Monday, May 16, 2005

A short story in a far away land.

After Cuyo, Josh travels to Palawan. A thin strip of land, undeveloped, split in half by an ugly, dirty town, Peurto Princesca. He feels good, refreshed, renewed, his spirit quenched after his days of solitude on Cuyo´s quiet beach. On the morning of his arrival he meets two German women and spends his next three evenings in their company. A fine dinner, two nights of drunken singing with the locals. He ships more things home from his pack. Lightening his load, mentally preparing for a long road ahead. He shops for better shoes, but can not find them. One day he visits an underground river and rides a boat into its mouth with a loud girl from Manilla. A rich Filipino, not very attractive, young and overbearing.
After much thinking, Josh abandons an idea to travel by boat to Borneo and arranges a flight to Kota Kinabalu. As he arrives he is struck by the number of tourists, there seem to be so many. After the Philipines, it is like falling into a bucket of fresh water, clean streets, modernity. Excitement rises and he draws a crowd of travellers to him, socializes, listens, talks. He meets several travellers searching for their path and feels that he has helped them on their way. A pleasant feeling.
Josh leaves the city and climbs a nearby mountain. He feels tremendous excitement as he ascends the staired pathway. He feels his energy is limitless. I am made for this he thinks. Though many other people are climbing and left before him he passes them and arrives at the base camp before all others. In the early morning the climbers leave again to complete the summit. Josh decides to leave last, he knows he´s a fast climber he will still make the sunrise. He starts to climb, and becomes clogged on the narrow trail behind some french students. He begins to worry, I want to make it before sunrise. So he passes them and begins to climb quickly. No rest seems needed, just push on. One step, two steps, he passes more people. Soon there are fewer lights ahead, he pushes on and passes more. I don´t want to miss the sunrise, he thinks. A more devious thought enters his mind, what would it be like to reach the top first? This thought is not on the surface, his desire to be humble, his repressive mind, pushes it down, but it is there. A far more diligent motivation. A tick, a mark of success. I am sure there are more people ahead he thinks, and justifies his driven march. The night is dark, no moon, he steps upon the rocky landscape. Past the treeline he drives onward, rocky, spectacular terrain. He walks in near darkness, his cheap headlamp providing little light. He pauses for one moment, looks up and the unmasked stars are breathtaking. He feels his heart pound, and feels more alive than possible. Looking back, a snaking trail of light, his followers, one seems close so he returns to his task with renewed vigour. In the final steps he allows the glory of his victory, the beauty of the mountain, and the love of his creator to flow into him and stands rapturously atop the rocky, frozen peak. The milky way aglow above, a storm of lightning below. A small piece feels guilty pride. Most else feels love and excitement.
After the mountain Josh travels by boat to Brunei and a mysterious illness affects him on the island of Labuan. A day and a half are lost in a murky, feverish haze. He leaves with wild, unreal memories of a pale, ugly room, cockroaches walking about as he dances atop his bed to the trance beats in his head.
In Brunei, he rests and recovers, very little energy. A short swim each day, a lot of food. It suits the place.
From Brunei Josh travels by bus and small plane into the Malaysian jungles at Guning Mulu and Bako national parks. He spends the next three weeks trekking where he sees snakes, monkeys, lizards, snails, orangutans, butterflies, beetles and bats. He walks and walks but notices his energy is never as high as on the mountain. Still, he feels good. He thinks a lot about life, and enjoys the company of fellow travellers. In the jungle he sees many patterns reflected. The jungle draws you in, he thinks, you can not stand in the jungle and not become part of it. It will involve you, whether you want to be involved or not. You can not see far in the jungle, you can not see why the trail turns this way or that. It is only when you climb upon a rise and rest that you can see the trail behind, and why it turned the way it did. You can look to the trail ahead and see where it might go. He climbs another mountain, smaller, and goes in some caves. He floats on some rivers and sees some large fish. Eventually he comes to an empty beach. Where he spends the day in quiet company and writes a poem. He now knows change is on the horizon.
A deadline pushes Josh to Singapore and he goes to meet his friend Brian. It is Brian´s birthday and he thinks, I want to share this birthday with him. This means a lot to Brian, and it will mark a difference in our friendship. They spend a few days together and enjoy the time, travelling to Kuala Lumpur. However, a turn is approaching and Josh leaves to walk alone again for a few days. He stops in Malaka on his way to an island on the east coast, and spends time with a French woman travelling with her 8 year old daughter. The pair are interesting, and he believes he may learn something about his own family from them. He never makes it to the island. Finally he returns to Singapore and catches a flight to Sweden. An old friend has contacted him to come start a business in Stockholm. It sounds interesting, and two books suggest it is the way to go. So he begins to think about work again, and what the future holds. As he rides the flight he tries to root his new ideals firmly in his mind. Tries to keep his tenuous hold on the present. It is very difficult.
Josh arrives in Europe, and transferring in Amsterdamn he feels the excitement of being back in western life. White skin everywhere, clean, independent, edges, empty, it feels like home. Stockholm´s streets seem forlorn and lonely, "Where are the people?" he thinks.

He meets his friend, who seems younger than he´d envisioned. Still, he seems kind, perhaps he is more grown up. They go to the small apartment he will now call home for some time and Josh meets his friend´s girlfriend. He gives her the gift he had brought, a silk scarf, purple with gold trim, from little india in Singapore. He had not bargained hard with the attractive indian girl, "Why build karma against my business?", he had thought. He takes his first hot shower and stands a long time under the water. I am "home", he feels. That evening Josh and his hosts attend a birthday party for an Iraqi girl with her family. The food is fantastic and he says, "Who would have thought I would travel all the way to Sweden to eat Iraqi food?". He feels very witty, it´s a good joke, he thinks, and the people laugh and seem to like him more.

The evening goes well as they visit the cities nightlife, Josh feels bold, confident, alive. The next day he writes some emails, and calls home for the first time in months. There is a party going on and he tells the joke about the Iraqi food to a group of listeners. His father asks him to tell the story about the knife fight in the Philipines and so he does.

In the days that follow Josh reminds himself he wants to be kind, and generous, to make new friends. He feels he is going to settle here for some time. So he compliments the people around him and is energetic and positive, one day he compliments a woman on her jacket and she feels that he is hitting on her. She does not feel the comment appropriate with her boyfriend present. He thinks back to some other strange reactions he has experienced and then Josh realizes he is still in a strange land.

"After travelling in Asia this seems so much like home I have forgetten where I am.", he thinks. Then he smiles to himself and knows he will adapt. It is really pretty funny. At least my intentions were good. The next day he writes some emails to his friends and family with a witty joke about the other, other side of the world.