Thursday, December 16, 2010

Holiday in Cambodia

Well I finally hit the big 30! Countries that is. (I passed that age barrier awhile ago). 30 countries and 4 continents.

I first went traveling when I was 19 and embarked on a 4 month youth hostel/eurail tour of Europe. It was very exciting planning the trip: getting my passport, buying my youth hostel card, picking up the latest copy of Let's Go Europe. It wasn't until I was on the plane and the pilot announced that we would be landing in Amsterdam in about 20 minutes, that I went into a panic. It had never occurred to me until that moment that I didn't have a clue what I was doing. I was about to land in a country where I did not speak the language, I knew no one, I didn't know where I was going to sleep, and I didn't even know how to get out of the airport. Had I the power of levitation I never would have let that plane land. But it landed alright. And I did manage to find my way out of the airport and even found a place to sleep.

When I returned from that trip I was a different person. It inspired me to go to university to learn stuff about the world because I was actually interested in it. It inspired me to go to art galleries and museums because the stuff in them could be cool. And most importantly it inspired me to continue traveling.

My next trip was 6 month venture into Africa, and that trip is a blog entry unto itself.

Most recently I returned from a trip to Cambodia. Many things have changed since I first started traveling, and most of them are me, but not all. For this trip I purchased an iPod touch. This is a big advancement for me. On my early trips I never even brought a camera; I thought it would spoil the experience. With my iPod I could listen to tunes, surf the net, watch movies and tv shows, take photos, book hotel rooms, send e-mails, and follow how the Canucks were doing. I even had an electronic guide to Bangkok (where I had a stop over). I've never felt so connected while I've been away. Sure there have been internet cafes, and computers in hotel lobby's for years, but I've only ever used them marginally. But when you have a computer that you can carry in your pocket, and almost every bar and restaurant in town (well the tourist parts of town anyway) has wifi, it's hard to resist.

However, I couldn't help but feel there was something lost as something was gained. I doubt that I will travel without my iPod touch (or something of its ilk) in the future. It was like having an electronic version of a Swiss Army Knife. But there is something that has been lost in the travel experience in this electronic age. That sense of really being away. I met a number of young travelers who didn't know a world without instant connectivity.

I am proud to say that only once did I regal the younger generation on how it used to be. I met a couple of young guys from the US who were traveling South East Asia for 4 months at a restaurant/bar in Kampot. They were telling me about their adventure and how they were relaying them back to their parents (who were duly shock) via skype, email and facebook. I couldn't help but tell them how it used to be, about having to arrange for friends and family to send mail to an American Express office in some country where you would eventually be. First you had to send them a postcard telling them where to send mail and by when. And then hope that the timing worked out. In a developing country like Cambodia the process took about 6 weeks. The young lads looked at me like I was telling them about the pony express.

The thing they may never understand, purely based on the world they were born into, is how exciting receiving an envelope in the American Express office, half a world from home, could be; the anticipation, the weeks of hoping and the utter exhilaration of holding something concrete from home in your hand. Those are moments you never forget. They remind you how far away from your world you really are. And that distance is something that we have lost with technology. Even if you choose to eschew it all, you always know it is there if you need it.

The world may not be getting smaller, but really getting away is getting harder and harder. This doesn't diminish any of the beauty and intrigue of visiting foreign countries. It just the experience of separation from your own world and everything that you know has slowly faded away and a new experience has taken its place.

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