In this journal:
bloodiest uprising in human history;
128 pierogi dumplings;
an execution site.
Evil is evil, Stregobor. Lesser, greater, middling, it’s all the same. Proportions are negotiated, boundaries blurred. I’m not a pious hermit. I haven’t done only good in my life. But if I’m to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all.
Geralt of Rivia
map of Poland travels
Poland in sight!
I quickly transited in Helsinki, for the 9th time in this trip, and continued towards the small Embraer 190 heading for Warsaw. The small jet was surprisingly comfortable, especially with those old style cloth seats and ample legroom. No wonder this is usually hailed as one of the more comfortable ways of travel out there. Norra is a Finnair subsidiary operating these short haul non-domestic routes, and I honestly could not feel any difference in their service. 8/10 would take again.
The afternoon sun painted the flowing Vistula River a shiny golden hue, and the rays looked as if they were heralding the advent of a thousand angels. The very first glance of Poland already gave me chills on the back, because this is a place that I had always wanted to visit, for reasons that I will disclose later, and now the first sight of this country not only met my unrealistically high expectations, and surpassed it too! Oh man, I have already begun to love Poland!
special background music for PC users here
I took the quick bus downtown, which dropped me off right at the core city region next to the large central train station, as well as the towering yet dreadful-looking Palace of Culture and Science. However, I was really exhausted, so the bed in my little hostel room was really a gift from heaven. Starting the next day, I officially began my week-long adventure in this Slavic nation. In this journal, I want to tell you the story of this resilient nation, as well as her even-more-resilient people, so the sequence of the pictures you see may not precisely reflect the city geography or normal sightseeing sequence.
Castle Square and Sigismund’s Column
Our story begins with the Union of Lublin in 1569, which formed the mammoth Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the largest European country by landmass at that time. Needless to say, it was an incredibly prosperous age for Poland. The kingdom had many things going, including the first relatively parliamentary system in Europe established in 1573, also granting religious freedom to nobility, a rare sight in medieval Europe. The noblemen parliament also elected kings, which made Poland somewhat a democratic monarchy. All these advances peaked around the reign of Sigismund III, who moved the capital from Kraków to Warsaw. His commemorative column was erected around mid-17th century, and seen above in the square right in front of the Royal Palace.
Old Town Market Square
Nicolaus Copernicus (this is his statue) is from Poland!
However, Sigismund also brought the beginning of the end. His pride and personal kingship feud with Sweden caused him to started wars on three fronts: against Russia, Sweden and Ottoman Empire. And it was downhill from there for the mighty empire. Many rulers came and went, but the throne appeared to be a hot potato that nobody wanted to hold. Some kings were a bit more successful at retaining a strong Commonwealth than others, but one thing was clear: while Poland-Lithuania was struggling to maintain integrity, the other European neighbors ballooned into superpowers. And then here comes the final king of the commonwealth, nearly 200 years after the great union’s initiation: Stanisław II Augustus.
16th century castle, Warsaw Barbican
St. John’s Archcathedral, founded 1390
He was born a tiny noble, but as he was interning around Europe as a diplomat, he met the future Russian Empress Katherine the Great in Saint Petersburg. They became secret lovers, and he always harbored feelings for her even after his forced retreat back to Poland. With Catherine’s help, Stanisław ascended to the throne, since at that time the entire Sejm (great congregation of nobles), similar to the Congress in USA now, can be bought by money. However, Stanisław loved his country more than his old lover, apparently, since he attempted to strengthen the great nation’s internal system, implementing numerous reforms that tried fighting corruption, educating the poor, and promoting science. Catherine, however, would very much like a puppet state in Russian hands, so the former lovers turned into opponents. With the help of conservative noblemen, Russia marched into Warsaw and forcefully partitioned the great union, taking almost half of its land along with Prussia and Austria. That did not last long either, as the Polish people rebelled against the new rulers, the three powers partitioned the country again, and again. Finally, by 1795, Poland ceased to exist.
inside of Cathedral, where Stanisław vowed to improve his nation
Presidential Palace, with equestrian statue of Polish revolutionary Józef Poniatowski
Stanisław was so anguished that he abdicated and lived out his life alone, defeated, and under house arrest in Saint Petersburg. The Polish independence returned for a brief period in 1807, when Napoleon created Duchy of Warsaw after Prussians were defeated. In the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Poland was again re-divided. The next century came and went with numerous failed rebellions, until the end of WWI. USA president Woodrow Wilson proposed his famous Fourteen Points, and the thirteenth was the restoration of a Polish nation. Everyone agreed, except Germany, but Germany could barely stand so everyone technically agreed. Poland came back, albeit a little bit smaller than 123 years ago, but nevertheless it was a nation for all Poles again.
statue of Józef Piłsudski
The very first president of the so-called Second Polish Republic was Józef Piłsudski, a patriot as well as a hero for the modern Polish identity. Heralded as the founding father of this country, he was practically in full control of the new regime, almost a benevolent dictator. He greatly strengthened the foundation of the new Poland, and quickly turned the horrible post war scorched earth around. In 1920, Vladmir Lenin decided to spread out his beautiful communism to the west, using just a little bit of “gentle persuasion.” 120000 Red Army marched straight to the gates of Warsaw, but miraculously, Piłsudski led the last remaining Polish army towards a decisive victory, which shook the entire world. Lenin had to rethink his strategies, and admit his complete failure. If the Poles lost this battle, then WWII would have been very different. Despite his popularity, Piłsudski gave up his position and retired, giving democracy back to the people. However, the Polish dictatorship quickly soured, turning the leaders into a bunch of clucking chickens fighting in a ring. He later saw that the politicians were arguing like little children in the government, and said to himself:”You know what? If they cannot govern themselves, someone gotta teach them how.” So he started a coup d’état to take back his position as the strongman of the country. Yes, he just started an armed rebellion against the very government he established himself. He dedicated the rest of his life to the fledgling Poland Republic, widely regarded as a great leader among all Polish people.
Unknown Soldier’s Grave, with a few unknown bodies from WWI
The prosperity did not seem to last too long, as WWII was right around the corner, and needless to say, Poland was the very first formal victim in this bloodbath, and probably the most tragic. Hitler and Stalin signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, and they fully delivered it: Germany invaded Poland from the west on September 1, 1939, and Soviet Union invaded from the east on the 17th. Sandwiched between two superpowers, poor Poland did not stand a chance. Just 5 days later, Warsaw capitulated, and Poland’s government went exile in London.
old building riddled with bullet holes, with a cast iron underground army sigil
However, the people did not stop fighting just because their country fell. The underground Armia Krajowa/Home Army organized guerrilla warfare, as well as all kinds of clandestine sabotages. As the battle drew out, it was clear that the Germans were not gonna last long, so the Polish government’s attention turned towards the Soviet Union to the east. The Red Army had been advancing through the eastern fields towards Warsaw, “liberating” everything on the way. Poland did not want to become a part of the Soviet Bloc, so the government came up with an idea: organize a large rebellion against the Nazi, win, and welcome the Soviets as “rightful owners of the free capital of Poland”. This should deter the Soviets from taking Poland under the Iron Curtain. Thousands of messages later, it was ready: the bloodiest uprising in human history.
a small memorial for the Uprising
On August 1, about 50000 men, women and children took up arms, (only a handful had guns, and most of them only had their arms, literally), and started rushing towards key posts around central Warsaw. It began, the famous Warsaw Uprising. Quickly the German troops started retreating, and the captured war machines turned the tide favorable for the Polish citizens. By day 4, most of the city had fallen under Polish control, and the plan was executed rather successfully: capture the city right before the Soviets march in. The Red Army was already on the other side of the Vistula river, and you could practically see them. Now just a bit clean up work, chase off all other enemies, and proudly declare the capital free from both Fascism and Communism. However, things quickly turned out for the worst…
Warsaw Uprising Memorial
The Soviets never crossed the river. The help from Royal Air Force never came. USA never assisted as promised with their enormous amounts of goods and military prowess. Nobody was there to help. Stalin was smart: by isolating Warsaw and waiting for the Germans to get their reinforcement in place, Poland will become red with communism. Quickly, German backups started coming in, and a stalemate formed. To punish the insurgents, every day, thousands of civilians were dragged onto the streets and shot down. Any captive was shot on the spot. Any children or women associated with the rebellion also was shot on the spot, no fancy theater, no extravagant morality debate: quintessential German efficiency at its finest. Every 12 Home Army fighters had a pistol, and every 200 fighters had a machine gun: it was not a battle to be won. It was supposedly a quick, 5-day-at-most rebellion; but it dragged out to over 60 days. As winter approached, the leaders of the Home Army had to surrender. The rebellion was over, but nothing was accomplished, except the deaths of over 150000 civilians.
a badge of a Slovakian fighting in the city, soaked in blood
Hitler was furious, and put his notion into plan. The original idea was to completely raze Warsaw, the capital of the inferior Polish race, to the ground, and build an artificial lake. Now it was the perfect timing. Hundreds of special engineers were sent to the city, and Germans began a systematic, deliberate annihilation of Warsaw. Over 700000 people were evacuated from the city under Nazi supervision, and then one house after another was burned down by a combination of flamethrower and dynamite. The Soviets just sat across the river, and watched. By December, 85% of Warsaw was a pile of rubble, and the Germans only retreated when Soviets started advancing towards downtown in January. Thus, almost everything you see above was a reconstruction after the war, except the Presidential Palace which served as the headquarter of German operations.
Warsaw’s symbol, Mermaid, in Old Town
Same plaza in 1945 (Wikipedia)
By the time Warsaw was “liberated”, 1/5 of Polish population had perished, and next up for them was not too comfortable either. Toot toot! All aboard the communism train! (Well, most passengers were dragged onto the train by force.) Stalin made quick work of any patriots, insurgents and soldiers, disposing their bodies in the Siberia. In just a few years, the entire Poland was rid of any sentiment to re-unite with western powers. One dark age might had ended, but another one was just beginning…
Palace of Culture and Science
To show the “friendship between the Russian and Polish people”, USSR built this large concrete building reeking of utilitarianism in 1952, called Palace of Culture and Science. It is still one of the tallest buildings in Europe. It was large, boringly monotonous, and mind-boggling big. Even until now, a lot of the space is not utilized inside! A lot of citizens I talked to were not fond of this building since it exudes communism, and nowadays, Poland is trying really hard to join the ranks of western Europe. If you scream “Poland is in east Europe!”, then you are likely to be lynched on a tram station within minutes.
Milk Bar dumplings and borsch soup!!!
Communism did bring about some nice things, however. Of course, I did not forget the main motivation to travel: food. Since I am so poor that I might as well be a time traveler from 1963 Murmansk, I found myself at home in one of the handful remaining bar mleczny/milk bars. During the communist era’s iconic shortage economy, milk was hard to come by, so the ration was mostly dedicated to these canteens, which served dairy products as well as traditional Polish dishes. I got a classic cheese and potato pierogi, the iconic Polish dumpling, topped with pork fat, and of course, a large glass of milk. Nourishing, cheap, fast (by communist standards), and full of old ladies shouting in the kitchen, now that is what I call authentic!
goulash with compost
Of course, traditional food also included the stuffing Polish goulash, in addition to grandma-made compost, a kind of apple with herbs cooked in water, almost similar to the one I had in Kazakhstan. Yum! I simply cannot imagine my life without pierogi now. Blueberry, strawberry, duck breast, forest vegetables, mushrooms, I am not picky, as long as they come to my stomach! After 3 days of feasting in the capital, it was time to board the train towards the other side of the country, to my very last destination in this trip: Gdańsk.
The sun had hidden itself away behind the puffy clouds on this summer day. As I stepped onto the grounds of this free city, it was quite an enjoyable afternoon. This city has so many stories to tell, and so much history to feel. It is not something that you can just brush through without mentioning why I decided to take 5 hours of train to get here. I had fallen in love with a computer game called The Witcher, made by a Polish game publisher based on a Polish fantasy novel. In the games, the most beautiful part called Novigrad was very likely based on Gdańsk, so I had to pay a pilgrimage here.
a grand mill
The city began around 10th century as a normal fishing village, and slowly it became an important trading port. By 14th century, it was under Polish protection, but was later taken over by the Teutonic Knights. However, due to its status as a place for people to meet, the city had experienced almost every single kind of influence, such as Dutch, Danish, Russian and Latvian. During the second Partition of Poland you read earlier, this part was given to Prussia. Eventually, Prussian hegemony merged many German states together, including this city, called Danzig in German. This lasted until the end of WWI.
Dutch style armory
shackles in the old fortress
Due to the majority being ethnically German, Gdańsk was given a special status during the negotiations after WWI: it became a free city, just like how it was under Polish rule hundreds of years ago. It had its own government, mint, press and mercenary. However, the new Polish Republic could have a garrison and a post office inside for its Polish minority. The entire thing is overseen by League of Nations. But as everyone knows, League of Nations was as weak as my flirting skills, so quickly the German majority elected Nazi Party into the city council around 1930s. Hitler used many diplomatic opportunities to ask Danzig be returned to Germany, but of course the allies refused. Thus, he used this excuse as the reason for war, and the very first shot of WWII was fired around the city around 3am on September 1, 1939.
the old Polish post office in Danzig
Quickly, a group of SA policemen approached the Polish post office, ready to arrest every single person in this last symbolic Polish establishment in the city. However, they did not expect that the postmen came well prepared for battle. Most of them participated in battles before, and were sent here especially to defend the post office in case of a German attack. Stashed away were a few 17mm submachine guns and some well-oiled rifles. First wave of German assault ended in retreat, and so was the second wave. However, the SS regiments were quick to respond, and by noon there were tanks and machine guns outside the gates. A third wave of attack was not successful either, given the Poles were too resilient in their strategic positions. Finally, a small regiment set off a heavy explosive and collapsed some walls, causing the postmen to retreat to basement. However, another few hours of fighting only produced more dead Germans, so the SS group pumped hundreds of gallons of gasoline into the basement, and lit it up. 3 Poles burned to a crisp, and finally the group decided to give up. They held up a tiny office building with just 50 men for almost 15 hours, and caused more casualties than they suffered. Out manned, out gunned, and out of time, they put up a damn good fight. All prisoners were later lined up by the wall next to the post office, and executed.
the position they held when they were shot
old Gestapo office
Fast forward to the end of the war, the Soviets marched into the city, and raped everyone. They perceived the city as a German one, and this was the first German city they marched in. Their emotional catharsis for sweet revenge brought about the destruction of Danzig. Every German was forced out of the city, and everything was reconstructed as if no German had ever been here, erasing all histories of their footprints in the region.
city hall and the famous Neptune statue
What made this city famous again, however, was the Solidarity Movement. What is it, you ask? Well, let me explain. The Soviet Polish satellite state was not doing very well in 1970s, and the government kept raising prices while keeping wages stagnant. Pope John Paul II, originally the bishop from Krakow, visited Poland in 1979, and implied for people to unite and ask for freedom. Then in 1980, a tiny incident sparked the whole tension into a field of flames. A well-respected crane worker Anna Walentynowicz was fired just a month before retirement in Gdańsk’s Lenin Shipyard. The workers united in a strike and protested. Quickly the state tried to quash the insurgence, but more and more people started joining in. Before too long, every shipyard in Poland stopped working, along with hundreds of factories and mines. The protesters, along with religious support, listed out the famous 21 Demands of the MKS. It is a strange list of brainstorming results, ranging from increasing commute allowance to 100 złoty (about 2 dollars) all the way to right of trade unions. They hang it outside the shipyard front gate, and told everyone about the demands.
Monument to Shipyard Workers Fallen in 1970
the 21 demands hanging outside the shipyard
The government had to negotiate, and amazingly, agreed to all items on the list. Solidarity thus became the first legal non-communist trade union in the Eastern Bloc. This was a monumental step towards dismantling the Communist monopoly, and Solidarity became an icon in the world. It gained nearly 10 million members during the next year, hitting a staggering 80% participation rate among work-age people. But hey guess what? Moscow did not like that, and forced the Polish government to declare marshal law, outlaw the organization and arrest all the leaders. However, the notion of solidarity had already spread far and wide, garnering support from Ronald Reagan, Magaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, communists as well as conservatives. Millions of dollars were funneled into the country, and every major power imposed sanctions to Poland. Under immense pressure, the government slowly released all political prisoners, and lifted the martial law.
a piece of Berlin Wall
Around 1985, the newly ascended Gorbachev started a long series of reforms in USSR. By 1988, almost all Solidarity members were out of jail, and participating in nation-wide protests and strikes. The government backed down one last time, and held the famous Polish Round Table Talks, which established the agreement that Poland would have a completely unbiased election, but Communist Party had to hold on to at least 35% of the seats in the parliament. The Solidarity movement took over every single contested seat, and the communist regime realized it was the end of their role in history, and promptly resigned. This sparked a huge wave across the Eastern Bloc, which eventually led to the downfall of Berlin Wall, as well as USSR. This is a monumental victory for democracy, and it all started in the small shipyard in Gdańsk.
And that brought us up to date with Polish history. The country joined EU in 21st century, contributing to a large amount in the global and European economy. Hardworking and resilient Polish people showed their determination to maintain their hard fought liberty, and look at all the beautiful sights in this journal! I could not help but find myself completely immersed in the Polish culture, from the delicious pierogi to the historical harbors. You can definitely say, this is a well-Polished nation!
The most iconic corridor here in Gdańsk for tourists is the Long Lane, leading from the western gates to the flowing Motława River. Unlike most medieval cities, Gdańsk has an east-west grid structure, radiating from this major road, instead of being a web of roads originating from the main plaza. That is because many goods had to be transported from the long line of harbor to the major highways through the cities, so east-west roads became much more important than north-south ones. And that is also why the main plaza is basically a widened part of Long Lane, called Long Market, where stores lined the streets for passers-by to take a peek.
On the plaza was the iconic Artus Court, built in the 1350s for the bourgeoisie, as stall-keepers and craftsmen were prohibited from entering. The Germans called it Junkerhof, but everyone now calls it by the name derived from the English legend King Arthur. Another prominent monument around the area was the fountain of Neptune, featured above in front of the court. Most merchants used to believe in the god of ocean, so Neptune was opted as a centerpiece of the city fountain construction.
The towering building in the city, however, is the St. Mary’s Church. It is the second largest brick church in the world, and the tower stood tall at 80 meters, forming the highest point of the city. It is so heavy that the rest of the periphery is just buttresses, given the building technique of the time. Now, from the viewing platform, you can even see the ocean!
view from the top
Parallel to Long Lane was a small street called Mariacka Street, the only surviving one with the original city layout. Before the advent of automobiles, all streets were like this one, narrow, and covered with cobbles. Each building extends a little porch to the front, so shops could be set up, and special water pipe gargoyles lined above to drain the rain water from the upper floors. It was a genius design, until horses were phased out of existence. Now, the street is lined with special amber shops, since this region of the Baltic Sea is very prominent for amber production.
a tranquil afternoon
food is love, food is life
I met up with my roommate in the tiny hostel, Elise from Norway, and decided for a little day trip together to the nearby spa town of Sopot. Along with the neighboring Gdynia and Gdańsk, the three cities form the so-called Trójmiasto/tri-city metropolis, fourth largest in Poland, or as we in China would say: a decently-sized village. The town is famous for resorts and the longest wooden pier in Europe of over 500 meters long. Oh and also, they have a large fountain that pumps out spring water filled with bromide compounds, nicknamed “inhalation mushroom”. No joke! I cannot even make this shit up myself!
Sheraton by the bay
long wooden pier
The famous beach, however, left so much to be desired. I am not too picky given that I am not a beach person, but even I could not take the water situation here. Obviously I was not looking for waters like Malta or Seychelles here in the Baltic Sea, but the water had quite a lot of dusty seaweed and industrial waste in it, and the sand was not exactly plastic-free. Sorry Sopot, I guess I will go find a better spot.
swan on the beach
The Crooked House
On my way back to the train station, I passed by the famous Krzywy Domek/Little Crooked House. Designed by a Polish architect base on fairy tale illustrations, or more likely, when he was tripping three layers deep in acid and had to come up with an excuse, the house was sadly just a part of a large shopping mall designed to trap tourists. However, it was indeed quite a bizarre experience looking at it as the world just started swirling, even after I left the area. I stumbled around the train station like a 50-year-old drunk at 5a.m., and took the short train ride back to Gdańsk.
a little mill
watching Poland playing in the games
Travelling during World Cup season is really a strange feeling, as everywhere I went, people were excited about their home countries’ upcoming matches, and I just felt that I was not welcomed. Thankfully, none of my four original countries affiliated to my birth was participating, so I gladly followed along, from screaming “go Poland” in a Warsaw bar to “VIVA LA FRANCE” later in Shanghai, or just “vamos Argentina” with a bunch of South Americans in the hostel here. Elise and I wandered around quite a bit, and eventually saw the large square prepared just for citizens watching the Poland VS Senegal match. It was near the end of the game, and Poland was down 0-1, but every Polish stared at the screen, eyes glued to the pixels. They were hopeful, until Senegal got a second goal just minutes before the end. The atmosphere just darkened, and everyone started sighing. The large Polish flags just dejectedly lowered their heads in distraught, and everyone started heading home. It just felt so sad! But I guess that is how competition works: there is always only one winner, and I could see Poland took the loss with dignity.
musicians under a gate
Gdańsk at night
We just walked around, aimlessly looking for something to look for. Summer breeze kicked up as dusk approached: the night was nigh. We felt the wind slowly brushing through the old mill, the creaking crane, and the gently flowing Motława River, so tranquil and silent as if a little pair of river otters were falling asleep somewhere and the mother river did not want to startle her babies. We sat by the drawbridge, waiting for it to lower, so we could cross over when no ship was passing. This would be my last day in Poland, and the last day in the entire Voyager journey. I started out in the tail-end of winter, stepping onto the frozen Finland Lapland wearing a thermo jacket, and now, I was sitting by a shaded cafe, waiting for the sun, and the bridge, to come down, in my short-sleeves at a little bay of Poland. Summer had begun, but my epic journey had just ended.
only right way to eat a pierogi!
I passed by the large crane one last time on my way back from dinner, the last pierogi meal in Poland. This medieval crane actually was so big that it required humans inside to walk in the wheel, like a giant hamster-wheel. The pay back in the day was measly, but many people wanted to do it, because part of the check was paid in beer. Thus, imagining 4 drunk dudes walking in a giant hamster wheel 700 years ago to lift cargo from ships just makes me giggle every time. Oh fun fact! If you take a very close look on the crane below, it has a special little crane statue on the top, so it is a crane on a crane! Ahahaha! So funny! No? You are leaving? What? Oh. Okay… I think… I need some friends…
giant crane by the river, called Żuraw
I took my last meal in a milk bar the next day, and headed for the train station. This time, I opted for the cheaper local train, and it was a throwback to the 90s. No air conditioning, no food, no water, and no space: 8 people crammed into one little compartment, so no thanks! I decided to go to the corridor, and stood the whole way, leaning my head out of the windows, as the long metal snake crawled through its way around Poland. Sunflowers were starting to bloom, and coupled with the slightly humid breeze, 5 hours on the train really was not a challenge.
standing on the train
Something Ends, Something Begins
lounge, WAW airport
Finally, a bus ride brought me back to Warsaw airport, and I checked out the business class contract lounge. It had quite a decent offering, and the natural light really helped me fight the impending sadness of terminating a long trip. I loaded up on snacks, fruit, and drinks: it is a long and lonely road ahead.
chaotic boarding gate
The quick flight brought me to Helsinki for the last time, and I transited through for my flight to Shanghai. People were already rushing around the gates, angrily yelling at each other in all kinds of profanities, even though it was a bus gate, so rushing had no point whatsoever: you guys are gonna stare at each other on the ride to the plane anyway. Ahhh, the good ol’feeling of China! Now, I was heading “home”. But for me, it was not a place where there would be a hot meal, or a warm embrace. The only hot thing waiting for me in that place was the weather. I had prepared myself a frozen noodle dinner right before I left 3 months ago, because I knew there would be nobody waiting for me to come back on the other side. Home has a very different definition for me, and I never truly had one what other people think. But this time, I will not be depressed: I aim to fix it.
onboard A350, AY87, June 22nd, HEL-PVG, last flight of the trip, out of 60
special epilogue background music for PC users here
I had seen so much on this epic Voyager Series. From the very first day, I knew this trip would be different. The densely packed flight schedule, the unbelievably long total time, and the sheer amount of new experiences, at least one of them would break me. The coldness of Finnish Lapland, the beautiful days in Osaka, the mosquito bites in Peruvian Amazon, the skeletons in Kutna Hora, the azure waves of Malta, the golden sunsets of Crete, and the soul-elevating pierogi in Poland, everything flashed in front of my eyes, and I could not believe I survived all that in one single journey! Damn was that a great run!
I traversed nearly 200,000km, enough to circle the world 5 times. I visited 14 countries, 4 of which I had never been to before. I visited Chile so often that a local shopkeeper thought I commute from nearby towns once a week. What else is there to share? This is an epic trip in every conceivable way, and even by frequent flyers’ standards, I am getting into the chaotic forbidden zone of flying addiction. I should be proud, very proud.
back at Shanghai Pudong Airport, 100 days later
However, I realized something: this has to stop. Do not get me wrong, there is not one thing I love more in this world than being on the road, for I am born and raised on the road. But, ever since my self-examination during Voyager 1.5 in Osaka, I had been thinking, and testing. I can be on the road forever, given my abilities to find cheap ways to travel, but I cannot hide from the truth forever. Everyone has a need to feel that he or she belongs to something, someone, or somewhere. No matter it is an instagram influencer who fakes photo to get likes, or a student studying hard to become a doctor, we cannot escape the fact that we are social animals. I cannot simply run away from every single person I meet after 3 to 5 days for the rest of my life. I need to learn how to properly become a normal human being who can make real friends, and hopefully make something a bit more out of it. I love the road: I love the feeling of lifting off from a wet runway; I love a hostel room full of people from a dozen countries; I love saying “thank you” in 15 different languages; and I love this world so, so much. But the road is slowly, and invisibly, killing me. I gave up my career to travel, and I gave up my family, my friends, and my ability to socialize. I simply do not fit in to any group any more, like a blue whale whose sonar pitch is 3 octaves higher. I kept searching, and searching in the vast ocean of life and love, yet I do not realize nobody could hear my echos. This cannot last any longer, because I know if this continues, I will be so freakishly good at traveling that nobody can talk to me ever again, and that just pains me to even imagine. That is why this will be the last long haul journey I partake before I can figure out how to properly make friends, and learn some new skills to keep me afloat. In Shanghai, I will polish up my old ambitions, and pick up some hobbies to learn, and hopefully learn how to truly bond with people. Only by then can I call this place a home, and not just a big house with cold stoves and even colder beds. I will still travel, of course, but just not in this kind of long-haul fashion, because I realized ever since the very beginning, from Round’aWorld 2016, to Voyage South, to Round’aWorld 2017, to this series, my mind had been slowly draining in these long trips. By trying to grasp the most our of this life, I was actually slowly losing out on my humanity: I am turning into an insanely effective travelling machine. Hopefully, after I figure the word “life” out, I can come back to the road, and hit it again, with a few friends or a someone; we will see. It may be a year, may be a lifetime, but I am looking forward to it no matter what. Something has to end, so something can begin.
Thank you for reading through this long voyage, and I sincerely hope you enjoyed it. I may not be writing as much from now on, but please feel free to sign up for email notifications on the home page, given that it will be impossible for me to even spam you with journals any more! Please look forward to the new journals I am going to prepare, about some of my oldest but craziest travels I did while I was barely an adolescent.
I would also love to thank every single person who had helped me in the past few months, for without you guys, it would be impossible for me to survive this feat. Let’s not be sentimental any more! The world is beckoning, and I have a bright light to follow.
That’s all, folks! Young, signing out.
A place where you lock yourself in and lock all else out-that is not your home. Home is sometimes a place where you travel and far to find.
Geralt of Rivia