Travel is a good time to get different perspectives on life.
After all, you’re around new people and seeing new things. It’s fun and inspiring to change up your world view.
My only advice is: Don’t expect too much.
Once, I took a train to the countryside in South Korea.
Then, I took a bus to an even more rural area.
Then, I climbed a very tall mountain to have a cup of tea with a monk in the temple way up in the remote hills.
The monk’s name was Ka-Ga, and because the Korean sounds for “K” and “G” are very similar, the other monks teased him and called him Gaga like Lady Gaga.
To play into the joke, Ka-Ga even listened to Lady Gaga on YouTube, and he liked a lot of her music.
If you have never seen a monk dance to “Poker Face,” you really should. Perhaps it’s even on his YouTube channel by now.
(And yes, I had cell phone and data service even in the most remote parts of South Korea because that’s just how things are there.)
Ka-Ga offered me tea, which is traditional. He cheated and used an electric kettle instead of boiling water on the stove, because he said electric tea kettles were a brilliant invention.
And while we drank it, he showed me his Youtube channel where he taught people how to do meditation poses and about the tenants of Buddhism.
We talked for over an hour before a senior monk came and told him to get back to work decorating for Buddha’s birthday.
However, they both agreed to me getting a picture with Ka-Ga and the tea first.
In contrast, I was in Thailand and I came upon a monastery having a “monk chat” day. This is where the monks speak with anyone who comes to talk to them, and try to recruit new people to the faith.
I was excited to talk to one of them until I discovered that as woman, I was considered unclean. I wasn’t allowed to speak to the monks. I asked a male tourist if he would pose my questions instead. He did, and I got the sexist answers I expected.
That reminded me to reflect on some of the things in the world that are bad, in addition to taking pleasure in the things that are good.
It also reminded me that just because someone is supposed to be wise or tolerant, does not mean that they are.
The thing is; it’s fun to have new experiences. Sometimes they are good, like meeting Ka-Ga, and sometimes they are less good, like at the Monk Chat in Chang Mai. No matter what, it’s just important to remember that no one has the answers.
You can only go looking for answers to certain kinds of questions and find them.
For example, if you want to know what cow tongue soup tastes like in Shanghai, you can go looking for that answer in Shanghai. If you want to know why people in Ecuador use alpacas to transport goods in the hills, you can travel to the hills in Ecuador and ask. Some questions can absolutely be answered by traveling.
On the other hand, some questions are going to stick with you no matter where you go. They are the kind of questions that have to be answered inside yourself, like “What is the meaning of life?” and “What is my purpose?” There is no Monk or Sherpa or Guru who can answer those questions for you. You can travel the entire planet, but in the end, you can never run away from yourself or the questions you hold inside.
I am not saying that you shouldn’t climb the mountain and talk to the monk. Meeting Ka-Ga was one of my favorite memories in Korea. You should definitely have those experiences!
All I am saying is: There aren’t any easy answers out there to the hard questions. Even at the top of the tallest mountain, you won’t find the words to calm your soul.
Some questions can only be answered inside your head.