The H.L. Manifesto, 2012
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.
24 Responses to “The H.L. Manifesto, 2012”
Happy New Year, Henry!
May 2013 bring you health and happiness, and may it be a fantastic start of the next leg in your journey!
a big hug from La Serena, Chile,
Hi and thanks, Nicole! You’ve got my best wishes, too! I miss those regular weekly/monthly dinners! 🙂
We’ll just have to do dinner some place else than on the La Serena beach.
Hi, Nicole – it would’ve been hilarious if we had been able to do so here on the European continent! I’m looking forward to the next time we can meet, somewhere around the world.
Henry, this is so beautifully written! Trying to decide your next move is tough, but as I’m sure you’ve learned, nothing is ever set in stone. You could just decide on Germany, Australia AND New Zealand, spread out over the course of a few years. Then the choice becomes which first? Sounds like you had an amazing trip, and you probably need some reflection once you’re back “home” and have a little distance. I’m looking forward to see what you decide for your next step. So glad you came to stay with me and Andy for a few days, we really enjoyed hanging out with you!
Hi, Ali. Thanks for your very kind comment! It’s been an interesting realization that the “personal adventure” doesn’t really end, and that the new year brings about an entirely new set of decisions, lying ever closer on the horizon. With a decade in between visits to Freiburg, I’m very glad I was able to visit you and Andy. 🙂 Ich drücke Euch die Daumen!
You are at a terrific crossroads! So many wonderful choices and opportunity awaits! I am so excited for you Henry – it is a great place to be! I have yet to explore Germany – but relish another time in Australia and more exploration of NZ. Loved my time down there! But, if you are able to be location independent, you have the privilege of all 3! You can move around and explore more – there are so many advantages to living in Germany, but also in Australia!
Looking forward to seeing where this road takes you! Perhaps some day, our roads will cross! Happy New Year’s and safe travels!
Hi, Anita. Thank you very much! I imagine that every moment, even outside of travel, can be approached in the similar sense; it’s like having my breath taken away at every opportunity. 🙂 From I’ve read about your travels, I think Germany with its diverse landscapes would be a good biking/hiking country for your future travel plans. Best wishes for 2013!
Henry — you have taken a wonderful journey, and I hope many more great journeys lie ahead for you. I hope our paths cross again sometime soon!
Good Luck and Safe Travels, eh!
Hey, Pat. Thanks for reading and for your kind comment. It’s interesting to realize that the post-astro “era” really and truly begins now, the year of travel having been a fun and useful “buffer” and “distraction”. 🙂 Best wishes for 2013, eh!
It is very exciting to read what’s going through your mind. After reading the blog for a whole year, I am not surprised that NZ is one of your choices, you sounded truly in love on your posts there. Good luck with whatever choice you end up making, we will definitely be tuning in to find out what it is.
Huge hug, and ¡feliz 2013!
Hola, Eva! As always, thanks for stopping by! Australia has the big cities, big-city living, and (in my view) more big-city opportunities. But New Zealand has its share of lush scenery that was so easy with which to fall in love. I’ve sipped on the “Kiwi water”, I’m a convert, and I now “preach”, too, about getting people to New Zealand. I suppose it would really help if I ended up living there, even though I know some are reluctant to travel clear to the “other side of the world.” Thank you for your very kind comment – best wishes to you and your family in the new year!
Hi Henry, I am glad you had a fruitful year gathering experiences and friendships around the globe. This is true freedom, and I wish you the best for 2013, with new exciting challenges appearing on your path. I loved your text, and it expresses the journey of many of us. At the end, even with all the ups and downs, we can say we are lucky to experience such things – many don’t have this chance! Life could indeed be much easier choosing a more “standard” path, but would it be enough to satisfy our need for personal growth? Keep living the life at its best! Happy New Year! 🙂
Hi, Aurea. Thank you for taking time out and reading, but I should also apologize for not having met up with you when I was in Munich last month. 😦
I wish I could say it’s entirely about freedom, as a part of me is terrified at the prospect of starting over again; there are times I envy the “normalcy” of day-to-day living, but then again, I get to breathe and live a lot more deeply as an alternative. I guess it’s the price of trying to satisfy the principles of entropy. 🙂 You’re right; I wouldn’t trade anything for the experience of having been an astronomer, the meetings I went, the things I got to do, and especially, the people I’ve had the great fortune of meeting and getting to know.
Thanks again, Aurea!
Henry, what a story. I know you’ll figure it out, and I hope we’ll meet sometime, maybe in London, Germany or Vancouver.
Keep in mind, that going “back” to Vancouver is also going forward – you’ve evolved since you left, and so has the city, even though the changes in and around the city may not be as deep. That’s why going to a place we’ve been to / we come from always feels like going back, when actually it’s not really.
No matter where you go next, I wish you all the best and safe travels in 2013!
First, I apologize I won’t be able to visit you both in London. Unfortunately, I’d become very “hardnosed” about expenditures these three months in Europe, and it was with some pain that I had to strike out many planned visits. On the other hand, I got to know Berlin a bit better in the process; I miss Berlin terribly! 🙂 Second, I sincerely hope we’ll meet somewhere in the world; it would be very funny (yet right somehow) if we were to meet in New Zealand. Perhaps, I really should move and work in Australia, and spend chunks of leisure time in New Zealand. 😉
I really like how you phrased that going “back” to Vancouver was really a step forward as well. I hadn’t thought of it that way, and yet, you’re entirely correct. I’m moving ahead to a completely different phase, and Vancouver, even as my birthplace, offers a good place to start. There are far worse places to begin again. 😉
Thanks again for reading and for your kind comments!
Great Stuff Henry!
I love that you put it all out there for everyone to see. Writing it must also give you some pride in all you’ve accomplished.
I just know 2013 is going to be an incredible year for you!
Hi, Erik. Thanks for reading! It *was* a tough post to write, given what I’ve written before. But I think you’ll agree that the post was both necessary and well-timed. Thanks again for your kind comment, and best wishes to you, too!
Nice! many of us feel identified with your thoughts and experiences – I particularly do, being an astronomer and a traveler. All the best! – GG
Hola, German, qué tal?
I think it’s important to put into words the kinds of things research scientists go through, both with the good and with the bad. It’s important because research scientists are people, too (yes it’s true!), and that non-scientists need to see that, and because I really believe research scientists have more in common than they let on or appear. 🙂 Thanks for reading and for your comment – best wishes to you and your family, and please say hi to the folks at Gemini (South) for me!
Fantastic post, Henry. I’m a little sad that your RTW is ending. I can only imagine how you feel after a year on the road. What an amazing journey.
Hi, Leah. It means a lot to see your reply, because I can only begin to understand how busy you must be with work, family, and travel. I’m sad this year has WHOOOSHED by, just like that. As I write this, one year ago to the day, I had just settled back in Vancouver for a few weeks to wait for my shipment of personal goods to arrive from Chile. And, as I write this, less than two weeks from now, I’ll be back in Vancouver, right where things began. Yes, it’s been amazing, but truth is, things are just getting started. 🙂 Thanks again for reading and for your comment!
Henry, I am in awe. What a fabulous life you are living. I’m hooked! Can’t wait to hear what comes next. All the best, Terri
Hi, Terri. Thank you for your very kind words. I feel that the journey I’m on isn’t much different than what many have done before me; to that end, I don’t feel particularly special or fabulous – how my life has proceeded in the last 13 months is just what I happen to be doing at this time, if that makes any sense! Well, I can continue until my money runs out. 🙂 So, that’s the next phase I’m working on ….
Thanks again, Terri!