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.
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.