Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Friends, Photos and a Passport

When I had first set out for Russia, just over a year ago, I had no intentions or expectations, nor did I have a valid reason for giving up a life of considerable comfort on Vancouver Island. The weeks and days leading up to the hour I would leave for the great unknown were filled with excitement and dread, although I had no long-term plan. I began to have second-doubts and the well-intentioned critiscisms of my family and peers didn't help.

Why had I given up a $50,000 a year job in a quaint little harbour town on Canada's stunning west coast? Why wasn't I taking that time to further develop my future opportunities? What about savings? What about student debt? What about all the communists and criminals I would find in Russia?

As I left for Russia these thoughts swirled around in my head. I had given up everything I owned in exchange for a couple of suitcases and a few facebook pictures. When I set out for Moscow I literally owned nothing.

One year later I have returned to Canada with the same suitcase, albeit with a lot more facebook photos. And a lot of quality friends from all corners of the world. And a beautiful wife whom I adore. And, perhaps most important, without realizing it or even trying to, I acquired myself along the way.

It was in Russia and particularly after arriving back in Canada that I realized that I am not cut out for Canada's middle-class. Nor am I cut out for the upper or lower classes. I am of a different class altogether. This class is an international class of semi-homeless people who roam the world with a bag and a passport. This is a new class of people as the ability to roam the globe and establish lives in far-flung places is relatively new in human history. There are quite a few of us in this class but in proportion to the overall population we are quite a small group. Most of us teach English for a living, although a few us manage to roam around doing other jobs and a very fortunate minority, the upper-echelons of this classless class, get to do it all without a day's labour.

Because we share experiences and mindset and, usually, a common language in foreign places, the members of this class tend to form very close bonds very quickly.

Not everybody who travels can claim to be among this small global group of people; there are those who only travel for a few months with a backpack. They don't count. There are those who travel for a year but bitch about every thing that is different from "home" and only aspire to return from whence they came. They don't count, either. There are those who travel only for flesh and vice. They have their own class and can keep out of ours altogether. International students, expats working at American-owned companies on big payrolls, diplomats and their children as well as researchers are not part of this class as, by definition, they have their own classes back home as well as the luxury of secure financing.

The people in this internationalist class are a different breed and we can spot one another right away. We are not elitist in any way; in fact, we are quite humble and laugh at ourselves for the very lifestyles that bring us together.

I have met and immediately bonded with most of my compatriots who have lived the same lifestyle as me, that is, overseas with no real end-goal and limited financial means but a deep-rooted desire to see the world in this lifetime and make the best of it. Many of these people I have not met, but I have done my best to include their tales on my blog. To the right you can see a list of other great travel blogs which, I feel, are quality examples of this globe-trotting class of people.

It was in Russia that I realized that I was much happier, much more fulfilled and much more confident of my place in the world when I'm out in the actual world, and not slowly dying day by day in the middle class of North America. Physically, emotionally and even spiritually I felt awed and rejuvenated in Russia, much as I did in England, Thailand and, to some extent, South Korea (although the last few months of life in that country became unbearable, but that's a different story). For sure the summer was nearly intolerable, what with the heat and smoke of Moscow, but as soon as it all cleared up life was back to normal.

As I read the blogs of two particular young women who have taken my place (as well as Wonderpant's, Ms. Australia's and Quagmire's places) in Mytischi in the new year, I am brought back to those first few months in Russia when I immediately fell in love with the country and the people and myself for choosing to go there despite the fears and critiscisms. Having already met one of the bloggers, who runs The Rheal World, and reading through the blog of another one, The Devushka Diaries (both blogs have fantastic names and both these woman are incredible writers with good spelling...rare in North America), I immediately recognized members of my class and feel a longing for Mytischi and the Russian autumn that impacted me so strongly a year ago. I can't wait to return in a few weeks.

Being home in Canada has been depressing but, more importantly, eye-opening, as I've come in to sharp contact with a former life which, due to the sum of all my travels, I now fear and loathe. Nevertheless I am glad that I returned here. It has ultimately provided the final piece of the puzzle in my identity and philosophy.

One day I know I will settle back here (although not in Ontario, or "Onterrible" as many call it) and will be forced into a middle-class lifestyle. It happens to everyone. Passports and visas expire on everybody. Nevertheless, this is my one shot at life and I am happy that I have not wasted it by grinding away in a "normal" North American existence.

It was going to Russia that I can thank for all this. For the memories, for the photos and the friends, for the loving wife and, ultimately, for myself.

Now, in celebration, I'm going to go get drunk in Ottawa and flip off all the hard-working yuppies who have never left their province. Za S'droviya!

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