richard 2

A Wanderous Phenomenon

wan•der•lust (wŏn’dər-lŭst’)

n. A very strong or irresistible impulse to travel.”

I have this. My friends do too.

But how many Taiwanese share it?

The urge to travel, see new places, experience a little adventure and expose yourself to just a dash of risk.

Give yourself some war stories to regale your grandkids with. Improve your chances of chatting up the girls back home.

And, of course, that all-important freedom.

Being able to leave everything behind and reflect, get some objectivity and decide what it is you want to do with your life.

The initial reaction from a number of Taiwanese was, “What’s the point?” There was seen to be no concrete goal, no tangible results that could help in gaining a better career.

It was a waste of time, something that was somehow decadent and would involve shirking familial responsibilities.

The expectation of most parents was that the children would immediately work upon graduation and begin to either contribute to the family pot or save for their future home and marriage.

There is no romantic notion of leaving the nest to become lost in the world’s wide embrace. Your neighbours don’t do it, nor your cousins, nor any of your classmates. Why should you?

The other response, however, was far more encouraging. Despite it being something that was new and largely unknown, the mixed bag of people I asked largely found it an attractive idea.

I’d copied seven reasons why you should go backpacking from an experienced traveller’s blog and put it to them. There was no disagreement or surprise; more curiosity and, on the part of one, real longing to do the same.

She stated that she would, she saw herself as a touch too shy and dependent for the modern world and thought an expedition like the one described would increase her ability to deal with the unfamiliar.

She was, however, unable to because of the Chinese tradition of protecting women and parents seeing their children as exactly that – children – until well into their adult life.

As a woman, she would be unlikely to gain the permission of her father to undertake such a foolhardy trip and would therefore have to defy him in order to do it. There are few who would go to such lengths to explore the world.

It must take a particularly strong personality to break with the entire direction of their upbringing in order to branch out alone in search of an undefinable end.

However, it is an integral aspect of modern Western culture.

I read The Beach when I was backpacking around Europe and it captured my imagination and longing for the unknown.

There was a goal. There are a multitude in fact.

To learn about foreign cultures, hopefully leading to broader horizons and a better understanding of the subjectivity of one’s own upbringing.

To become a stronger person, someone who doesn’t panic in the face of unforeseen obstacles, even revels in the challenge of it all.

To meet more interesting people than those who have never ventured further than Majorca or Benedorm.

The strongest for me personally, and for many of my home clique, is something that jars with those of a more traditional mindset.

One of the main aims of being “out there” in the world with no particular destination in mind but the drive to keep trying to get there is the very idea of having no specific aim in the first place.

It’s coupled with the realisation that there is only one life to lead and that there is so much more to it than a job, car and 2.4 children.

Yes, there is something selfish in it, but seen to be a necessary selfishness borne of this very realisation itself.

The world we inhabit is diverse, colourful and vast and the only way to really become acquainted with the oddity of it all is to go out in person and meet it.

The Western world has moved beyond the wonder of having the world brought to it via the television screen.

The wonder is now found in the wandering itself.

Wikipedia cites the phenomenon of backpacking as originating in low cost air travel opening the way for many young westerners to “follow the hippie trail into India and Southeast Asia”, a trail that is still largely followed to this day.

The more adventurous might branch out to South America and Africa tends to remain a black hole overlooked at the centre of every map. This is followed up with the statement that, “backpacking has become something of a rite of passage in the popular culture of some countries”.

Which countries? Essentially, North America, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand, Israel – what you might think are the usual suspects – and Japan.

This is the only asian country that has a significant number who roam the trails. It struck me as unusual and worth pursuing, especially as it is normally asian culture that prevents the young from travelling alone.

What is it that separates Japan from the pack?

I found it to be a combination of affluence and the breakdown of tradition ideas of a career.

The first aspect of this is no surprise. A person must be able to afford to travel, be able to take the time off without worrying too much about earning a crust afterwards, and be safe in the knowledge that their family back home will live comfortably enough while they’re away.

The second factor must be seen as a part of a wider trend. Japan is changing.

A BBC article entitely “Japan’s Free Spirits” dates back to September 2004 and reports on how the economic situation there has led to a weakening idea of a lifelong job. Urban kids are now faced with a freedom that was previously unknown.

As is now normal fare in the West, the new Japanese must face uncertainty and move towards self-reliance or failure in the human marketplace.

Their parents may not necessarily expect them to follow in their footsteps. Younger people are choosing for themselves now, and many are choosing to go out and see the world.

Is Taiwan moving in the same direction? There is no doubt that with the wealth that Taiwan now enjoys comes a degree of internationalisation that was previously unheard of.

Will we see the next generation baffling their grandparents as they set off into the big, wide, transnational world?

The family remains strong, this is true, but for how long?

- by Nathan Haslewood, Taiwanease magazine, 2007

Leave a Comment