Before the end of every section of this global odyssey, I like to ask myself 5 big questions. I did the same after finishing the SE Asia section (here and here) , now I will do so with this (shortened) Latin American leg.
As an overview, the 5 questions I refer to are pulled from 2 seperate YT videos. They are:
- Who Did I Help?
- What Did I Learn?
- Who Am I?
- What Matters to Me?
- What Am I Good At?
So without further ado:
Who Did I Help
I would say the persons whom I helped is precious few this time around. There were no classrooms full of people that I was responsible for this time around. I’d like to think I helped my hosts when I was WWOOFing. And when I was busking, I made some kids smile (much to my surprise). Also during times like these when there are so few people moving around and travelers are a rarity, people are drawn to me being a native English speaker, which is of course no merit of mine, but kids and adults alike learned a thing or 2 about the English language from me.
What Did I Learn?
You can’t derive meaning from yourself. Part of the reason why I felt these past several months was not as fulfilling as it could have been is is that much of the human factor was taken out of account. Sure there was some interaction with other people, but most of it was fleeting.
Silence makes people uneasy. I’m a naturally quite person and am slow to disclose my thoughts, often times I even have trouble expressing them with words. This mystique so to speak that this silence leads to people asking about my thoughts and feelings about places and experiences. And my simple “good” response did not suffice. I suppose there is an element of power there when other people are hanging on your words. That is, since people care what you think but don’t know what it is you want, you can influence their behavior to benefit your interests. This could lead to an accumulation of more privileges (what you can or cannot do) or any of a number of other things.
But on the flip side, it also means that they won’t trust you. Being quiet and keeping your cards hidden so to speak means other people won’t understand your motivations and are therefore unsure if what you want lines up with what they want. Therefore people will be less willing to help you because they don’t know if helping you will help them (to be expanded upon later.
Guitar/Farming/Gardening: On to more tangible skills, I learned a thing or two about a musical instrument and horticulture which goes without explanation.
From those experiences I learned that when you are a novelty, you become a big fish in a small pond. A specific example with the guitar. My command of the art is rather limited. But being a foreigner (in Brazil) wailing in English, it turns heads and helps me stand out.
I met another guitar busker whom is a born and bred Brazilian, he has been playing for 20 years, me? 2 months. And I feel I get far more tangible (monetary) reward because I’m different (plus I have a cool Spanglish sign.)
Even so, the rewards aren’t much, with both busking and farming, there was little payoff with both. With farming specifically, I remember lying in the shade in the Yucatan in a puddle of sweat contemplating that I had done all this work to earn a roof over my head and some rice and beans. Or when I started losing my voice a bit after shouting in the streets for 2 hours to earn some ice cream. This honest (and common) has little payoff. Folks that take home the lions share of the pie offer a very specialized skill that is highly sought after and know it extremely well (ie. doctor, Fortune 500 CEO).
Another thought that comes to mind with busking specifically was how scared I was when doing it for the first time. It took 2 hours to work up the nerve to start. But each subsequent time, it got a bit easier, though those initial feelings were still there, just less pronounced. An alternative way to put it is that fear never goes away, it merely shrinks.
And during my time in Latin America, sightseeing, busking and farming, it has taken me to a radically different culture that is neither Eastern like in SE Asia nor Western during my college and post college year in the States. It is my first time being in an environment that is outside of the East/West blend I grew up with.
As such, I learned a thing or two about being somewhere very alien. One of these skills was to just observe a neighborhood and its people and be able to make a general inference on whether it is safe/unsafe, affluent/underprivileged. This is especially true in Latin America, a region of the world known for wide economic disparities and known as the most dangerous region of the world. Plus, just as a blind person develops an acute sense of hearing, my limited command of the local language (rendering me partially mute and deaf) increased my observational ability. The specifics of these skills go beyond the scope of this post.
On a related note, my time in Latin America, where I look different from everyone else has garnered a lot of questions from people I’ve interacted with. Each person that is a fusion of 2 or more cultures will have their own thoughts on “Where they’re from,” but in my case, I’ve always seen myself as more American then Chinese.
And in order to impart that onto other people, I’ve found I need to not lie necessarily, but withhold the truth or give a “politician’s answer” (“be economical with the truth”) when asked about my origins.
A few quick examples (to be elaborated on later)
Where are you from?
Instead of: My parents are from China
It’s: My parents are like me, they’re Americans (They are US citizens.)
What languages do you speak?
Instead of: I speak English, Cantonese and Mandarin fluently.
Its: I speak English mostly. And some Spanish during my time in Latin America and Thai during my time as a TEFL teacher
Its a matter of thinking to yourself, “What do I want this person to think of me?” Followed by: “How do I frame my responses to fit this mold?”
This is a practice I find incredibly distasteful and difficult to come to terms with. Often times though, doing what is necessary for your goals/interests is incongruent with what you think is right. Sometimes you need to “pick a side” between the former (getting what you want) or the later (what you think is right) and live with that choice.
And lastly, a little story about one of my last adventures in Brazil. While sailing down the Amazon River, a brilliant idea popped into my mind. I want to sail a boat down this river, the biggest in the world. I turned to my guide to ask, he got nervous and punted the request. But I kept asking and staring intently over the multiday trip until he relented and I got what I wanted (“I’ve sailed a boat down the Amazon before.”)
Sometimes you need to be audacious and ask (again to be elaborated later as this is getting really long.
Who Am I?
When I get asked what I’m doing and I respond that I’m a traveler, I feel as though there is something missing there. I want to be more then just a traveler. When people think of traveling, they think of a short trip or maybe a gap year, not the several years I plan on.
There has to be more then just going to a new location and taking in the sites.
I also learned that I’m an incredibly unpredictable person. Some of the places I’ve been in, I had no idea I’d be there a few days beforehand. I suppose that leads to the fact that I make people uneasy at times. Being so unpredictable.
And really I’m the type that is unafraid to pioneer, that is the first to do something. My mere presence stirs a lot of curiosity in the places I’ve been to say the least. The “firsts” I’ve been in are trivial to put it simply, but they are steps towards times when going out and rubbing up against the world in a specific angle means something. All the while also translating to a time when being at the “tip of the spear” as a manner of saying, actual amounts to some value.
What Matters to Me?
I want to be more then just a traveler or a backpacker. During some of my adventure in Latin America, I began feeling unhappy. Here I was in a foreign country (Brazil), taking in the sights as a tourist essentially while all the while I see long lines of people at banks.
I was informed they were among the 60 million Brazilians getting government handouts. And here I was, exploring on non essential travel. These folks are a modern embodiment of the soup lines of the Great Depression.
What did I do to deserve this? Just because I scraped and saved for a few years and I’m privileged to be born an American. It all feels so…hedonistic.
I did nothing to help these people and this reality adds fuel to the flame of me wanting to return to the States, tie off some loose ends and head to Africa where I plan on building real relationships and make a lasting impact.
What Am I Good At?
Starting with the most concrete. With the risk of sounding arrogant, I do think I’m pretty good at the guitar, given it was all within 2 months of learning and busking with no musical background.
This translates to the fact that I am good at picking up new skills when it is completely alien and I have a goal in mind. I have the patience and curiosity to learn something new. But once that “honeymoon” phase is over, I lack the desire to master the skill. I take it to the 80% mark and that’s that. Just as I’ve lost interest in the guitar in just over 2 months after hitting my objective.
I’ve done a lot of things that seemed scary these past several months:
- Continuing on the Global Odyssey and flying to Mexico back in April when everyone said it was a bad idea.
- Jumping onto local transport in different countries where I didn’t know where it was going and unable to communicate (verbally), sometimes getting laughed off by locals
- Living and working in farms when I’ve always defined myself as a city boy
- Standing on a park bench and busking with a guitar in a foreign country with 5 weeks of practice
- Spending a few nights in Rio’s favelas (slums) that are reputed for drugs and violence.
To sum that up, I’m good at pushing mental limits, things that seem scary at first, but in hindsight, I’m glad I did.
Kingston S. Lim
September 11, 2020
Rio de Janeiro
Life Update: Onward back to San Francisco.
About Kingston’s Journey Series: Kingston’s Journey is a lifelong series. This is the travel journal I take with me. Whether you have questions such as how to change my life or how to travel the world, I think you’ll find value in the life lessons I’ve experienced and documented in this travel notebook. They may serve as travel inspiration for you. In Chinese, there is a saying, “讀萬卷書,不如行千里路.”
This means, instead of reading ten thousand books, why don’t you walk a thousand miles. This is my inspiration to travel every nation (or as many as possible) in my pursuit of my global MBA by learning as much as possible and recording these life lessons learned only by travel. In the end, I think the achievement of dreams, personal growth & aspirations out there through travel and adventure will lead to a more fulfilling life. Living and experiencing the “now” is how I’ll make my life a great memory in the future.