I didn’t have much in the way of expectations when I booked an express train to Busan, a Korean beach town about four hours by express train and metro from my flat. I got myself a cheap bed in a hostel near the beach, packed a bag and left.
Besides a sunburn, this weekend offered me a reminder about the different types of relationships we have in our lives, and how the ones that are important may not be the ones you are thinking of.
I’m a bohemian. I travel constantly and have for the last four years. I work online from the comfort of whatever couch or coffee shop I happen to choose. I’m part of the community of people in this new, remote and global economy, and I’ve read lately how this segment of folks calling themselves digital nomads are akin to the employees of the Industrial Revolution or even the techies active in the early 90s online boom. It’s not a stretch to hypothesize that we are creating a new turn on how the economy works for everyone.
Why? Well, for one, I work whenever I choose. When I talk to my mom, she always asks me, in a distressed and worried voice, “So, are you WORKING?” As if my money is drying up … as if, contrary to my reality, I’m not actually saving money while traveling the world. Yes, I’m working! On the 260-km/hr train to Busan, there’s high-speed internet access. I did three hours of work, then spent a few days touring the city and playing my ukulele on the beach. Heading back to Seoul, I finished up another assignment and, combined with my overall low cost of living, have made more in my five hours of work in the past four days than I did back when I worked in an office all week.
This provides me time for creativity and exploration. I choose to fill my free time with life experiences, cultural adventures and learning about the world around me. I was able to learn a new musical instrument. I also wrote a humor book that a friend recently told me made her laugh out loud – the absolute best compliment I could have received! I can
exercise every day, cook plenty of meals and live a low-stress lifestyle. Not every digital nomad has this type of life, but I think this freedom to live as we choose is exactly what we all seek.
But, no. We seek more. We seek connection. We seek love. Besides chatting every week or so with my mother, but my interaction with my family is extremely limited. The last time I talked to my nephew, he had to catch himself calling me “Suzanne” instead of “Aunt Suzanne.” Even before middle school, I was a black sheep of my family. It used to make me sad. But I’ve changed my thinking completely. Now I am beyond grateful for this, as it has created the foundation I needed for the free lifestyle I live in continued travels around the world. If I had great attachments to my family, I could not live the life I do. If my family was constantly pressuring me to come “home” so they could see me, it would be more challenging to explore Asia, Oceania, South and Central Americas and the Caribbean. What I used to see as a lack of caring was actually the gift of freedom to be myself.
It’s not the length of the relationship that matters to me, but the quality. What type of people am I bringing into my life? This weekend, I was at the beach and when I awoke from my nap, I discovered a huge Korean family had set up literally all around me. So, I
watched them. There were many cousin/siblings around the same age, and they were teasing each other and getting each other wet in the freezing cold ocean. One girl was quite overweight, and I watched as the boys all gathered around her, starting to pick her up to throw her in the ocean. She freaked out and wriggled out of their grasps, and it was clear that it really wasn’t about the water – in minutes she was swimming – but the fact that she was self-conscious about being picked up. She started to sulk away sorely, and then a man – I’ll call him Dad – rushed over to her and put his arms around her. He encouraged her to turn back to the sea, and another older boy came up and walked with them as they clearly were talking her into only “getting in up to her knees.” These men wouldn’t let her stay upset. Before long, she was laughing with everyone else. These are the types of people I want in my life.
I’m so thankful that, even though it’s been a couple years since I’ve had someone whom I would call “boyfriend,” I’m blessed with the kindness and company of men (and women) who make me feel special. In fact, what may seem like ancillary friendships are actually quite meaningful to me. Just this morning, I woke up to a video call from a friend exactly halfway around the world. I’m still smiling at the thought of her face!
Good people are easy to find, and often it’s so much easier to connect with these people when we are alone. When you’re with your mate or your relative, you’re talking to that person and others are less likely to engage with you. But when you’re alone, the world opens up to the possibility of every kind of relationship. For example, after the beach, I decided to try a vegan restaurant I had heard about. I took the subway and figured out through Korean signs and Google maps where it was. I started to walk up the steps when
a man came down.
“Are you looking for the vegan restaurant?” he asked me, as I nodded. “Well, it’s closed from 3 to 5 p.m. I’m hungry too! Hey, follow me!”
And with that, we both made off down the street and he led me to another vegan spot that was somehow tucked behind a corridor of pipe fittings and booths that were clearly for the working locals. We enjoyed lunch together, then returned to the first restaurant to share green tea. He and I talked Buddhism and Thailand, cultural and karmic implications of being a female and a male, and the impending typhoon that was about to hit Busan. And days earlier, I met a Chinese woman in my hostel who just happened to want to check out the exact spots in Busan that I was considering. Without having to do any research at
all, I joined her and had a fun-filled day of connecting and adventuring. Both of these two new friends were looking out for me, making sure I didn’t turn away sadly. They were kind people, so unlike me and yet so very much like me.
Another new friend I met in Busan, an American who recently graduated from university, told me she was working on a study about the importance of meaningful relationships in the health and longevity of senior citizens. My question to her was whether those relationships – the kind with people that you can confide in, call in times of crisis – were vital because those individuals had always needed it, or if my (I guess you could say) more superficial ones were just as important to me.
It’s worth exploring. Perhaps the bohemian lifestyle is not just changing the world economy but also changing the way we interact with other people. What happens when we find equal value in hearts of good people from all over the world, rather than just those “special” people who are in our lives due to geography or biological history? Do we have the same longitudinal health benefits? Can we have the same quality of connections? Can we be even more happy?