I walked tirelessly throughout the neighborhood, down streets, forbidden paths, unpaved roads, and highways to the mountain range. Square houses, the same shape and size, surrounded me in muted grays, beiges and whites. Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Warrior” blasted in my ears, my iPod affixed tightly to my left arm. It swung back and forth furiously, opposite of my right arm, as if I were on the Harvard of elliptical machines. Well, trouble at home/ Travel the way you say/ “The road don’t like me”/ Travel away/ Travel it all away/ “The road’s gonna end on me.” Oh-so-ironic. The road was narrowing in on me like a bird of prey honing in on its next meal. Where was everyone? This was an eerie world of silence, monotony, and masked sadness. I was back in my home town, the East Side of San Jose, California.
Two days beforehand, I had reluctantly boarded a plane from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to Taipei, Taiwan. I loved Taiwan, but the catch was that I was to remain in the airport. I posted to my Facebook and Twitter accounts. Should I just walk out of the door and purposefully miss my flight? I pondered on the $20 USD remaining in my bank account. Damn. I should have just stayed in HCMC and gone for that ESL teaching position I saw on Craigslist. If I walked out the door then, I would barely be able to afford a taxi back into the city. Where would I go from there? All of the friends I’d made were in Chupei, an hour away by train- a train I couldn’t afford. I’d hitchhiked, slept on concrete floors, and lived on rice before, but something about making it in this vast city without a dime intimidated me as if I were still in elementary school.
And so I’d cowardly boarded the plane back to San Francisco with more regret than blood in my veins. Past moments flashed in my mind: tears shed on the last leg of my flight from Buenos Aires back to SF after eight life-altering months; going from China back to SF when I really wanted to go to Australia instead; hesitantly returning from Mexico after exploring my grandparents’ towns and reconnecting with Spanish-speaking family there… The list went on. I never wanted to go back to what was supposedly “home.” Coming back always overwhelmed me with remorse, forcing me to question the reason behind my existence. What was the point to life if not for travel?
I kept walking, hoping that the motion of my feet would illuminate my path in life. Taking a sip from the plastic bottle of Crystal Geyser I’d taken from my parents, I swallowed my reality. I was 32 years old, back from an unprecedented time in Taiwan and Southeast Asia. I’d learned what it meant to accept the fucked-up parts of my life and be happy anyway. I tried to employ that acceptance in those confused, foot-blistering moments. But at the end of the day, I broke down, wondering why- yet, another time– I hadn’t listened to my instincts.
The next morning- and for many mornings, afternoons, and evenings to come- I scoured the internet. What was the next step? I was still freelancing, but this wasn’t enough. I compulsively logged into Dave’s ESL Café, exploring my options teaching ESL again. The nuances of suburban life in the Silicon Valley continued to erode my love for humanity. Moscow, Seoul, and Istanbul tugged at me, taunting me with a potential life of fresh cultural and linguistic exposure.
I applied and applied, and got several offers, but after research, Russia was too damn cold. South Korea was too similar to what I’d already seen, and Turkey was, well, just not where my heart directed me. Don’t get me wrong; I still long to see all of these places. However, when my intuition tells me to go somewhere, it’s best that I abide. There were two pragmatic options: a) Move to Spain and try to find work, and b) Move to Portland, Oregon in the US and explore the beauty of my own country, and still find a way to get to Spain.
One way or another, I had to make a decision. Taking a steaming shower in what reminded me of a W Hotel bathroom (in comparison to what I’d seen in the many hostels I’d passed through), I knew I couldn’t stay for long. I sat there in my parents’ kitchen, my laptop set on their oak dinner table, our 95-pound pit bull still hovering for scraps, and took a mindful stance.
I would move to Portland.