A Sea-Change

Hello friends, how have you been? My last post was written a week before our son was born, and now he’s learning to ride a bike. Gosh.

I’ve still been writing, just for the nice people at On the Road Experiences rather than here at Little Yak. Partly, this is because they pay me to do so, and partly because I haven’t been anywhere to blog about. We’ve travelled a little bit as a family, with short trips around Asia and long trips to see our far-flung family, but nothing that compares to past adventures. And that’s ok.

Little T goes bananas
Feeding elephants, Chiang Mai

I’m reviving Little Yak because there is something else I want to write about.

2014 was a busy year for me; I was away for seven months of the twelve. Everywhere I went I was stunned by the amount of rubbish we humans produce: plastic bags tossed from train windows in Myanmar and littering the Karakoram Highway; snack packets snagged on coral reefs in Malaysia; and polystyrene everywhere from Cheung Chau to Kachin State. Bleurgh.

Hopin train station, Kachin State, Myanmar

Then, after each trip, I would come home and wonder why I owned so much stuff. I didn’t need or think about these things while I was away, and I barely needed them when I was at home. Why was I hanging onto the tatty photos from a long-ago exhibition? Was I suddenly going to become someone who could put a pair of gold false eyelashes to good use? And why did I own five pairs of high heels when I live in flip-flops and trainers?

At the end of the year, I spent six weeks cycle-touring New Zealand’s beautiful South Island (where the limited amount of roadside litter consists of energy drink cans, coffee cups and cigarette butts, showing the locals to be a sleep-deprived lot). I just cycled and thought, basically – utter luxury.

The road from Hanmer Springs, New Zealand

It was on this trip that I encountered the Cheese Sandwich Man at a country backpackers’ hostel. While I waited for the owner to return so I could interrogate him about his room prices, I had a cup of tea in the kitchen with a hostel guest as he methodically made and ate a huge cheese sandwich.

As he sliced cheese and spread Branston pickle, he outlined part of his life philosophy to me. “I was taught to question whether I really need something before I bought it or spent time on it. Most of the time you don’t need extra things…” He reckoned that his life was all the better because he kept to the bare essentials.

The more time goes by, the more I think he’s right.

The view from home, Hong Kong

Since Theo – or Little T, as we call him – was born we’ve tried to cut back on the amount of rubbish we produce and tried to buy less stuff. (Though how anyone achieves any degree of minimalism with a small child around is beyond me. We are all born maximalists.) A related question has been circulating my mind with increasing urgency: What can I possibly do to help him and future generations inherit a world worth inheriting?

To my mind, all these things are connected: For our own good and our children’s, we need to investigate ways of living that are lighter on the planet and her resources – buying less, wasting less and, yes, travelling less. Instead, I think we need to articulate a vision of how to live a good life that can compete with glossy consumerism and the lure of more.

Now, I can’t promise anything glossy or glamourous (though I hear there are filters that can help), but I’m resuscitating Little Yak to talk about our family’s path as we try to live more simply. If that’s not something that interests you, please unsubscribe or consign me to your junk folder. But I hope that you’ll check in every now and then, because this is something that, I feel, concerns every one of us. And because I have some funny stories to tell…


Soundtrack: Across the Universe, The Beatles

P.S. I didn’t know it before I titled this post, but the term “sea-change” comes, inevitably, from Shakespeare, who coined the term to describe a change wrought by the sea. In The Tempest, the sea nymph Ariel sings to Ferdinand:

Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made,
Those are pearls that were his eyes,
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change,
Into something rich and strange

2 responses to “A Sea-Change

  1. Nice to see Little Yak back – and with the relevant and topical topics of conservation/ environmental issues versus consumerism.
    I too worry about the world we are leaving our children/ grandchildren, so every avenue that contributes to raising our awareness of things we can do to reduce/minimise our harm, is welcome.
    Kia kaha, Jo.

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