I noticed a door I had never seen before the other day. Just down the hall from my classroom. The hour was late and my class was about to start, but I moved foward, intrigued.
The doors were long and wide, clear but opaque. A logo on the door indicated what lay beyond, what lay inside -- a Japanese NGO, having something or other to do with arms reduction in Cambodia.
As I stood there, staring at the logo, the door opened. A Khmer man in his mid-thirties, wearing glasses and a tie and white dress shirt similar to my own, asked if he could be of assistance. He was smiling and friendly and speaking English that rivalled my own, if not surpassed it.
We talked the way strangers talk -- politely, smilingly, each wondering who the other is, and what it is that they want. Turns out that this particular organization, funded by the Japanese government, helps gather together guns in small villages around Cambodia, exchanging the arms for economic assistance. (There are a lot of weapons left over from the Khmer Rouge era still floating around this country.) I asked about the possibility, perchance, of employment with this organization. I told him of my four years in Japan; he told me of his acquaintances in Toronto. Stranger talk, when you grope to find common points of interest. (I have found that if you try to do so, you will usually succeed.)
Made me think, those doors did. They had been there all along, just down the hall, a hop, skip and a jump away, but I never noticed them until that day. Never bothered to notice them. Never ventured that far down the hall.
I can have tunnel vision sometimes, seeing only what I want to see, and nothing more. (I can still remember the disbelieving cry of my mother as I walked out of my bedroom and into the hallway, looked up, and noticed the skylight that had somehow remained undetected by me over the past year that we had lived in the house. ¨When did we get a skylight put there," I muttered to myself. Cue the fainting mom.)
Living in Japan, working in Cambodia -- the stuff of adventure, you could say. I know this to be true, yes, and it certainly has been that, an adventure, but I rarely ever see it that way, think of it that way. I kind of stumbled into where I am and who I am. Despite living in the exoctic environs of ancient Asian countries, I am still suprised to find myself a creature of habit. I find the places I like, the stores I like, the restaurants I like. I fear returning to Canada only because I worry that I will instantly revert to familiar patterns and well-known roads. I try to daily remind myself to go to new places, see new things, meet new people. In June I travelled to Vietnam -- only a four hour drive away! And yet, what an alternate universe. Right next door, all that time. I should have gone sooner.
Whenever I am feeling, well, sedate, I try to find a copy of Travels, by Michael Crichton, a non-fiction book relating his various adventures in various exotic lands. I first read it during my first few weeks in Japan, and it encapsulates so well the disorientation of the traveler, the exotic allure of the unknown, the lessons we can learn, dare we try. My favorite part of his introduction relates to his notion of a kind of received wisdom that we all share, meaning: we want to know everything about an experience before we have it. We want to read the reviews of the movie before we go. We want to hear from our friends if that new restaurant, the one next to the mattress shop, is any good. We want to check out the widest variety of brochures to determine which vacation spot looks cheaper, funner, better.
As Crichton points out, there is a great, almost holy value in simply experiencing something as it happens, without any preconceived ideas foisted upon us by others. I moved to Japan and Cambodia without knowing jackshit about either country, and my experiences and life have been all the richer because of it. Blown away because of it.
As a child, I read the comic-book adaptation of Star Trek III: The Search For Spock before watching the film, which taught me a valuable lesson: Do not rush Spock before his time. Let things come to you, or you to them, but do not read the Coles Notes first. Do not read the back of the book before buying. Do not learn about the plot. Do not avoid the movie because somebody said it sucked. If you are intrigued, that is enough -- read, watch, go. Period.
It is the doors, you see.
The ones we do not even know are there. The ones just down the hall, across the street, across the road. Those are the ones you have to find, and, if not open, at least knock on.
Find that door. Knock on that door. See who opens, and what lies inside.