7 surprises on a trip home, plus a few flashbacks

What is home? When do I go home? Where is home? As continuous budget slow travelers wandering the planet in early retirement, home is wherever we happen to be on Earth. As I write this, I’m on a trip to the ‘home’ where I was born and raised – on Long Island, New York.

Husband Tedly didn’t come with me. He continued traveling after we left India, first to Thailand, then back to the Philippines. He suggested I write something about ‘culture shock’ — but I’m not really shocked by anything.

Maybe I’m too old, too worldly, or too connected to the news cycles that once defined my career in another life. Based on my reading current events and my former experiences ‘home’, things are as I imagined them to be.

However, there were some definite surprises as I enjoyed flashbacks to my youth. I’ll start with smells, sights, sounds, and taste, and then hit prices, shit, and vanity.

7 surprises on a trip home

1- Clean air

Years in Asia stank of exhaust. Everyone has a scooter, more middle class families buy cars every day. Emissions tests are basically unheard of, so even rural areas have acrid air from conveyances.

Despite endless SUVs and trucks on American roads (there are hardly any of those in Asia), the emissions regulations in the U.S. really make for wonderful air quality.

2- Intense patriotism

True: it’s been a while since I saw so many American flags. Also true: there were never this many on display when I was last around these parts.

True: my dad has worn his U.S. Marines Vietnam Veteran hats for years. Also true: not many strangers (if any) thanked him for his service. Now it happens daily – often several times a day.

3- Birds and the Long Island Railroad

Bluebirds, cardinals, robins, doves – some of the songbirds that were music to my ears. Their unique sounds jarred me at first. Springtime on Long Island – away from traffic – sounds peaceful. I hadn’t heard these birds in years, and was surprised at how I heard them everywhere – even over traffic if I listened carefully.

Another flashback: the Long Island Railroad whistle. A distinct sound that is nothing like an Indian or Thai train, and definitely not like a high-speed European rail ride.

4- Drinking water– from the tap!

Of course, I remember this. But I’m surprised at how easy it is to drink water after years of bottles, deliveries, and RO machines. And it tastes good! As my mom points out, this water might not be 100% pure.

But the fact that we can rely on tap water to drink (except Flint, Michigan, which is a disgrace) is a luxury lost on most Americans.

5- High prices

I’m a bit surprised to see fast food meals at $11 and diner meals on menus priced at $15 to $20, when we have eaten out in Asia for under $5 for so long.

Some Americans blame inflation on gas prices. This seems misguided, since gas is actually more expensive in Asia, but prices on goods there are so much lower.

Unleaded cost an average of $3.65 a gallon on Long Island on the day I’m writing this. Gas in India – as an example – costs at about 100 rupees per liter. That converts to $5.43 a gallon in India – nearly two dollars more expensive than in America. And yet: prices in India for everything are lower.

6- Toilet paper in the toilet bowl

Of course, I remember this as well. And again, after years of putting paper in a bin for collection (sometimes burning it ourselves), I’m surprised at how tidy things are. Another luxury.

Additionally, public bathrooms have toilet paper – and soap. These luxuries simply do not exist in the developing Asian countries.

7- Stepford Wives abound

It appears the majority American women on Long Island want to look the same: fat lips, lashes and butts.

I’ve no idea how many injections it takes to get lips that fat, or how these these poor women glue on their lashes without cementing their eyelids shut. I’m guessing those fat butts aren’t natural either.

I just don’t have interest in pleasing anyone’s fantasies of impossible, beautiful perfection. I love myself, and everything I’ve been through makes me who I am today.

A few flashbacks

Flashback from my vain youth: my teen girl desire to have the same clothes, hair, makeup as my peers. I’ve dramatically changed since that little girl left Long Island.

Aging is a gift. I’m an alcoholic and a breast cancer survivor whose had a few flirts with death.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer while traveling in Europe in 2018. I had a double mastectomy in Zagreb and remained ‘flat’. So I wander the world boobless. I am cancer-free without the unnecessary implant complications that are common for breast cancer patients.

Instead, I spent my time and money on travel adventures, volunteer endeavors, living and learning as we wandered the planet in early retirement.

We’ve watched Komodo dragons and Asian elephants, seen the ruins at Angkor Wat. We ate pho in Vietnam, ordered at hawker centers in Singapore, volunteered at a refugee camp in Greece, did humanitarian work with an indigenous tribe in the Philippines.

The pandemic stalled us in the Philippines for more than two years. Then the spouse and I got going again — until SLAM! I was hit by a car in Thailand while riding a bicycle, and nearly run over by the car behind me.

Then a foreign friend died right after my third visit to Malaysia. We lived in India for a while. I discovered vipassana meditation. We saw where the Buddha was enlightened, and we helped a few of the poorest people on Earth — and there are billions.

From countryside castles to city metros, we also enjoyed a brief break from Asia. We witnessed oil-based opulence in Middle Eastern cities, hiked around the historic Turquoise Coast, laid eyes on the oldest known processed gold in the world.

I’ve talked with Russians and Ukranians running from the war. I have Israeli and Palestinian friends with broken hearts and lives from that war.

And today I’m ‘home’ with flashbacks and surprises, experiencing meloncholic nostalgia and unbelievable abundance — all with love. It is absolutely wonderful to see my parents. Life is Now, and it goes so fucking fast.

The real world is out there, my American friends. Don’t flush your time and money down the toilet, and don’t ever take for granted how good you have it.

Thanks for reading, “7 surprises on a trip home, plus a few flashbacks.”

taj mahal trip cost includes a minimum three-hour visit

Ellen’s sobriety date is April 13, 2010. She left the news business in 2015.

During budget slow travel in early retirement with husband Theo, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

She had a double mastectomy without reconstruction in Croatia in 2018.

Today she travels the world as a ‘flattie’.


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