I studied on a ship for three month during my third college year.
Sea was always exciting – I could stand on the deck for hours, just looking at the sea, and think about all the amazing joys and sorrows –it was not always happy, of course. Sometimes there were full of depression and negativity. However, I have finally taken several steps of my childhood dream of traveling around the world. I have been in Asia, Europe, Africa, South America, and North America. I have traveled to my dream country that I always wanted to go as a child – San Marino. Several years later, I may be regretting of all the things I missed during this trip, but it would be a trip worth regretting – because it became a part of my life.
A Nerd’s Guide to Travel
Here’s something that people usually think it is too easy that everybody should have already known about traveling. Well, I spent a long time learning them, actually.
- Basic: Bring enough water and food, because you need to fulfill all the basic needs before enjoying the view. If you are climbing a mountain as a day trip, at least bring a lunch-worth of food, and more than 1200ml of water (yes, you need two bottles).
- Toilets: if you are in a tourist place, ask the police, or a waitress in a restaurant for direction. If you are not in a tourist place, go to a shop or a restaurant and ask whether you can use their toilets.
- Strangers: You can use any excuse to talk with strangers. Sometimes just saying “hi” will work, and you can directly ask them questions to fulfill your “social curiosity”. Or you can make a compliment about her hat. Or you can ask for time or direction. Or you can say anything that is common among you, for example, you both volunteered in Habitat for Humanity.
- Alone: Traveling alone doesn’t necessarily result in loneliness. Loneliness happens when the thing that you think is important cannot be shared. You can find people to talk along the road. Try friendly people first.
- Stress: It is important, but a skill that is not easy to put in words. Try to cope with depression when you are traveling.
- Plan: You don’t need a detailed plan, but a general idea about where you want to go, so that you can ask people on the road when lost.
- Your own way of travel: Try to do travel in a way that you like. For example, if you like traveling by bike, do it as much as you can.
- Action: Don’t forget to actually do what you think you are supposed to do!
A Traveler’s Guide to Thinking
How hard is thinking, anyway?
I used to do a lot of meta-thinking, the kind of thinking that fixes its own problem. Rationality, for example, proved to be really useful. There was a time when I was suffering from depression, and rationality’s attitude towards truth and fear largely saved my life. I was so excited every time when I met a rationalist on the Internet.
I also did a lot of thinking about programming, and about things related to Hacker. I developed my idea of writing a Lisp kernel, of the first-class predicate, and of a Lisp Machine operating system. Each time I got a new idea of programming, I was so excited that I wanted to tell all people around me.
But there isn’t a lot of hackers, nor rationalists, on the road when you are traveling, is it?
“Don’t close your mind,” Ariana Maki once told me, “because there will be a lot of different things when you travel, and you need to see them.”
I saw the over-decorated buildings in Rome, the reuse and the recycle Roman churches did in ancient time, as well as the details and the perspective of drawings in Uffiz Museum. When I saw them, what bumped into my mind was some new thoughts about history, about design, about art, and about all the things I saw when I traveled. I thought about my old stop-and-think approach, which is an approach when you see things, and stop, and clam for several hours, and then make up your minds. I thought about how it wouldn’t work because our lives are moving.
I went to San Marino, and thought about my childhood dreams. I thought about my efforts and the realization of that naive dream. A dream is a dream, anyway.
In Dubrovnik, I saw all the birds, the people and the huge old clock in a square. I sat there, and thought about the uniqueness of a place or a person, and why we need to add time and connected details for its meaning. I saw the buildings moving upward the mountain, and thought about beauty.
I listened to a woman talking about the Croatian wars, and thought about why she used the world “conflict” instead of “war”. I thought about why in my own culture, it is not that open for discussion about wars. I heard a girl talking about the American civil wars, and thought about why her grandfather, who was involved in that war, never talked about it. I thought about those “no man’s fault” which causes suffering, and thought about those “wars” that causes suffering by someone on purpose.
I listened to one of my friends talking about her mission of this trip – “art and coffee,” she said – and realized how weird it was because two months later, she described her mission again as “music and food”. I thought about my intention about not being a teacher, because I want to be with people smarter than me, not people that I need to teach.
The next day, I got drunk, and thought about the simple task of describing the experience of being drunk, and failed.
I went hiking in a lake, and thought about my own philosophy – about why it is related to my goal system, why it is like mathematics, why I have nearly lost it, why it may never work and why I will continue to seek for it. I looked at the waves of the lakes, and its reflections, and realized how different it is from the waves of the ocean that I saw on the ship. I thought about small talk, about how I should interact with people. I thought about the importance of thinking of present, and future, but not past, although we learn from history, and realized how interesting it was because two month later, I asked Noot the question “what are some fundamental things about the future that we don’t know” and she answered “the present”.
The night when I was in Dakar, I saw the ancient broken buildings cooperated with the city, a playground where kids laughed and played. I thought about how ancient things gain new life, and how people find peace, and the opposite of war. I went to the music lounge, where beautiful sounds were generated by ocean waves, and thought about my principles of writing – “well, I didn’t take photos, so I will try hard to make you imagine that.” The next morning on the bus, I thought about how important it is to say “oops”, to accept you are wrong.
I was mostly struggled about the meaning of travel when I was in Greece – the question is as hard as asking about the meaning of life. I joined a tour of homeless people, and thought about how many invisible things I had missed when traveling.
I cycled in Spain with two other friends. I thought about how people could be so determined. “Are you sure?” The shop assistant asked, didn’t believe that we were going to cycle from here to Barcelona. My friends said sharply “yes”. I thought about friends, and how they taught me a lot through their actions. We stopped in the middle to talk with a farmer whose language we didn’t speak. I thought about how I could be as determined and brave as them.
I went to Morocco, and thought about people who lived in the mountain. I went to Senegal, and thought about talking with people whose language you don’t know, and about the poverty there in Africa. I went to Brazil for hiking, and thought about how things would finally disappear. I thought about the art of travel, and the art of life. I thought about volunteering when I was in Trinidad, and I thought about travelers when I was in Costa Rica.
I also thought about a lot when I was sailing. Ziyan told me the brilliant idea of recording a place for 72 hours. Monica told me about dying languages, which reminded me of Lojban. Haimeng told me about how not to be that stressful, how to write an application or proposal, and left-behind children in China. They all reminded me of why I should be more serious about life and about my future, and why I should take actions now to find opportunities and alternatives.
How hard is thinking? Well, not that hard, if you first learn how to listen and how to see. We don’t think if we don’t see.
Travelers and Locals
Social curiosity is something that many people, especially nerds, strike hard to find. What would be the motivation for people to be interested in others if we can learn all the fun stuff from books, music and movies? If as the old saying goes, “what is drama, but life with dull bits cut”, then why don’t we watch drama to find all what we are interested in?
I met two travelers in Florence. We stayed in a hostel together with a local student. “When is the last day?” The local student asked with his Italian English. “It will be Saturday.” One of the two travelers said with his Canadian English. “Oh, come on. Yesterday was Tuesday.” I added with my Chinese English. We all burst into laughter. For us, criticizing the ambiguity of English – nearly the only thing we had in common –was fun and enjoyable.
When I was in San Marino, I asked for directions of a local people. “Good luck!” He said, in the warmest voice that I’d ever heard, and disappeared into the darkness of the night lights. In Naples, when I was lost and looking at the subway map on a wall, a young man approached and asked whether I need help. A young couple went back to their hotels and got me a map for directions. In Barcelona, a bike shop spent a whole afternoon to help me with my bike shipping issue. For us, warmth matters.
In Plitavic Lakes, I was hiking alone, a young woman talked with me. “Why are you traveling alone?” She said. In La Fortuna, when I reached the top of the mountain, a young couple and an old couple was excited to find other travelers. “Wow, you are from Russia, you are from Switzerland, you are from Costa Rica, and you are from China. This is like a summit.” They said. For us, meeting people and discovering new things itself, is simply exciting.
In Zadar, I stayed with a young man who didn’t know English but Croatian, but we figured out how to ask “where are you from?”. On the road from Valencia to Barcelona, I met a young farmer who didn’t know English but Spanish, but we talked about his plantation. In Dakar, I met a handsome guy who didn’t know English but French, but he showed me around the bird reserve. In Salvador, I met a man who didn’t know English but Spanish, but we talked for half an hour about his religion, and about the beautiful lake we were at. For us, the excitement proceeds even we don’t speak the same language.
I joined a tour guided by a homeless person in Athens. I met children from a far away village of Marrakech. In a national park in Brazil, we spent a whole afternoon trying to find diamonds with a local guide. For us, the invisible was released by people.
I remember when I was in La Fortuna, a young man found me, excitedly saying “are you Chinese”. I also remember when I was in San Jose, I met three people talking in that familiar entrepreneur style. For us, sometimes, we talk, just to find home.
Drama is fun, but there will be no drama if a life is never lived.
Reflection: The Meta Question
What is it to be learned?
There are two types of knowledge. The first one can be expressed in words, and the second one can’t. It is believed that successful people possess many of the second type of knowledge. At the same time, it is believed that those second type of knowledge is hard to learn, even if you stay all days and nights with those people who possess them. It is like learning to ride a bicycle – you can read books about how to ride a bicycle for a month, without actually knowing how ti ride it.
The other sad truth is that many important knowledges of the second type, which accelerates one’s life, are usually so fundamental, that people just forget to talk about it. So knowing those knowledge is like entering a conspiracy – nobody would tell you how to ride the bicycle, they would only encourage you to give it a try.
So when you are not at home, learning and reading books, the most important knowledge to learn is the second type.
The first important thing to learn is realization, or awareness. Realize that for all things you love, you need to strive, and be serious. Realize the importance of people around you. Realize that if you need help, you need to request. Realize that there are alternatives. Realize how to make efforts. And last but not least, realize that you need to realize.
The second important thing is about handling things in general. What you should first think about when you are in trouble. How to greet strangers in the first place. What to do if you are in a bad mood. How not to make a situation get worse.
The third one is the real skills. The skills of communication, of making friends, and of influence. The skills of being sincere. And most importantly, the skills of traveling.
However, do not forget all the classical things you are already good at – continue to learn them and get better at them wherever you are.