March 2012, Phuket, Thailand
Shantha, our "squall watcher", hard at work
Amazing! Less than a year has passed since my last log entry. Given the rate at which I produce these thoughts, I would be hopeless at a blog!
2 Months with Shantha. Never Enough.
The best place to begin is where I left off: sailing into the sunset last April with Jon and our new friend, Shantha Ravikumar from Chennai. Shantha is a competitive laser sailor, an active member of the Tamil Nadu Sailing Association (TNSA), one of the writers of the TNSA monthly bulletin, a business‑woman (now retired after years of having her own Madras fabric export business), a killer Scrabble player (in English, her 3rd language), an awesome birder, and just one all‑round accepting, interesting, fun and fascinating person to be with. Poor lady, we took her on Ocelot with the "promise" of the Maldives and Chagos, and the possibility of Mauritius or Madagascar, but 3 days out of Chennai, with the wind on the nose and the currents turning against us we threw in the sailing towel and turned westward, downwind and returned to Thailand. [Lesson learned: beware the promises of cruising sailors when the subject is destinations!] Shantha was stoically accepting of the winds of fate, and once we had a chance to snorkel in the clear waters of the Surin Islands and go birding in the forests of the Thai peninsula she probably forgave us. The fact that she wants to come back and sail with us again is perhaps testimony enough.
With our own plans to sail to Africa with our friends on Vamp completely disrupted, Jon and I found ourselves with a free schedule, and NO plans. Woot! What a great state to be in. So we did what comes naturally: we hung out for weeks and weeks in Penang, Malaysia, took a birthday-trip-for-Sue to inland Malaysia, hung out in Langkawi for 3 months, then went back to Thailand in anticipation of a big haul‑out and boat refit.
We had long since planned to have the holidays in the States with Chris and Amanda so we flew back to Seattle, via Seoul, Korea, in November. How do I describe the feeling of returning to a place that used to be home but is now more of an adventure?
I'm a Visitor Here Myself!
Jon and I have lived overseas for 16 years almost entirely in tropical developing countries. On our annual visits to the USA I find myself feeling more and more like a traveler experiencing American culture rather than someone returning home. This fact, in itself, doesn't make me happy or sad, nor do I label it good or bad. It just is. And it's interesting to be able to step back and "see" that which so many of us take for granted.
First of all, I will say that it seems to take no time at all for Jon to drive on the right side of the road again. Not so for me. I actually found it helped to talk out loud to myself, with "We drive on the right, here." "Right turns are the easy turns!" "Be careful, this is a left turn, across traffic!" Needless to say, I pawned off the job of driving to husband, friend, daughter or son whenever possible. I had to be particularly vigilant when crossing the street because we've been so long in left‑side driving countries.
News. What came over the radio and shouted at us from the covers of magazines and newspapers might have been news, but it all blurred in my mind to one big repetition of same‑old same‑old. Jon and I subscribe pretty heartily to the Simon and Garfunkel line "I get all the news I need on the weather report..." The vitriol and blinders of American partisan politics gives me a stomach ache. One good thing about being so out of it, in terms of news, is that we're not embarrassed to ask questions about what's going on or who so and so is. We have had some really good political conversations.
The commercialism of everything is something that strikes us each time we return Stateside. There is no escaping the advertisements, the showy store fronts, the wealth, the obsession with spending/earning/buying. After years and years of living in developing countries, where businesses run out of small shops, motorcycle sidecars, backyards or downstairs from the family living space it is a shock to see the glitz of American business. I love living where what you wear doesn't matter so long as it's modest (by local standards), neat and clean. I like doing business with small companies where there is no concern about litigation and where you can talk to the owner himself. I find America's meticulously lettered, professionally made signs and ads interesting from an artistic point of view, but not nearly as interesting as the hand-drawn, or roughly hewn words on store fronts in southeast Asia.
Life in the tropics! Life on a boat! YAY!
There is an increasing obsession in the States about personal safety, and this is very worrisome. Strangely, folks who don't travel out of the States very much perceive our life out here on the other side of the world as a scary thing! But go figure: here in Phuket our friends leave their cars running when they go into a shop. We walk down streets anywhere in Phuket town or bustling Penang without a thought to personal safety or petty theft. In contrast, we see Americans living more and more fearfully behind locked doors and security systems. Where do I feel free-er? Not the USA.
We have often said that one of the great things about American business is service: 24 hour help lines, return of unwanted merchandise with no questions asked, that sort of thing. But working with people in Asia has given us a different definition of service. It's not always about returning items or efficiency. It's more about process and connection. The services that are offered us for boat work, for help in finding things we need, for finding people to do work for us, for whatever, feels as though it is offered as a bridge to friendship, not a bridge to financial gain. Doing business here in Asia is more about relationships and interaction than about finalizing the deal.
Olympic Mountains from Seattle. Always breathtaking.
I remember reading that when Mother Teresa visited the US for the first time she commented that the country had no soul, or had lost it. America, in our rush for money and position, has become a country of individuals scurrying from one man‑made shelter to another: house to car, car to work, work to car, car to shop, car to house. The soul of southeast Asia and the island countries is felt in the people that you brush shoulders with, meet in the shops, pass along the paths between houses. Prayer and spirituality are palpable in the small shrines and family altars, the doorstep pujas, and in the humble churches of the South Pacific islands. Life is not about money, me, me, me, but about family, service to others and daily worship. I think in our daily isolation from our neighbors in the US it is harder to feel connected to humanity. Where are all the people, I wonder, as I stroll through an American suburb. Being isolated and invisible is not a healthy way to live. I am not talking about organized religion when I say that much of America has much to learn about bringing daily spirituality into daily life.
A country with soul, I believe, would have more heart, more care for its people. Strangely, the abject poverty we have seen in South America, Asia and Africa does not wrench my heart as much as it is wrenched by the men of my generation who stand on the street corners of Seattle with placards saying "Vietnam vet. Will work for food. God Bless." Or the young women at the freeway off-ramps who bundle in layers of coats, with signs that say, "Out of work. Two children to feed. Anything helps." We sit in our fancy cars, staring straight ahead, unwilling to look them in the eye, to acknowledge their humanness. In Asia, beggars are known, they are seen, they are responded to by the wealthier people who walk by them. A few coins, a bit of food or a cool drink are offered. They can even receive medical care when needed. Why do so many of us in America turn away? Why does one of the wealthiest countries in the world not provide health care for its people?
But the USA is still "home" because that is where family is. We love spending time with our kids and their friends, our siblings, nieces and nephews, Jon's dad, and our wonderfully varied set of friends. The mountain air, the scenery and the energy of the States is intoxicating.
We do not live on a sailboat to escape the States or anywhere. We love all the travel and adventure and new experiences. We have always traveled to go TO a place, never to LEAVE a place. If we can live the rest of our lives traveling between family and exotic places, near or far, we will feel fulfilled and fortunate.
The Top Ten Reasons Jon and I Love Cruising:
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