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A new year, a new decade, what does the next 10 years hold for us? Only time will tell.
Looking back over the past 10 years, however, I realise how much in my own life has changed, and also how many wonderful experiences I've had. Since 2010 I've visited so many different parts of the world, including the big ones of China, Russia, America and India, that I don't have enough fingers to count them. I've travelled across New Zealand, I've lived in Australia for 6 months. I've been to Canada and onward to Alaska. I've spent weeks in Hong Kong. I've also travelled to more than a dozen European countries as well as to many parts of the UK, some familiar, some not, and my goodness how my attitudes have changed in this past decade.
Most of my travels have come about because of commitments to family or friends. I'm not an inveterate traveller, even though it might seem like it. I am quite happy with a quiet life walking my dog and meeting local friends. The travels happened, however, and with them a deeper understanding of different cultures - how different we all are, and yet how similar.
Seeing ragged beggars on the streets of Delhi before experiencing the reverence of thousands of Sikhs at the Golden Temple in Amritsar gave me such an emotional jolt that I began to look at India in another way entirely. The same in China, where everyone is so friendly and helpful, especially if, like me, you have white hair. The respect for older citizens in China is palpable wherever you go. Russian people are mostly serious while Canadians and Australians are laid back and relaxed. Alaskans are just different but then so would I be if I had to live at -30 to -40 degrees for a long, long winter. Then there is busy and overcrowded Hong Kong with its wonderful beaches and museums where life is very good for those who earn well. It has many citizens who are less lucky, however, and it is very noticeable that they don't smile as much as the mainland Chinese.
Then there is America. Like any large country the people in Washington are very different from the people in San Diego or Orlando or Las Vegas or Key West. What they all have in common, however, is their overwhelming friendliness towards people from the UK, and an insatiable curiosity about our way of life.
Finally there's Europe and that is where there is an even bigger discrepancy. The French are nothing like the Italians who are nothing like the Spanish who are nothing like the Scandinavians who are nothing like the Albanians etc. etc. It is so fascinating eat different food, listen to different music, travel through different scenery, hear different languages, all the while trying to understand and absorb just a little of the different cultures in such a limited time.
I have been extra lucky that so many of my trips have involved staying with or travelling with local people who always wanted to show the best of their country while also discussing some of its worst aspects. So thanks to them, this decade has not only broadened my mind, it has broadened my understanding.
In the words of the eminent French novelist Gustave Flaubert : travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world or, as the American writer Henry Miller said: One's destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things.
My views are only my views of course, and other people will see and experience different facets of each culture, but I do know that my decade long journey has changed me unalterably. I am no longer the English woman who first got on a plane aged 40, and who never expected to travel much further than France. Now that I've talked to the indigenous peoples of Australia, native Americans, Alaskan natives, rural Indians of all religious persuasions, communist Chinese and anglophile Russians, to say nothing of the many different peoples of Europe, I know I really am just a speck on the vast planet we call earth.
There must be many, many stories inside me if only I could write them, but somehow the best experiences never translate into the written word. They have to be lived,
I have occasionally used some of my experiences as a background to my books, however, and Cabin Fever is based on a cruise from Aukland in New Zealand's north island to Sydney in Australia. I haven't done it justice I'm sure...but re-reading it has taken me back to what was a truly wonderful experience, although unlike the protagonists in the book, I was lucky enough to visit friends and family en-route and so experienced so much more than the casual traveller.
Now, as a new decade starts, I'm off to Japan and South Korea, both of which promise to be a whole new and challenging cultural experience. I'm busy reading up on them at the moment but as English writer Aldhous Huxley said: to travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.