The sports stadium at Hong Kong’s Kowloon Park was filled with young adults running and stretching in their crisp white karate uniforms. It was the Hong Kong National Tournament, and the setting brought back a lot of memories.
Three huge floor mats filled the massive room. Sitting with backs straight, referees in navy blue coats and ties were arranged on four corners of each mat.
My karate teacher since 1993 was there, and he waved me in as he saw me arrive. He had students competing in both kata (forms) and kumite (fighting), and since I had trained with them a couple of nights prior, I had people to support. I spent most of the day there, watching the faces of the young fighters before they were called to compete — the shaking out of legs and arms, the mouth guard protruding a little, the eyes revealing a tension between staying ready and staying calm.
So far removed now, it would have been easy to think my participation in this stuff had all been a dream. I had spent so many hours for so many years training and competing. But when some of the referees from all those years ago greeted me with handshakes, smiles and familiarity, I realized it had been real. Heart-warming.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. -Lao Tzu
I decided to take the Star Ferry back to Hong Kong Island, then walked from Central to Causeway Bay. This gave me a lot of time to think, and I asked myself, why do we travel?
To see new places? To meet new people? To learn about other cultures and times in our world’s history? To have an adventure? To have a rest? To leave our comfort zone? To be in our comfort zone? To be inspired?
It may by any combination of those reasons, but in some ways it is to figure out for ourselves how to do life…and how to do life better than we may have done so far…
We can do this without traveling, and I think we should, but it requires us to be even more disciplined, to be more willing to reflect and ultimately to be able to create change in ourselves. By traveling, I think the experience is concentrated. Travel can somehow impose reflection and questions and thinking in a way the dash of daily life cannot.
Travel allows a fresh opportunity to see new people and how they do life. By watching others, by observing, by becoming self-aware, we can take the first step toward making changes in ourselves to live our truest, best lives.
How do I walk? Do I rush? Do I meander? Do I bounce? Do I glide? Does that convey who I really am?
How do I listen? Does that convey who I want to be?
How do I speak? Does that convey who I want to be?
How kind am I to others? Does that convey who I intend to be?
Do I worry too much? How does that serve me?
Do I care too little? How does that serve me?
Am I open?
Am I defensive? If so, why?
Do I judge? If so, why?
Am I closed? If so, why?
Am I confident? If not, why not?
Am I humble? If not, why not?
Am I disciplined? If not, why not?
Do I laugh enough? If not, why not?
What is my motivation?
As I walked, I was reminded of one of my first epiphanies back when I lived here in Asia all those years ago: Everyone has a story.
The bus driver. The path sweeper. The Falun Gong demonstrator. The police officer. The homeless woman. The banker. The doorman. The busboy. The tourist.
I think to travel is to take it all in, to take time and to take nothing for granted.