Travels in Siberia


I’m sitting alone in a corner booth seat at the new Ten Ren, because Dad got an emergency call to pick up his mom from the cardiologist. She’s not sick or anything; she just needed a ride. I’m nearly halfway through Travels in Siberia, by Ian Frazier, about his inexplicable Russia-love, his discovery of the strikingly close proximity of Russia to Alaska, and his attempt to drive across the vast stretches of Siberia.

We asked for a seat near an electrical outlet and ended up in restaurant Siberia, right next to the hallway leading to the bathrooms. That’s where we were seated last night, at a different Chinese restaurant. The metaphor has so much more meaning now, though.

The guy next to me has a porcupine mohawk hairstyle, tips dyed purple, and a strong body odor that wafts towards me every time a breeze flows from the opened doors. Even through my headphones and without seeing his screen, I know from the sound of 200 clicks per minute that he’s probably playing World of Warcraft or Starcraft. The three business-types at the table to his left have just left after downing two early afternoon pitchers of beer and gossiping in relaxed Chinglish. I sip my iced lychee black tea to mitigate my staring.

A couple sits near the door, the girl slowly stirring the contents of her steaming “joy pot” while her baseball-capped boyfriend fiddles with his iphone. I never understand how two people can meet for lunch and completely ignore each other. I guess I do understand, I just don’t see the point. Then again, who goes to a cafe to play video games when they can do it from the comfort and privacy of their own home ethernet?

Everything seems strange today –surreal. I have a lot going on and a lot on my mind. But coming face to face with reality is sometimes disorienting. It snaps me out of the trance of my inner world. Reading travel literature does that to me sometimes: sequesters me in a place where I forget to distinguish. I told my friend Jon yesterday that I worry sometimes that I get so lost in my own world, I lose sight of reality as it is, or as God sees it (His being the absolute reality anyways).

It reminds me of something Paul Theroux said in his book The Great Railway Bazaar: 

Extensive traveling induces a feeling of encapsulation; and travel, so broadening at first, contracts the mind.

The same, I think, can be said of reading travel writing. I know it’s good for me because it’s what I want to do. The best writers are almost always extensive and voracious readers. At the same time, that feeling of encapsulation Theroux mentions quickly overtakes both my imagination and my reality.

“The difference between travel writing and fiction,” he says, “is the difference between recording what the eye sees and discovering what the imagination knows.” But if I’m not careful, what my eye sees and what my imagination knows become confused. The two genres bleed indelibly into one another, and I have a sinking suspicion that I’m writing a fictitious version of my own life.

The counter to all this, Tozer would say, is faith:

Faith if the gaze of a soul upon a saving God…Faith is occupied with the object…and pays no attention to itself…Faith is the redirecting of our sight, a getting out of the focus of our own vision and getting God into focus…Faith looks out instead of in and the whole life falls into line” (A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God).

The outward gaze of my inward soul is something I have yet to master. But I think it could be a potential solution to the unsettled restlessness of my young adult life. I don’t expect to have everything figured out even by the time I’m 30, but I would like to look back on this time of my life someday and have no regrets.

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