For international readers, allow me to explain: I am an American but I have lived as an expat in China since 2004. My city of Chongqing is a megacity of 30 million people. Often abbreviated as CQ, and pronounced Chong Ching to rhyme with Wrong Ring, Chongqing is located in south-central China on the Yangtze River. I’ve come a long, long way from my small hometown located in (pause for effect) … south-central Missouri on the Little Dry Fork Creek. How long? How about 14 time zones-long? CQ is one of the world’s largest cities but I am on a quest for a simple life. I want to “simplify, simplify”, as Hank Thoreau beautifully stated it. Thus, even in the middle of a huge metropolis, I publish these observations and admonitions from my 18th Floor Homestead.
I am currently working on a new book, The Expat Life. It will deal with expat experiences, lifestyle, and mindset. Welcome to come along for the ride. If you find this invitation intriguing, become a subscriber to my free weekly newsletter at http:/theexpatlife.substack.com. Yes, it’s free and yes, it’s in the form of a weekly email sent directly to your Inbox. Substack also provides an opportunity to leave your comments if you wish. Welcome!
Lost – One Norwegian Explorer
Breaking News! I finally received email from Torgeir on April 23. He is back in Norway. He experienced some unspecified technical difficulties so he was unable to send email. Nothing sinister or slothful, just technology kept him offline.
Predictably, he is now buried under an avalanche of work and family matters after being away for 58 days. Looking forward to a long and detailed trip report after he deals with the most urgent matters.
But the concerns below are still relevant. I describe how travelers in the past were often incommunicado because the technology of the day didn’t allow the constant connections we have come to expect. Such isolation can be both good and bad.
For those following his 2023 World Tour, I have to report that we seem to have lost contact with our intrepid Torgeir. My last message from him was an email with his reflections on Nepal, dated March 28. No cause for alarm yet. In the past, travelers often dropped completely out of sight – sometimes for long periods. Compare that with our whining if we momentarily lose cell phone service or internet access in modern times. Even in his Pacific adventures – Tangaroa in 2006 and KonTiki2 in 2016 – Torgeir had email and websites.
Indeed, such a break in communications was expected by travelers in the past. In our modern times, we must consciously choose to disconnect. As a delightful bit of deja vu, I remembered when this experience was the norm, not the exception. As I wrote in China Bound,
In only a few years, the development of the internet had dramatically changed our expectations about travel and communications. When our grandparents traveled long distances, they left their daily lives and relationships behind. Going even further back, in the 1800s, travel meant being completely detached from your normal life and your sources of local news. For example, when Lewis and Clark returned from exploring the newly purchased Louisiana Territory (1804 – 1806), they had to ask about the outcome of the presidential election held while they were off exploring the West. It is difficult for us to relate to such isolation.
Indeed, I am old enough to remember the days before the ubiquitous cell phone. I can recall the disconnected sensation when I was traveling or merely away from my office or home. Without a cell phone in my pocket, it was impossible to contact anyone or to be contacted until I arrived somewhere with a phone connection to check in. The modern smartphone has left us with the expectation that everyone, everywhere will be available all the time, along with all the other services and search functions we come to use almost unconsciously.
So, if Torgeir has dropped out of sight for a bit, he is honoring an ancient tradition. Updates will be posted when he surfaces again.
But, let’s look a bit further at this modern expectation of instant, 24/7 access to all the latest celebrity scandals, news fluff, and self-promoting influencers busily making appallingly banal videos for the masses. Soon, I will be starting a new book – and perhaps serializing parts of it in this account – of my reaction to this hectic, always connected, constantly updated lifestyle. I suspect that it may strike a resonant chord with many people for whom the feeling of being overwhelmed has become a permanent fixture in their life.
Hmm, where to begin?
Back in the late 1960s, my grandfather towed a retired city bus down to the bank of the Little Dry Fork Creek where my family had fished and camped for decades. (This was in central Missouri, my origin.) In his retirement years, he wanted a permanent fishing cabin where he would leave fishing gear and his jon boat and motor. He put that old bus up on blocks, took out all the seats, and attached an LP gas tank to equip the bus with gas lanterns, gas stove, and gas refrigerator. The bus had no electricity, no telephone, and no running water.
Luxurious it was not but it was so peaceful and remote and beautiful that it became a family tradition to spend a few days “down at the creek” every summer. That was the phrase we used and, when you heard that Grandpa or some of the uncles and cousins were “down at the creek”, you knew exactly where they were and what they were doing. Over the years, even after Grandpa passed, it was also a perfect spot for a brief retreat whenever life got to be too much to handle, although you had to be pretty hardy to retreat “down at the creek” in winter. The only source of heat inside the bus was the small gas stove. “Frying air”, the Chinese call it.
I am thinking of how to design a return to the simpler, less technology-centered life of my youth, as personified by Grandpa’s bus on the bank of the Little Dry Fork. This project, with a working title of Back To The Creek, will explore the possibilities of living parts of that lifestyle in the midst of the 2020s in an urban setting. Thus, for my next book, I am thinking of how to return to that peaceful life “down at the creek”. I want to describe then recreate the lifestyle – the best parts of it, anyway – of Life on the Little Dry Fork in the 1960s and 70s.
Maybe no one but me will relate to it… but I have a feeling that a lot of people are fed up with the hectic pace and the insane level of stimulation in modern times.
What do you think? Want to join me as I spend time “down at the creek”?