The Book

Part III: The Second Journey
Renting a Railway Coach and Journeying into the Frontier Areas

Traveling East

Frankfurt, my hometown in Germany was showing the first signs of approaching winter-the temperatures fell day by day, and the weather was wet, gray, and gloomy. I thought "This is the right time to escape." Bad weather at home can often be an excuse, or reason, for a trip, but what I call "the conscious traveler" aims at more than merely escape. This sort of traveler has already answered an important question, which is "Why do I travel?" I came to realize that my own attitude toward travel had already been cogently expressed by the writers Hermann Hesse and W. Somerset Maugham.

Hermann Hesse remembered that at one time in the past he had traveled because of his strong desire to learn, to expand his knowledge of different lands and cultures. At another time in his life, an interest in adventure took him to countries poorer than his own, where he could drink in unspoiled landscapes and unusual customs. But then he recognized that travel seldom led to real adventure and that educational trips no longer held much appeal. He came to the point where he even bypassed famous cities, churches, and museums. So why did he travel?

For Hesse, the purest form of travel was to watch, to view, and to behold without any particular intent or reason, using only his senses of sight, hearing, smell, and touch. He realized that what does not seem possible at home is quite easy on the road, and he enjoyed spending some quiet and grateful hours to no other purpose but to view magnificent art, to discover the harmony of some noble structures, and to appreciate the changing contours of a landscape. He believed that travelers who do not search for the intrinsic, who cannot detach themselves from purpose and aim, return empty and, at the most, add only a little to their store of general education.

W. Somerset Maugham called himself a bad traveler. The "good" traveler he facetiously described as someone who continually looks for differences between what exists at home and what he notices abroad-someone who finds social and cultural differences, such as the way the "natives" are clothed or the way they eat, amusing or even laughable. Maugham, the "bad" traveler, took things at face value and viewed foreign customs and habits as natural and normal, not odd, and after a while scarcely noticed foreign ways. But why did he travel?

He wrote, in The Gentleman in the Parlour, that he liked moving about from one place to another, that it pleased him "to be rid of ties, responsibilities, duties," and that he enjoyed the unknown. He occasionally found literary inspiration in the people he met in his travels, and an additional bonus, he said, was this: "I am often tired of myself and I have a notion that by travel I can add to my personality and so change myself a little. I do not bring back from a journey quite the same self that I took."

And so, to realize that sense of freedom from duties and ties in a faraway land where neither telephone calls nor mail could reach me, I had decided to return to Myanmar where I would spend a month on the road, this time renting a railroad car in which I would crisscross the country and journey into the Frontier Areas. But first I had to get to Bangkok, the starting point for most Myanmar-bound travelers. Royal Brunei was the airline.

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