Tuesday, 1 October 2002

THE JOY OF TRAVEL - PROLOGUE



Why? Couldn't tell you…
Last week, spent too much, drank too much, ate not enough. Strange times... Feel I will miss England, winter a season of some content. Too much time to anticipate my return; neither fearful nor hopeful, happy nor sad. Asia Minor, the least fond continent, now to be conquered because it’s cheap. New Zealand awaits; in-between mystery and chore. But why?  Couldn't tell you…
The flight wasn't as bad one might think. From the window I'm guessing Afghanistan: an eerie landscape, flat, parched and populated with black dots. How I’d loath to be going there.


It wasn't my idea to go. It was my companion, she wanted to go. And then S wanted to go, and then I figured I may as well go too because I’d been saying for months how I had taken my job as far as I could and, really, it was about time I moved on. So what better time to indulge in that modern day Grand Tour they call “travelling”?
A well-travelled friend of mine always said that she could imagine that I was the sort who would take to seeing a bit of the world. Another had regaled me with tales pertaining to the islands off Thailand’s east coast, which he made sound suitably appealing. Still I was unsure, and if my cadre had not pressed the issue, rather than just discuss its possibility for the previous two years – which she had done – then I may well have never got around to giving this travelling lark a go.
Logistically, you see, the whole operation seemed more hassle than it was worth. What’s more, I had no idea about how one actually went about something like this, or the time it was supposed to take. Because the anecdotal evidence that was passed on to me often skimmed over such banalities, homing in instead on the kicks and the culture shocks, the distances travelled and the people one might expect to encounter. No matter how much I heard first-hand about what it was actually like to lead an itinerant existence in some far off land, there remained a not insignificant lacuna at the heart of my perception.
If these sound like excuses then they probably are, for they were easily sublated: wasn’t finding out for myself supposed to be all part of the adventure?

It is worth mentioning that at the time of my departure the USA and the UK were making serious noises about going to war against Iraq. I cannot quite remember at what stage proceedings were at the time, but I do seem to recall that UN sanctioned weapons inspections were being given a final chance to come up with the goods. It was Colin Powell’s belief – the then US Secretary of State – that to go through the proper channels would eventually force the UN to acquiesce and support whatever action the United States deemed necessary, which turned out not to be the case. Anyway, I remember receiving emails conveying a sense of apprehension and gloom as to the direction in which Anthony Blair – the then British Prime Minister – was taking the country. By the time I reached Laos, I think people were involving themselves in mass protest. In Cambodia I was too caught up in that nation’s own tragic past to notice. And finally, whilst in New Zealand, it all kicked off big time.
CNN, the BBC World News Service and the delightful Bangkok Post conveyed this information, and it was with interest – and relief that I was out of it, so to speak – that I watched yet another epoch emerge: that of unapologetic global policing by the richest nation(s) in the world – a New World Order insanely convinced of its precocity – although one could have little sympathy for the mess Saddam Hussein and his droogs had got themselves into (the man was a brute, make no mistake).
For the first month of my journey this was all merely background. I found the local news in the Bangkok post more intriguing, along with alarmingly challenging crosswords and the cartoon strip Bizarro. But perhaps the most significant impact all this had was on how one became very mindful of being mistaken for a citizen of the United States of America. Such concerns were supplemented when one met Canadians.
On my return to England, my friend, J, whose travelling had extended way beyond my own, told me of how somewhere in a remote region of Laos he was mistaken for an American, with potentially sinister consequences. Riding a public bus, it became apparent that the locals took a strong dislike to J’s presumed country of origin. They had very little understanding of the English language, so protests to the national contrary fell on deaf ears. With events becoming all the more heated, J eventually stumbled upon two words they understood: David and Beckham. On uttering these units of language the prospect of conflict quickly dissipated and J suddenly found himself with many friends. It is a reflection of the stamp of the respect that this accidental ambassador carries that the mere mention of him can extricate an Englishman from a potentially violent situation. So if you are ever caught in a far flung place, with hostile people wary of your sovereignty all around you, then just declare yourself English: 'You know, like David Beckham.’