The smell of Bali is burning–burning rubble and trash. The sounds, upon waking: tropical birds, thousands of motorcycles revving up and the occasional monkey in a tree. Look up into the sky and see dozens of kites, flown by local children.
The island of Bali is approximately 130 square kilometers. On that island, I have been told, there are at least 60,000 temples. Most family compounds have one and nearly every night, there is a temple ceremony that happens only “once every ten years”. Some 90% of the inhabitants on the island of Bali consider themselves artists–typically rice farmers by day and artists by night. Spirituality infuses nearly all aspects of life–from the morning they awake to the time they go to bed, the Balinese are perpetually aware of their spiritual selves.
I have also spent a lot of time in Taiwan. Taiwan feels like chaos. My first lesson in Taoism was in driving a scooter through the maze of streets and alley ways of Taichung, the cultural capital of Taiwan. Go with the flow. Go with the flow, lest you end up on the street in a high speed scooter spill. Been there and done that. Terrifying.
Between the early summer of 2000 and through the late summer of 2001, I traveled through Taiwan, Indonesia, Nepal, India and Hong Kong. It was a journey of absolute adventure. My then girlfriend and I got caught up in a jewelry scam in Bangkok and experienced open cremations upon holy waters in Nepal, cremation ceremonies in Bali, was blessed by Brahman (Hindu holy men) at both temple ceremonies and mystical cave entrances at the edge of the ocean. We were nearly robbed in Agra, India by thugs attempting to cut our backpacks from the locks we had secured them with and experienced Taoist street theatre that involved Taoist monks flogging themselves with razor spiked clubs to the point of mass bleeding and eventual loss of consciousness.
I found that if you open yourself to adventure, that opportunity pours forth. I found that adventure is around us all of the time. When we seek it out, it then finds us. Whatever you seek–whatever motivation or desire you have–you can find it, if you look.
In all of these travels, Taiwan resonated the most for me. Perhaps it was the feeling of abandon, of freedom. This was a sweet freedom–like none I had known before.
In Taiwan, I did not understand the cultural taboos and social imprinting. I became illiterate, as I could not read Chinese. Through an act of tremendous generosity and serendipity, I was given a long-term loan on a motorcycle (harley hog style–virtually new), upon which to ride, for free. Motorcycles really are the horses of the modern age–same sense of freedom, exposure and adventure, I suppose. All of these elements culminated in a sense of freedom, a feeling that I could do whatever I wanted. That sense was likely founded in ignorance, for one can quickly learn how vulnerable they are as a stranger in a strange land. Nonetheless, the feeling was there and was…delightful.
In each of the countries I visited, theatre erupted on the streets. “Just listen for the gongs or firecrackers”, I would here. Sure enough. Bang! Crack! Bang! Look towards the sound and see some three meter puppets marching down the street, preceded and followed by a religious spectacle. In Asia, I saw “Theatre of Necessity”. The theatre I saw throughout Asia was less about putting butts in seats and getting reviews and more about a connection to the divine. It was unlike anything I had known prior, despite my years of theatrical study in the US.
Many friends of mine have gotten seduced by the allure of unbridled freedom and adventure and become, what is commonly referred to by the ex-pat community, as “casualties of Asia”. These are westerners who go over and are seduced, never to return to their previous lives.
Ultimately, I did come back to the US. I wanted to see if there was anything I could salvage from the relationship I had been in prior. Am I a hopeless romantic? Perhaps. However, that was not meant to be and as a result of my returning, I could not financially afford to dive back into Asia. Thus, that particular Asian adventure (there have been some since and I hope for more in the future) ended. Then began my next adventure.
“What did I learn from Asia?”, I have often asked myself. Asia was, for me, a process of shedding what I thought I “should be doing” and embracing what I wanted to do…whatever that was. Asia was about experiencing unbridled personal liberty, which I found in droves. Asia was my first real foray into “sucking out the marrow of life”, in the words of Thoreau. It also served as a deeply introspective time period, in which, I found myself in the belly of the whale…constantly questioning my choices, constantly questioning my future…Yet, I stayed on the adventure.
I have had a love affair with Asia in many parts. This beautiful part of the world pulls at me and I have no doubt I will have many returns and new adventures to come.