on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

existential thoughts while traveling

The thing I have realized while traveling: it is the normality of the place that makes me wonder and wander. Whether in Seoul, Paris or Barcelona, people are just going about their lives the way they can, the way they know how.

What does it mean to live? These meanings express themselves differently in different geographical locations and cultures. Barcelona has been a surprise for me – the city feels sleepy to me, yet alive at the same time. It does not have the weight and seriousness of Paris.

In both places I have found stumbled upon unexpected areas (read: not Chinatown) where the Chinese settled and set up shop. I have been intrigued by the migration history of the Chinese ever since I read about Spanish Mary (who is Chinese by the way, and spoke five languages) in Monterey, California. I have found particular delight in speaking Mandarin in these places, feeling relieved I don’t have to communicate awkwardly in languages that neither of us are comfortable expressing ourselves in. I wonder about their stories – why did they leave? The older I become and the more I travel, the more I appreciate my heritage and roots.

I have only managed to crawl slowly through this period with discovering unexpected wonders, reading a lot, and gratefully, texting with a long-time friend on Line while I fumble over my existential questions and thoughts. In times like this, I am grateful for technology, for enabling a near-synchronous connection over two ends of the world. I am not sure the state I will be in if not for the virtual companionship of this friend.

Reading Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections was also a great comfort. I semi-wished I have read it earlier, but maybe I wouldn’t have the capacity to digest its impact on me. I now know I’m not the only person having an endless list of questions that provokes existential crises on a daily basis, and I can stop feeling bad about wanting to sit and contemplate life all day long.

When we talk about self-actualization, we often co-relate it with conventional success – but what does it really mean to actualize ourselves? Maybe for some people, actualizing themselves does not mean finding what they love to do and making a comfortable living out of it, or becoming a “success”. Maybe for some of us, it means living on the edge all the time.

Jung found himself increasingly isolated as he delved deeper into his work, because his contemporaries were still hanging on to traditional models of psychiatry. He did his work anyway because he had to, against the grain of peer pressure, and he was surprised later on in his life that his work would be recognized at all. Someone once told me life is long, and as a collective species in modern times, do we give enough time, space and capital for ideas to grow?

We spend capital on things that give as a maximum return, forgetting that maximum returns may not be represented in a form of monetary capital but in the form of what is more priceless to me – realizing the potential of us as a collective species.

I am not sure who I am now or who will I become, except that I am tired of adhering to society’s conventions or popular opinion. It is a little late but I have just fully realized that the mainstream is only but a sum of averages (Thanks Jung!) and “success” that depends on a collective buy-in is not something I would want for myself. It may be a primary motivation for other people, but it is not mine. And only now, I have barely found the strength to tell myself: it is okay to not want what others want, it is also okay to be the only person to want something.

After all, reality is only real to the observer.

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