Unplugging For 21 Days

I left Beijing at 2pm on January 26th, 2017, on a train bound for Shanghai. Only two people knew I was leaving, a friend who holds my door key, and my daughter who is both my daughter and best friend. The parting message was simple:

I am retreating from the madness we call society, and I will not be in communication for several weeks; you know what to do if you do not hear from me after 21 days.’’

I packed a small bag containing 2 pants, 3 tops, camera and associated equipment (lens and tiny tripod, nothing major), a cell phone (camera) a laptop (journaling is important when travelling; besides, that laptop is the gatekeeper of my itinerant life — real and cyber), some almonds (I am a vegetarian, and often find myself in a tight spot for food), walking shoes, an extra pair of socks, dental floss, a toothbrush, and a sparse few unmentionables. Nothing more.

The train pulled out at precisely 1400 hours — God bless the Chinese’s efficiency! The ride was long, but I needed the time to purge, debrief (a term that remains with me from my military days) and talk to myself (since I am my own best advocate, and sometimes worst enemy, we have regular scheduled sessions).

As we plunged through 5.5 hours of umbral space and uninteresting farmland, interspersed with modernising Chinese cities, I allowed the banality of my surroundings to flush the heartaches, nostalgia, and general anxieties of life and it’s train of phenomenal desires, which had accumulated during the past nine months that I been residing in the bustling Chinese metropolis.

I mentally drew lines through all of the ‘what ifs’ and made peace with all the things that I felt could collapse in my absence, this period of ‘going incognito’ — my ailing father could die, my realtor could get a very good offer on my house in Indianapolis, the tenants could have a catastrophe, something terrible could happen with my children, I could die. The list of possibilities was endless, but the train rattled, rolled, whizzed, and hummed, as it continued to put distance between me and every potential damnation I was sloughing as we sped heedlessly into what promised to be, for me, a blissful oblivion.

21 days of unplanned roaming through Shanghai, Hong Kong, Macau, and Thailand ensued; I occupied myself nyamming street food, crashing in mixed dorm rooms in hostels, ferrying around to various islandic destinations, and trekking various mountainous peaks to seek that enviable solace, not offerred elsewhere.

On the beach on Phi Phi island (Thailand), getting my face and arm painted so that I can glow in the dark :)

At the end of it all, I returned home to find that contrary to my elitist expectation, and frankly quite disappointingly, the world had not stop revolving!….crushing to the ego, right!?

The sun shone brighter than I remembered of the days before I left; my flat was still standing, just as I had left it, except for the accummulation of dust; noon-time traffic buzzed by just as raucously; all around there was gaiety, laughter, scowling, and bartering just as before; and the chilly, indiscriminate Beijing wind still rushed up to enfold me, and caress me with icy fingers as it does every mid-February. Even the trees had not donned any new clothes, they still shamelessly sported naked, brown, wiry branches and a white-washed trunk (not sure why the Chinese paint the tree trunks white during the wintertime).

The only thing different was me!

I was thinner (yeah, I know, didn’t think it was possible to get any thinner, right?!) from all the trekking, hiking, and exploration; tired from long flights and stringent airports; and chocked full of memories, thoughts, good life lessons, and fresh ideas born of a good purging and recreation.

During this time of self-imposed proscription, I had deconstructed some myths, demystified the social media hype, and probably scandalised some neighbourhoods by running around in a cavalier, unkempt, shoeless manner. I learnt many things about myself, reacquainted myself with the narrow perception of others (no surprises there!), and reaffirmed the astounding capacity of the beautiful universal mind.

The poignant aspects that emerged from this experience are that:

  1. THERE IS A HUGE, MARVELOUS, UNDERGROUND WORLD THAT OPERATES INDEPENDENT OF SOCIAL MEDIA AND TECHNOLOGY, AND IT IS CALLED THE HUMAN CONNECTION…scandalous, I know!
THE HUMAN CONNECTION: Out for dinner with my warm, friendly, new-found, HUMAN friends; Phuket, Thailand

2. THE UNIVERSE PROVIDES, ABUNDANTLY. All that it asks in return is a smile and a kind word…..no kind words today? Okay, then just a smile.

3. IF YOU TRUST OTHERS AND ALLOW YOURSELF TO FALL, THE UNIVERSE WILL RESCUE YOU. There is always someone paranormally placed in your path to extend a hand, and to provide that which you seek (contingent upon you being open, amiable, and accepting).

4. YOU REALLY DO NOT NEED 2 SUITCASES (AIRLINE ALLOWANCE) FULL OF FEEL-GOOD STUFF TO HAVE A GREAT VACATION (believe me, there is endless crap for every deficit that you have that every country is dying to sell you), and you especially do not need all the ‘comfort’ paraphernalia and frou frou that you convince yourself is necessary to make you ‘’beautiful’’ and attractive. The most attractive feature about you is…..just being YOU.

5. BAREFOOT IS THE NEW NIKE! I love walking around barefoot. It is so primal and earthly. It recharges and restores my connection to nature. I used to do this quite a bit as a child, then somewhere along the way, I was broken into the notion that something was ‘wrong’ with that, so I ran around like a prissy princess thinking that it was sacrilegious for my feet to know the likes of Mother Earth. And doing this again in Thailand beach areas was particularly wonderful because most of the terrain is sandy beaches, and almost everyone you encounter don’t really give a rip if you are wearing shoes or riding in on Santa’s sleigh.

6. THE AIRPORT OFFICIALS PAY CLOSE ATTENTION WHEN A SOLITARY INDIAN GIRL TRAVELS ON A RED-EYE FLIGHT, WITH JUST A SMALL BACKPACK AND NO CHECK-IN LUGGAGE, especially if in appearance and dress she looks like one of Charley’s Angels. On the plus side, it is one way to get special attention (yeah, and I need that like I need an Iphone that tracks my location!)

7. THE WORLD ROTATES PERFECTLY FINE WITHOUT ME! Yeah, disappointing, really! But that’s the reality……uhm, pardon me, but now I will toddle off to go call my therapist! Oh, guess I do need that cell phone!?

Image courtesy of Unsplash