When I tell people I took a 9 hour train across Sri Lanka, half of the time standing on the jam-packed car without air conditioning, almost unable to move an inch, the reactions from people are natural: “are you crazy?” and “why would you do this?”
To be honest, I did it because I couldn’t get a reserved seat in any class – something hard for a non-resident to do. So I decided to rough it. I didn’t know exactly what to expect. But I can say this – it was one of the best experiences of my life (not just travel life). Everything about that short Sri Lankan trip was awesome, but the train ride – yes, the 9 hour, no-AC, sardine-crammed train ride – was the highlight. I was enveloped with happiness and gratefulness. Happy because everyone else on the train was happy (it was a Buddhist full moon holiday). Grateful to have the chance to witness such gentle civilization – the kindest, most orderly people you could get stuck on a crammed train with. The passenger car was filled with love and happiness, with singing and laughter. It was an incredible experience that honestly restored my faith in humanity.
Sure, it wasn’t comfortable during the 4.5 hours of standing in an awkward position. But amazing things happen when you’re in good company. Empowered people figure things out and make light of the hardship. Reward often comes through being challenged, and it’s so worth it. Seasoned travelers know this well. It doesn’t pay off every time. When it doesn’t, you look past it and remember why you do it: for priceless experiences like this.
I’m not trying to paint Sri Lanka as a paradise. It’s more like a diamond in the rough. It has a lot of problems to sort out, including corruption and possible gender discrimination. What I have relayed is my experience – as a male Chinese traveler. What I saw was the best of humanity – love, kindness, and innocence, from my first interaction to the last.
Be happy. Seek happiness – whatever that is for you. In the world of travel, you may have to trek over mountains, bribe corrupt officials, risk your safety at times to find your happiest moments. Start small until you’re comfortable. Always be alert, but give life a chance. Happiness is infectious, and care comes to those who offer it. Go out and experience the world, and do it with conviction that if you truly put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything (thanks to Randy Williams for the reminder).