I’ve always been a dreamer — living in a world of my own creation. As a child, it didn’t matter what I’d be when I grew up. I discovered multiple worlds through books, imagination, and playacting. In my teens, the stars called out to me and I spent the next couple of years trying to understand them. It’s strange how complex equations can take away the beauty of admiring the night sky. Could it be possible — when you begin to understand something — you can’t appreciate it anymore? In my twenties, I jumped from solving equations to stringing words together. I was told: I had spent too many years developing the left side of my brain. It would be hard to think right, now. That stuck in my mind for a very long time. I never stopped dreaming though, even if writing kept getting harder.

In my thirties, I quit my job, and thought I had it all figured out. I had taken a leap of faith and decided to pursue my dreams. It was the first time I had acted on instinct — not reason. Unfortunately, reality hit me harder than my depleting bank account or failing ego. There’s a reason why most writers remain unknown and struggle for the better part of their life. Where do you start from? In 2013, blogs were slowly taking over the internet. Writers could test the waters of uncertainty in anonymity and have their voices bounce across the internet. I was still old school and had reluctantly started writing my first blog a year earlier. My friends were brutally honest and suggested I write about our travels — instead of dabbling in literary ramblings. It’s quite possible my writing lacked a voice and they had been kind to me.

That’s how our travel blog was born. I wanted our blog to reflect the world that I dreamed of. I wanted our blog: not to reflect the inner pessimist in me or the bitter realist that I had become. It had to be real without being despondent. It had to be inspirational without losing grip on reality. I wanted/needed to desperately believe in a better place — perhaps, a better planet. Now, I’m not an intrepid traveller or adrenaline junkie. Was travel blogging possible for the socially awkward? Back then, I’d spent years at my desk working on my own writing and wallowing in self-doubt. There was only one activity I was (am) reasonably good at. I could walk and not let thoughts hold me back. Two Brown Feet seemed like a no-brainer to me. When you’ve walked enough, you’d know what I mean.

If your blog is a bubble of happy memories and a la-la land of incredible travel experiences, then a troll is a pinprick that bursts that bubble in a fraction of a second. On the bright side, getting trolled proves that someone is actually reading. Someone had the courage to hide behind a fake name and challenge the redundancy in your thought process — even encourage debate. That’s what I wanted and I shouldn’t complain.

But, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt. I spend hours reading (aloud) and perusing content before it goes up. And yet, there’s always a word or grammatical mistake that slips away. Shouldn’t polygots be allowed the benefit of the doubt? Shouldn’t we be allowed colloquialism to truly express our thoughts and contribute to the evolution of language? Besides, I have been asked so many times if I speak or write in English? I was doing pretty decent for a non-native speaker.

Being repeatedly questioned on the choice of the name of our blog hurt be more. Or being advised, by some, to change the name because it made other people uncomfortable. Or to explain what was I thinking when I thought of the name. Does is really matter what is the colour of your feet?

I grew up in an environment that is perceived to be homogenous in physical traits and colour. It helps sell tourism brochures, documentaries, stereotypes, and propagate the idea of a single cultural or physical identity. I say perceived, because our checkered history with foreign invasions, mass migrations, asylum-seekers, colonialism, the Silk Road, and envagilical missions would have created a complex pool of diverse ancestory. Our own travels have left us quite perplexed about the origins of our civilisation and how much must have been lost or omitted from the annals of history. It’s hard to talk about a singularity when there’s room for a rich diversity.

Ironically, it’s hard to escape colourism even in homogeneous environments. Colour was often described as a shade card: fair, wheatish (the colour of wheat, a kind of brown), and dusky. One had to be fair to be considered beautiful. My own skin colour was a reflection of how much I interacted/didn’t with the elements. Fortunately, my parents didn’t let social conditioning stop me from playing in the sun. It also made me accepting of the way I looked (back then). When a popular messenger started colour based emojis, it was interesting to see colourism percolate through a seemingly banal expression of the new age.

Those who live in homogenous environments (and don’t interact with the outside world) will seek an identity on the basis of nationality, culture, language, or religion rather than absolute colour. I, for one, wanted to be colour blind and accept people for who they were rather than how they looked or chose to identify themselves. In hindsight, I understand: there’s no way you can ignore something and acknowledge it at the same time. But I also believed that people would choose to interpret a name on their own personal experiences.  It was never going to be a win-win situation. 

I was always an anxious child and a nervous traveller. In 2015, after nursing my mum to health for nearly 2 months, I plunged into anxiety and panic attacks. I quit writing and tried painting. I traded hard rock for soothing instrumentals. I seriously questioned if I would ever be able to travel with anxiety? Travel was our escape from the mundane world of expectation. I had failed badly in that world. On our travels, we could wear our capes and become these super people who could achieve anything. At that time, I never thought I’d make it through a month-long stay in China while my spouse/travel-partner worked. Surprisingly, I survived that experience and also managed to climb a portion of the Great Wall of China.

Who do we become when we travel?

The following year, in 2016, mum’s health spiralled again. It made the decision to move to Korea all the more difficult for me. I never wanted to be an expat and add more confusion to my confused mind. It wasn’t going to be easy and I struggled a lot in the first year. Nobody tells you how hard it will be and how your identity takes a beating with every interaction. I wish there was a survival guide to life in Korea. We had moved from one perceived homogenous environment to another and I never thought I’d have to think about colourism again. I was wrong. I would see colour in a whole new meaning and get my first lessons on race. My first few foreign friends found it imperative to identify on the basis of colour. While I understand the need for representation, I understand how it feels to be a minority, I understand how cultural history goes unnoticed; I was perplexed: were they actually celebrating diversity or were they polarised beyond repair? It was the first time that I started thinking in absolutes. And that’s how I became brown.

Travel has always been a bundle of surprises. People have been the biggest surprise. I guess my father is right after all. The world is running because of few good people. I never thought locals would want to help a foreign stranger. I was proven wrong always. In Paris, on a busy morning, we were helped when we couldn’t print our Euro Rail tickets. In Kyoto, a man walked with us and dropped us to the shrine we were trying to locate. In Iceland, a local helped Basil fill gas in our rental car. In Taipei, a young mother took the subway just to show us how to reach a popular tourist sight.

I’d be lying if I said all people can look beyond where you come from or how you look. Travel may have made me optimistic, but I’m not naive. At immigration, I can never be sure if the officer will look at the colour of my skin or passport before asking me a question. 

When we started travelling, more than a decade ago, bucket lists were big. Tourism has changed over the years and has affected our planet and indigenous groups adversely. I never thought I’d hear about the No List (12 destinations travellers might not want to go). I was heartbroken to find Galapagos on the list. How do we travel and preserve a natural wonder for the next traveller?

In 2017, we travelled to Vietnam and Mongolia. Climate change is threatening to flood the Mekong Delta and submerge villages. The Mekong Delta is also one of the largest rice producers in Asia. In Mongolia, when the nomad’s wife wished me, ‘Bonjour’, after surviving a harrowing experience in the forest; I realised how we create change unwittingly and influence local people by our travel.

What will influence the influencers?

In 2018, we travelled to Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan, and China. It was the golden year of travel. It was the closest we’ve got to being full-time travellers. Travel shattered my own perceptions and stereotypes about people and places. Clearly, there’s a huge gap on the internet. The same stereotypes are recycled and routinely fed through travel and tourism sites. We need to be careful of the danger of a single story.

Sadly, no one is immune to stereotypes, not even seasoned travellers. I wish people would ask me questions on what I learned in college or ad school. I love to talk about the cosmos or inadequate representation of marginalised groups in the media. Strangely, most mistake me for a social anthropologist or an interpreter of cultural idiosyncrasies. I’m torn between what’s expected of me and who I truly am. I’m torn between trying to hold on to my roots and adapt to the change I want to be. It’s also hard to escape the inherent sexism in stereotypes. Men get to be smart whilst ‘exotic’ women get stuck with being beautiful and docile. I was one of the smartest students in my undergrad course in Physics. I’d prefer smart over beautiful. I’d prefer opinionated over meek. Period.

It’s been 5 years since I chose to share our blog with strangers on the internet. I’ve met some incredible people online. I never thought anyone would want to read our stories or travel experiences. I do have an incredible travel partner who is close to perfect and we’ve survived the ups and downs of travel together. We’re in 2019. I’m not sure how long I’d continue with this blog. I’m not sure if I will have anything new to say. I hope to get back to writing someday. I hope we continue to travel. And I hope, in the future, this treasure trove of stories will help us face the unknown challenges beyond our field of view.

Posted by:twobrownfeet

Writer-Photographer Duo. Now in Seoul.

54 replies on “Two Brown Feet

  1. That was so well written, Cheryl!
    By the way, you do know that I don’t ever want you to change! I’ll take trong, feisty, and opinionated over meek and docile any day 🙂

    1. Arghhh! You read this one! Seriously, never know when you’re reading my posts. 🙂
      Thanks for always being honest with me. I appreciate it. Didn’t think you’d like this style of writing though. You’ve been my toughest critic after dad/Basil!
      I miss our conversations/debates on movies, travel, the news, and people. I miss the mountains and I wonder if they will remain untouched until our return. 😦 I’m tired of being a cultural interpreter. I’ll try to stay untamed! lol. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Cheryl, I don’t know what prompted you to say that you are unsure of continuing your blog. All I can say is that you are doing great with whatever you are churning out here. We all enjoy what you write and in many ways, it keeps your dream of being a writer alive. Who knows what this blog will blossom into?

    Keep writing!

    1. As bloggers, we all reach a point when we are unsure of the future and how much we can sustain steady posting without compromising on quality. I hope I can find that balance. Or Basil has to take over. 🙂 I’ve convinced him to write some posts. It’s been 2 years and I haven’t read his post yet. Thank you for the support, Arvind! Means a lot!

      1. I totally get it, Cherly. I think it is common to all of us. I sometime wonder what if I were to relocate to another city? I’m not sure if all the time and efforts that went it here would be zero someday? I really don’t have that answer. Who knows what future holds for us?

  3. A writer friend recently wrote it takes 100 000 hours to become a good writer. I know I’ve surpassed that number of hours and am still not there yet, but getting close. Don’t give up your dream.

    1. Wow! I’ve never counted the hours. I used this blog as a writing prompt. I wonder if I lost focus of why I started writing in the first place. I hope I can find that inner balance.
      P.S. Have you watched Soni? I loved it!

  4. I’m so glad our blogs brought us together to form such a wonderful friendship! I hope you don’t quit blogging, you’re a beautiful writer and I’m always blown away that you’re not even doing it in your first language!

  5. Physics, to writing, to where do your talents and insecurities and you fit into this flawed but beautiful world? My path was math/finance, to writing/language, to where to my talents and insecurities fit into this flawed but beautiful world?! We’ve moved from left brain to right, from India to Korea, from Chicago to Texas, and here we are now simultaneously contemplating the ongoing life of our blogs. Everything you write resonates with me (except for the fact that my feet are unattractively white and perennially restless, and not warm brown and occasionally tentative!) so I sincerely hope you will stick around in some form, as I hope to do, even if it’s just to check in from time to time and get the feedback that your writing is wonderful and meaningful and worthwhile.

    I have returned some of my own energies to my offline life and my other writing, and while I miss the blog sometimes and I certainly miss the interactions sometimes, my partial retreat has felt right. At least right now.

    As for any negative comments or trolling you have experienced: I’d like to have a word with them! A very strong word to back off. I love the name of your blog, the contents of your blog, and the contents of your mind. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Cheryl. 🙂

    1. Who would’ve thought we’re so similar in mind and soul? 🙂 That’s what I love about blogging. I’ve found a voice here and the support has been amazing. I feel free when I write. It’s one of those rare moments when I’m just me, not someone trying to fit in a mould. 🙂 I don’t know where I’ll go from here and the uncertainty has been weighing me down for a while. I could take longer breaks from the blog or use Instagram to share stories. 🙂 I’m so glad we connected virtually and hope we could meet in the future. Thank you for your support and such a wonderful comment. Warm hugs from Seoul. ❤

  6. A thought-provoking post, Cheryl. It has never occurred to me to question the name of your blog. You just continue to write what you want and don’t think too much about other people’s opinion. If you are writing to share your thoughts, memories and travel experiences, then go for it. Your blog will be a wonderful resource and treasure trove for others in the years to come. Don’t stop doing what you love.

    1. We’ve been following each other for more than 4 years now. Who would’ve thought we’d continue blogging for this long? 🙂 I feel like you’re a good friend of mine. Your words are beautiful! Thank you for the support. I needed to write this post because I didn’t think I had it in me to answer any more questions! I know they won’t though. But I think I’ve made my peace with it. Big hugs!

  7. It does seem like stereotypes are the bane of the world, and it has ever been so. And getting away from home, getting out of your comfort zone only makes such observations more pronounced.

    “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Mark Twain – Innocents Abroad.

    So if you’re being put off by those who choose to vegetate, those that can only stereotype, remember it’s their loss, not yours. Keep those posts coming, especially the thoughtful ones – that’s one of the things that makes your blog stand out (in a good way.)

    BTW, that’s a truly awesome set of photos.

    1. I remember using this quote for one of my WPC posts. It’s spot on! I agree, it’s easier when you’re in your comfort zone or with people just like you. Getting out of that comfort zone is the hardest part of being a traveller or expat. But, the learnings and experiences is something I will always cherish. Thank you for all the support and kind words.
      Basil has clicked most of these photos. I had a hard time selecting the best of our travel memories. He’d be very happy when he reads this!

  8. Oh Cheryl, a good post, but many layered. While there is a great deal in it, two provoke me to respond. I’ve actually been thinking about your title recently and I love it. I wondered what made you choose it, as I wonder what made Diana Gabaldon choose the various titles of her outlander series. I’m a writer, too. I wonder what’s in the mind of other writers. My feet are brown, but you’d call me white. An indigenous man calls me grey – not black or white, but somewhere in between. Like you, I am left and right brain. I teach Maths and English. Logic and creativity. How luck we are! Renaissance women. You write very well and I’d never pick you as EALD (English as an alternative language or dialect). You have mastered the written form. But what if you hadn’t? Many voices make up the world. Sometimes it’s good to break from writing and rest. Some of the regular bloggers do it, I’ve noticed. We all need to recharge, refocus, step back at times. Whatever you choose, you have touched my life with your blog and that will never go. Put one brown foot in front of the other and go forward into the next adventure.

    1. Thank you for such a wonderful comment, Karen. I love our planet and I’m a big fan of David Attenborough’s Planet Earth Series. I’d toyed around with names like travelling-beyond-borders or travelling-nomads. Most of those names were taken. 🙂 In hindsight, 2 muddy feet or 2 dirty feet would have been more literal than my metaphorical 2 Brown Feet. Bloggers who have been following us, for a while, are aware of my love for empty, stunning earthscapes. We are similar because we’re bound by our common love for exploring and cherishing our beautiful planet. I had no doubt your feet were brown. I’m trying to do too much right now and I could be suffering from blogger’s burnout. Or it’s just winter! Once again, thank you for such a beautiful message. It feels so good to be connected with similar people around the globe. xoxo

  9. Got a bit of a fright returning from my blogging break to read all my thoughts posted in this entry from you. You really have to stop reading my mind so easily! This isn’t an answer to any of the issues you raised, but I will always be thankful that I found a kindred spirit in your two brown feet, your contemplative English blog, and our common love for all things science-married-to-art. (Also, I’m enjoying the new layout!)

    1. I’m laughing so much (after reading the first two lines)! Thanks for brightening my day when the sun chooses to hide somewhere. 🙂
      I LOVE your blog and your writing. And I’m happy to find another kindred spirit! So many of us out there. Gives me hope to carry on. It took me two years to be brave enough to write this post. I couldn’t think beyond trolls (virtual and real). I feel free now. 🙂
      You noticed the new layout! It was a happy mistake and I nearly fainted when I realised I changed the theme of the blog. 🙂

      1. I salute your spirit and give thanks for your sweetness. Finding a community of people who are willing to be curious, to write about their doubts, and venture into the nuances of life is what keeps me hopeful. 💛

  10. Beautiful post. I love reading your story and seeing your amazing images. Thank you for being so vulnerable, and sharing your amazing words and thoughts. It’s inspiring to me as a traveler and a writer.

  11. Such a heartfelt post! Why would anyone care if your blog is called two brown feet. geez…but you’re right…it’s incredible how it can make some people uncomfortable! And the part about moving back to SK…i feel that often if i had to move back to india to be with family how would it be…things are so different there…people identify very much with color (better to be fair than dark), caste, status….worlds different from what I identify with here in the states. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Preethi! Colour is perceived differently in different places around the globe. I understand why it could make some uncomfortable or raise questions. When I started blogging, I never thought this blog would be shared publicly or get international views. 🙂 I never thought the name would be a big deal. I was wrong. But I think it worked out. It gets people thinking and starts a conversation. 🙂
      Colourism runs through Asia and Africa. I’ve visited and stayed in multiple countries. I think, every place has its own quirks. But I also get why you may prefer life on the other side. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and joining the conversation.

  12. Your five years have been amazing! Kick the sorry trolls out of your memory. Look at your achievements – your blog and your writings are excellent. I am not a native English speaker and I don’t give a toss. The only troll that visited my blog and donated their opinion was our own fellow photographer. Strangers don’t usually care that much.
    I look forward to many more years and journeys. Way to go, my friends! xx

  13. Such a thought provoking, honest and raw post Cheryl. I so admire you and all you’ve achieved and I love your writing. I always have and I always will. Your intelligence, passion, honesty and vulnerability shines through. And, in my opinion at least, I think you’ve achieved one of your goals “I wanted our blog to reflect the world that I dreamed of.” You’ve certainly done that. And I hope you’ll continue to do it my friend. Big hugs from down under. xx 🙂

    1. Thank you my dear friend. It wasn’t easy writing this post. It’s been the most personal post so far. I couldn’t sleep for days after thinking that I must have written another rant on the internet. 🙂 Support has been amazing and it keeps me going. The best part is meeting kindred spirits. You’ve been such an inspiration. I remember your posts on staying positive through it all. You’ve got a gift! Thank you of spreading love across the internet. Sending you a big hug!xoxox

      1. Aww Cheryl, I’m sure it wasn’t easy writing that post and baring your soul. But I’m glad you did. You have a gift too my dear friend. And I agree, the best part is meeting kindred spirits. I’m so glad I connected with you all those years ago. Big hug back. xx

  14. Wow, this is really beautifully and thoughtfully written, Cheryl. So for this, I do hope you could write like forever. 🙂
    I have always wanted to know what were you studying in college, but I always held back.
    And about that “grammatical mistake that slips away”, for me, so many times, I don’t even know if there is one or two grammatical errors on my post. I wished someone just correct me right away, if it was too bothering (annoying) to read. So, I could learn.

    1. Awww! This means a lot to me! Thank you, Yuna! I think we talked about our majors last year. We spoke about sexism in male dominated fields like STEM. Don’t worry about your grammar. It’s the thought that counts! Take care. xoxo

  15. And again, I think we mentioned few things here yesterday.
    And I see the picture of Mount Bromo above.
    However, all the picture are so wonderful. Those wildlifes are awesomely captured. ❤

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