I’ve gone through a range of emotions while here in Beijing. Reading my last two weeks of posts, it would be easy to conclude that I’m schizoid or bipolar. First I was excited to see Beijing, then I was down as it really hit that going home so soon, followed by a bout of boredom from being in the same place for too long. We still have a couple days left, but I feel that my thoughts and emotions are settling towards thankfulness. I think this feeling is beginning to overshadow, or at least encompass, all my other thoughts and feelings about the past year.
Although my feelings of thankfulness are really overflowing, at the moment, (which is why I feel compelled to write this down even at midnight now), I doubt I can adequately write all that I’m thankful for. But here’s a few things:
I’m thankful for the past year. I’ve written a bit in the past few days how I’m bummed this part of our trip is over, about going home, and about our trip as a whole winding down. But my sadness about those things reflect how I feel about the past year. It has been unbelievable and I’m truly thankful for a number of things. One, we’ve had a safe year; we’ve been continually sick, injured ourselves a few times, and had a few other sketch moment, but we made it relatively unscathed. Two, we made it a year; a number of events could have forced us to cut our trip short, but none have occurred thus far. Three, not only did we make it a year safely, its been a smooth ride; we’ve had a few things lost and stolen, had some transportation issues, and a couple minor things not go our way, but overall, we have NOTHING to complain about. Call us lucky, blessed, or whatever you want, but I’m incredibly thankful for the past year.
While I’m thankful for the past year itself, it has really highlighted some other important things that I’m grateful for. Off the top of my head, in no particular order. I’m thankful for my wife and my family. I’m thankful for my health. My friends. An education, economic opportunities, and all else that comes from being born in America. From what I’ve read online, times are getting tougher in America. And not to sound unsympathetic, but Americans have nothing to complain about. Even the poorest Americans are doing pretty well, compared to most of Asia. The dire headlines in the US highlight, among other things: housing woes, expensive oil and food, economic issues like inflation/unemployment/rates, war, and terrorism. Compare the US economic/political/security situation to any Asian nation and you have to be thankful as an American. The more I travel, the more I’m thankful for.
This trip has emphasized is the importance of being content. While commercialism and consumerism are growing quickly among the upper-classes of many places we’ve been, the vast majority of the people we’ve crossed paths with have very little. Standards of living are low, political rights vary from non-existent on up, social and economic mobility are low, and most peoples’ futures are not what us Americans would consider bright. Yet people are still thankful for and content with what they do have. And I can say that my overriding thought as I prepare to go home after a year of travel is: I am very, very, very thankful for everything in my life.
Sidenote: Sometimes Westerners cannot understand how people can have so little and still be content, so they try to make sense of it with various theories. Some say fatalism is a condition of the Asian mind. Others say that poor third-world inhabitants don’t know what they don’t have. Both are ridiculous. Asians are not anymore fatalistic that Americans. The fact that they live under tougher circumstances and can be happy does not mean they don’t care. And to address the “simple native” argument, I’ll make an analogy. Most Western and Northern European nations have a higher standard of living that the US; are Americans unhappy because we have less than our transatlantic counterparts? Perhaps contentment and happiness is independent of external factors.