The Final Days

My last day in Kuala Lumpur.

As I was walking down the busy Bukit Bintang strip today, doing my last-minute shopping, burning up my remaining Malaysian ringgit like it was Monopoloy money, my head was swirling with thoughts and emotions.

I tried to stay 100 percent in the moment, to embrace my Taoist philosophy that the given present is the only real place to be. I didn’t want to waste a single second. I tried not to think of all the goodbyes I had already told, and the ones I would have to tell tonight. In the present, there is no past to regret or future to dread, only one heartbeat waiting on the next heartbeat.

For a few precious moments, to me there was only the sun on my face, the dirty street below my feet, and a destiny waiting to be found somewhere down the line. One of these days I’m going to catch it.

Tomorrow there would no longer be steaming noodle carts, no more frenetic Asian energy, no more signs in four languages, no more driving on the left. In short, I would be home.

I tried with every synapse in my brain to write to my memory forever this perfect vagabonding moment. One man, walking alone with no purpose, complete and total freedom, the streets laid out in front of me with mysteries waiting down each one.

Behind my sunglasses, as I put one foot in front of the other, I managed to become one with the moment. Intoxicating. There is no other word to describe such a feeling. I realized, not for the first time, that there is no doubt in my mind that I will be doing this until the day I die.

What would a last day in a country, or on a continent for that matter, be without one final blowout?

As I was walking near my hostel in Chinatown I started thinking…this place is pretty busy, wonder if I’ll see anyone I know? Sure enough, not even 30 seconds later, Emma from England walked up to me in the street. Emma was one of a very small handful of travelers that I met in Flores, Indonesia, and now here we were standing together in a different country months later.

We hadn’t been sat long catching up when a German guy I also met in Moni, Indonesia, three months prior joined us — completely randomly. Before the night was done, I had met up with Fiona — the divemaster I met on Tioman Island — and Sofian — the French vagabond I met in the Perhentian Islands…one huge reunion of travelers coming together on accident, people that share the same purpose, the same tortured souls.

When you walk alone so long, it feels good sometimes to know that someone, somewhere has your back.

Along with all my new local friends (who I already miss dearly) we celebrated Malaysia’s Independence Day and the party didn’t end until 10 a.m. the next morning. Thank God this is my last day on this continent; it is safe to say that I have officially reached my breaking point — I’m spent! The fireworks were canceled because it is the Ramadan fasting month, but we mostly didn’t notice. 🙂

In just a few hours I’m going to be shuffling onto a humming Korean Air 767, I’ll peek into the open door of the cockpit in awe like I always do, then find my seat along with the hundreds of other passengers. In my hand will be my book Hackers by Steven Levy and my iPod — my only chances at staying sane for the 23 hours of flying. I’ll take a seat, snap my seat belt, listen to the thump-thump of the door being sealed and us being pushed away from the gate….

Then that is it…there is no going back. My Asia vagabonding adventure for 2009 is over. As the plane’s engines roar, mile after mile, kilometer after kilometer will be put between me and my friends, the jungle, Adonara where Lina, Bapak, and family are, Kuala Lumpur, Thailand….somehow the magical dream world that I have been living in for the last five plus months will be pulled away by the curve of the earth and I will wake up in my bed at home the next day wondering if it all really ever happened.

It happens every time I come home. The contrast is so severe, so surreal, that even just days later as I’m still fighting severe west-to-east jetlag, my entire trip seems like it happened in a dream, or was a movie I saw a long time ago. I feel cheated for having done so much and only retained the feeling inside for such a short time before being pulled back to center.

Never mind the fact that there is still sand from three countries embedded in my ankle (no joke!) or that my front teeth are still cracked from grinding through nightmares of loosing Elin. When I get up and walk in a public place, no one will know what I have done, what these dark eyes have absorbed, or that I am a survivor…it can be maddening to dwell on, but it is expected and can be dealt with accordingly.

It happens every year, and I’m becoming quite experienced at the psychological tug-of-war between being happy to be home and seeing my loving family and friends, and wanting to get back out in the field as soon as possible. It’s rude to keep that destiny waiting.

My next entry will be from the U.S., but I’ve still got so much to tell from the past five months that went unsaid — don’t go anywhere.

Thank you for hunting whales and drowning with me in Indonesia, dodging machine guns in East Timor with me, almost getting arrested in Singapore with me, falling in love with Malaysia with me, and stacking up empty Thai buckets with me.

May there always be a road!

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8 Responses to “The Final Days”

  1. It was great being able to meet you in Singapore. I totally empathize with the surreal feeling of being back ‘home’ wondering if everything really happened.

    Hope you have a good flight, safe travels and I’ll be looking forward to your Colombian adventure 🙂

  2. I’m sorry you have to go home again. You make me want to travel to Asia right this very minute…

  3. Don’t stay home too long (I am sorry if your family reads this), you belong on the road and the road belongs to you! And yes, catch us up with more stories, you have a lot of tales to share from the past 5 months. And link them to more pictures, please. Sorry, I am too demanding …

    This is my favorite sentence which I read so far in your blog: “In the present, there is no past to regret or future to dread – only one heartbeat waiting on the next heartbeat.” But I love everything else too.

    Hope to meet you soon.

  4. Great article and glad you are making it home safe! When can I see some pictures?!

  5. I can’t wait to read the rest of your untold stories. It’ll help me stay sane at my 9-7. I know how it feels to come back and think that all the travels have been just a fleeting moment, like you said – a dream. And that psychological tug-of-war…I’ve had that too…last night.

    But I guess those things just drives me to travel as much as I can for as long as I can. Of course, reality always has its way of sneaking back into my life. One trip at a time. 🙂

  6. Hey man, ironic that sept 1, was when I also came back from Asia. The last 6 months almost felt like a dream to me. The people I’ve met, the places I’ve been, the smells, the sights – all a dream that can be recalled over and over.

  7. I’m fascinated to hear more about how you manage to stay rooted and at the same time appear to travel with such flexibility. We see blogs from people who travel the world continuously, we see blogs from people who have taken a once in a lifetime trip, but we rarely (to my knowledge) do we see blogs from such serial wanderers. I’m curious to know more.


  8. this article moved me to tears.
    i am actually sitting here in my office right this moment, but my mind and soul are dying to be on the road and wander..

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