A couple of years ago I took 3 months off to go walking.No 15 days holiday for me; I needed a complete break and (I can get carried away) another great experience. It was actually 3 ½ months and I met up with a few “family and friends”along the way. My excuse for disappearing was very simple and comprised two issues:
Where did I go? Well, first to London and Oxfordshire (very radical..!) and then on to Delhi and Agra (the Taj Mahal is definitely the most shockingly beautiful building I have ever seen). Then into Bhutan (thehome of happiness) for a whole month followed by Nepal and the Annapurna Base camp Trek and then on to Beijing (smog bound, but I did all the “sights” and walked the wall…) and finally by train to Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia.
I walked the Ghobi Dessert, travelled by camel (excruciatingly uncomfortable) and finally I lived with the Nomads for a few days. These are the descendants of Chengis Khan and his grandson Kubla Khan – the Mongols, who at one point in history (mid 13th century) ruled from just East of Vienna to Vietnam and from Moscow to Beijing.
I learned something very special from these wonderful nomadic people living in their portable (horse or yak carried) Ger or Yurt – the latter is a Russian word: those who have had limited contact with us Westerners and have not been corrupted by our social niceties, have no use for “please” or “thank you”. Wow! This hit me hard even when coming after 2 ½ months of interacting with many different cultures and sub-cultures. No need for please or thank you – I was gob smacked! How does this work? I asked. It is really very simply; whatever I can do for you I do gladly and if I do something to help you I will know you are pleased and I will know you are grateful – no need to seek gratitude or insist on humility if you want something.
Wow! I was hooked and decided to make this my new Mantra. I would return to Chile a new person as a result of my many diverse and enriching experiences. I would no longer expect people to say please (because I would know they are) and I would no longer expect or require a thank you; it was a given and I would automatically feel that gratitude…
Oh boy; this great tantric vow lasted all of one day! I successfully navigated the International Terminal and the very many, quite pushy (!) taxi drivers and get home with a slightly silly grin on my face – pure karma. I managed the re-encounter with my family and insisted that my humble gifts (actually,I made Marco Polo look cheap!) required no acknowledgement and I slept well with an aura of simplicity and generosity.
The next day I had to drive to the office and become reacquainted with my colleagues, but by the time I arrived I wassinking back into those ghastly habits of old. It seemed that every other driver hated me (I had no idea what I had done to so annoy them)and my car was moving forward in a space and at a speed they seemed to belong to another, and my waves and smiles were returned with single digit gestures and excessive use of car horns where I was only used to Yak and Goat horns! I gave way without being asked to (knowing the driver was thinking “please” and “thank you ” but, of course, I had no need to hear it). As I gave way to cars coming from left and right I appeared to cause unrest with those behind me who also made waving gestures which I returned most amicably…
By the time I got to my office I was a beaten man.
Anna, the receptionist was there.
“How are you Santiago; how was your trip?”
“Great but I think I will be leaving again tomorrow for another 3 months…”
“Oh, PLEASE don’t…”
“Don’t say please to me – it is not necessary”; as I gave her a bracelet.”
“Oh thank you, that is beautiful.”
“And don’t say thank you either because that defies my generous spirit…”
“Then what should I say?”
“Absolutely nothing, just smile”; and she burst into tears…
Where did it all go so wrong?
I remain cynically yours, broken and contrite but going back to Mongolia soon…
(Genuine and halfheartedcondolences to email@example.com)