Fear, Comfort, and Travel

There are quite a few milestones to process right now. As of today, I’m officially halfway through the semester. In six weeks from now, I’ll be in Paris (and — final marks pending — a university graduate). I just got back from Amsterdam (photographs and updates to come in my next writeup), and in a few days, I’m off to London. Crazy.

When I think about it all, I can’t help but be thankful.

A couple observation from the past week or two:

1. On travel and getting out of one’s comfort zone…

Facebook is by and large a massive time-waster, but occasionally, something inspiring and thought-provoking emerges from the clutter. I came across a post on my News Feed from friend of a Facebook friend, and here’s what she wrote:

“The biggest lesson I’ve learnt this year is there is something so potent, and so necessary for ourself that is on the other side of fear. I don’t quite understand why, but I feel it. Throughout this past year of intentionally and repeatedly getting out of my comfort zone I’ve realized that it really is the the upmost nourishing fertilizer for the soul.”

I like that a lot. Getting out of my comfort zone has been a priority of mine for the past couple years. Travel has been a catalyst in this regard. To drop yourself into a foreign country with all that entails (foreign currency, foreign customs, a foreign language — hooray for Welsh! — and foreign school system) and succeed, you can’t help but abandon your comfort zone, and to do so in a manner similar to tearing off a bandaid. There’s no dipping your toes in the water first.

What has been the most amazing, though, is experiencing what’s on “the other side of fear.” While checking up on a friend’s blog, I came across this quote by Mark Twain:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness […] Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

I think a lot of this has to do with finding out what’s on the other side of fear, whether it’s fear (or a lack of understanding) of foreign cultures, fear of (or a distaste for) foreign cuisine, or fear of (or a lack of tolerance for) new ideas.

One way I’ve gotten out of my comfort zone is by putting the French and German I’ve learned into practice. The French and German students may speak better English than I do either of their languages, but by speaking to them in their own tongue, I’ve been able to find out what’s on the other side of fear: a greater connection with others. A simple gesture of speaking to someone in their own language — even if only by sprinkling in words here and there — can go a long way. In doing so, you recognize their own humanity and culture.

Another way I got out of my comfort zone in the first few days here was by deliberately avoiding using the roads I already knew. I wanted to get to know the city better, and now I feel as though I can find my way just about anywhere I need to go in Cardiff (or Bristol/Dublin/Edinburgh/Liverpool/Manchester/Amsterdam, for that matter). It’s an empowering feeling.

Every hill and cliff trail I walk has been an act of getting out of my comfort zone as well, and finding out what’s on the other side of fear has resulted in some of the most spectacular views of my entire trip. With that in mind, here’s to intentionally and repeatedly getting out of my comfort zone at every given opportunity.

2. On the topic of prejudice and narrow-mindedness…

During my time in Liverpool, I went to the World Museum, where there was a large exhibit dedicated to different cultures around the world. The section of the exhibit on North America looked into Canada’s First Nations people — mostly those in the Pacific Northwest and Arctic Canada. Interestingly, rather than label the exhibit’s works by their Canadian locations, the Museum used the regional First Nation names as a means of identification.

The exhibit was well-done, but it struck me as odd — and troubling — that there was a greater sense of appreciation for Canada’s First Nations people halfway across the world than there is in many places back home. Reading articles like the ones in Maclean’s and Ottawa Citizen, and watching far too many news stories on Canada’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, has shed further light on the fragile state of Canada’s relations with its Aboriginal people. Interviewing the Sisters Of All Nations (below) and listening to songs like Shad’s “Fam Jam” (above) has painted an exciting picture of what a better relationship and understanding could bring about.

Author John Ralston Saul calls it “the great unresolved Canadian question upon which history will judge us all.” I think he’s right. It’s time that we put a better effort into appreciating and honouring our First Nations people.

UPDATE: I woke up this morning to read — you guessed it — Shad talking about more or less the same thing. Here’s his take on the situation.

My three favourite photographs of the past week or so (and the stories behind them):

1. Liverpool Cathedral.

This cathedral is massive — it’s the fifth-largest in the world (the largest in Britain) and took nearly 75 years to finish. Another interesting fact is that Paul McCartney auditioned to be part of the cathedral choir when he was a boy, but he wasn’t deemed a strong enough singer.

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Liverpool Cathedral.

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2. Tongwynlais walking trail.

Last weekend was the first weekend I’ve actually spent in Cardiff since my arrival, so I decided to take the opportunity to walk around the outskirts of the city. To the northwest of Cardiff, there’s a town called Tongwynlais which serves as the home to Castell Coch. It’s a neat Victorian castle, but the town’s real gem is the network of walking trails through the nearby forest. It’s a shame there weren’t more leaves on the trees, but when you’re surrounded by scenes like the one below, you really can’t complain.

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The road less travelled.

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3. Castlefield canals in Manchester.

This shot was taken pretty much right outside my hostel — not a bad view. It used to be a very industrial part of town, but now the canals are mostly populated by houseboats. I didn’t learn this until now, but there have also been rumours of a serial killer in the area. I guess it’s a good thing I did most of my exploring by day.

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Castlefield canals, Manchester.

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BONUS: Space Invader.

One of the main reasons I wanted to pay Manchester a visit was to find these street art installations. There are a good number spread throughout the city, all done with ceramic tiles and inspired by the old Space Invaders video game. In fact, you can find similar works in many major cities throughout Europe. This happened to be the first Space Invader I came across in Manchester, and it was also the most impressive. (If you happen to go to Manchester, it’s tucked in right behind the Palace Theatre.)

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Space Invader. Spotted in Manchester.

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Until next time.

3 thoughts on “Fear, Comfort, and Travel

  1. Thanks again for these wonderful reflections, Martin. You are making the most of your time with lots of travelling (on top of studies)! I’m also learning a lot from you. After your first reflection, Chris and I watched a documentary on Banksy, whom I had never heard of before. Enjoy the rest of your time!

    1. I’ve seen that documentary too. In fact, if it’s the one I’m thinking of, Space Invader’s work is featured in the film as well. Thanks for the good wishes!

      1. I wondered! Thought I recognized the “logo”.

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