“I was expecting this to change my life,” said the man as he took the seat across from me. The business class lounge in Frankfurt was, as always, busy, so you took whatever you could get. “I’m so amazed how little for me has changed.”
The guy was about my age, mid-thirties, in reasonable shape if a bit pudgy in the middle. He had only a briefcase with him, and it appeared that he hadn’t had a shower or shave in a day or so. I just grunted a reply, and pretended to ignore him by staring out the windows at the ballet of aircraft on the tarmac. My new companion was not deterred.
“This is yet another trip overseas, and I’m still not convinced its as big a deal as people say.”
I was starting to not like this person, but something in me decided I just had to learn more. “Really,” I replied, “I take it this isn’t your first trip, then?” I tried to scoot my bags back a bit, to hide the collection of frequent-flyer plastic cards that festooned the handles. I still had two hours before I had to leave for the gate.
“My third, actually, although this time I’m not circumnavigating the planet.”
“Well, then, you must have some interesting stories to tell.” I had to see where this was going.
“A couple. One time, I had this nasty, nasty landing. The guy must have bounced the plane 3 times before it finally stuck to the ground. It really rattled my teeth.”
“Where was that?”
“Flying into Zurich. It was a heck of a trip.”
“And where are you off to now?”
“Zurich again. I’ve some time before my next flight.”
Judging from his accent, he was from Canada, most likely Toronto. I’ve found them to be like that. I decided to get more personal, and leaned forward to extend my hand.
“Tim. From Toronto.” Bingo. The one consolation, at least he wasn’t an American. They are typically the most annoying travellers. I should know, being as I am one, and I travel with them all of the time. My travelling companion, currently nowhere to be seen, was also from Canada, but from Vancouver. Much less pretentious from out there. She must still be in the shower.
“So, why is it your life should have changed?”
“Well, my first trip was to India, and man was that weird. I would have figured that being somewhere like that would have been one of those life-altering events. It certainly was a once-in-a-lifetime trip. You ever been there?”
“For a few days. I quite liked it.”
“I hated it. Bad food, bad air, lots of lazy people with nothing to do but try to carry your luggage for you. I think I got a pretty good feel for the place though. Even not liking it, I think I got to know the country fairly well.”
Okay, I decided I didn’t like this guy at all. Most Canadians were generally pretty open-minded and pleasant about other places. Maybe this guy was a Yankee in a maple leaf.
“I don’t know, I didn’t find it that bad. Sure, there’s lot of people, but I wouldn’t use the word lazy. It’s the Karma thing, you know.”
From the blank look on his face, it appears he didn’t know. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Kelly sidling up, and from the look on her face, she wasn’t about to rescue me from this guy. She took an empty seat with her back to us, obviously so she could overhear our little tete-a-tete. I decided that some entertainment was required, and would play this guy a bit.
“So, what part of India were you in?”
“Bujarat, gungarut, something. Its in the northwest.”
“Yeah, that’s it. Nasty place. Couldn’t get a drink or a decent meal the whole time I was there.”
“You must have been in Ahmedabad then.”
“Uh huh. Visiting a couple of software services companies, to see if they could help us out. I was the one to made that decision. India is full of companies like that, and they work for cheap. I heard from some guys that Ahmedabad was the place to look.”
“Really. I found I had better luck in places like Bangalore myself.”
“Bangalore? Where’s that?”
“South Central India. Its sort-of like their Silicon Valley. Lots of technology companies, doing lots of good work. Ahmedabad really is more of a manufacturing town, mainly textiles. Oh, and Gujarat is a dry province. No alcohol.”
I could tell that Tim wasn’t convinced, and wasn’t going to like to be “impressed” by someone else. I could hear Kelly snicker a little while she purportedly read her book. It was amazing that she was on the same page now since she sat down. Time to turn the conversation in a slightly different direction.
“So, some rough landings in your travels?”
“Yeah, buddy augured in pretty good in Zurich.” Okay, so the guy’s not a pilot either. If he really had augured in, Tim wouldn’t be talking to me, he’d be a charred hulk in a plastic bag. Whatever.
“You ever land in a typhoon?”
“Ah, no. I don’t think so.”
“It’s a big storm, called hurricanes in the Atlantic.”
“Oh, that. Yeah, I was caught in one landing in Bombay. Made for a few bumps on approach, but we came through okay.”
“What strength was it? Force 5, 6, something like that?”
“Probably about a force 8 or 9, I think.” He apparently doesn’t know typhoons either. Having landed in the middle of a force 7 myself, its more than “a few bumps”. Back to the original topic.
“What were you expecting to change?”
“In your life? You said you had expected your life to have changed.”
“Huh? Oh, yeah, that. I just figured that, being on the other side of the world, in such a different place, that I would have a different perspective on my own life. I don’t feel a whole lot different.”
“My first trip was underwhelming as well, I found.”
“Oh, it wasn’t underwhelming. It was just, I don’t know, disappointing? Something.”
“Did you eat in any local places? Take in any historical sights?”
“I worked and hung out in the hotel. There wasn’t that much to see.”
“Oh, what you should have done is taken a autorick to Gandhi’s Ashram, or hired a car to take you to the Step Wells. Of course, there are some open air markets where you can get some good quality clothes, for really cheap.”
“So you’ve been there before?”
“A couple of times.” I took a sip of my soda. He gulped down some beer. A beer would have been tempting, but I hate the way it makes me need to take a leak right at takeoff. Stay hydrated, that’s the real traveler’s mantra. “So, you didn’t really feel that it changed you?”
“Not a whit. It also confirmed my expectations of the place. Dirty, smelly and lots of people sitting around doing nothing.”
The guy hadn’t expected to change. Why would he think that he would. “What was your route back? That must have been the trip you flew around the world.” Circumnavigation was a pretentious term used by people who have done it once, and will probably never do it again, at least in my opinion. I didn’t have the heart to tell the guy I had been around four times, that I was partway through number five, and my second this year.
“I came back through Hong Kong. I managed to spend a day there. That was fun, although not as exciting as I thought it would be.”
“Did you go to Stanley Market, shopping on Nathan Road, go up the Peak or see Aberdeen?”
“Uh, no. Wait, I did check out some places on, what was it? Nathan Road. I slept the rest of the time. What’s the Peak?”
I was in the process of formulating my reply, when a female voice came on the intercom in German. I caught the gist of it as she transitioned into English.
“Mr. Wilson. Mr. Tim Wilson. Please identify yourself to the agent at the desk. Thank you.”
Tim stood up, puzzled. “That’s me. Watch my stuff?” Another rookie mistake. I nodded slightly, but he wasn’t even looking at me. He hurried off to the desk, and Kelly turned around and smiled in my direction. I could tell she wanted to say something, but she turned back while Tim returned. He was in a hurry.
“Damn! They called my flight, and I’m in the wrong terminal. Gotta go. Nice talking with you.”
We shook hands, and Tim scurried off to the door. Kelly took Tim’s seat. I exhaled. “What a piece of work.”
“The guy goes halfway around the world, to the wrong place for the wrong thing, and claims to have higher expectations.”
“Sounds like it.”
“If he was honest with himself, he wouldn’t have expected anything to change. Besides, expecting your life to change based on one trip is pretty, I don’t know, optimistic? Over-ambitious?”
“You know who he reminds me of?”
“You, after your first trip to India. More arrogant, mind you, but similar.”
“I wasn’t like…”
“Sure you were, in some ways. We all were. Having high expectations for a life-altering event, only to find that so much is the same all over the world.”
I paused and thought about Kelly’s comment for a moment. “I guess you’re right. I suppose it mainly just being naïve, expecting so much from just one event.”
“It’s the sum total, not the one that makes the difference. Some single events will always been significant: birth, marriage, death, things of that magnitude. Going a long distance to see other people once isn’t usually enough. A trip like that will change a person, but in ways that are hard to detect. It’s the cumulative effect that shows, and that takes time.”
“So I guess the change did me some good?”
“It sure did.”
Author’s Notes: I wrote this back after I had been travelling extensively for a few years, so some of this is personal experience. I also figured that, with any sort of travel essentially curtailed, it would be nice to write something about it.