I wonder whether, given the opportunity in my thirties or forties or fifties, I would have moved to Mumbai? When I was an undergraduate in Austin in the mid 1970s, a friend and I talked about going to India. Our starry-eyed dream was that we’d walk across the country and, in the process, learn the secrets of humanity through experience. Both of us were dreamers. Neither of us had any inkling of what such an undertaking might involve. Perhaps that’s why we seriously considered it. The absence of experience in the world allowed us to ignore the potential dangers such an endeavor might have presented. We didn’t give a thought to the endless possibilities for calamity we might encounter on a walking tour of a country about a third of the size (in land area) of the U.S. Nor did we think for a moment about how utterly different the experience would have been, in comparison to our lives in the US. Only this morning, after reading a bit about the country, did I realize that India’s population is more than four times the population of the US. Imagine that. In a country a third the size. And consider the issue of communicating in a country in which the most prevalent language, Hindi, spoken by only thirty percent of the population. According to an article I read this morning, thirty languages are spoken by more than a million people in India and 122 language are spoken by more than ten thousand.

The trek would have taken more courage and money than I had at the time. And it would have taken more of both than I have now, I suppose. Once before, when I mulling over the fact that I didn’t explore India, I said courage isn’t born of youth but, rather, of a thirst for experience. So, I wonder, where was that thirst for experience? Thousands of other people did precisely what I said I wanted to do. Why didn’t I? Was my thirst for experience satisfied by entering graduate school in a small east Texas city? That’s what I did instead of travel to India. Hmm.

This entire stream-of-consciousness conversation with myself started when I read an article on BBC online about the extremely high cost of “ex-pat housing” in Mumbai, which corresponds to the extremely high salaries of ex-pats in Mumbai (I presume ex-pats from England), which average more than $217,000 per year. “Ex-pat housing” seems to be a euphemism for high-end housing that mirrors the kind of housing people would find “back home.” That is, lavish places with ample western amenities and with access to services reserved for those with the money to buy them. That’s not quite what I had in mind when I thought about trekking across India. I imagined myself a contemplative ascetic. Youth has a way of opening the doors of the world to impossible possibilities!

Though I’ve occasionally wished I’d taken action on my plan to wander the Indian subcontinent, my regret has not been so much that I didn’t make it to India as that I didn’t make time to explore the world in general. I’ve been a lot of places around the world, but not as a sponge sucking up knowledge of different cultures. Where have I traveled? Let’s see, I’ve been to Russia and Sweden and China and Saudi Arabia and Croatia and France and Portugal and Spain and Germany and Australia and New Zealand and England and Mexico and Canada and more. Reading off that list of countries sounds like I’m “well-traveled,” but most of my trips have been short stints on business or brief vacations during which I tried to cram too much into too little time. In most instances, I didn’t absorb the culture in any significant sense. I swept in, did my thing, and swept out. I suppose I could wallow in regret for a misspent life, but that would be taking my trip down memory lane down a dark alley, which I’d really rather not do.

Now, as I sit on the cusp of the trip toward old age, I’m not inclined to live the life of an ascetic. I’m not particularly intent on going to India, either, though I might go if offered the opportunity and someone else picked up the bill. I’d rather return to Sweden, I think, or Croatia. Or maybe take another overnight cruise from Stockholm to Helsinki. But this time I’d spend more than a day in Finland. I’d like to explore Canada more thoroughly than I’ve done in the past. A coast-to-to-coast train journey, with plenty of week-long stops along the way would be nice. I’ve tried, with no success, to interest my wife in driving to Nova Scotia. I visited Halifax on business once and was enamored of the place. An online friend who I’ve never met face-to-face lives in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. She describes the little towns around her in ways that make them extremely appealing to me.

When my wife and I retired, our intent (or maybe, on reflection, it was purely my intent) was that we’d take frequent extensive road trips around the U.S. and Canada. I retired seven years before “normal” retirement age in part because I wanted to have time to do that sort of thing. But that hasn’t transpired. We’ve settled into domestic stagnation. I shouldn’t call it that. We’re not stagnant. But we haven’t done much traveling. We did spend three weeks in France a couple of years ago and a couple of weeks in Mexico last year, so we’re getting around. A little.

My wanderlust and sad-eyed longing for life on the road is simply a mood I go through every so often. I invariably get over it in relatively short order. Sometimes, it takes a trip to do it. When we went to France two years ago, as much as I loved it, it felt good to get back home.  Yet I often contemplate whether I might feel like I was at home if I lived in another country. If I mastered the relevant languages, could I feel at home in Iceland or Denmark or Chile or Portugal? I suspect I could. I suspect I’d find the attitudes about society in general and community to be more appealing than in the U.S.  Ach, but I’m becoming less flexible as I grow older. I do appreciate my creature comforts. My American style bathrooms appeal to me. Electrical outlets and switches that I’ve lived with all my life are known quantities; might I find it difficult to adjust to other systems? If I had ample financial resources, I’d like to try. Maybe rent a house in a small Spanish village for three or four months. Or an apartment in Santiago, Chile or Oslo, Norway, maybe for just a month or two. I’m just day dreaming. There is about as much chance that we’ll do that as that we’ll win the Powerball lottery. What the hell, though. I can dream, can’t I? And it costs nothing but my sense of self. <Insert winsome chuckle.>

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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