Where I Was At
Every month on Remote Year, I wrote a bit about my mood and what I learned from each place each month. I got more disciplined about this over time, even taking a spreadsheet grid of each place I went to and what I liked. I’ll start posting that in the months to come. But it’s been more than a little over a year since I left and almost two months into my return, so I should start.
I have to say, a lot of my learnings are not necessarily the most happy, especially in the beginning, but I hope reflective and needed to decompress from a year as unbelievable I’ve had. I’ll start on some of the fun stuff soon.
To start, I had a dark predilection for visiting and learning about unhappy places and sectarian conflict. I can easily draw a straight line back to my own family’s history. You project your own history on the history of others in the tragic tapestry of the human experience a way to sort out one’s inheritance. It’s a particular Asian American refugee neurosis for those of us in the tribe and other with similar experiences, but difficult for outsiders to comprehend that constant state of mind. Given world events the past few years the awareness I’d soon no longer be considered young, I was in a kind of mood.
I wasn’t ready for a routine and not ready to settle down. At this point, I’d also gone through years of feeling figuring out my identity, that didn’t fit in anywhere and deprogramming myself from intergenerational trauma. Unfortunately through that progress I had evolved into the sort Asian female yuppy monster – you’ve seen them on the streets of NY, SF and LA, a bunch of recovering ABGs never too far from a needless act of aggression.
My co-workers affectionately told me “you broke out of a middle class prison” by job hacking to work remotely for a year. I digress to say we’re better off than most New Yorkers, so it’s some real first world urban elite complaints. Still I wasn’t feeling it, so with the encouragement of a dear friend and mentor who did RY I put laptop on my backpack and got on a plane to Croatia, which had to be the most fitting places for both literally plunging into beautiful ocean and into dark history.
All the Feelings About Croatia and Bosnia
In between daily gorgeous swims in the Adriatic outside of our beachy hipster workspace, exploring the islands, seeing insane natural beauty, running through roman ruins, and still working my full time job, I steeped myself in really terrible news articles and reels about Srebenica and the Bosnian wars for probably more time than was healthy and read Girl at War and The Tiger’s Wife. I remember also reading S in college and remembered what Dr. Quinn, shout to one of the best professors I’ve had, taught us about the unfortunate nature of how history repeats itself despite knowing it and the shock to Europeans of it happening again in living memory at their shores in the Balkans.
This behavior was probably not something someone should do on a couch with a view of the sea or anywhere for their psychological and emotional health. This month I had in Croatia and the next two were weird places for dark historical tourism juxtaposed to a kind of magical European vacation and drunken party Eurotrip alongside serious work hours and pressure on top of the madness of the first two months. Your sense of time and experience becomes warped and compressed in this way on Remote Year along with a sense of displacement. A friend told me about a French word dépaysement that describes it well I think.
I felt this acutely traveling into Bosnia. It was really the first time I contemplated and saw blue hair blonde eyed White people in such a destitute ruins and recovering from such a recent and tragic history.
In Croatia, it felt like the past wasn’t far behind, but the scars of war are visibly gone in most places a tourist would go. In Bosnia, bullet holes and no go zones with land mines are part of the tourism. It’s one of the early experiences that sticks with me. When I think about my time there, I think about one of the best meals I had all year and the beautiful landscape while sinking into a disturbingly recent shocking moment of humanity’s depravity.
Dark tourism aside, I loved hanging out with a few college students telling me how their family saved the coffee roaster they got from Italy during the war and about Bosnian coffee. They asked me questions about what I was doing there and expressed how they wanted to join the EU and be like another EU member state, be able to travel and get jobs in places like Germany. Definitely a favorite moment of the trip, even if bittersweet. Really want better for them.
What I Learned
The enormity of how little I knew about this part of the world sank in, and I consider myself pretty cultured and well-traveled. Everything from the beauty, how charming the people were in a particularly slavic way, and histories I need to learn more about.
So my lesson for the first month was fitting for the start: how little I actually knew and still don’t know. This would prove to be hypnotic contrast when I got to Asia, so in hindsight I felt grateful for the humility. I really leaned into that vibe as we traveled to Prague.