I arrived back home, to Miami Beach, just over a week ago, however I didn't want to post right away. I wanted to see how I perceive my daily reality post-trip, and was curious whether the impact of the trip will be felt in my daily routine.
I felt really happy to finally land in Miami. During the cab ride from the airport, I asked the cab driver to keep the windows down, and experienced a yoga-esque moment of awareness deeply inhaling the familiar air. As we were taking the causeway to the beach, I couldn't help but smile at the poetic beauty of the reflection of the last rays of sun in the Biscayne Bay. I arrived to my apartment and hurriedly opened a bottle of Heineken, one of the very few items in my fridge that were patiently awaiting my arrival, for the sunset-from-the-balcony ritual that I engage in many evenings. I am happy to be home. As I put it to one of my friends some time ago, you are in a good place in life if there is no other place you'd rather be.
One of the things I was struck by, since my arrival back, is how friendly the people are. I think this is notable as my frame of reference was Asia and most recently Thailand, with its reputation for friendliness. True, Asian service deserves a high grade overall, but that just means you get more value for your money. But when it comes to unselfish gestures, I've encountered random acts of kindness more frequently here over the past week than in Asia. Perhaps some of that has to do with being [by some accounts] a cute female, but if someone offers to help me with heavy packages while not asking for anything in return, that qualifies, in my book. It certainly isn't an impression I get exclusively from interaction with men, either -- regardless of the gender, there is a palpable aura of goodwill, for its own sake -- something I felt was keenly lacking in Thailand overall. Perhaps Thailand is friendly relative to some places around the world, like Northeast US or certain parts of Europe that shall remain unnamed, but I prefer Miami.
There are several ways in which I feel the trip affected me. The first one is that, traversing Asia on a flexible itinerary, I seem to have become a lot more comfortable with the go-with-the-flow approach. I don't think I'll ever be the one to "float aimlessly down the river of life", but I think I have a lot more appreciation for the opportunities and experiences that become available when I don't cement my well-laid plans too early. So, this New Year's Eve, unlike any that I can remember, I'm playing it by ear.
The other aspect of the travel experience which I feel affected me is a loss-of-face concept that is an important aspect of many Asian cultures. The concept of 'face' is hard to define; I think this Wikipedia definition comes close to capturing it:
"Face" means 'sociodynamic valuation', a lexical hyponym of words meaning 'prestige; dignity; honor; respect; status'. (Carr 1993:90)
I've experienced others' concern for my face on a couple of occasions during minor snafus. One such example would be when I was at a hookah/sheeshah/nargilah place in Singapore; I was so excited to get my fix that I took a couple of deep inhales as soon as they brought the hookah out. When no smoke came out, it didn't take me long to realize that the coals weren't placed on it yet! Confident in my hookah smoking prowess, I was about to laugh it off, however the waitress, apparently concerned about loss of face, came to my face's rescue by commenting how you can actually taste the finer aspects of tobacco this way. Leaning naturally on the side of calling it like it is rather than keeping up appearances, I find this cultural concept somewhat foreign. And while I still think one needs to be secure enough to laugh at themselves in comical situations like the one described, I also have a new appreciation for the role of this concept with respect to more sensitive situations.
These are just some of the most pronounced ways in which I feel the trip affected me. I'm sure that over time others will emerge, and some perhaps will be so subtle that their impact will not be easily discernible. But, that's a story for another year. For now, I will draw the curtain on the adventure that 2011 was.