Home thoughts from abroad: the lessons travelling can teach us

Written by Jo Carroll.


I'm home at last. I've been away for six weeks, and settling back into the swing of things back home is always a bit disorientating. Only a day or so ago I was meandering down streets lined with stalls selling street food, the air thick with the smells of frying - and traffic. I'd escape into temples, greeted by the smoke from incense sticks. Then turn into a street alive with lanterns and dragons as the Chinese made the most of their New Year celebrations.

It takes time to slip back into Marlborough's rhythms. I am reluctant to let go of the challenges of the last few weeks. For me, the lessons of travelling (and I travel independently, so there is no guide to help me on and off transport or find hotels) lie in the effort I must make to understand differences.

Not just the differences of food and clothes and architecture. It goes far deeper than that. For some cultures, such as the Chinese, the focus of interest lies in the community: Penang and Malacca are full of clan houses, places where Chinese clans gather to celebrate the ties that hold them together. Indian families are more focused on the family, with individual needs and aspirations defined within the parameters of family's dreams and realities.

It is in striking contrast to our individuality: our conviction that individuals should strive to meet individual needs - our emphasis on competition - our reliance on consumerism as a measure of success.

Travelling teaches me that there are few unquestionable rights and wrongs. Instead there is a plethora of ideas and ways of organising ourselves to meet individual and collective needs. Underpinning them all are the universal needs for food and shelter, to love and be loved. Needs that most of us, in our lovely town, take for granted.

But it is worth remembering, next time we agitate about the traffic on Salisbury Road or the price of fish in Waitrose, just how fortunate - how privileged - we are. It all feels so important at the time, but - in the global scheme of things - our worries are insignificant. Much as we might like it to be, Marlborough is not the centre of the universe.

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