13.5 hours. 13.5 hours of sitting on a small, thin seat playing leg Tetris with the grunting, uncaring person facing you. The air saturated with smoke and smog, enough to overwhelm your taste buds with a tangy metallic flavour, make your throat burn and chest ache. The people around you, staring at you, shouting in loud Mandarin, seemingly doing their best to hork up mucous from the deepest, darkest places of their bodies, and bumping into you as they walk past to go fill up their $1 noodle soups. 810 minutes to sit there, pretending to be able to sleep, riding in a train from Beijing to Xi'An, the home of the Terracotta Warriors. Plenty of time to ask yourself plenty of questions, the primary ones being, why didn't I take the sleeper cabin, and why did I buy that package of spicy, crispy wieners?
In between these questions and the thoughts of self-pity and self-deprecation that slowly dwindled away as I realized it's not nearly as bad I'm building it up to be, I asked myself more important questions. What exactly is the premise of my book, and why would anyone want to read it? What do I want the rest of my trip to be? Who do I want to be and how can small steps now work towards that? What do I want my work life, and overall life to look like when this trip is done? How much will I travel, when, and where in the future? Why are people in Asia so fucking fascinated by white people... stop staring bro! Am I really going to travel for another 21 weeks, get my first tattoo, and then move to a place I've never been... again? This time even further away, and significantly less Canadian. Yes, dear God, yes.
One of the more serious things I pondered in between loogy horking was something I've been feeling and thinking in passing over the first quarter of my trip; the longer I travel, the more fond I seem to become of Berlin, and Europe. I think about staying there for longer than I was originally envisioning, for years, maybe permanently. I've never been there, but for some reason I'm becoming more and more excited about what it could mean for me. A new home, one that is far better connected to the rest of the world, one often described as offering the things that excite me. And if it doesn't work out, which will almost purely depend on my own behaviour and attitude, I can always hop on a train and try on another European city, see how it fits.
The thought of knowing no one again saddens me at times... I know only one person who lives in Berlin, and he's there on a temporary work visa, and it makes me sad that the vast majority of lovely people whom I treasure most will be in lands far, far away. As a result, one of my favourite past-times has become selling the idea of Berlin to those I know, even if it's only for short visits. If this thing inside me won't let me live anywhere else, and Berlin is home, my only option is to do my best to attract others to me. Hopefully I'll sell at least one, and maybe I'll convince one to take the plunge and move there... but I don't have that much faith in my sales skills. If not, backpacking is damn good practice for shedding social anxieties and meeting people.
Amongst these thoughts of my new home, are ones about buying a cage (read: apartment) when I can, creating a home base for the rest of my semi-nomadic days, and a place for these people to come and stay with me. A bed to call my own, in a room without 7 others snoring, shouting, and puking the night away. A couch to curl up, a wall to hang art on, and a toilet that isn't a hole in the ground covered in period blood -- unless it's my own, I'd probably be okay with that. But maybe mostly, just somewhere to call my own. All of the places I've lived in for the last 2 years have been rented with the knowledge it was only temporary, and I wouldn't settle in.
This is not to say that I don't fucking love travelling, because I certainly do. It's also not to say that I really care about owning more than what I can stuff into 55 litres (I probably only have 40L of shit and wonder about the utility of another 10 of it). I love seeing the world, meeting people from all over, doing weird things, and having life being no more complicated than what's in front of me... but god damn it'd be nice to break it up into shorter, more frequent trips, and have somewhere to go back to at the end of it, or at least picture when times are tough.
To think of it, maybe these thoughts were caused by my four-week German travel buddy, and now great friend, who continuously regaled me with the glories of Deutschland and Europe. Sweet buttery Jesus, do I want a camper van for Euro road trips now, damn you Nico. But mostly, I think it's because Berlin is the closest thing I have of an idea of home now, and damn are there times, between all the great ones, where I absolutely crave one -- such as being on a long-haul overnight train with no bed.