Man, if I had to name one continent that really just does it for me, there's no question which one I'd pick: Asia. It just drives me wild. I know that a lot of my friends still don't get it, and I've gotten my share of glares from ex-girlfriends, but you know what? It's their loss. They're more than welcome to their Europes and North Americas. That just leaves more Asia for me.
It began in high school, when I was first exposed to different landforms. It was then that I realized my deep attraction to the remote, demure, but utterly entrancing continent of Asia. In college, I double-majored in geography and earth science, but only so I could get closer to Asia. Senior year, I had the privilege to study in Tokyo, and let me tell you—once you get a taste of the Asian continent, you can never go back. And I keep coming back for more, whether it's South Korea, Hong Kong, or Thailand.
Sure, I've felt like an outsider more than once in my life. It seemed all my geography friends would talk about was the sultry and sometimes fiery terrain of Italy, or the ample coastlines of Brazil, or the pale blond wheat fields of Germany, or the cool, stark beauty of Norway's fjords. But I always found these to be rather vulgar and overdone, like they were thrusting themselves at me. You hear a lot about the openness of Eastern Europe, but I've never seen a map of it without the pockmarked, aging topography. No thanks. And North America? Forget it. My stomach turns just thinking about those shallow lakes and massive mountains.
Exotic and otherworldly, Asia always has me in its grip. Parts of it seem fragile and delicate, yet it's overwhelmingly powerful, lithe, and tender. The fine landscapes, deep, mysterious, yellow-tinted rivers you're never quite sure where they will lead, quiet, calm plateaus, smooth valleys that fold epicanthally into one another, pert peaks—it's all there. I could have explored every inch of that continent and there would always be another petite, fresh-looking valley around the corner. It was just too much. Even the youthful charms of Thailand are too tempting to pass up—wrong, yet so very right at the same time.
See, with Asia, you get a tantalizing mystery. Just when you think you've penetrated it, up out of nowhere comes a thick bamboo rain forest, or the Himalayas. When I look at Japan, I can't help but think, "Now that's a land mass." It's spare and tightly formed, but with just the right amount of curves. It's simply sublime.
Some people complain that with all the earthquake activity, Asia's too demanding, unpredictable, even shrewish at times. But I think that's nothing more than a stereotype at worst, a lovable quirk at best.
After years of travels, I'm now back home in my apartment near Chinatown, but already I'm longing for more, and I suspect it shows. My friends have called me on my tendency to e-mail them pictures of the light-brown soil of Laos and the small but perfectly formed hills in the southern edge of China, and my blog's hosting service forced me, after some complaints, to take down my latest post about reintroducing the pink dolphin into the Three Gorges region.
It's amazing how people take such personal offense with my passion. But, I cannot change. I like what I like.
My friend Mark, a fellow I met in Hanoi who's also into Asia, claims that he once navigated two Asian countries in the same night, but I'm not sure I believe him. I think he knew that was my ultimate fantasy and was just trying to get me riled up. He knows that I was too nervous in the countries I was visiting. But beyond that, I have too much respect for them to explore them through and through on the first trip, you know?