Friday, December 14, 2012

Here's what you could have lived...

The Many Worlds Theory has been the basis for some really good and not so great science fiction, and the speculative notion that every possible choice and decision we make in our lives creates a valid alternative reality branching off to different destinations provides comfort to some scientifically minded people in lieu of conventional beliefs in an afterlife. Personally, I don't find anything comforting in the thought that there's an infinite number of dimensions where I'm a pinworm laying eggs inside the anus of a sick child, differentiated only by an infinite number of slightly differently coloured waistcoats I'm wearing, but some people will clutch at anything.

When I had that realistic and depressing dream where I was a slave on a Somalian pirate ship, was I offered an insight into an alternate plane of existence? Where does that leave the dream where I had a detachable ribcage that I stored in the freezer?

I don't dwell too much on what might have been if I'd stayed in the UK and hadn't set off travelling, which is either a sign that my life's going pretty well or just reveals a disappointing lack of imagination. What happened happened and I enjoyed most of it. I always react defensively when someone tells me I'm 'lucky' to be earning a living while travelling all the time, which sounds to me like they think I'm not paying my own way and making the sacrifices involved, but I do realise I'm privileged. I've spent most of the last two years in countries where low salaries, oppressive ideologies or lack of choice mean not everyone can have the same freedom to choose their lifestyle that I've had. I do look up from the laptop now and again to see what's happening around me.

As someone who mostly gets his own way in life, the path I'm on seems to be the one that's right for me, so I don't know if there's much freedom of movement for my inter-dimensional brothers (and sisters, sexist). That's excepting dystopian realities where fascist governments restrict my choices and control my every move. Yes, there may be a universe where that didn't happen. Brilliant satire, Dave.

But there have been a few notable junctions along the way where I could have gone left instead of right, and which could have led to things being very different. For a bit.

If I didn't leave

Me in Scotland. Best not to ask

I actually have no idea what I would have been getting up to if I'd stayed put, as there was no established 'normal' order of things. I started my freelance job with a mind to travelling, and there was no overlap period where I was working freelance out of my flat - I was on a plane within 14 hours of leaving the office for the last time.

I probably would have left Edinburgh before long, as most of my friends had already left. It's that kind of place, people come and go. To use my last year there as the basis, I took a lot of weekend trips around England and Scotland, so these doubtless would have continued. Maybe in a more long term way if I wasn't tied down to a physical job and could move around, though B&B fees would have proven prohibitive, and if I spent more than a week in one I would have felt a bit like Alan Partridge or the Major from Fawlty Towers.

If I had stayed in Great Britain, I probably would have crawled all over its length and width, and there can only be so many places it's worth spending time in. I inevitably would have left the island at some point.

If I was a teacher

It's been a while

It seems surprising now, given how much I value my freedom and tried to disassociate myself from the drunken English teachers in Seoul, that I thought seriously about teaching in Asia when I first thought about leaving the country. Preferably in Japan, because I'd heard of that place. This was before it was pointed out that I could just do the freelance work I was already doing in my lunch hour and free time as my main job, without the day job consuming those valuable hours and paying me less.

I applied to a whole load of English schools online and did a weekend TEFL course in Edinburgh to get some experience and achieve the most basic teaching certificate available this side of Bangkok's dodgy Khao San Road forgeries. If even a single one of those schools had replied to me in time for the new term, I could have been whisked off to Japan and been karate-chopped in the brain by culture shock, rather than being warmed up by Taiwan first.

Although I wouldn't have had the same level of freedom, I still would have loved to spend time in a different country, having more time to get to know it and learn the language than travelling around on a tourist visa let me. A little stability is good sometimes, and if I didn't have a local girlfriend after a few months that wouldn't have been for want of trying!

This doesn't sound that bad actually. Part of me is envious of this potential Dave's stability and the time he spent getting to know Japan or Korea, but he's probably more envious of my freedom to dabble in more countries and not have to wear a tie. Neither of us needs to be too envious though, because we could switch positions fairly easily. It's good to know I have career options if Google screws up SEO marketing further and I'm out of a job.

If I'd met different girls

Inviting more page hits I don't want

My travels through time and space have been guided by whims, political borders and hormones, especially in the early days. Unless you're the sort of person who ardently believes love is a magical force that connects souls across multiple lives, you'll know that these feelings are all down to brain chemistry, and I read once that travelling encourages production of the love hormone oxytocin, meaning it's easier to get infatuated with someone when you're travelling away from home. That's also one more excuse for those guys who travel to Thailand and knowingly cheat on their wives with bar girls - you irredeemable dicks can have that one for free.

That helps to explain why I got teenagedly obsessed with an Israeli girl I met briefly in Florence and cut corners on my voyage around the Mediterranean to see her in her home country, before inevitably getting rejected and skulking off to Egypt. I probably still would have got round to Israel at some point, as I'd heard it was nice and was drawn to the history and slight danger of the place, but if I hadn't met this person I would have spent more time around the Greek islands and... I don't know, Turkey or something. It's all so far away now.

The same goes for the Taiwanese girl I met in Cairo, who I was more down to Earth about but didn't waste much time getting into an inter-continental relationship with. I still debated long and hard about where to go after Egypt, with all land borders being locked to me as a Zionist conspirator or whatever spending three weeks in Israel makes me, but knowing someone who lived over there made the decision easier.

I was always more inclined to the Asian end of the spectrum anyway, but if left to my own devices it's a safe bet I wouldn't have chosen obscure Taiwan as my first port of call. I'm glad I did though, as spending a few months acclimatising to the culture, food and language made me better prepared for Asia than if I'd just been fast-tracked around the tourist trail in Thailand. I did that after. Of course, if I hadn't met Sofi in Florence I probably wouldn't have ended up in Egypt at the same time Pier was there and gone to Taiwan when I did, so it's clear that even a single crush has the potential to change the direction of a person's life radically.

I met a couple more girls along the way, but they didn't have too much of an impact on my general loitering. I spent time in Singapore between independent jaunts in South East Asia in late 2011, before I eventually realised I enjoyed my alone time more than the time we spent together, and in mid-2012 I met a girl - hopefully for keeps this time - who was free enough to join me in the parts I hadn't been to yet. But now she has to get a job and the fun time's over, so I'm going to have to think seriously about what to do next.

More significant than the romances I've had (failed or consummated) is all those I didn't, when I spent days working or wandering around mountains rather than getting pissed with other backpackers and not having unpleasant, inconsiderate dorm sex. It's for the best.

Another fork in the road

Sure, I could have used a stock photo, but I went to the trouble of taking one myself because I'm a professional. With too much time on his hands

The reason I originally wrote this post - apart from avoiding doing work, obviously - is that I was debating a big decision, easily the biggest decision since I left my home country in 2010, to buy a house out here and settle down. That was in October, but I delayed it so long for a reason, and the longer I spent in my flat in Thailand, the more I got annoyed by the place and some of its people, and the less appealing that seemed. It's not the right time and I don't think it's the right place either. So I've gone back and changed this final section prior to publishing - forking in action.

I guess there'll be no branching off here after all. Or maybe there was and an alternative Dave has just transferred a wad of money to his girlfriend so she can buy their house in her name and he can avoid legal frustrations. Yeah, nothing could go wrong there. Maybe there's a reality where I said no instead of yes every time these girls asked for money, and I wasn't left struggling to pay a tax bill each time January comes around with nothing to show for a year's work.

That doesn't mean I'm obligated to keep treading down this same road forever. It's no comfort to think that at least everything might be working out right somewhere, I need to take a more active approach in this reality, recognise the significant forks in the road when they crop up and choose the one that's really right for me at that time, because there are no second chances. There are just infinity turns at the same chance or something. My head hurts now - here's another fork and I make the decision to not think about this any more.

If these zany quantum physicists are right, you only get infinite lives - so make them good ones, won't you.

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