Culture Hopping: Life Is The Essential Ingredient

by Cameron Karsten Nov 20, 2006

Like a roasted pepper, you’re done: well cooked, charred on the outside, burnt, spent. But on the inside, hidden within the veil of life’s fire-burner, you’re soft and ready-anticipating for more.

However, it doesn’t come all that easy. After the months, weeks, or often only the days of travel, you return home to the accustomed life once left behind, and there, piled with new baggage you thought you were ready to unpack, you find yourself overloaded with a new beginning.

And despite how many times you attempt to escape from this, seeking the bliss of freedom discovered upon the open road, mixed within the world’s vast cultures-leaving, returning, leaving, returning-you are met face to face time and time again with this long winding path returning home. It stares at you. It tempts you.

Upon returning, afflictive emotions once erased resurface (they never erase, only transform). In order to take this road, you know you must begin this new journey with your new bags; keep on traveling, keep on truckin’ to peel away your charred surface layers to reach that core you initially sought and prepared for.

You must emerge from the cultures of the ancient times of open-air fires and stone and brick ovens to reveal a modern complexity of steal and chrome. The time allotted is the progress made, and until then the core will not be exposed. Instead, the fires will continue to char, and char, and char returning you back to the start of that winding path, through and through. Call it culture hopping.

And You Are?

Whether Africa, Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, South America, North America, or some distant cardinal tropic marooned from the flanks of one’s accustomed culture, the traveler is an explorer in the miasmic layers, colors and spices of the world’s cultures. To have that desire for taste, for preparation and creative roast is to obtain the initial interest of discovering a lifestyle other than one’s own.

It is a yearning for experience, for knowledge, for an accumulation of wealth that can never be bought, never be taught or sought in books: It’s the potential growth of the soul that comes with willingness, dedication and an awareness given the time and space to be sown in the soils of one’s consciousness.

Through the journey beyond, an epic tale of letting go and allowing those fires to char on their own accord, experience becomes wisdom. It becomes that seed enriched with appreciation for life, a life involving a continued exploration of man, woman, Nature and their intriguing interwoven dynamics. Alone, this path cultivates and further roasts one’s seed of awareness allowing the pepper to blossom and the fires to cook.

For such a traveler, life is the essential ingredient. Within mind, body and soul there contains all components and it’s only fed when the traveler throws oneself into this very unknown. This is where life itself revolves.

Certain characters are necessary for the traveler to embark and take upon these fires when ready: Such one loves the unknown.

He or she loves taking this upon destiny like a parasite caught in flesh. It is a necessity, a fertilizer sucked from the deepest soils, where the senses abide to the farthest root tips; stretching, distending, growing further and reaching for that appreciation of life, its beauty and the diversity which flourishes. These cultures of humanity define the sustenance of life, and without their firsthand experience there would be no worth to the traveler in the life surrounding.

For such a traveler, life is the essential ingredient. Within mind, body and soul there contains all components and it’s only fed when the traveler throws oneself into this very unknown. This is where life itself revolves.

And so, with a firm grip upon an adventurous nature, a character ready and willing to let it all go for something without any future at all, the traveler within me tossed this mind, body and soul into the deep soils of the earth. Seed planted, sustenance fed-my pepper of various layers, colors and spices began to sprout. The fire was already provided. I began my culture hopping.

Cultures Revealed, The Culture Transformed

I went abroad, explored the cultures of islands, of development and riches, of poverty and those stricken with the despair of unjust treatment to their basic human rights. I went abroad and found turmoiled markets unlike my hometown grocer’s. I was ingrained within them like a fly caught in a web where I wove my thread with theirs, calm and observant with the people of Africa, Asia, south-north-east-west and beyond. I spun more, throwing an innocuous trust within my surroundings.

Further, I found isolated pockets of forest, tropical with malarial mosquitoes and monkeys. I saw fauna and flora of the imagination, and I let my own wander to color my thoughts with its fragrance.

Things filled my senses. Life invaded me. From one culture to the next, I let go, stepping deeper into the unknown. I let go once more.

Literally it all consumed me, and as the small seed, a sponge underneath the flowing faucet, I soaked in it. I was free. I was the traveler. I absorbed this flow-people, thoughts, situations and circumstances, foreign politics, cuisines and their palates, lifestyles and manners. They became a part of who I was, and who I sought to become.

From one individual to the next, from village to village, city to city, via bicycle, rickshaw, tuk-tuk, taxi, bus, train, boat-or by foot-I was culture hopping. I was experiencing this life I knew and never knew. It was withdrawn from within me where I allowed an awareness to manifest the road ahead. And on every step, the journey started anew as the flames were fueled, the fires turning hotter.

Eventually, I was done.

The pepper: blackened, charred, burnt on the outside. Work was now necessary to peel away the layers, and so the traveler returned home to the culture left behind. There, after faced with one phenomenon to the next, culture hopping at its finest
(the pepper well-done, the fly entombed, a sponge oozing the sustenance of life), explorations changed courses and routes led homeward to the familiar lifestyle. But through each interlope and interchange of culture there was that reunion affected by this so-called hopping.

It was a reemergence with the traveler’s old self-again, bags ready to unpack before discovering there were still more bags to be carried.

Still Traveling

Often it’s unexpected, meeting this thing left behind which is now present; all around you, within family and friends and customs and routines. It is the traveler of the past; the traveler before the traveler was ever a “traveler”. In essence it is the mind, body and soul in which everyone knew and everything expected despite the change.

Returning from Southeast Asia to southern California, my confidence and belief within my own self and the direction I was heading hit a steel-plated wall. All happiness faded.

But now, unexpected, the new traveler facing the old traveler before the traveler was ever a traveler becomes paralyzed. He or she is overwhelmed with the past culture amounting to that of the new various cultures adopted. Known collectively as “culture shock”, there is no turning back.

The old sages comment, “Easy is the choice to begin or not, but once begun, better finish.”

And like a dish of foie gras to a vegetarian consciousness, like a Russian bath for the Hawaiian local, culture shock throws you into a chasm where the lights are dimmed to view only the faint silhouettes ahead. There is nothing left behind. You must continue and accept a responsibility, for this very shock is the effect of your culture hopping. It stuns, saddens-and more significantly-paralyzes the senses and any feeling of centeredness.

Questions arise again, afflictive emotions stir as remorse composes a symphony of disgust, despair and pain before the next layer of the pepper becomes charred. There is never the chance of having the opportunity to live the life of its soft sweet flesh. This is the case involving a reemergence into Western society.

Returning from Southeast Asia to southern California, my confidence and belief within my own self and the direction I was heading hit a steel-plated wall. All happiness faded. What I remember most having returned from the months abroad was entering that Ralph’s “superstore” on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena.

Culture shock as loaves of bagged bread-signed, sealed and delivered-shook with a consumerism’s shopping rage. It was like an exemplified spree; carts with gargantuan mouths, open and wired to the teeth. They could be stuffed full, occupying up to ten bags if willed. There were meats, animals to be more specific, which now took the form of slice after slice, shank and steak and thigh and breast-or why not whole? My eyes witnessed the abundant glory to what a Newari family in the Nepalese Himalayas might perceive: I’m in heaven!

No. To me, having experienced the impoverished of India, Africa and Asia; having walked the mountains and beaches where a family was considered lucky if a porter succeeded in bringing what they requested, this mass production of animals, genetically modified fruits and vegetables, and aisles upon aisles of sugared dumplings called Ding-Dongs and Twinkies hit my lower abdomen with an iron cudgel.

Cheeses and yogurts fermented beyond their expiration date. Fizzing bottles of Coca-Cola and Tab blew their tops. Bottles of water became dirty.

What happened to the market? To morality? What happened to globalization and our care for others’ well-being?

No, I concluded, there was never a moral concern for life. And there never will be. What the hell am I doing here? I was culture shocked.

A Welcome Home

It’s the most difficult stretch of the journey; to return home to family and friends, to routine-to life as you once knew it-and apply successfully all the lessons of travel. People look at you as they did in the past, but you say, you stand up for yourself: No, I’ve changed.

The world revolves.

You see the news. You have the luxuries you once forgot and indeed took advantage of in the past. Daily life causes its stresses. Anger, confusion, and all the other emotions come to greet you with a slap in the face, smiling like they’ve never done before. Even those plates of food adorning your dining table are a blessing-truly-but no one else seems to see.

Likewise, you yourself begin to struggle. In your silent prayers you return your conscience back to your center and thank the sustenance before you and your family. You thank the Universe for this life compared to others witnessed far away, an observance you’re beginning to forget.

You thank the Universe for this life compared to others witnessed far away, an observance you’re beginning to forget.

As with most, the first return and its adaptation is the hardest. You cope with it, you deal with it and you hopefully take in the lessons for your growth. The second and third become easier due to experience, and with the appropriate placement of the lessons recalled, your life, whether traveling or at “home” in your own culture, becomes a continued journey of culture hopping.

You are the traveler and you feed this, caring for yourself with the practice of your experiences from the places you’ve been. It is your new culture in which you live and grow from. But how do you get passed the initial return, and the second and the third?

Over my travels an unknown quote to an unreligious individual has reminded me of strength and courage: “God comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable.” It is a message interpreted as there is always more growth to be had-top is never the top.

Greeted with the eruption of past habits and routines, I have taken the journey of reentering the life I left behind as a whole new opportunity to evolve further to that infinite goal. And what keeps me sane throughout the process is the remembrance of the journey passed and how it’s still in its entirety churning within me.

Therefore, I’m brought to the present, the internal traveler awoken within to become the traveler of the present moment no matter what road I might be on. I see family and friends; they might mistake me for someone of the past.

Sure, I’m still that person, but now I’m that person including this new traveler.

I see shelves of abundance in a culture appearing oblivious to the rest of humanity’s infirmities and I become grateful to have that awareness of the resources in my life, their precious blessings, and how most persons round the globe might not have such a luxury as the basic necessity of shelter to plates to eat upon, or surviving family and a network of friends.

I remember how I used to take things for granted, including as a boy that dumpling of sugar, the Twinkie. Hence, there is no need to despise it, but be appreciative of the options and leave it for others who might harbor interest. And I’m grateful for the world’s diversity and the cultures out there to be explored.

Though what remains most important, disregarding the adventure of external discovery, is the magnitude of a continued internal exploration. It is an application of one’s new understanding and belief into mainstream life that keeps this cyclone of the Self gyrating.

Barriers are discovered, analyzed and then toppled; passed through to advance further into the conscious Self.

Each step hosts the opportunity for growth-mentally, emotionally and spiritually-and with the continued practice of one’s lifestyle within the new surroundings of home, obstacles of daily living no longer appear as they once did. Instead they take the form of that flame, licking the edges of skin to provide a tool to peel away the outer layers in order to reach its core. That fire is of love and peace, as is the core-as is the practice, the people and places-as are those once termed “obstacles”.

And So, To Hopping

Today, there is more of Asia, West Africa, Europe and more Central America, including my own culture, within me.

As a traveler with a continuous yearning for growth through an experience of culture hopping, and a lessening culture shock, I have come to peer through a cleared perception, recognizing the differences and similarities of each land and its people. I have come to accept these cultural barriers as a part of this physical world, established in total for our growth. Beyond these barriers, they dissolve and I perceive a life with the oneness of all peoples. My heart opens as I remind myself and take recognition. Happiness returns.

Yes, I’m still traveling.

Life keeps churning, and as a morsel within the stew-that spice-as a bubble in a boiling pot, we have only so long before we leave and transform, before we are eaten by our own creation.

In order to fill this duty with its finest, in order to allow the fires to masterfully complete its roast, a strive to dig deeper attains progress. It is the act of reaffirming the underlying connection between people and their cultures. It is the subtle continued establishment within the mind that they-we-have founded this very life and that we are here together to share it. Through this realization, carrying for myself and reawakening from sleep each fleeting moment, the afflictive emotions associated with the road and the return into daily life subsides.

A roasted pepper, charred skin peeled, I am now ready to continue with the ingredients of this infinite stew of culture, traveling deeper into the feast of life. Culture hopping is my vehicle of choice.

Ambitious and driven, Cameron Karsten left for SE Asia at 19 years of age, alone with his journal, camera, some clothes and few photos to remind him of where he began. He left to follow a dream. And what led him from there was the whisperings of his own heart and the push and pull of life’s current. Visit his personal website at

Technorati Tags: , ,

What did you think of this article? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Discover Matador

Save Bookmark

We use cookies for analytics tracking and advertising from our partners.

For more information read our privacy policy.