It Takes a Journey

When I moved to Kaohsiung, this incredible city, I didn’t realize that I’d become so busy I would abandon one of my favourite crafts.

I have been longing for the deeper thoughts that come with maintaining a regular habit of writing. Over the past year, my thoughts have been filled with a bustling happiness, but my writing well ran dry. I had lost the ability to (what I like to term) ‘think in writingese’.

A spark has been reignited! I remember the language now! And I know the cure. I needed to take a journey.

Of course I’ve been going on many mini-excursions in and around Kaohsiung. It’s such a wonderful city where I revel in the food, language and culture around me. It is a city with beautiful mountains, beaches, a river, lake, and many parks. There are also so many other places just a quick drive or train ride away. Many of my weekends are spent finding waterfalls or exploring the surrounding Taiwanese countryside and cityscapes.

In these moments, especially on a long scooter ride, or while hiking a mountain, I find glimpses of my deeper, writing self. But then I return to a grueling 12hr-a-day teaching schedule that drains my body and mind from putting any words to keyboard.

Another big part of the problem is that I fell so much in love with Kaohsiung, I couldn’t envision when I would want to leave it. For many years I have never experienced such contentedness with a city.

This in itself put a huge block up in terms of writing. By settling in so much, I blocked myself from the ability to see the finer details that make traveling and living abroad so special.

Two things have happened to change this.

I’m currently at the start of a journey. I’m bound for Singapore, where I will meet one of my good friends who happens to be the cultural anthropologist onboard a big, beautiful boat. (Even boats need a resident anthropologist! Obviously!). So, he has invited me to join him and embark on a ten-day tour of Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

The other difference comes from my recent decision to leave Taiwan. I will be returning to Canada in August for my cousin’s wedding, and the time feels right to make a change in career and location. I’m not yet sure what that entails, but the prospects are enticing.

With the scent of travel in the air, my senses have been reawakened to the beauty of life. I have re-donned the travel goggles that I hadn’t realized I’d taken off. With a renewed lens and fresh perspective, I’m experiencing things around me in the way that I want and love. In the way that I had forgotten a bit.

It’s so easy to get used to daily routine. The comfort of the every-day. The contentedness of settlement. These are wonderful things! Especially when being settled allows for a developed ability to effectively live and communicate within the space you inhabit.

But from this comes danger. The danger of blindness to beauty and excitement. The danger of the mundane.

I read once that you should regularly try to change your route to work. By following the same path everyday, we desensitize ourselves to what is around us, which actually limits brain stimulation. Almost robot-like, we can navigate our way easily on an unsurprising track.

This is okay, especially if your route is known as the fastest and most efficient. And quite frankly, I think we all require and search for the element of comfort and safety that comes with the predictable. But it can also dull our brains and limit the growth and stimulation that comes from attempting a new and unknown path.

In these moments of discovery, our senses are alight observing the unknown. We look for recognizable features and pay more attention to difference. Neurons are firing as we search for road names, landmarks, direction, and even logic. It’s the art of orientation, and I believe it’s incredibly good for us.

Despite the roads of Taiwan feeling like a video game with the dodging, beeping, red-light running, turning without looking and wrong lane changing, I still recognize monotony on my drive to work that comes from taking the same path for too long.

In Kaohsiung, there is an easily navigable grid-like pattern of roads, augmented by many other roads that veer in very unpredictable ways. By taking unknown and new directions, maybe I don’t end up where I want to be right away, but some very meaningful things come from this off-my-beaten-path endeavor: I’ve heightened my exploratory and observation skills; I’ve seen things that I otherwise would’ve missed entirely; I’ve found that a destination might actually be more reachable later because of knowledge gained from a previous wrong turn; and I’ve found even better routes that I never knew existed.

I think the same is true on a much grander scale for me.

I can’t help but remember Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk about our creative writing genius. It’s a concept that there’s an entity outside of ourselves that assists in any creative endeavor, like Dobby the house elf helping out around the house. I’ve written about this before, but it really stays with me and I feel it’s worth mentioning again.

I thought my writing elf had forsaken me. But it seems I just let her sleep for too long in too predictable a pattern. The impending travel and the lure of adventure has awakened her. Has awakened me. The words have since been pouring into my head in the language I had forgotten for too long. I hope to revel in this as I heighten my experience of Taiwan, and of any future place I may encounter.

I’d love to hear your experiences with the balance between finding a settled routine, and reaching out for the unknown. Share below! 🙂

The view touching down in Singapore. The boats in the background are incredible to watch - especially knowing I'll be on one tomorrow! And landing in a new place, seeing this golf course that I know my Sikh granddaddy in Tanzania must've played on, brings a lot of thoughts about the past and future, and the amazing realities of space and place.

The view touching down in Singapore. The boats in the background are incredible to watch – especially knowing I’ll be on one tomorrow! And landing in a new place, seeing this golf course that I know my Sikh granddaddy in Tanzania must’ve played on, brings a lot of thoughts about the past and future, and the amazing realities of space and place.


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