March 13, 2007

Day 13 :: Traveling Politics

Day 13 - Yengshuo

You don't expect to feel like a 7th grader while backpacking.

Remember in Junior High when you were in that awkward place of being in the middle grade - the constant struggle to feel cool, always feeling insecure around 8th graders but being self-assured around the 6th graders? Or how about the 7th grade power struggle - feeling defeated (embarrased, taunted) by the upper grade but always getting to take out your defeat on the lower grade?

So it seems a similar struggle for power and coolness in the world of backpacking. Almost everywhere you go, you have three groups of travelers. The 8th grade crowd are the locals, travelers who came to a certain city to work for an extended period of time (at least 3 months). These people are easily marked by long hair, ripped clothing and often speak the native language while buying water from a vendor. Then you have the 7th grade crowd, backpackers who are out traveling around for at least 3 months. This crowd is harder to spot, so you have to look at their clothing. If you look close enough you'll see zip-off pants, windbreakers and broken-in shoes. The 6th grade represents the tourist on holiday for a week or two. This group is easy to spot and are distinguished by jeans, sweaters, oversize cameras, hand sanitizer and can often be seen walking around in circles for no reason at all.

Sure, no one talks about these groups, but they exist and there's even politics involved. For example, these groups never interact with each other. It's just not appropriate for a tourist to have a meal with a local. Nor is it plausible for a backpacker to share an activity, say visiting a cave, with a tourist. Also, facial expressions are the only way to communicate with another group. If you're a backpacker and you walk by a tourist, it is completely natural to give a look of disgust to the girl wearing high heels. Or if you're a tourist and you walk into a bar full of locals, the locals can ignore you for as long as they want to.

So you can understand my amazement, when last night, for a brief moment in time, all these groups came together for the Chinese New Year. Tourist were drinking with locals and backpackers were playing music with tourists. It could have been the alcohol. Or maybe our unity was simply a mysterious Chinese phenomenon that happens every New Year's Eve. Or quite possibly, it could have been Kari, somehow being the one who sang in the Chinese New Year in 2007. Either way, last night was one for the ages.

Today? Well, it's back to the 7th grade.


Jess said... the books...thanks again! Enjoying the updates from around the world!

pk said...

I too am loving the updates. I'm sure I check daily . . . if not more often sometimes. You'll never forget these experiences you're having.

::athada:: said...

Fine observations, even with such a sickening comparison. Did those dark years even exist? Did I really: get dumped for a girl? wear corduroys and airwalks? play tuba in the band? buy a yo-yo?

Please have more adventures, and keep middle school out of it.

Sarah said...

Awesome! I am enjoying your adventures. It doesn't surprise me that Kari would be the one singing in the New Year! And, Josh, you are such a wonderful writer.

amber said...

Hey guys! It is truly amazing what you guys are doing. I am in awe with every picture I see. I envy you guys, you have so much courage to go into the un-known. You both cherish life to the fullest extent and don't take anything for granted which is more then I can say for half the people on the planet. Enjoy your trip and each other! Miss you guys!

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