Have you ever woken up and felt like you were still dreaming? Like the times you sleep in a different bed and wake up expecting to find the bed you’re used to lying underneath you. Then suddenly, as if in a frantic, you realize it’s not your bed. Not only is it not you’re bed, but it’s not your room, its not your house. “Where am I?”, you might ask. You might think you are dreaming, and then you realize, in a half-dazed stupor, “oh yeah, I’m in ________.”
Usually this would only happen once in a new place, maybe twice, but then you start to get used to the new place. This has not yet happened for me. Maybe it’s starting to, but its still too early to tell.
As I wake up in my new bed, I feel normal. This is what I’ve been doing now for the last few weeks, nothing strange here. When I look outside my bathroom window that’s when a veil of mysterious confusion comes over me. “Where am I? Am I really in Korea? I see Korean on the buildings and mountains in the backdrop, I must be.” It still does not feel real. But what is real?
Many of you might have been thinking about the Matrix this whole time. There is an uncanny truth to what the Wachowski’s so cleverly came up with in that film. The way our senses and our brain play a sort of game to pull a certain kind of reality over us like a warm blanket. To make us feel like we have some kind of control over what we do with our lives. Masking the severe lack of control we have over matters of the universe.
There’s something that waking up on the other side of the world does to you I can’t quite put into words. Something about the air and the trees, the flowers and the birds, maybe just the general atmosphere.
I recently saw a video of a man, Alan Eustace, getting lifted 135,000+ feet into the air by a helium balloon and spending several moments in the stratosphere before dropping back down at a smashing 800+mph velocity. He survived with a graceful crash and tumble, in case you were wondering, with zero injuries. But I can’t help but imagine the sense of awe he experienced. To be able to see the entirety of the Earth, the blackness of Space and a special brilliance of the sun those of us on solid ground don’t have the privilege of experiencing. Maybe he felt like he was dreaming. Maybe the whole experience was very overwhelming at the time. He mentioned trying to focus on staying calm and keeping his heart rate low on the way up. The two hour and seven minute journey to the stratosphere he mentioned was very peaceful. I imagine he could only make sense of the whole experience during the several months that followed.
On Earth, if we want to experience another part of the world, we get on a car, boat, train, or plane or some other kind of vehicle and travel there. Then we can experience the differences and weirdness that is the place we decided to go. The further away from home you go the stranger it gets. However, some unique places have a particularly innate strangeness that you might not need to travel very far to get to. Like Las Vegas, The Grand Canyon, the top of a mountain or a large body of water. When one goes to the other side of the world this strangeness is not merely multiplied. It is amplified. The whole of your experience is transformed into this gooey, malleable conglomeration of a reality that can so easily be confused with dreaming. The way it drips and rolls and changes form. Walking down the street you might think you dropped a little Lucy as the signs and and buildings start to give you strange looks.
For Alan, he experienced a whole new kind of strangeness. One that nobody in the history of man would be able to say they knew what he went though. As the first man to not just pass through the stratosphere, but to stay there, he can say he’s experienced a kind of reality that to anyone else would feel like a dream. He can speak of things about the Earth and how it breathes that no one has ever seen before. Finally, we can learn from his courageous expedition certain properties of the Earth that were before unimaginable.
This experience, after all, is why us travelers decide to pack our bags. To explore the world and see what’s out there. To change our angles and perspectives. To meet new people and learn their culture. This includes learning a bit of their language. At least enough to say “Anyeong-haseyo” (Hello, Are you peaceful?), to order food: “ch’in mandu juseyo”, and “An
nyeong-ga/geseyo” (Goodbye,go/stay in peace).
In my expeditions, I hope to learn, as Alan and many others undoubtedly have, more about myself and human nature. Why we dream when we’re awake and why we don’t remember our dreams after we sleep. Maybe I need to wake up, in the less literal more abstract sense of the word. Wake up to the reality I’m in, where I am, what I am doing and the beauty I can find here. Or, maybe I just need more sleep…