Travelling Journal: 1975 2. Meeting Asia in London

In the preceding episode, I described with humour my accidental participation to “Changing the Guards” on my first trip to London, at 15 years old. This episode is more reflective by nature before we get into the most adventurous parts of the trip.

Arrival to not so typical Youth Hostel

Barely recovered from my fright encounter with te horse guards, not so at ease riding on the left I eventually reached Earls Court Youth hostel. Very proud of myself and relieved to escape to the street, I propped in. Assertive i went directly to the reception and ask for a bed, mentioning that I had a booking.

When I bought my Youth Hostel card in France, you have to buy it your own country, I was told the rules: not more than 3 nights, bring your bedsheets, book in advance. The guy offered to use the service of the network to book my first night in London and we did.

The reception was not impressed by my booking. Without looking in his books, he told me he didn’t have such a booking and that anyway, it was all booked up. He was of course much taller than me, and I felt the sky just down on me. I was bluffed, I didn’t even imagine this case. He quickly offered a solution: there were plenty of cheap hostels around and friend of him was running one. I was even more surprised but during this short conversation I could acknowledge that there was a constant flow of guests getting in and out. They had the mechanical moves that show that they had their habits int he place. I could see laundry hanging out, signs that people were on long stay and that the place was neither concerned by the 3 nights policy wor by bookings made from France.

A bit disappointed I left and went to the nearby lodge. The first problem I faced was that the youth hostel was a cottage house and I could leave my bike inside for the night, The lodge was a 4 storey building (Thanks Google Street View) and didn’t offer this convenience. I was also a bit afraid of being suddenly in the wild, without the safety I imagined a reputed network of hostels was guaranteeing. So went in, asked for a bed and got a room without questions asked. Everything was perfectly in norms. Sure it was cheap: 1.50 pound roughly like the Youth Hostel. Still have the bill :)

Happy with my win, a bit dizzy by the night in the boat I went to visit London. Being a book worm i was mostly interested in the Tower of London. Went there get my load of inspiration, went back.

Now the next step was to get some food. Getting food in UK or US for a French guy is always a challenge. Outside from enjoying an occasional fish and chips, I had poor memories. So I started to wander in the streets and realized that there was plenty of exotic restaurant.

Get me well. I was coming from Strasbourg from a family of foodies. A place abounding with traditional winstub, bierstub as well as 4 stars restaurants. When we were travelling in Paris, Italy, Venice or Florence, my father was always able to find rarities and fine food for affordable rates. So the exercise of walking for hours looking for the perfect place was not foreign to me. Yet at home the only Chinese restaurant was held by Vietnamese. It was exotic at best: expensive, small serves, not very tasty. Indians were nowhere to be seen, spicy food was only Moroccan and I can remember of one only. Above all this food was made for Alsatian taste; almost no spices, fully cooked, nothing weird.

What I discovered in Earls Court were was real Asian food, plenty of it. Chinese of all style; Sichuanese, Cantonese, Peking style. Indian from all places, Afghanis, Turkish. I spent hours walking around and discovering, talking with all these people representing a world, I couldn’t even imagine. I could barely match with Jules Vernes stories. It was just more real. The World and its possibilities suddenly became enormous. Now don’t imagine I was analyzing things like this at 15 years old, I was just living it and collecting impressions.

I eventually settled for a Chinese Restaurant. Dumpling, Some preparation with pork and plain rice. The waiter offered me a table, took the order and served me a perfect natural. I ate, paid and left. Back to my room I fell asleep at once. My bike stayed outside, it seems me incredible now that it was still there in the morning, intact.

I left in the south direction and this part of the trip could stop there. Hang on for the next chapter with me fighting with adversities and English measure units.

And now?

I recollected those souvenirs during the last 10 days, writing the post in my mind (cheap and best) during my walks. Days after days more questions came to my mind.

Why did I want to have a separate post for this day that looks so uninteresting.

Why did I keep theses notes? I had a lot of moves in my life with often no place of my own. I could have let them go so often, I didn’t. I never opened this box until this month, obviously I didn’t need help to remember it, I’ve told it all this from my memory.

I rely a lot on my instinct, “ma truffe”. Besides being someone very rational, mathematician and software programmer, I’m also perfectly aware of the power of fast thinking. I feel very strongly during the last year that I made a full circle. I’m nearer today from the man I was 35 years ago then from the man I was 10 years ago. Of course in between I earned wisdom, experience, but this ability to empathize with my me buried inside me helped me several times. When I wonder if I can face situations I reconnect with those times I remember I could, then I do.

I realize with a small distance that this day was like a “rite of passage”.

A passage to Asia

The first passage was the passage to Asia. India was not on my map at this time. In Earls court I heard about Pakistan and China. while the rest of trip was purely English, this trip was my first step in Asia and I did it this day. Until this day my life was rich with Europe and I didn’t see the end of it. Step by steps I ended up travelling in many places in Asia, often completely unprepared. I ended up Turkey one day because I hitch hiked on the wrong side of a road and got a direct lift. Travelling and Asia as sub-tended my life up to know like a red thread. Things are hanging together as before this trip, after this encounter and so on. Finally my trips to India, my second homeland brought me so much and continue to bring me so much.

A transition between childhood and adulthood.

When you travel people don’t know you from before, they have no preconceived ideas of who you are, where do you come from or even your age. they just interact with you. I was wondering last week: how comes this youth Hostel tenant didn’t realize I was so young, a kid suddenly left to himself in such a large city. OK back in 1975 people were not thinking like nowadays but even then. The answer came to me yesterday: because he didn’t realize that I was a kid. For him I was a customer, not smaller then some old chaps. he saw me as an adult. Same with the waiter. He didn’t expect a child to come in. His framework was adult coming in and eating. I came in, I was considered as an adult, simply.

My definition of adulthood is being able to meet to one’s need without assistance and I was suddenly placed in this condition despite all the care I took to avoid it: Bookings, maps, cards, preparing in advance. I realize I was perfectly capable of doing it. This “I can do it” became a guidance for many of my ventures. Start a new company: I can do it, be my own boss? I can do it. Learn new languages, new skills: same.

Dreams and sand

So why did I keep these bills? obviously not to remember since I can do it. I thought I could use it like the madeleines from Proust: as a trigger for reminiscence and get deeper into my memories. This is why I resisted to scan them and get away with the paper. I felt the importance of this trigger to-be tangible. I imagine them more like keys, magic talisman I left myself to bring me back to the future.

A few more days later, I realized it was again different: They are more proofs that I didn’t imagine this story, I didn’t dream it or exaggerate it. This part of the story is so trite you barely need a proof, other memories, encounters are more exceptional, surprising that I’ve been relieved to find some tracks of them. Like the sand that you find in the morning, in your pocket reminds you that a dream could have been more than a dream.

I’m thankful to the young me to have been so kind and mindful to leave me those papers. We could almost say we co-write this story.

If you reached this line, note that I will do some more edits and add pictures.

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  • tanyalau

    Hi Bruno, love to hear the travel stories of your youth. I was reading parts of it aloud to my 5 yr old son – hoping especially to inspire him with the ‘I can do it’ attitude. As more often than not I hear cries of ‘I CAN’T DO IT!’ when he is frustrated at not being able to do something on his own. Although he is only 5 I do sometimes wonder whether this is attitude is different for kids nowadays – as you mention, it would be unusual to see a 15 year old travelling on their own these days: are we doing too much for kids, rather than letting them try and explore things on their own? I ponder and battle with myself over this as a parent a fair bit. It also reminds me of a post (which i will have to write up & publish..) on the impact of less unstructured play on children – which i really started thinking about after listening to a local radio segment on how, increasingly, esp in cities kid’s time is largely scheduled, structured and mostly spent indoors. The loss of unstructured play means they’re no longer exercising their curiosity, exploring, experimenting & learning on their own (as much). Anyway…am rambling a bit – thanks for the stories!!

    • Ronald L

      I understand your concerns. Let’s ramble some more …

      When I was young (e.g. 12), we “borrowed” an old moped of an older brother of my friend and went riding through the corn fields with it. Luckily neither the big brother nor the farmer caught us. If we’d be caught, we’d have some scalding, maybe some spanking, and that’d be it. It was a normal thing for boys to do, and correcting them was also normal

      Now consider doing that nowadays! The police would come to the door. The social service worker would get involved. The parents would be called in to explain their son’s behaviors.

      Later it was normal for us to take our bicycles in the afternoons and just go somewhere. Parents wouldn’t know where we were. We were free to go anywhere. Only rule was to be back at 18:00 hr for supper ( “don’t be late for supper!” ).

      Even more later (in my 20s) it was normal to go on a holiday with my little old second hand car and just go where ever we decided to go. Once we planned to go to France … ending up in Denmark. Parents didn’t know where we were for weeks. We did send a couple of postcards, but those took almost as long to get back to The Netherlands as we were away. No mobile phones. Pay phones were a problem to use with coins all the different currencies in Europe at that time.

      What I’m trying to say, there’s so more options to keep in touch, that we do keep in touch with each other. We’re not used anymore to not know where our children are (especially when they’re still kids). But an accident can happen within a second. There’s no way we can protect our children from all harm (alas). We have to give them skills to deal with a growing amount of liberty as they grow older.

      My kids are older now (17 & 19). I don’t tell them how late they must be back in the night after visiting pubs or parties. I just tell them to stay safe, stay away from fights/drugs, too much drinking. Just never leave the pubs/city alone. Always stay with a couple of other guys/galls. So sometimes they’re back at 2:00 AM, often at 5:00 AM and sometimes I meet them when I go to have my

    • BrunoWinck

      Obviously I’m not qualified for giving advice on education
      I can just share my opinions based on what I could observe.but iI didn’t give much thinking. I’m blessed to still have contacts and good relations with Friends I made when i was 3. Occasionally we compare our experience. I’m not the more adventurous, I’m not the more successful. I’m the one with the most variate and dense life. Not everyone wants to live that.

      I changed my views recently. I was more in favor of letting kids do their experience, not protect them too much and let taking some risks, like Ron explains. Now I think parents are really there to provide shelter, care, security and support. A maximum of it. Education is done as much by parents then by the group, the community. Experience and ventures done under this security blanket is positive. Some kids will take advantage of it, others not and you can’t predict what effect it will have on their future behaviors.

      While experience done due to some necessity or lack of attention has a disastrous effect. Some kids are resilient and it’s very much valorized by the western society but IMHO the bottom line is not so good. I don’t consider resilience as a quality or a benefit, more like a quick fix.

      I think if you value curiosity, exploration there will be a right time for him to explore. The more mature, conscious of what he does the more benefits.

      You wrote a beautiful post on the gift of Freedom last Ddecember which is the essence of it.

      That was my 2 cents, an opinion only

  • dogtrax

    I took your narrative and built a story around it ….
    Thanks for being the inspirational starting point for the #digiwrimo idea and for start of the story itself …

    • BrunoWinck

      Cool, Kevin, I knew you could make sense of it. Messages can be hard to read but pass some chemical and it will be revealed