Whither Winter IV

Chicago, USA
August 22, 2008

I've taken the last few days in Chicago, away from small-town Indiana. Aunt Kathy, Mom, and brother Ben are the last ones left down in La Porte. They're still straightening out Grampa's affairs after the funeral. Everybody else has flown back to Seattle: which means I've had Aunt Kathy's condo all to myself.

I've enjoyed having space to be on my own for a few days. With nobody else around, I've allowed myself to be more slovenly than I could be over my past months playing the guest around Seattle. I exploded the contents of my bag all about Aunt Kathy's living room floor. I haven't been worrying whether I'm decently dressed at any given moment. Having space of my own is letting me focus, regroup, and contemplate my next direction.

Direction over the immediate months is clear. I'm about to leave the U.S. again. I leave on a non-stop flight to Seoul from O'Hare Sunday morning. I'll spend about a week in Seoul with Jochen and his family. (Unfortunately, my other friend in Seoul, Penny, will be away.) Then, at the beginning of September, I have a flight on to Urumqi. Come October I'll attend a wedding and a birthday celebration down in Hong Kong.

Then after Hong Kong... I'm really not sure. My plans to move to Canada are on hold for about a year. With the immigration process stalled, continuing to travel and explore other places around the world which I've long wanted to visit sounds good. I've already been on-the-road over the past year: keeping on going makes a certain sense. I had been ready to grow some roots in Vancouver--but making journeys to some of the countries which I didn't reach on my recent overland trip sounds just as good. Cambodia and India are both proximate from Hong Kong. There are so many points in the Middle East I'd love to explore, as well. It should be an interesting year, wherever I do wind up.

When saying goodbye to my family in La Porte, I told everybody that I was hoping to return to Seattle in time for Thanksgiving or Christmas. That's still the plan. Now that I'm weighing just which routes I might take, though... I'm not sure whether I will make it back that soon.

I haven't been going out much around Chicago. I've spent most of my time unwinding at Aunt Kathy's condo and preparing to leave the U.S. for another extended period. The one thing I've done about town was to get together with Megan; we hadn't seen each other for a couple years.

Though Megan is also an American, it struck me odd to be seeing her here in Chicago. She and I first met--and have spent time together--only in cities distant from the U.S. We first connected in Ulaan Baatar: where we both happened to be visiting over Naadam. Our second meet-up was in Urumqi. Megan has a nice account of that time together on her travelogue, complete with photographs of an evening of massage and foot wash we went to together with Meenday.

Cuban Food in Bucktown
Our third meeting place was yesterday in Bucktown, the neighborhood in Chicago where Megan is presently searching for an apartment. She proposed meeting at the Map Room, a bar that describes itself as a "Traveller's Tavern". Aside from the stacks of National Geographics on a bookshelf, I'm not sure what gives the Map Room any status as a Traveller's Tavern. The selection of draught beer was extensive enough though--I wasn't one to complain about choice of venue.

Over her recent travels Megan has probably been to more countries--and more exotic countries--than I ever have. She's one of the few people with whom I can just blather on about travel. When speaking with her I don't need to explain what would be compelling about, say, a visit to Turkmenistan--let alone where the country is located. It was relaxing not only to catch up over drinks with a familiar friend, but to have someone to really discuss potential routes in the coming months. We finished the evening off with dinner at a Cuban restaurant down the street from the Map Room.

I have to confess that there was one reason I wasn't so happy to see Megan. I had something to return to her--something which I'd gotten a lot of use out of. When Megan left my apartment in Urumqi to continue on her journey, she left something behind. She'd been traveling with a special towel: a tiny, super-absorbent strip of cloth made just for traveling. Megan had hung it up to dry in my kitchen--but then forgotten to pack it when finally leaving for the railway station. That towel was so good... I took it with me to every place I've traveled since then.

But, fair being fair, I brought it with me and handed it back to Megan when we met yesterday--two years after we last met. The look on her face...