, but they are admittedly only a compensation for what others or we ourselves have done bad before ergo should be naturally and not an achievement to pride oneself with. Those things are a syndrome of our modern society but no answer to the question for the reason of our existence. And unfortunately I can’t please you with the answer.

But back to the survival. What about living to survive? Since that is basically the main aim of every living creature there must lay some answer in that. I have had a light bulb moment recently while camping in Scotland how at least to kill the worry about the meaning of life. I already saw how it works many times in Asia and now really felt it for myself.

It’s really simple: When you are busy with surviving, the gnawing but obviously luxury question for meaning doesn’t exist.  For us – the standard westernized person – it is quite a while ago that we seriously had to concern ourselves with surviving. To concern ourselves with an outcome at the end of the day that would strictly and mercilessly decide about we living or dying. Hunger, cold, danger or illness. For many, many other people on this planet it is still a daily reality. When you have to basically work all day just to survive on a human level you don’t ask for another sense because that is the sense. Providing a dry, warm and safe sleeping place for yourself or even children, managing to have enough and warm food and warm, fresh clothes the next day keeps so many (predominantly) woman around the world busy permanently as a full-time job. They don’t have all the luxury we do, they can’t go to ALDI buy ready meals, stuff the washing machine with dirty clothes and put the children into day-care so they have some leisure time. They have to work really hard for all that and when they’re finished at the end of the day they can be seriously proud of themselves because it’s a bloody hard days work. Do you think they ask for another meaning in life?

So all that came back to me when I was camping some days in the wilderness of the Scottish Highlands – often twelve miles each direction to the next house, human, civilization. The weather is tough there in early May and I was fighting permanent rain, wind and cold. It took me some hours per day to pack or set up my tent and stuff properly, to prepare it against the heavy wind and wet from above and underneath. When that was done, depending on the distance I had walked that day and the spot I’d found, the preparation of food was difficult sometimes. Drinking water was to fetch from far, gnawing hunger and difficult weather conditions made it often a laborious act to eventually get some by then desperately needed food. I was wrapping up in my sleeping bag long before nightfall, exhausted, because when you don’t live in the comfort of a house warmth and light are rare goods and you don’t expect anything exciting to happen anyway (like I often do at home at 4 a.m. lurking around unsatisfied for something on facebook). But I felt truly happy because everything I had done that day had been absolutely necessary and therefore had been meaningful. I didn’t had to worry whether I did the right things or not, because I only did what I had to do and if it worked, I did it right. No questioned decisions, no struggles, no regrets.

I have thought about what is really meaningful in my life often in those early nights between those snow-capped mountains hiding myself very basically from the reckless whether with nothing to do. It came to me that feeling and enjoying those very moments were the answer. Being able to lay there in all needed comfort and satisfied with no further wishes. When I get close to nature and far from all the unimportant stuff of civilization I get very close to my basic needs. And I feel very clearly what it does not take to be happy. Not the nice flat, not the good beer, not the pretty skirt and not even the beach-holiday. In some conditions being able to “survive” the day is a proper reason to feel sense. I wished it could always be like this! Freed of options, freed of expectations, freed of temptations! I’d be happy and satisfied without even knowing the cause of the human being.

 

China – Parallel universe

China is not very different to Germany. Woman dress up in mega short skirts and men try to show off with cars and generosity. Chinese people are mad keen on the newest technical devices and (what differs them from other asian countries) the majority has the money to buy them. They use high-speed trains, live in gigantic clean and modern cities and treat nature like they shouldn’t. They have few children and little believe in religion. Money and individualism appear to be the new priorities in life.

All this seems not very different to us. In theory at least… Still I call China a “parallel universe”. And that’s not (just) because they eat dogs, beetles and cat brains – you could theoretically find such habits in some Bavarian area. But for me China was even more alien than for example India, where they have a huge bunch of weird traditions and pray to Elephant gods… So why is it China is so similar but yet so different? I thought a long, long time about that question and came up with some answers eventually.

It feels like a parallel universe because the people’s minds are so different in many aspects. The Chinese culture seems to be one of few in the world which is not westernized at all. Not American-toned. That might sound strange at first. Like I described at our China trip this country is so big and mighty most people don’t seem to care too much about the rest of the world. And because China is, sadly, so shielded from it they don’t know much about it either. They have their own huge brands, products, pop stars, networks, traditions, habits – which are similar but still oddly different – they don’t orientate much on the western/american ones like most other cultures do. – The whole of Europe is looking towards the States, central Asia peers at Russia and Europe – everyone really seems always to orientate on the bigger and more “modern” culture to integrate some of their idols lifestyle into their own. China doesn’t. Because of two reasons: because they simply don’t need to and because they are not allowed to.

So what provides the parallel-universe-feeling is that China is an independent world-might with their own rules and habits. Even the most basic gestures (which are the onliest ways to communicate when you don’t speak Mandarin) are completely different to those you are used to from the rest of the world. Numbers are shown with the fingers in a totally different way and so are welcoming or negating gestures. If you don’t know the rules you are likely to become desperate very soon because it seems that all basic human communication doesn’t work with Chinese people just because it’s an alien code to you. Eating a raw carrot in public gets you great deranged stares (no one in China would ever eat anything raw) and when you give someone a big present he would just say a brief thanks and put it aside not opening it. Try for a lift and somebody even driving 80% of the way to your destination would just say sorry they can’t help you and drive off. One of the highest priorities of Chinese people is being polite and not loosing face which provides the base for (to us) weird actions and also shallow encounters.

When I sat together with an Indian woman my age who had four children and was devoted practicing Hindu rites we had topics to talk about and we saw and judged many things in life the same way. A Chinese woman though (I am sorry, but mainly appearing as girls) was always inapproachable for me. I felt I would never experience her real inner feelings. She would not speak out loud what she thinks.  Because everything in China was made to be at least a perfect facade. Everything in China had a beautiful, correct, neat and polished surface and you wouldn’t know if it was real or you were just bluffed. And so you wouldn’t know if a Chinese person said or did something just out of politeness or because he really felt that way. You wouldn’t know if that “old town” was really old or rather new build. You wouldn’t know if those smiling employees were truly happy or in fact very sad. You wouldn’t know if someone invited you because he really wanted it or because the politeness-codex forced him to do it.

China was a big strange riddle for me and even after over 3 months I felt I didn’t get any closer to the rules of that similar-appearing parallel universe.

Feel with your heart what your eyes can't see