YOGART STUDIO :: A taste for WANDERLUST
I realized that I had a really bad case of wanderlust back in December 2012. I was on route to Mexico to meet up with my friend Anya for a little surf holiday to ring in the New Year. I had not yet arrived in Mexico and was already planning my next adventure! I wanted to travel somewhere where I could feel alone –not in the sense of feeling isolated, but alone in my way of thinking, doing, reacting. I realized that I was longing for culture shock –that inevitable sobering slap in the face that reminds us that what you once considered to be “common” knowledge, courtesy, gestures, attitudes, and behaviours –has been thrown out the window.
I first experienced culture shock (later turned wanderlust) when I lived in China. I moved to Suzhou –a relatively small city (population 6 million) in the September of 2007. I had been asked by George Brown College to represent the college as an Ambassador and teach the first grade class in a partnering international preschool. However, there was a catch, they desperately needed me to replace another faculty and so I had to make my decision by the next day and leave in 2 weeks! As a graduate of their ECE diploma program, I happily obliged. In hindsight, I probably would have accepted a plane ticket to any destination in the world. I desperately felt the need to leave the country/runaway from my problems. That summer my grandfather had passed. It was a long summer and we (the family) had been anticipating it would happen any day now. I spent that summer travelling to my grandmother’s home to help take care of my Dziadzio (grandpa in Polish) on weekends. As much as I enjoyed still having him with us and snuggling up next to him in bed -I knew he was ready to pass. His body and mind were “checking out” and despite wanting to keep him with us, we (my family and I) knew it was time for him to die.
I had grown up living next door to my Dziadzio. For the first 18 years of my life, I could go see, talk to and joke around with him whenever I felt like it. He could usually be found in his garage –laying on the couch or sketching at his worktable. He didn’t drive so the garage was used as his man cave 🙂 He would draw all sorts of animals (especially horses) and it was because of him I fell in love with art. I desperately wanted to be an artist like my Dziadzio and I sought his approval in my work. When he passed, I felt a level of sadness that I was not prepared for nor that could I handle. I wanted to do one last thing for him and so I proudly joined the other pallbearers in carrying his casket. With the last final push into the hearse I said goodbye to him. I boarded a plane for China 10 days later.
The first 2 months in China were bliss (or the “honeymoon” stage as many newcomers describe their initial introductory to a new country). The people, the food, the architecture –there was nothing that I didn’t love about Suzhou and my new life. Despite over 40 nationalities represented in our school, my first grade class consisted of children all from Japan. I loved them all and it was my bond with them, and the relationships that I built with their families that sparked my love for Japan. When my contract was up at the school, I even travelled to Japan for 5 weeks on my own and met up with several of my former students and their families.
They don’t call it a honeymoon phase for nothing…my honeymoon in China eventually came crashing down. Eventually, the differences in culture, attitude and even food (MSG in everything) changed from interesting and exciting to confusing and frustrating. In my opinion (which was clouded in culture shock), there was a more pragmatic or logical way of doing things and it took another 3 months for me to finally accept and embrace the Chinese way of doing things.
Now, I have nothing but fond memories of my year in China. I met some amazing (life-long) friends, travelled to Beijing, Hong Kong, Nanjing and Tibet and even had the opportunity to welcome friends and family from back home for excursions throughout South East Asia. I was very grateful and fortunate. I got to experience China preparing for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Never in my life have I felt that kind of energy and national pride than I did when the Olympic Torch passed through Suzhou and I joined millions of Chinese cheering and chanting on the streets. I experienced what it is like to live under a communist regime and the unique schism manifesting in Chinese culture and the economy. My weeks were filled with Mandarin language classes, going out for bubble tea, meeting ex-pats from all over the world, weekend trips to Shanghai and the unforgettable relationships with my co-workers, friends and countless strangers I met on a daily basis. I was head-over-heels in wanderlust with China.
That very same wanderlust began creeping up on me again. What is it about travelling that is so consuming? It’s a rush that cannot be ignored or substituted. One may read about all the places in the world untill their eyes fall out but until you immerse yourself in the sights, smells, and experiences of a new place only then can your perspective of the world dramatically shift. The search for wanderlust teaches me not only about the world, but it also brings me closer to understanding who I am and where I come from. Every new place I visit is like finding a new piece of the puzzle. I’m not sure what this jigsaw will look like once it’s complete, but I know I’ll find a few more missing pieces in India.