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This website chronicles our trip around the world in 2006. It has lots of photos, videos and stories. We invite you to come in, relax and enjoy the scenery.
~Lee and Sachi LeFever
For now it's still here - we're living it for the last 5 hours of 2006 tonight. Tonight is when the year, our year off, ends. What are we doing? Going to Redmond to spend the night with friends and eat a lot. It's a perfect way to end the year. On January 2nd our year of reality and restarting will begin.
Take a deep breath with me, all the way in, and let it out slowly. Ahhhhh thats better. 2007 - bring it on.
One thing that we've gained since the trip is a little different perspective about our "stuff" - the things that build up on shelves, in drawers, hard drives, closets and corners that you forgot. Before we left we may have been likely to let things linger. Now, for a change, we've rounded the corner to purging. It has nearly been a full time job to get all the crap that we've collected over the years out of our sight.
It's all about needs really - and our perspective has changed from valuing the things we need vs. the stuff that might be nice to have once or twice a year. I don't think we need 7 different types of jellies and jams, that sweater from 1989 or the computer that died a year ago. So it's all going. We're both hoping to start 2007 leaner and meaner that we have any year before - when it comes to stuff. Unfortunately, we still have some work to do on the ole body mass index.
I think the locals thought we were weird when taking pictures of signs and menus. We were reminded how sensitive language is - replace a few words with synonyms and the results end up a tad off target and usually hilarious.
This was just before boarding a cable car in China:
Also in China, at the Three Gorges Dam. Billions of dollars on the project and they couldn't hire a translator for the sign every tourist sees? Welcome to China. The guy in this photo is Miles Hilton-Barber, Blind Adventurer. Perhaps the most amazing person I've ever met. He didn't turn over.
At Yellow Mountain in China, this is truly an earnest request.
Don't worry, I didn't take it as a compliment, really. From a crappy state-run hotel in Guilin, China.
Yes, China star-rates toilets. Seriously - it was still not great. This is inside the Forbidden City in Beijing.
Menus offered a near-daily source of laughter. This one is from a Dim-Sum menu in Hong Kong: Minced crap (I think they mean crab)
Yes, in fact, that is a cute potatoes with butter. Japan.
I'm just not sure what this is supposed to say. Japan.
Even when Japanese is not translated to English, it has a completely unique style. This is from a hiking trail in Tsuwano, Japan. See if you can decode it...
This was my guess:
1. Scrape the bottom of your shoe
2. Place scraped matter in your hand
3. And smoke it?
I love the design of this Japanese subway sign, seriously.
Stop using rocket shoes. From Osaka Buffaloes Baseball game.
Baseballs hurt. From Osaka Buffaloes Baseball game.
If I could do the trip over, I would build a catalog of crosswalk signs. They exist in every country in different forms along the same lines. This one obviously warns people to watch out for George Washington crossing with a devil child. Japan.
No one wants to see Pac Man drunk. Waka waka waka (hiccup). Japan.
And finally, if you're wondering what strategies Sachi and I will employ when we combine forces in 2007, this describes it perfectly:
Without yours, our trip would not have been then same- thanks.
I'll be posting "best of" photos soon, but for now I wanted to share a few that are not necessarily best-of, but have made an impression on some readers.
This guy in Vietnam with all the LIVE ducks on his motorcycle (next 2 photos) seemed to strike a chord with lots of readers. I couldn't believe how calm they seemed, considering.
Speaking of motorcycles, this is how I look when I drive.
Speaking of ducks, Mongkol ate this one in Cambodia. A little too, um, mature for me.
Speaking of eating ducks, this century egg nearly made me barf on video.
This pier in Koh Lanta, Thailand was not built for this kind of surf and as the waves approached it became rideable. It broke into pieces overnight.
Einstein is huge in Portugal.
On and on in a crowded elevator.
This was just before I was decapitated at a hair salon in Shanghai. I recovered fully.
Foreign-ness was a concept that became really important to me at the beginning of the trip. I wrote this in March of 2006, just after perhaps the most foreign city/town we visited the whole trip: Negombo, Sri Lanka.
Foreign-ness was a concept that became really important to me at the beginning of the trip. I wrote this in March of 2006, just after perhaps the most foreign city/town we visited the whole trip: Negombo, Sri Lanka.
I had a picture in my mind of what it would be like to see the world. It included people of different races, driving funny three-wheeled cars, wearing draped clothing with unfamiliar music and language in the background. We would wind our way through cities and towns being the only westerners for miles, in my mind.
Having traveled internationally for two months now, we have finally realized this vision. It happened today in
Looking back, I loved
Something was missing for me at our next stop –
Thinking again about that picture in my mind our trip, something becomes clearer. I want, more than anything else, to be interested and I find few things more interesting than foreign-ness. The satisfaction I derive from the trip is linked to how unlike home it is to me.
We are now in a new realm of travel and our trip, one that will challenge us a little more and make us work for what we want to experience. It may be hard and it may see us get sick and long for home or some place like it. But it will be foreign and it will be interesting and as long as that is true, I will be happy for a while.
I wrote this pretty early in the trip - around the middle of March 2006, just as we were coming to terms with how extended travel actually works. It sounds a little negative, but it's real.
We’re learning every day, learning to be better travelers. For us, it’s about being able to find fulfillment in the bulk of the time between the absolutely fantastic and the miserably horrible experiences. The continuum is long between the two and filled with mediocre and boring attempts to find excitement when none exists.
The idea of a year away from home, away from work, away from normal life was fascinating to us, as I think it would be to anyone. One pictures a montage set to frantic music that displays a life of freedom, exotic locations, new people, interesting cultures, new experiences and drinks with umbrellas. These things are all parts of extended world travel. But, what one doesn’t imagine is the constant, constant fear of losing bags or passports or tickets. Far from expectation is the feeling of running for a train in 95 degree heat only to miss the last train of the day. No one looks forward to only having three pairs of underwear and having to wash them by hand in a sink every few days, along with every other piece of clothing. Sweating yourself to sleep is not high on the list of people who look forward to travel. In the list of reasons to see the world, being lost in a strange city late at night with all your belongings on your back does not rank high. Yet, these are all a very real part of the overall experience. The key, for us, is attitude and finding joy in the journey, or making your own joy.
It’s easy to get frustrated. As you might expect, the world does not work as you’d prefer sometimes. Despite having spent a whole day to travel to a location, it is sometimes closed for renovation or doesn’t allow your type of shoes and you just have to deal with the fact that no one told you, or that you didn’t listen, or couldn’t understand. You just have to suck it up and move on. Being able to move on and put it behind you is absolutely key, and something I’m currently working on.
Making up for the valleys are the peaks. Unfortunately, it seems that the highest peaks are not something you can plan - they come unexpectedly. It’s easy to get excited about the
The peaks we find often arrive on the wings of chance, happenstance or the kindness of others. The random person that gives us a bit of advice that saves us time and energy is reason for us to celebrate. Finding a hotel at half the price we expected is cause for joy. Sharing a meal with other travelers from other countries gives us a reason to be happy. Capturing a scene with my camera in the way that I want gives me great pleasure. Having clean laundry, charged batteries, good health and tickets to our next destination is almost nirvana.
More than anything else, we are most gratified by knowing that we are learning- learning to be smart travelers, learning about the people of the world, the history, the politics, and the quirkiness. Museums and galleries are nice and we often visit- but they don’t often give us great joy. We’ve found that the good stuff comes from the locals, the driver, the friend of a friend, the person who lives there and has an ear to the ground. Given the choice, we’d spend 10 times more time drinking beer with a local than walking around a museum. Though we’ve wanted more, connecting with locals have represented some of our highest peaks on the trip.
In the end, it’s a balance, a balance of expectations and reality, of fun and boredom, of frustration and success. Joy in travel does not always come from the places you visit, the people you meet or the pictures you take – it comes from the little things that present themselves in the nick of time – just in time to renew your excitement and remind you that travel is a wonderful and complex event and one that, more than anything else, is what you as an individual choose to make of it.
I wrote this entry in September of 2006 from Helsinki, Finland just after arriving there from the Trans-Siberian Railway and a month in China. For a while I was consumed by learning about Communism and needed to get it on paper, so to speak.
This post is a bit of a departure from the usual travel topics and I hope you’ll pardon its serious and dark nature. Having been to
I figure that the root of my fascination is related to the fact that so many smart people believed in it so fervently and killed so many in an attempt to make it work – and the work continues to this day. To me as an American entrepreneur, Communism is endlessly fascinating because it diverges so greatly from my world view. The more I learn about it, the more baffled I become that so many could believe that it is a perfectly reasonable way to run a country.
I started the trip knowing very little about the Communist ideology, Marxism, Leninism or the history of the peoples’ revolution. After reading a number of books, visiting museums, etc., I think I have a handle on some of the basics. To test myself, I’d like to try to describe my layman's version for you as briefly and simply as possible.
Karl Marx was known as the father of Communism and the author of the Communist Manifesto – the first declaration of his theory in late 19th century. To Marx, capitalism (free markets, supply and demand, etc.) was evil and would eventually cause great misery to the people of the world. His goal was to stop it.
To understand why he thought this, we must consider the lives of workers in the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s. At the time he saw a world where people were either rich owners or exploited and unhappy workers. Marx saw this as a great injustice that was getting worse through the growth of Capitalism. He foresaw a future where Capitalism would create a small handful of rich people and a world of miserable people that would get more miserable over time. This would even be extended to a worldwide scale with the world eventually being run by a few rich industrialists. This was what some called Imperialism and it was the end game of Capitalism.
Marx was successful in convincing a lot of very smart and powerful people that his was the true vision of the world and his Communist ideology its savior. He promoted the idea that the true power of a civilization lies within the working class and if properly motivated, the working class can rise up in revolution against the rich land owners. This was revolution and it was the first stage of building a Communist system which would be fair to everyone – a single class society that worked to provide what it needed for the whole society. The government owned everything and everyone worked toward a common goal of self-sufficiency. In fact, according to the theory, there would be no need for government in the future – it would “whither away” as the Communist utopia was achieved. Everyone would be well fed, protected and happy as they worked together as one.
Of course, history shows that this is not the case. Two contributing factors:
- Marx got it wrong. He did not predict the rapid rise of the middle class. Before he died, he saw Capitalism creating opportunities for a new class that were neither the rich owner nor the exploited worker.
- Marxism was just a theory: It described how things should work and what should happen, but it never described *how* Communism or revolution should actually be managed. It was a theory with no doctrine.
Of course in the 20th century there would be no shortage of world leaders to test the Marxist theory in the form of prompting a revolution and establishing a Communist government – supposedly freeing the working classes from Capitalist oppression.
The first serious revolutionary was Lenin in
What has happened since then is the subject of great debate. Most would agree that if there is a winner in the Cold War, it is Capitalism. Many questions remain about what went wrong with Communism. I’ll let you research the myriad perspectives on what happened and leave you with my own admittedly half-baked answer.
I think there are two main reasons Communism failed. The first is human nature. Communism underestimated the human need for achievement, competition and recognition. Making everyone the same reduced everyone to the lowest common denominator and bred more misery and frustration than it prevented. The second reason is leadership. Have you ever heard of the founder of a company having to hire a CEO? It happens often because the people that start things are not often the best people to manage them. Revolutionaries are great at revolution, but can be poor at administration and management. The history of Communism is rife with stories of Mao, Stalin and Pol Pot making ludicrous decisions that caused the deaths of millions of their people. They grew omnipotent through revolution but lacked the skills to use that power in any responsible manner.
My guess is that human history will show Communism as a destructive and deadly force in the world, not because of the idea or theory, but its implementation. It enabled the centralization of absolute power that bred mass corruption and quickly became unmanageable. To give you an idea of the level of destruction, consider the number of deaths in these countries in the Communist era:
and Mao’s Great Leap Forward (1950’s) - 30 million dead from starvation China and Pol Pot’s Communist Revolution (1970’s) 7 million dead from starvation and executions (1 in 7 Cambodians) Cambodia and Stalin’s Iron Rule (1920-50s) – 40 million dead from starvation and executions Russia
… and this is not counting the unquantifiable misery wrought on families and individuals in these countries as secret police, hidden agendas and propaganda were a fact of life.
Could a system of government that produced numbers like this be considered a positive force in the world? I think not. Yet, the Communist Party is still a major player in world politics. In
Maybe the real root of my fascination with Communism is related to how it helps me to understand all the things I take for granted. The more I learn, the more I wonder what my life would be like if I was a child of Communism. With an entrepreneurial American worldview, I find it nearly unfathomable.
I wrote the entry below in June of 2006 but never posted it until now. I went through a phase where I was way too concerned about our travel style and this reflects the issues on my mind at the time. I got over it, if you're curious.
Through this trip, whether I like it or not, I am coming to terms with some of the things about me that I cannot control, or find hard to control. I am consistently conflicted regarding what I call “travel dilemmas” and I’m writing about it because it represents a minor but annoying problem for me and one that I hope to overcome. I feel that I am needlessly pre-occupied with trying to find our answers to questions about our travel style. I am most concerned about the conflicts between:
- Being a traveler vs. a backpacker
- Being on vacation vs. traveling
- Taking our time vs. rushing from place to place
Let me take these one by one to explain:
Being a Traveler vs. a Backpacker
Backpacking is a practice that has evolved its own culture. This culture has a particular outlook, fashion, attitude and accessories. I was a backpacker in 1996 when me and my (then) girlfriend spent two months in
Being on Vacation vs. Traveling
When one thinks of a year off to travel, one of the first images that come to mind is not having to work- liberation from the daily grind. This is certainly part of extended travel and one thing that I do not take for granted. However, a year is really far too long to have a vacation and extended travel, for us, ends up being a little of both. We’ve had periods where travel was like a job. We had to be up at a certain time every morning and returned to the hotel later that evening, with pictures and experiences and exhaustion in hand. This was the case in
Taking Our Time vs. Rushing from Place to Place
Perhaps the most consistent piece of advice we received from travelers who have done year-long trips is that you can’t do everything. They say that the best you can do is to find a place you like and stay there for a while, like a month or two. By doing this you can get a deeper understanding of the local culture. While this advice is certainly good advice, it has been hard for us to implement. We spent a month in
The Bottom Line For Me:
First, I realize that these are all comparatively good problems to have. I should feel lucky to have such problems and I do feel extremely fortunate. I do not seek sympathy- just an outlet to talk.
All these conflicts, all the anxieties I have, all the thinking that I’ve done about this is all based on a simple question that I constantly ask myself: Are we doing it right? This simple question haunts me much more than it should. Logically, I know that there is no right way to travel- it is something that each person does in their own way and no two people experience travel in the same way. However, I want to know that we are doing our best to extract as much enjoyment, experience, learning and fun out of these 12 months and I wonder sometimes if all these conflicts and anxieties are only serving to detract from the experiences instead of help us add to them. Perhaps I would be better served by doing what feels good and remembering that there will be few times in my life when I will have such freedom and such wonderful opportunities. Maybe I just need a vacation from thinking about this too much.
I sometimes have to stop and think to myself that this is what it feels like. I mean right now in my life – like the phase I’m currently in, if you know what I mean. It’s been a progression I suppose and I’m reminded that this phase, the return home, is one to be documented. Seriously – like many times in the past year, I’m simply not gonna be in this situation often. Coming home after a year around the world? That’s a pretty unique place to be in life, so let’s get started.
Exciting, uncomfortable, inspiring, and totally discombobulating. Such is the experience of coming home from the World.
As I began the process of re-settling – like finding a new apartment and gainful employment – I was overcome with restlessness; I didn't want to re-adjust. I'd managed to pick up and move to
My personal experience in coming home has been smooth on the outside and a bit rough on the inside. We were lucky to come back to our own home and have a couple of weeks to decompress. Viewed from afar, it would appear quite easy and worry-free – and it was I suppose except for the voices in my head reminding me that the real world is coming – fast. Am I prepared? Do I really need to rest right now? How do you rest?
Right now is a period of limbo before the next big thing and after the last big thing. The trip was something that we viewed as a project with a beginning and end. By coming home in one piece, we celebrated the successful conclusion of the project. For now, it is all about the next project, which refocuses attention that might otherwise be diverted to a longing for the road. We’re in the process of making a clean break, which is how we started the trip.
This, of course, doesn’t preclude us from reverse culture shock. Whether we’ve chosen to recognize it or not, coming home has been a rollercoaster of emotion. It’s a little like jet lag – you feel something off in your head, but until you connect the feeling to the event, it just seems like a mood swing. We’ve just recently recognized our symptoms and all the little things that make home so strange.
I have personally had ups and downs in my own confidence or perception of my ideas – a newfound lack of confidence in our big plans for 2007, less confidence in being able to gather up all the balls that so swiftly rolled away in 2006 and less confidence in restarting. It is like being on the road created a bubble where ideas and plans all sounded so perfect. Home then becomes the place where all the ideas are seen in the context of reality- often a reality that changed in the last year. After a few days on the low end, my confidence is growing again as reality sinks in.
Never have I valued small talk so much. It gives me great joy to socialize and a big part of that, for me, is humor. One of the big rules of travel is that jokes don’t travel well and for the most part, I couldn’t interact with strangers on trip in any light and humorous way. I now value the ability to talk a little smack to someone in line, or with the barista, or with our neighbors. They understand me and it feels so good to have the confidence that my words mean what I think they mean (most of the time). Fortunately they also understand that I’m illiterate when it comes to
As a short side note- one strange thing I’ve noticed too is that I’m not yet used to Asian people speaking English. After so long in
The most wrenching experience for me was returning to our dog Amos who is 12 years old. My experience with him has played with my mind more than any other thing. Amos is not a young dog and his age nearly forced us to delay the trip for a few years. We decided he would be fine for a year. As it turned out, the year was not so kind to our beloved dog. He is showing signs of arthritis and I’m now the guy waiting on his dog to walk through the park. He’s as sweet as ever, but just a different kind of dog. He doesn’t play. He doesn’t chase squirrels. He sleeps a lot. Thankfully he has recently shown improvement after switching to a new anti-inflammatory (remadyl) and his attitude is less mopey. Plus, I think he's becoming my dog again.
And in case these points may makes you think otherwise, home is good - very, very good for us right now. In fact, we both feel liberated by the trip. Now is a time for us to rebuild, to rethink, to re-imagine. In a lot of ways, this is a whole new beginning for us both – few times in our life will we have such a perfect time wipe clean the slate, call off the old bets and take a fresh look. Despite the ups and downs, we’re both convinced it’s all up from here.
We're coming up on a momentous occasion here on TwinF. We are getting close to our last posts and between now and then, we're going to be posting a lot of things that:
a) we wrote on the trip and never shared
b) sum up the year in as few words as possible
It's not completely clear when the last post will occur, but it will be close to New Years. Once the last post is up, the site will exist forever in static form, frozen in time at the point where the trip ended. Then it's on to our next adventure. We hope you'll come along.