Awesome Overload – What’s the Meaning of It All?

Its been 30 days that I’ve been traveling. I’ve traversed Vietnam, south to north. I’ve seen more than I thought I would. The big cities – Ho Chi Minh, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi. I’ve motorbiked in the rural areas. I’ve been in the great caves in Phong Nha National Park. I’ve seen many beautiful waterfalls. Cruised at the gorgeous Halong Bay on a junk boat. Hiked through the scenic rice terraces of Sa Pa. It’s too much beauty to handle in a short amount of time. It’s overwhelming.

A high-class problem.

Too much beauty

Spending no more than 2-3 days in one location, before catching a sleeper bus to the next major destination. Constantly moving, exploring, experiencing; the senses continuously fed, there is no habituating to any space. Every new place I see is like a weekend getaway; after this weekend is another; there are no weekdays in between my weekends. Constant pleasure! It may sound great, but…

I’m wading through the people of Vietnam, some who have never seen as much of Vietnam in their lifetimes as I have in 3 weeks. This could be a limitation of time, money, or just taking your own home for granted.

I ponder more on the people who don’t have the money. The people who I see on the street, hoping I’ll buy their bananas, water, books, or some other good. The families I see in the rural areas, living very simply, just getting by. It makes me feel guilty. Do I deserve this? It makes me think of their lives, my life. By some fate, I’ve been given the privilege of being relatively wealthy, having the freedom to travel on my savings. I imagine if the tables were turned; what if the people of Vietnam were tourists at my home? I could be the one selling goods on the streets to tourists.

I have a moment of gratitude, being thankful for my privilege. I make a Kiva loan to a Vietnamese woman, Hanh, who is trying to expand her inventory at her small electronics shop. Even though I never saw her, being in Vietnam made me feel more connected to her need.

Kiva Loan to Hanh

At this point I move to feeling overwhelmed. After learning of the atrocities of war, and then seeing the people working hard to gain prosperity, it feels like life is a struggle for all of us. What’s the point of existence? What’s the point of this cosmic dance?

These people wake up everyday, trying to make a living. When I go back, I will need to do the same. Back home with some friends, we talk about finding your passion; but for many of the people just getting by, does the question of passion even arise, or is it even relevant?

This great TedTalk from Mike Rowe (20 mins) challenges the idea of finding a job based on passion. Then there’s an inspiring excerpt from Alan Watts that asks, “What would you like to do if money was no object?” (3 mins) And I must say, this video from Alan Watts contributed in some way to helping me decide to leave my job to go backpacking for a few months. It convinced me that experience matters more than money.

It leads me to the question, What makes you come alive? I’d like to find my passion. Or find a cause.

Luckily I know many others who have thought about this.

How will I help create a ripple in this world? My girlfriend Cherry describes how it starts by being a drop. And this does not have to be accomplished through your job – my friends Amit and Cat have written about this eloquently in their blogs.

So I’m in the mode of seeking. There is some pressure to find some deep meaning from this trip. I relieve the pressure by reminding myself that I shouldn’t have such an expectation; this trip may not give me the answer. I also remind myself that the journey is just as important as finding the answer.

You can see my thoughts are divergent at this point. There are a variety of emotions: excitement, guilt, emptiness, gratitude, fear. I feel uncomfortable asking such big questions at moments. But this is exactly the purpose of creating negative space – to be able to reflect on life and explore possibilities.

Feel free to share any blog posts or other links related to this subject in the comments. =)


6 thoughts on “Awesome Overload – What’s the Meaning of It All?

  1. Sounds like you’re having an amazing time! Keep in mind the “constant pleasure” through sightseeing is essentially the basis for the trip; don’t be surprised you’re seeing such amazing places! Conversely, if you choose to live in a part of Asia and for an extended period of time, you wouldn’t see as many exotic sights and would instead get engaged on a local/micro level. For example, volunteering at a Vietnamese homeless shelter or teaching English to high school students in Vietnam would not be as much fun as seeing beautiful natural scenery but would be rewarding in other ways. But that’s not the intent of your trip (or is it?). Point is, when you’re using savings to travel/vacation, it’s inevitable that there’ll be “constant pleasure,” whether through actively seeing interesting sights or sitting on a beach drinking beer all day.

    I think any self-reflecting person who travels eventually faces similar feelings of “do I deserve this,” and I do everytime I travel outside of the US. This is true every time I travel to India, and been the case when I visited Russia, Poland, Morocco, and even in the wealthy country of Denmark. More recently, I’ve been having similar sentiments inside the US, having a deeper understanding of the privileged life I have compared to many Americans. It’s humbling and keeps me grateful.

    Kiva is a great organization. Tina grew up with the founder of Kiva and I’ve met him a few times. Can put you in touch with him if you are interested.

    • Very wise comment, thanks Rock! It’s nice to know that you have felt this true in your travels, and even in the U.S. While I was writing my post, even I struggled whether I should keep it specific to the Vietnamese people, or making it general; I kept it specific because in this moment that is what is inciting these emotions.

      • It’ll be an entire journey filled with many types of emotions, so it enjoy it!

        Had a typo in my last message. Tina’s family friend founded Vittana, not Kiva.

  2. Reminds me of a quote I luv: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. B/c what the world needs is people who have come alive”

  3. I wanted to ponder this a bit more before replying, since there are a lot of big questions that you ask in this post. I think that Rocky did a great job of responding to the parts about you feeling overwhelmed with the constant beauty, and feeling the guilt.

    In terms of what makes you come alive, I also like what Cat wrote. And remember, the answer to that question doesn’t have to be in the form of a job title. The answers can be related to anything – dreams that you have, experiences that make you feel connected to something more, simple activities that make you smile. You already know a lot of the things that make you come alive – traveling, yoga, nature, music, etc. The idea is to keep doing those things, maybe in new ways or maybe not, and not to lose sight of them. That practice may lead to something more.

    I’m proud of you for asking these deep questions, and for not just being a passive tourist. As for the question about “what’s the point of existence?” that’s a very personal thing that each of us has to figure out for ourselves. You already understand that the journey is so important, and now you just need to be ok with the uncertainty that comes with it. I think you will find this piece to be reassuring, as well as this quote:

    “Embrace relational uncertainty. It’s called romance. Embrace spiritual uncertainty. It’s called mystery. Embrace occupational uncertainty. It’s called destiny. Embrace emotional uncertainty. It’s called joy. Embrace intellectual uncertainty. It’s called revelation.” –Mark Batterson

    Thank you for sharing all of your emotions with us 🙂

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