Many people have asked me how I could just leave my job and seemingly travel perpetually. How can I afford it? How do you find places to stay for free all the time? How do you find places to volunteer? All questions I’ve received by email, and now I’m sharing the secrets in a series of posts about how The Happy Nomad Tour Rolls and what things are like behind the scenes.
Breaking Paradigms In Peru
I hailed a taxi in Lima, Peru a few months ago. Hearing my accent during the negotiations to set a price and determine the destination, the driver asked me where I was from and a series of other questions I’ve gotten used to answering.
Then he asked me what I like most about Peru. I thought for a while as when my life is in someone else’s hands I try to be as neutral and diplomatic as possible. I chose something easy – the food.
The taxi driver asked me how many countries I’ve been to and I just said a lot. He then said “Well, I’m sure Peruvian food has been the best food you’ve had in the world.”
Peruvian food is definitely amazing and is definitely among the best I’ve had in the world. But I found the taxi driver’s statement interesting. I’m sure he’s never left Peru, but he feels confident in saying that its food is the best in the world.
I could have agreed with him and kept things simple, but I have a propensity to share my opinion.. So I said that for me Middle Eastern food was the best. He seemed shocked, but thankfully he wasn’t offended. He just asked to know more about Middle Eastern food, what the ingredients are, etc.
Breaking Paradigms In The Philippines
Fast forward now to Asia. I was at a park in Davao, Philippines and some young men approached me. They asked if they could interview me about culture for a class they are taking in college.
How could I say no?
So they started asking questions. Some were typical, like what are the differences, what are the similarities (there are many due to colonialism and the huge military presence here), what could be better about Filipino culture, what could be better about American culture, etc.
And then I realized what was happening. These guys were, for the first time, getting a glimpse at reality.
What do I mean?
Well, the U.S. is great at marketing. If you watch American movies and TV shows you’d get a very different idea of reality. Imagine a TV diet consisting of Real Housewives Of Some County, American Idol, MTV’s Cribs, Dallas, etc. It’s not real.
Even normal TV shows and movies often portray normal America consisting of the solidly middle class or rich, kind of ignoring the millions of poor people.
That is not to say that there aren’t TV shows and movies that do show the realities of hard life in the US and among its poor, but they are often the exception to the rule.
Anyway, these two kids have grown up watching American movies, TV shows, and interacting with cousins that live in the US. Yet they were completely flabbergasted that there is homelessness in the US.
“How is that possible when it’s such a rich country,” they asked. I did my best to answer in a context relevant to them. But yes, it’s complicated and hard to explain.
Breaking My Own Paradigms
So, what’s the point of this article? It’s not about the ignorance of the taxi driver or the students. But maybe it’s about the ignorance that looms large within all of us – myself included. As cultured and un-ignorant as you may think I am due to my travels, all my travels have shown me is how much I don’t know.
The other point is the kung fu grip marketing has on all of us. We are blasted with ideas and notions and subtleties all day. You may not realize it, but that stuff really does stick and it takes a huge effort to develop some semblance of immunity to it all.
That’s partly why I travel. I put myself in situations that make me confront my preconceived notions and beliefs. In other words, my own paradigm. I usually find that there is so much more beneath the surface and that conventional wisdom is full of half-truths or the junk food equivalent of knowledge.
Of course, I’m an armchair social scientist and by no means a sociologist. But I do my best to scratch beneath the surface wherever I go. Since I travel differently than the average tourist, I seek to maximize time with the local people to understand their condition instead of their monuments and buildings from yesteryear.
In this case, it’s a driver who thinks the food he eats is by far the best in the world without knowing other cuisines and two Filipino students who think the U.S. is some paradise and the Philippines a lackluster place with little to offer. At the very least, marketing has shaped these ideas and reinforced them.
All I can offer is my opinion, sometimes reinforcing others’ beliefs, sometimes disagreeing, always true to myself though.