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Friday, September 17, 2010

The Electronic Travlers...

In our earlier days of Asian travel, we were vigorous, almost obsessive, journalers… We would stay up late every night in crusty guest houses, writing page after page in our notebooks by candle-light or headlamp. It was necessary to constantly process the kaleidoscope of sensory overload that we were experiencing. Film was expensive and heavy to carry around for months and months, so we carefully rationed our photo-taking. Many times we missed out on capturing the film images, but our writing benefited because we had to paint the mental images in extensive detailed journal entries. Calling home on a bad connection from India, Nepal, Tibet or Pakistan was extremely difficult, as well as incredibly expensive. When I “phoned home” in 1997 to find out that Karen was pregnant with Eliza, it cost $7 per minute! …and I had to scream into the telephone, in the front lobby of the one fancy hotel in town that had an international phone capability. So we rarely communicated with the US, except through an ancient form of correspondence called ‘writing letters.’ Perhaps you’ve heard of it? I was quite proficient at cramming 10 or 15 paragraphs, written almost microscopically, on the back of a single postcard. We would buy 10-packs of those flimsy thin pre-stamped AeroGrams to share our travels with family & friends back home. In China you even had to buy your own little pot of paste to glue the tri-fold aerogram shut! How times have changed!!!

Now we rarely, if ever, handle a post card, and we haven’t seen aerograms in years… We email, blog, and skype from even the most remote parts of Asia. Cyber cafĂ©s are everywhere! We snap thousands of digital photos, and instead of staying up late writing in journals, we edit, delete, rotate, organize and backup images…. Then we upload them to blogs and Facebook pages. I’m typing on a compact netbook right now that is half the size of our old laptop. Years ago I couldn’t imagine burdening myself with hauling a computer around India, but now it seems almost indispensable.

And to support all this electronic paraphernalia, we have an entire stuff bag full of cords and gizmos. We’ve dubbed it the ‘E-bag,’ and it contains multiple adapters and USB cords for 2 cameras, a laptop, iPod, and mini hard-drive. We have a small charger for the headlamps and camera, with spare AA and AAA batteries (both rechargeable and not). A flash drive, CF card reader, and locally purchased surge-protector power-strip complete the pile of electronic crap we are carrying! But when I pack it all up, it’s still about the same size of my old lead-lined travel film bag, stuffed with 30 rolls of Fuji Velvia.

We truly love documenting our travels, collecting memories, and sharing the stories with everyone, so I guess we’ll continue to haul all this ‘stuff’ around the world. But sometimes my favorite thing to do is to leave everything ‘valuable’ behind in the house or hotel… to wander the streets alone all day with a few rupees in my pocket, unburdened by the camera or mobile phone or the burden of documenting everything for later consumption. Then it feels more like the ‘old days,’ wallowing in rich experience, in the sensory whirlpool, better able to flow freely with the current of life in these amazing places.

…uh oh! Low battery alert! Time to re-charge the laptop!

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