Stage 1: the nadir


One  of the things I most looked forward to traveling again was getting back to what I think is the ‘essential me’. Yeah, pretty pompous. All the same, I’ve always felt comfortable on the road with a pack on my back. It’s always felt as if a lot of the pretensions you pick along the way living and working in the city – sourcing the choicest latte, hitting the latest bar, checking out the latest fashions, even chatting up some pretty girl n- fall away from you. There you are, a three day growth on your face, the same shirt today as yesterday, a confusion of languages, customs and culture, unaccustomed demands coming from every direction. It’s an foreign environment, which is why you do it, and though it may technically be outside your comfort zone (another attraction) it’s more true that it is an unfamiliar zone without familiar safety nets or touch points. Things get reduced to the basic and essential; it feels real, and somewhere in that you feel more real yourself.

I’m good at this. I like change, I welcome variety, I like having to deal, respond and react to different situations. I’m curious and like to learn, enjoy being tested. I like speaking to people in their language, or trying to, eating their food, observing their customs. I like to find my own way – I’ll often reject help – because that’s part of the great allure of traveling. You travel into the world and, if you do it right, within yourself.

So that’s the highbrow concept and true in the past. I’ve had some rugged journey’s, and felt better for it. Though this China trip had it’s challenges, and I did it entirely solo and managing it all myself, it was not on the challenging end of the scale. I did it relatively comfortably – on the surface anyway.

I’m smart enough to know that a great part of my enjoyment of travel is the persona I feel I adopt – individual and independent, capable, good humoured, resilient, resourceful. It’s an archetype as Jung would have, but one that fits me well because I fit it well. I am those things, but here in the murk of daily life much of that gets lost in general noise and muck of living. I travel and the noise becomes muted, the muck is left behind. The ‘I’, as I have always felt, emerges.

All very well, but times change, so do people. The truth is that in travels about the place I’ve happily shared many pleasurable hours with women I could barely communicate with beyond the physical. That was fine, and part of the experience. I won’t say I’ve wenched myself around the world, but I’ve been active, and sought to be active. It’s just another aspect of the experience – and another aspect of the archetype.

So off that long run-up I’ll get to the nitty gritty. In Shanghai in my second week in China I went to one of the slick bars they have there, had a drink or two, chatted a bit, and ended up returning to my hotel room with an attractive Chinese woman. We had sex, but that’s where the rot set in.

In the first instance I came within a couple of minutes, which is very, very unusual for me. I was embarassed by that, a little shocked. That’s not how I like to do things, but then it’s something that can be rectified, no? No. The woman get out of bed with a smile, had a quick shower, then returned to the bedroom dressed and asking for money from me.

If I was shocked before I was now astounded. I looked at her pretty face and easy smile and something inside me told me I should have known. For days in Shanghai I’d walk down the street with touts trying to entice me to have a massage with pretty girls, with sauna and sex. No thanks. From the moment I’d arrived in China I’d been approached by women wanting to ‘practice their English’ with me, or have a drink. One suggested we could go back to my hotel room where she would massage me and stay the night. I said no to all of her entreaties, which almost had stamping her feet in frustration. So, I had warning.

I gave her some money. She put her hand out and I felt something sink in me. I felt almost defeated. I picked up a couple of 100 RMB notes – about 30 bucks – and gave them to her without looking. I wanted her gone.

She left and I faced up to the reality: I’d just paid for sex. For the first time in my life I’d crossed that line. It was unintentional, unwitting almost, but there it was. I felt so low, so sad, so undone. So much shit has been happening and then this to cap it all off. I felt old and so very mortal – that archetype was hiding somewhere under the bed. I came to question myself as if I was one of those cliched and forlorn western males who come to Asia for the ready availability of willing women. Is this what I’ve been reduced too – that I must pay for it?

This was the nadir I thought. This was the low-point of my life. Mark the date I told myself, this is when I hit rock bottom. It was not a pretty thought, but then after a moment I found something liberating in it. If this the worst it’s going to get then I’m doing well. And if this is the low point then the only way is up. I picked up with that realisation: the worst is passed, start climbing.