It’s New Year’s Day 2013, and I’m among friends in Bielefeld, Germany.
Two years ago this week, I was trudging through snow drifts in the Czech capital city of Prague, a city to which the number of visits has reached double digits; such is the proof of my love for Praha.
At that time, I’d been contemplating making big changes.
One year ago this week, I arrived in San Francisco, after having completed five years of living and working in Chile, ended my time in astronomy after 15-plus years, and began my year-long journey around the world (RTW).
Over this past year, I’ve had to consider two key decisions for the post-RTW:
• Where was I going to live?
• What was I going to do?
I can always go back to North America, and I know it’d be relatively easy to get back into the day-to-day rhythm. But I want something different, yet again.
Travel this year has shown me I’d like to live in Germany again, which is no surprise to many of you; Australia; or New Zealand. It’s true the latter two are about as far as one can get away (from Europe or North America). Yet, I find these two countries attractive for the distance, and they’re much closer to Hong Kong where my sister lives.
What I’m going to do next has been a tough nut to crack. To this point with a year that’s vanished in an instant, I still haven’t a clue. I can’t believe how quickly the year has gone, and I’m no farther now than when I started.
The lion’s share of people with whom I’ve met has been a result of my 15-plus years as an astronomer. With research collaborations and meetings held around the world, I’ve been fortunate to have met a diversity of people, who are themselves scattered about the planet.
It’s little wonder why I get along best with people who have experienced the highs-and-lows of graduate school. They need not have been in science, but the entire experience, not unlike what’s comically represented in phdcomics.com, puts many through a crucible.
The passion for their work overcomes the severity, the low pay, the crap one encounters. Somehow, it’s enough; I am proof that this was once the case. The rest of it becomes a long drawn-out fight and a mental struggle, sometimes against personal demons, and often against the system at large. Some finish their work faster than others, some become more successful than others. This is revealed as the most basic yet cruelest of reality, because there continues to be more successful PhDs than there are available jobs commensurate to the training.
Maybe that’s another truth: that the process produces the best possible science and results, and if you can stay reasonably productive within the system, the system takes care of you.
For me, the truth is astronomy was always a journey: how much could I do and be successful to get me to the next location, rather than the next stage of a career.
So many moments in time weren’t merely accumulated, but what I noticed was the increasing rate at which those experiences were gathering over the years. If every day was an avalanche, an obvious conclusion would be a collection of memories too numerous to count.
I am not unique in traveling on this path, as others have had similar experiences. Still, even with the number of places common among travelers, I think it’s remarkable the encounters themselves generate unique and individual memories.
They are mine, evoking the thought that, to borrow a phrase, “I am mine”.
My name is Henry Lee.
I am Canadian, born in a country whose people gave us safety, education, and opportunity.
I am Chinese, born to immigrant parents who, through good and bad, taught us to be aware of our ancestry.
I once thought the straddling between two worlds would come to an end if I made a choice. I’ve realized I never had a choice, and that I would always live in both worlds; I can live with that.
I have been and am physicist.
I have been and am astronomer.
I am published author with a number of first-author papers in peer-reviewed journals.
I am photographer.
One goal I must try and fulfill this year is the production of e-books and prints of my travel photos.
I am world traveler.
Travel in this last year has in many ways become “appetizers” for more. After visiting Madrid, Granada, and Sevilla over a span of three weeks a few years ago, I require a month-long trip driving and eating around Spain. I require weeks of eating in Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia. I once thought Germany and Europe were life-long projects. I was wrong: after six-plus weeks of living in the German capital, I’ve learned Berlin is itself a worthy life-long project.
I am travel blogger.
Taking nothing away from the experience of managing scientific research projects and the production and publishing of scientific papers, I am prouder of what I’ve achieved with my blog, because a number of blog-posts have reached a wider audience around the world with immediate impact and direct relevance to those with questions about a particular destination or a mode of travel.
But now, the RTW year is almost done, and the questions linger, like bubbles over my head: what will I do, and who will I be in 2013?
I have absolutely no idea: it’s exciting and terrifying all at the same time, but it’ll sure be fun to find out.
It ends where it began, as I undertake the final leg of my oneworld RTW-ticket on January 15 by flying out of Frankfurt, Germany and returning to Vancouver, Canada.
I’m seriously considering flying back out to Australia weeks later to begin carving something new there. It’s all open, available, and ready for the taking – the next step is up to me.
I made the two photos above at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, USA on 27 April 2012 (top), and from Dover Heights in Sydney, Australia on 8 October 2012 (bottom). “I Am Mine” is a reference to Pearl Jam (alternate). This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.