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REFLECTIONS ON PREPARING FOR A TRIP

January 16, 2018. So, I started to write this a couple weeks before we take off, on January 18, for Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. (You may wonder, since we were just in Vietnam in October, why didn’t we just do Thailand, Laos and Cambodia then? Well, we didn’t realize that they were all so close. No, actually, we did realize that, but we could not stay long enough to see all of these countries on one trip, which would have taken a month.) A couple weeks before departure is about the time that I typically think, jeez, we’re really going to do this trip, aren’t we.

Right next to me, on my desk, sit four large books about Angkor Wat that our friend, Mike Lewis, loaned to us when we first signed up for the trip, about a year ago.  Until last week, I had not opened the books and now that I have, I’m overwhelmed.  So, when you’re overwhelmed, what do you do? You start to wax philosophical about preparation for a trip.

Mike’s books are full of wonderful photos that I’ll certainly look at. But there are also a whole lot of words and dates and unpronounceable names in those books.  What do I do about those?

There’s no question in my mind that the more you know about something the richer your experience can be.  Up to a limit, though.  Do I need to remember the name Jayavarman VII, or know that Ta Prohm is the terrestrial counterpart of the star Eta Draconis?  Of what real value is that going to be?  More importantly, how am I going to work that into a cocktail party conversation?  And am I really going to remember whether something was built in the late twelfth or early fourteenth century?

Is it worth trying to cram some of this stuff into my head, even if I’m not going to remember it, long term, because short term, maybe I’ll remember some stuff and that will enhance my experience while I’m there, or at least allow me to ask a question of the guide that will dazzle others on the trip with my apparent knowledge and grasp of the historical/cultural/geographical/archeological significance of what I’m looking at?

Maybe all of this reflection is aimed at justifying my natural laziness.  I’m not sure I actually want to make the rather large effort it would require to understand everything (or even a lot of) what’s in the books or in the descriptions on websites that I’ve also begun to read.  At some level, there’s got to be a cost/benefit analysis and, for me, I think that the cost of trying to master all of this stuff is not worth the benefit.  I can learn enough (for me) by doing a half-assed job of reading some websites, looking over some books and gleaning what I can from knowledgeable tour guides. And Carol and I did learn more about Cambodia in an hour and a half visit to the Cambodia Association of Illinois where, among other things, we saw the memorial to those killed by the Khmer Rouge and listened to our guide sing and play music on the roneat aek.

Indeed, beyond laziness, there’s the troubling question of whether I’m even capable at this point in my life of mastering and retaining the material.  I’m put in mind of a poem by Billy Collins, called Forgetfulness:

Forgetfulness

BY BILLY COLLINS

The name of the author is the first to go

followed obediently by the title, the plot,

the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel

which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor

decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,

to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine muses goodbye

and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,

and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,

the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember, it is not poised on the tip of your tongue or even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river

whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall

well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those

who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night

to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.

No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted

out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Billy Collins, “Forgetfulness” from Questions About Angels. Copyright © 1999 by Billy Collins.

All of this reflecting about preparation for the trip made me think back on the travel that Carol and I have been so fortunate to do, starting with our honeymoon, 52 ½ years ago.  What, I wondered did we take away from those trips? I decided to make a list of the most memorable experiences I’d had on those trips. So far, I’ve listed more than eighty.  There are many more that could easily have been put on the list, but I’ve decided to be somewhat judicious in my selection. Don’t worry, I’m not going to list all 80-some, but I thought it might be fun to give you a few of the top picks.

Under some duress, Carol agreed to review my list and we each, separately, picked our top ten (category A), our next fifteen (B) and our next fifteen after that (C).  There was a rather high degree of agreement between us, though some of my As were Bs for her, Bs were Cs, and the reverse was true as well.  Out of the ten As, we agreed on six, so here they are, not necessarily in order.

Varanasi. The holiest place on the Ganges overwhelms as you see the colorful dress of those approaching the river, watch people bathe in the filthy waters, others throw in the remains of cremated family members, laundry being scrubbed and, each evening, Mother Ganges being put to sleep in a religious ceremony with bells, incense and chants.

Michelangelo’s statue of David, carrying his slingshot. Exquisite and larger than life, as you gaze up at this work of art, it seems almost impossible to believe that a human being created it.

Dunes in Namibia, a surrealistic experience to see these natural, sculptural formations, changing ever so slowly with the wind.

Grand Canyon under the moon and stars. On a rafting trip with our daughters, camping out at the bottom of the canyon, by the side of the Colorado River, we experienced the awe of this magnificent sight. The next day, walking by the side of the river, I slipped and fell, breaking my ankle, and had to be helicoptered out. Not so good.

Game Seven of the 2016 World Series, Cubs beating the Cleveland Indians in ten innings, to win the World Series for the first time in 108 years. We traveled only about 300 miles, but we reached a country called Euphoria. Perhaps the greatest baseball game ever, ending in pure joy—and relief from a burden borne by many generations before us.

Well, as I said, these are just a few. There are many more—trekking gorillas and chimps, walking among the tree tops of the forest, sitting in a Jeep beneath a tree at night while a leopard munches on a warthog above us, flying in a balloon over the stupas in Bagan, attending weddings in India and in Lagos, Nigeria, dog sledding in Wyoming, gazing at the gigantic heads on Easter Island, riding in helicopters on our helihiking trip in the Canadian Rockies, walking by the pyramids and the Sphinx, visiting rural villages in Ghana, fly fishing in New Zealand, biking in Beijing, seeing tigers from elephant back, going to the Royal Ascot races in London, scuba diving with manta rays and hammerhead sharks in the Galappagos, marveling at Machu Picchu in Peru…this and more, all amazing. But, of course, it’s not the individual elements of a trip, however marvelous, that make travel so wonderful, but the overall experience and especially the amazing people you meet along the way.

So, I’m feeling a lot more comfortable about my laziness in preparing for this trip. In the end, that’s not what it’s all about. And, besides, I know enough about Jayavarman VII already. He followed Jayavarman VI.

(Apologies for the length of this post, but, hey, that’s what happens when you wax philosophical 😀.)

6 comments to REFLECTIONS ON PREPARING FOR A TRIP

  • Paul Woo

    Can’t wait to read your musings and see your photos Arnie. Wish you and Carol a safe and sound, exciting journey.

  • lauri pollack

    Great. Thank you and have a wonderful experience. Look forward to your
    blogs, as always.

  • Bob Heywood

    Safe travels, Arnie! You will remember what is important.
    Look forward to your posts.

  • Jean Zunkel

    I always love your blogs and now want to do the same thing for myself…..listing the top 10 events that I remember and reflect on. Keep traveling. Have a wonderful trip.
    Jean

  • Beth Osten

    Ah, Thailand, another one of my favorite places. I look forward to hearing about your adventure.

  • Wendy

    Great, Dadz. I love the poem, the lack of history, seeing the photos again, and the trip to the country of Euphoria. I’ll stay tuned…

    Love,

    W.

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