I imagined from the US that Southeast Asia would be sprinkled with people from other parts of the world who opted to transplant themselves both short term and long term. And I imagined these people would have fascinating backstories that likely would take years to write down or tell.
I met one this weekend. His name is Rick.
We were boarding a ferry across Lake Toba in North Sumatra, a former volcano that blew it’s top ages ago and what remains are a gorgeous lake and an incredible island. We barely made it to the ferry in time, careening through the small, windy streets of Parapat in a typical public bus – a modified van, open on one side to allow for quick and easy entry and exit. We hopped off and made our way through a bustling market and barely had time to hop on board before the ferry pushed off. I was trying to meander along the side of the ship on a narrow walkway taken up in large part by the cargo of various passengers. When I reached the back section where there were chairs, a non-Asian caught my eye and I obviously caught his. He asked me where I was from and I sat down across from him.
Thus began a 45-minute monologue.
Rick has lived throughout Southeast Asia for the last 25 years (he’s now 71). Lean, wiry, and likely tall when standing, he sports a small pony-tail pulled back from his baseball cap. He sported fairly basic attire – an antiquated sleeveless t-shirt, shorts, and flip flops. He was clearly happy to see another English-speaker and wasted no time in starting up.
He shared his story of being a lifelong backpacker through Europe and Asia (he’s South African), but that he’s lived in the Lake Toba area for 15 years. He’s a raw vegan, a master gardener, and has developed good relationships with the local merchants in Parapat where he stocks up on additional fruits and veggies once a week. He gave me the 30,000-foot overview of his life, but I’m sure there were plenty of fascinating touchpoints that would have yielded hours more detail. I had to extract myself when we arrived at our docking stop.
But I’m pleased to know that some of my imaginings from the US were true and accurate!