The Strange Feeling of Coming Home After a Year Traveling the World

The Backpacker Diaries: A Junior Doctor’s Year-Long Journey Around the World

A continuation from my previous chapter:
Why I Quit My Job – A Partial Explanation

Chapter 1: Adelaide, Australia

February 2nd, 2019

This is not a story of heroic feats, or merely the narrative of a cynic; at least I do not mean it to be. It is a glimpse of two lives running parallel for a time, with similar hopes and convergent dreams.

In nine months of a man’s life he can think a lot of things, from the loftiest meditations on philosophy to the most desperate longing for a bowl of soup — in total accord with the state of his stomach.

And if, at the same time, he’s somewhat of an adventurer, he might live through episodes of interest to other people and his haphazard record might read something like these notes.

The person who wrote these notes passed away the moment his feet touched Argentine soil again. The person who reorganizes and polishes them, me, is no longer, at least I am not the person I once was. All this wandering around “Our America with a capital A” has changed me more than I thought. – Dr Ernesto Guevara, The Motorcycle Diaries

P2088775.jpg

So in a like-minded fashion,  I write from the soil of my “homeland” after a year traveling around the world with a backpack.

But I wonder whether I have a home here anymore – because it doesn’t feel like home anymore.

I have been back in my hometown of Adelaide for three weeks already. And still, I feel like I am walking in a dream. I recognise this place that I grew up, but it is as if the scales have fallen from my eyes and I am seeing everyone and everything for the first time. Everything is so familiar yet so foreign at the same time.

I was so excited to return home. But instead, I feel out of place, like nothing and everything has changed at the same time. I’ve come back to a parallel universe, where everything is subtly, but distinctly different. I study the funny architecture of this country, the dress and colloquialisms of the people. I hear the voices of my friends and marvel – their accents seem so strong to me now!

IMG_0073.jpg

I thought these feelings would pass quickly, but I still feel … strange. My soul is unsettled. I’ve been waking up with clenched teeth, my mind trying to recall the ghosts of the night that teased my mind in my sleep. It’s like there is a subconscious anxiety that cannot be explained or fully identified. I feel disoriented despite knowing exactly where I am.

I had a strange experience the other day when I went to get a haircut from the Korean hairdresser. As she talked to her colleagues in Korean, I suddenly felt at ease. I suddenly realised that I have become comfortable to the sound of foreign languages around me. Without the ability to understand what they are saying, my other sense become sharper – my eyes studying my surrounds and soaking in all the details, the sounds and smells around me. I felt at peace.

To hear English conversations around me again is a sensory overload. And to have constant internet, technology, convenience and suddenly a houseful of belongings seems nauseating and alluring all at once. I still wear the one or two articles of clothing that I had in my backpack – having developed a strong attachment to the few possessions that I had access to during our journey. I’ve become accustomed to a minimalist lifestyle and I feel shocked at the amount of stuff I own in my house!

P2088750

I can guess at why a returned traveler might feel this way. With my return is an end of a period of escapism, a forced confrontation with the realities of enduring problems – a return to the reality that all the same issues I left behind in Australia are largely still here. The ghosts of past issues and past grief still lurk in the back of my mind.

But I also know that these issues were never far from my mind when I was overseas either. I’ve learned that our history travels with us no matter how far we go.

IMG_0202.jpg

Yet, I have hope that this feeling will pass over the next few weeks and months. And I embrace this discomfort, this feeling of being unsettled. To me, it is a sign that I am still on the journey. I love the clarity of thought that comes with travel, the revelations about humanity and one’s own life. So if I feel like a traveler in my own country then I welcome that with open arms.

For what is it to travel and not bring back with you what you have learned or changed in your life? Maybe the struggle should not primarily be about how to fit back into the routine of life at home. The struggle is to articulate and sift through the emotions and learned lessons, and to somehow share and convey the richness of this world and this humanity to the lives of those around us.

When my wife and I left our home almost 1 year ago to the day, I thought I was taking a break to overcome burnout. I didn’t realise that during my journey I would be wrestling with the deep questions of life, of purpose, of humanity, of racism, of creation, of happiness, of inequality, of materialism, of heritage, of identity , of family, of home and of God.

I write to capture these feeling – the thoughts and dreams and aspirations and experiences of a year spent exploring the vastness of humanity and this impossibly diverse world of which we can only hope to take fleeting glimpses.

IMG_0189.jpg

Next Chapter of The Backpacker Diaries:

Chapter 2: My First Impressions of South America

Social Media:

Instagram – @nathan_and_pk

Photography Blog – https://nathanandpk.com/

My First Impressions of South America

The Backpacker Diaries: A Junior Doctor’s Year-Long Journey Around the World

A continuation from my previous chapter:
The Strange Feeling of Coming Home After a Year Traveling the World

Chapter 2: Santiago de Chile, Chile

20th May, 2018

My journey to South America started with fear.

Fear about leaving the city I grew up in. Fear about leaving my material comforts and  living with a few select possessions out of a backpack. Fear that I would lose the motivation to ever return to medicine. Fear of not knowing the language. Fear of all the horror stories I had been told about crime and safety in Latin America. Fear that I had made the wrong choice to leave my job. Fear that I would be simply bringing the grief of my sister’s death to a place I had no supports and knew no-one. Fear of being alone.

But if my wife was feeling the same, she didn’t show it. PK’s constant chirpiness exuded an unshakable hopefulness. Her happy smile was a light leading me through the mundaneness of customs and airport terminals…and soothed the fears in the pit of my stomach.

After a long-haul flight from Adelaide, we finally arrived at the first city of our journey: the capital city of Santiago de Chile. “Welcome to Chile, pay up!” was our greeting. Australians are charged a $117 USD “reciprocity fee” upon entry, presumably because of the similar greedy greeting that our government extends to Chilean visitors.

P2099187

Feeling the sting in our wallets, we made our way through the hordes of taxi drivers in the main terminal. “Taxi, taxi!” they shouted, hoping to rip-off weary travellers like us.

We were expecting to be met by our Airbnb host but they were no where to be seen.

Eventually an unshaven and friendly Irishman named Dom approached us. He was our man, apologising profusely for his tardiness. I didn’t care. I am embarrassed to admit it, but it was nice to hear a welcome from an English speaker in a very foreign country.

P2099273

“Wow, you guys packed light!” he remarked. I felt proud – I had gone to great lengths to ensure that we only brought the bare minimum of belongings in order to be lightweight and mobile: a single T-shirt, two pairs of underwear and pens sawn in half to make them more compact (I am embarrassed to admit that I am not joking)!

We sped off in his little car through the streets of Santiago. Dom was a friendly but hyperactive host, jumping from topic to topic as he tried to explain the city of Santiago in a single conversation. But I wasn’t listening.

P2099203

My eyes were glued to the window. These were my first glimpses of South America and I was in a new world. My first impressions were of fruit-filled markets, tall and colourful buildings, bizarre Chinese imported cars and the sun setting behind the Andean mountains. It dawned on me that here exists a huge sprawling mass of humanity, far beyond the Western world I knew. It was like another universe to me. All of the pre-conceived ideas I had about Latin America began to collide with what I was seeing around me.

IMG_0297

We arrived at our apartment in Barrio Lastarria, a historic and beautiful part of the city. Cobblestone alleyways, grand buildings and numerous restaurants and musicians abound. To afford staying here, the trade-off was space: our apartment was very tiny.

But this was the beginning of a truth I would take to heart in my South American journey: as long as I had a clean bed and a clean toilet, I was happy.

P2099270

Our apartment was part of a very tall block of buildings: endless rows of similarly tiny apartments extending far into the sky over a communal square. There was no air conditioning and the heat could be oppressive, so the locals had their windows open constantly. We did the same. As a result, it was never quiet – noise from the different families filtered between the apartments across the square. Adding to the cacophony was traffic and barking dogs who roam with impunity in the streets of Chile, proudly proclaiming their freedom at all hours of the night.

But I was happy to be living amongst the people, not in some fancy tourist hotel. What is the point of going to a foreign land if not to learn from the locals by living with them?

P2099267-2

I couldn’t sleep due to the worst jet-lag I had ever experienced. But as those first few nights went by, I began to notice a new life in me. Excitement is not the right word. Nor is the word healing. But perhaps a sense of coming alive. A sense of becoming aware of one’s surroundings and of entering a new chapter in one’s life.

Perhaps it was the journey into the unknown, or the journey into a new world. I think there is a hunger in the heart of man to see something new, to create new memories. My soul still clings to the traumas of the past, clamped down tightly on the darkness of my grief and hardened in order to survive the daily grind of hospital work.

But to see humanity afresh with a new lens… perhaps this begins the process of slowly wrenching the heart open again, bit by bit. I began to forget the fears that I had taken with me from Australia. Not conquer, but forget (there is a difference). I was thousands of kilometres from home but I was not running away from my issues. Maybe with physical distance, we are given space to reflect and look inward. We were at the start of our journey – lying before us was the open road, and the supreme feeling of an open future with infinite possibility.

Maybe what I am describing is the feeling of hope.

P2099219

Next Chapter of The Backpacker Diaries:

Coming soon

Social Media:

Instagram – @nathan_and_pk

Photography Blog – https://nathanandpk.com/

 

 

Why I Quit My Job As A Doctor

The Backpacker Diaries: A Junior Doctor’s Year-Long Journey Around the World

The first chapter of my travelogue:

Prologue

May 9th, 2018

So it has been an extremely long hiatus. The last time I did any writing was years ago! Life has been busy. In the last couple years, I have:

  • Graduated from medical school and started work as a junior doctor
  • Passed entrance exams into general practice training (family medicine)
  • Got married and moved out
  • Experienced medical mission work in the developing nation of Papua New Guinea
  • Lived in Jerusalem for a few months and challenged my ideas on what Christianity looks like.

So for the last three years, I’ve felt like a pinball bouncing around. No time to catch my breath. My first year as a doctor was a whirlwind. I loved it. But I struggled to find balance in my life. I struggled to find time to collect my thoughts. And I struggled to find time to talk to God.

Then some important things happened last year in quick succession. A close friend died suddenly and unexpectedly. I was devastated: he was a very young, devout Christian and someone I deeply respected. I asked my workplace if I could take leave to attend the funeral. They said no.

Later, on a different unit, I experienced prolonged and serious workplace bullying by senior doctors. I was expected to shut up, keep my head down and get on with it. I was encouraged to do the same by other junior doctors. “Don’t rock the boat” is the prevailing ethos in Australian hospitals, and I was told as such. But something inside of me forced me to stand up. I stood up for myself and things (predictably) got worse. The ensuing escalation was extremely stressful and it came to a stage where I was ready to resign if a solution could not be found.

Thankfully, the doctor’s union supported me to an outcome in my favour. But my bosses were not particularly fond of me after that and made that known on a daily basis.

I became increasingly depressed. As I began to question my work as a doctor and what life was all about, I was further exposed to the tragedy and brevity of life whilst working on palliative care (an expansion on what I had observed in the poverty of Papua New Guinea). I found the work incredibly meaningful and worked harder than I have ever before. But maybe the death I saw also made me realise my own demons: that I am still grieving the suicide of my sister and the accompanying alienation from my church community, who didn’t know how to respond in the aftermath (they chose silence).

All of these events took their toll.

My medical students commented on how cynical I had become. I laughed it off, but It was true.

I struggled to write or blog anything. I felt jaded and did not want to talk to God. What I have written before on this blog and elsewhere feels like a wholly different person. This is something I am still wrestling with – just where am I with God?

A blessing came: I took a long overdue holiday to Tasmania. I went camping with my wife in a remote national park and remembered what it was to live life again apart from work. Perhaps being in the wilderness has that effect on the soul.

18076953_10155239687396972_8554448913441855865_o

With the support of family and a few close friends, I realised that I needed a break. I felt weak to admit it (especially to other doctors), but I was burned out. I felt deeply humbled to admit my weakness, but perhaps the admission out loud freed me at the same time.

I finally decided to take a year off work. I am sad, but extremely thankful that my wife is making a sacrifice to do the same in order to support me.

We decided to spend the year travelling the world. It is hard to explain, but when we finally arrived in South America for the first leg of our journey, things just felt right.

What am I searching for by travelling the world? What am I hoping for this year? I still do not know exactly, and it’s already been three months in this mysterious and wonderful continent.

Perhaps to see humanity with fresh eyes.

Perhaps to see what life can offer outside western paradigms.

Perhaps to see beauty in the vastness of landscapes, and to be humbled by living a minimalist, frugal and nomadic life.

But above all, I wish to see God again.

18076895_10155239694026972_5379577306337065734_o

Next Chapter of The Backpacker Diaries:

Chapter 1: The Strange Feeling of Coming Home After a Year Traveling the World

Social Media:

Instagram – @nathan_and_pk

Photography Blog – https://nathanandpk.com/

 

An Epiphany for Easter: The Gospel is NOT Simply Forgiveness

Confession – I think I have never fully understood what ‘the gospel’ really means.

Let me explain.

A couple months ago I was going through some hard times. Depressed and feeling distant from God, I opened my Bible to the Book of Romans. I wanted to remind myself of the key message of Christianity – the gospel – and hopefully find happiness again.

What is the Good News?

The gospel is described in the Bible with such joy, such passion.

This is supposed to be the “most glorious and majestic and thrilling message that mankind has ever heard”.

Yet, my heart remained hard as I read.

“What am I missing here?” I thought.

Hungry to find out, I stumbled across a famous sermon on Romans from 1955 by medical doctor/pastor Martyn Lloyd Jones. There, I came across a line he spoke that changed everything:

“It is again to misunderstand the gospel to think of it solely as an announcement that our sins are going to be forgiven. There are abundant statements of that in the Old Testament documents. It is not that. That is not the Good News… We tend to reduce it simply to forgiveness. Concerned, chiefly, as so many of us are, about escaping the punishment of hell… We have not seen the good news in its height and its depth, in its breadth and its lengthwe miss the greatness of it all.

Photo Credit: athena. via Compfight cc

I was floored.

I have always thought I knew the gospel inside out – that it was mainly about Jesus Christ forgiving our sins through his sacrifice on the cross. That’s what Easter’s about, right?

But author John Eldredge also argued this “reduced” gospel: “That is not Christianity. There is more. A lot more. And that more is what most of us have been longing for most our our lives…The Cross was never meant to be the only or even central symbol of Christianity.” (Waking the Dead).

“Could I have really gone this many years with an incomplete understanding of the gospel?” I thought.

Thus began my search for what the Bible really had to say about the meaning of the gospel.

 

WHAT IS THE GOSPEL

The word ‘gospel’ comes from euangelion in Greek which literally translates as “good news”.

Romans 1:16 defines the gospel as:

“the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.”

So the gospel is the news that the world changed two thousand years ago when a powerful salvation came into the world through Jesus Christ.

At its simplest, salvation means “to save”.

Yes, God saves us from our past (forgiveness of sins).

Yes, God saves us from the future (saved from hell to heaven).

Many Christians stop there (just look at the top results when you Google “what is the gospel?”). But what about the present? What about the daily grind of everyday people, where people are crying out for God?

I began to discover that there is so much more to salvation then “simply forgiveness” and to think of it that way is to miss the entirety of its greatness; that which makes it truly good news.

Diary

A GOSPEL OF TRANSFORMATION

The good news of the gospel is that God has also made a new way (Mark 1:15) to save us in the present day during our everyday problems.

How?

The Good News is that God’s supernatural “power that brings salvation” is also the power to give us a new life.

A transformed life.

A new life.

Born again.

Life to the fullest.

John 10:10

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

As I searched the Bible – I began to realise that this power to transform the way we live life in the present is the under-emphasised part of the gospel, despite there being numerous verses about it:

2 Corinthians 5:17-18

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.

Romans 6:4

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

The Bible

Galatians 6:14-15

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

Romans 6:17-18

But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

A BROKEN WORLD

This offer of a new life is what so many people are crying out for.

People all over the world want to change themselves. New Year’s resolutions, self improvement blogs/books, motivational counseling. But ultimately, man is stuck in his ways.

We look upon the world and see that we are all the same. We are all trapped in the brokenness of our circumstances. We are trapped in addictions. We are trapped in maladaptive behaviors and coping mechanisms that hurt the people we love. We are trapped in the rat race, the mediocrity, the mundanity, the meaninglessness of it all. We are trapped by our emotions, unable to forgive the ones who have hurt us, unable to love the unlovable. Our hearts are cold to the suffering of this world. We search for self-improvement but are trapped in our inability to really transform the behaviors ingrained in us. We are trapped by our pride, our self centredness, our hypocrisy. One glance at the evening news confirms this. When a man honestly reflects on his life, he sees this.

NO SOLUTION

And how powerless we are to fix this.

Can a doctors really change the self destructive behaviour of a patient?

Can a government really change the brokenness of its people?

Can an army change the hearts and minds of the masses?

Can a man transform the darkness of the emotions within him? Can he really change himself?

Change must come from within. Even then, even the strongest self-discipline can only go so far.

The Splendour of the Mt Lofty Ranges (Copyright https://thegloryofgodismanfullyalive.wordpress.com)

HOPE FOR TODAY

But there is a way to change. The Good News is that God did a new thing in the world through Christ – he offered the power to be completely changed permanently. God so loved the world and desired relationship with us, that he sent his only Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins. But he did not stop there. He offers us the Holy Spirit to transform us from the inside out. With God in us, we are no longer slaves to every evil inclination of our hearts, but we live a completely changed life. The Good news is that God transforms us so drastically, that he decides to take up residence in our hearts forever. God is with us forever. Our body becomes a temple of God. And the Holy Spirit lives in this temple forever.

The Good News is that God has made a way through Jesus Christ for us to be saved in the present – the power to save us from the current brokenness and addictions of our lives today

Jesus’ death on the cross marked the atonement for our sins. But it is meaningless without the resurrection (1 Corinthians 14:15). What good is it to be forgiven from sin, but still remain stuck in our old ways without a way to live a transformed life for God? When God resurrected Jesus Christ from death – he showed the world that impossible is nothing.

God loves mankind. But mankind has turned away from him. The Good News is that God has made a way for us to make peace with God and live a new life – the life we were meant to live. The Good News is that we can become changed people. We can become transformed people. Our hearts can be changed. We can be born again and start life anew.

A NEW LIFE, WALKING WITH GOD

The Good news is that God can transform us so that we no longer live for ourselves, but instead are saved to live life to the fullest. We are brought into a state and condition in which we live to glorify God. He is the centre of our life, the centre of our conversation. We are Brought into a state where we have relationship with God, and walk and talk with him, rather than living a life apart from him. Brought into a state where we are no longer slaves to our weaknesses, but instead live to glorify God!

2 Corinthians 5:15 says:

15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

This is what makes Christianity such very good news.

Life.

Real life. The power of God to restore you.

The Good news is that the Father sent his Son not just to forgive us, but to give us eternal life, to restore us and transform us, that we would enjoy life to the fullest and live a life in relationship with God.

Man At The Cross

We are transformed, and find the person we were truly meant to be. We find our identify, we find our purpose, we learn to love the person God has made us to be. “We are saved by his life when we find that we are able to live the way we’ve always known we should live.”

Yes, we continue to struggle with sin at times. (Romans 7) Yes, we continue to have hardships in life. But we continue to have hope of steadily transforming throughout our life, as we continue to grow into our salvation (1 Peter 2:2, Psalm 84:7 2 Corinthians 3:18)

The Good News is that that power of the resurrection, the power to transform death into life, brokenness into restoration, is available to everyone as a free gift.

MY TESTIMONY

Reader, this is not all theory. Why do I say so?

Because radical transformation is what God did in my life in 2010. I had simply never connected that transformation with the definition of the gospel. Indeed, my life is a testimony that the gospel is more then simply a message that we are forgiven.

It is also a message that the power of God has been poured out to transform our way of living. No addiction, no brokenness, no darkness within us is so severe that it cannot be restored by the power of God (Ephesians 3:20). And with that, comes the antidote to depression: unceasing hope. Hope for continual transformation in this life on earth as I become more and more like Christ, not by my own strength, but by his power working in me.

RESTORING A CLICHED GOSPEL

This Easter, many in the western world are asking “why should I care about the gospel?”

The answer: it is the supernatural “power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” Anyone and everyone. History testifies to this.

Alcoholics and drug addicts are reformed (Bill Wilson, Andrew Chan).

Murderers become peace lovers (Karla Faye Tucker, Nicky Cruz, Paul the Apostle, Moses).

Prideful and power hungry men become humble servants (Chuck Colson, Zacchaeus the Tax Collector).

People suffering from depression find joy (Lecrae Moore, Augustine of Hippo).

Seekers find their identify (C.S Lewis, John Newton).

Ordinary men become courageous (Fishermen Peter and John, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Wang Zhiming).

In a world where people are realising the limits of mankind’s ability to improve itself – this is something worth caring about.

An Unexpected Spiritual Journey: Applying for Medical Electives

From the beginning, I knew I was going to need a miracle. Five months ago I decided to apply for an elective in a cutting-edge, world leading research lab in the United States. My chances of getting in were extremely slim. My CV didn’t have enough bells and whistles: I was from a comparatively unknown medical school, I didn’t have enough experience in a lab, I didn’t have any letters of recommendation or awards to distinguish myself and I was a full-time student in rural South Australia, which made it logistically difficult to do anything about these issues.

Furthermore, I had also applied to do a second elective in Papua New Guinea but had not received a reply for months. The resulting uncertainty regarding  dates of my availability made planning near impossible. When I later missed out on my first preference and the medical school gave me a timetable that was logistically incompatible with the USA elective – my dream became an impossibility. That night, I got down on my knees and prayed late into the night that God would do a miracle. I didn’t give up – I believe in dreaming big with God.

And God began to open doors.

Photo Credit: EricMagnuson via Compfight cc

EVERY TIME A DOOR…

Within 36 hours, three things happened: a student colleague offered to swap timetables with me making the elective logistically possible, Continue reading

The Empty Tomb

Mourning at Grave

When I think about Christ’s tomb, it reminds me of times in my life where hope is stopped dead in its tracks by catastrophe, where brightest hopes are dashed, where highest dreams come crashing down.

It reminds me of breaking points, of giving up after giving so much, of the final sigh of resignation to Continue reading

The Greatest Martyr Who Ever Lived

Eden Valley Cross (Copyright https://thegloryofgodismanfullyalive.wordpress.com)

Eden Valley, South Australia (Copyright thegloryofgodismanfullyalive.wordpress.com)

Martin Luther King Jr was martyred because he stood up for African Americans.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was martyred because he stood up for those oppressed under Hitler.

Joan of Arc, Ghandi; many have been martyred because they stood up for their people group and their countrymen.

But only one man in all of history has been martyred for standing up for Continue reading