A post about how being “disconnected” might not be the worst thing.
IT BEGAN BEFORE IT BEGAN
Did my journey take off at take-off? No.
Was it at the sight of a sea of Asian friends filling up every row of the aircraft? Not even.
Perhaps it was in the all-nighter I pulled the eve of my departure to make sure I got ALL my laundry done and try to get a head start on jet-lag? Nope.
I’d say my journey REALLY started 48 hours before my arrival at gate 51 for flight AC011 to Shanghai. Let me explain.
I knew this trip would be particular in the extent of how foreign it (and I) would feel. Different language, different writing, different society, different different different. (Side note: The last time I remember experiencing this degree of culture-shock was 10 years ago, during my first travel to South America. It was milder, and it rocked my world forever.) I gauged in my preparation this time around that I’d follow my usual foreigner protocol: adapt my worldview, be open, try new things, practice all the native language I possibly can, pre-download every Netflix episode I can imagine (on my phone), organize my best Spotify playlists (on my phone), have Maps and Google Translate on hand (as in… in my hand… on my phone.), know that any person I could ever communicate with is just a virtual touch away.
And then, I lost my phone.
(You can take a moment to breathe, I know, it’s a lot.)
(PS. The lady sitting next to me on the flight as I write this looks like a Chinese version of MY GRANDMOTHER. Just want to give her a hug.)
In the hours that followed the disappearance of my device, I stayed cool and calm. It may be that I had taken for granted the fact that everything that was familiar, convenient and perpetually accessible for me had always existed in a small aluminum case charged and resting deep in my pocket most hours of a day. I remained optimist that my phone would turn up in the next 36 hours. Why wouldn’t it? (I even told my mom not to worry because “I believe in the goodness of man.”) Well… my phone did not turn up.
And then it dawned on me: No phone, means no connection. No phone could mean isolation. Uh oh. No: Mega uh oh.
Can you imagine? ACTUAL time alone? ACTUAL disconnect? ACTUAL presence in the here and now? I was going to have to ACTUALLY fully live in every moment that came my way.
It was time for a new plan, and quick. I was going to have to change how I prepared myself for this 3-week trek, and I didn’t have much time to do it.
I shuffled and paced in the living room as the plan formed in my consciousness until it was complete. Here it was: bright and shiny. New plan was going to be that not having a phone, and not being in [immediate and continual] connection was going to be okay with me. It was going to have to be. Not only was it going to have to be, but it is probably exactly what I need.
No endless Instagram feed. No alerts. No reminders. No expectations. No dings. No rings. No requests. No pull into the dark vortex of constant virtual social interaction.
No phone does not mean no connection. It means more connection with what’s just outside of the palm of my hand. It means a chance at reconnecting with myself, with God, with nature. It does not mean isolation, it meant intention.
To be honest, to disconnect and focus was a well-hidden desire that I thought I had acknowledged and approved in my heart. But it was not until I lost my phone, until I was left to truly experience the moment, that I felt confident I’d actually make it.
Meanwhile, here are some things I’ve learned for future reference when travelling:
- Do not accept a seat anywhere remotely close to lavatories. Especially on a 14hr direct flight. Bad idea.
- Accept the snorting; it’s not going away. The cabin resounds of a chorus of several – many SEVERAL – individuals clearing their nasal tract, simultaneously, and in succession.
- Don’t lose your phone prior to your travels to a foreign country. Or do. J
- Do not give unpredictable hugs to the woman next to you even if she looks like a Chinese version of your grandmother.
Ps. I did get my hands on a phone for emergency purposes. (And for picture taking.)