It is easy to ignore things when you don’t see them every day. In fact, I think, given a lack of alternative sources of information, I could convince myself of anything at all.
Remember that movie ‘The Game’ (if you have not seen it, I recommend it for sure)? At the beginning Michael Douglas (super-powerful guy) has his secretary reading out invitations to social engagements, all of which he rejects. She queries why she has to always review the invites when he always rejects them all and he says something along the lines of ‘you can not reject society if you do not know about it’.
Same point. Different angle. If you don’t know what alternatives there are, then what you have seems good. Same effect if (as in my case) you have been so far away from them for so long as to have put them far from the front of your mind. Or, perhaps, if it is in your best interests to forget about the comforts of home because it makes the discomforts of away more palatable.
In this case, of course, I have convinced myself that travelling in Russia is not very difficult and that I actually enjoy being here.
Travelling with Natalie a little and talking to other people I have met over here has destroyed that belief. I still like being here, perhaps for the challenge, perhaps for the remoteness, perhaps for reasons that are still unclear. But I can no longer maintain that it is easy.
Nat has impressed me with her ability to tolerate discomfort and to find enjoyment in the brief islands of interest that float unpredictably in the sea of tedium and difficulty that sometimes characterises travelling.
That is a long sentence.
In my experience, being able to endure and to laugh in the face of bad things is key to enjoying travelling. And maybe even more so in Central Asia and Russia, where tourism is still nascent and service is a misnomer for what happens in many shops, train stations and hotels.
But I digress.
Because even if I manage to successfully convince myself that standing in a queue for an hour for a train ticket is okay or normal or enjoyable (and it really is in some way), there is still some part of me that knows it is not. The switched off bit. The silent part.
I think this is where gut feel comes from. Not so much rationality, since you can argue your way to anything, but a more instinctive emotional response. The part of you that tells you when something is right or wrong, good or bad, just because it is. The conscience, perhaps. If we were in medieval times, we would search through the body for the organ that was responsible for these thoughts. The writer of ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ would have called it the means for assessing ‘quality’.
So meeting up with Natalie, and having to explain how things work, and stand in queues and pay foreigner prices (six times higher), and eat icky food and deal with bad weather has reminded me how great where I come from is. And made me realise how I kind of put my gut feel to one side when I travel around.
I don’t think this is a bad thing. It would be impossible to travel around here if I had expectations that everything would be as convenient, comfortable and clean as New Zealand. But there is clearly a line between what is acceptable and what is not. And I don’t want to lose my gut feel. I always want to remember the invitations, so then I can choose to reject them.
Natalie was also an angel for reasons other than that she reminded me of my real world. The places I have gone and the way I travel makes things difficult. It is always interesting, and often challenging, but there is not a lot of laughing going on. Laughs are mostly the kind of ‘I can not believe this is actually happening’ kind of laugh than the genuine, comic, laugh out loud type of type of thing that makes you happy to be alive.
But hanging out with Natalie has reminded me about that kind of laughing. And what good friends are like. And what it might be like to travel somewhere easy with someone fun. But, of course, that would be a different holiday.