Thursday, January 6, 2011

How many countries have you been to?

How many countries have you been to? I've been to 12 - and counting. But that counting may be in reverse, depending on your point of view...

  • If your country is one of the 170 UN members that doesn't recognise the Republic of China, I've still been to 12... but a different 12.

  • If your country is one of the 19 UN members that doesn't recognise the State of Israel, I've been to 11.

  • If we're only counting countries I have any memory of, that rules out my trip to Spain at the unimpressionable age of zero years old. And all I've seen of Belgium is motorway service stations.

  • If you are mad and count the UK as a single country, I might have been to as few as 7. And 14.3% of those were Wales! Jesus H. Corbett, I need to boost my stats.

  • Fortunately, if you were to wrongly count transit in international airports between flight connections (Qatar and Hong Kong), as well as sea and airspace passed through along the way (plenty), I might have been to 30 or more.

Of course they don't count. And I couldn't care less if it was 7 or 70. I'm not working from a checklist (though look at the fun I could be having if I was - seriously, have you ever read a less inspirational tale?)

There's no obsessive-compulsive hand of destiny pointing my way (and then pointing with the other hand too, so things balance out and the universe doesn't end). It's an interesting world with plenty going on, and I intend to see as much of it as I feel like before my inevitable death. But until then, I'm happy to be heading on my carefree way according to whims, places that pique my interest, and places where girls I meet live (come on, I only did that twice in as many months - too soon to diagnose as a problem).

Lay down thy checklist and walk

The same goes for ticking off sights. I bled Egypt pretty dry because it was comparatively interesting, but I won't be so inspired by every place I visit. I abandoned the idea of touring Ancient Greece after the Acropolis didn't do anything for me. I didn't make the trip to Jordan even though it was right next-door in Israel. I didn't even stop off at Rome on the way to Naples. And I might abandon my potential China visit entirely, simply because the visa process takes more forward planning than I'm prepared to spend five minutes thinking about.

If I've learned one thing since I started travelling... well, that would be disappointing. Luckily, I've learned loads of things. Among them, that I'm pretty good at getting my own way, even if I only realise this in hindsight sometimes. If I want to go to China, I'll get there. My determination and whims have got me this far. But if I decide not to jump at the chance to see the Great Wall through inaction, or not to see the Great Barrier Reef when I wind up in Australia some day (next time I meet an enchanting Australian, probably)... who cares? According to most of the world's cautiously racist governments, I'm already in China anyway!

Making a list and checking it repeatedly is a pointless task that may bring you clinical satisfaction, but will probably create more frustration if you're unable to live up to your demanding, self-imposed schedule. And are you really visiting all these countries for the satisfaction, or just so you can show off to friends on Facebook? I may be too cool/antisocial for things like Facebook (it's both), but sometimes I wonder whether this blog serves a similar purpose, at least in part. I'm no better than you really - however much the evidence insists on pointing to the contrary.

Realise your personal legend, if you can be arsed

Giving yourself goals takes the spontaneous fun out of life. I don't even have a list of books I should read, films I want to see, or preferences for an ideal partner, as it's statistically unlikely that I'd ever find my favourites in any category. Best not to worry about it then, and settle for whatever looks most appealing from the hostel library's limited range. (In any case, a girl in a library is as close to perfection as my brain is capable of imagining).

Which brings us to the crux of this meandering, sleep-deprived philosophising: laziness. I really like my job and enjoy working hard, but on days when I'm not working, sometimes I just like to walk aimlessly around city streets and along rivers, doing my flaneur thing, accompanied by an okay audiobook. Rather than getting a bus to a remote location and taking photos of some famous rocks to justify my time spent in a country.

The one self-appointed mission I had when leaving the UK was to get more interesting scenery. Even if I stay indoors with the curtains closed, at least the label on the Coke bottle is different wherever I go. I'm very easily satisfied, and a real chore to disappoint.

I hope you feel as free as I do, and don't give yourself any unnecessary obligations to fill the oppressive void. Needless to say, I haven't made any New Year's resolutions. It seems foolish when I don't even know where I'll be in two weeks.

The bitter truth

I guess there's no travel photos this week then... apart from this weird thing I was perplexed by in a local charity shop. Before they presumably died and their family got rid of their accumulated junk, somebody had this on their wall. In Taipei. WHY?

Forget counting countries - am I still on the same 没屁股眼 planet?


  1. This started as a critical examination of the constructs and boundaries we impose on this spherical world, then got a bit out of hand.

    Still, feel free to ignore the philosophising, take the title at face value and give your answers regardless!

  2. I've been to 20 (including my five hours in China and England/Scotland/Wales as separate countries), although many of these were when I was young 'un and can't remember much of. My main memory of Vatican City (it's a country, not just a city, right?) is playing chess with my brother outside the Vatican.

    Still a few to go. I shouldn't have spent so long in this country (or Scotland) if I wanted to tick them all off.

  3. I take it you never visited Ireland/Northern Ireland either then? But I was so unadventurous in my Scotch years that I never even visited the Highlands.

    I look forward to visiting the UK as a tourist some time and treating it with the same mindset I did Egypt. Except accommodation will be more expensive and women won't carry their shopping around on their heads.