Cristián, why did you decide to go on a travel in Asia?
I began thinking about traveling a few months ago, when I turned 30 years old. Up to that point, I had always lived in Chile, the place where my family and friends lived. I had always done what society wanted me to do, but not what I really wanted to do – I didn’t follow my dreams. So, one of my dreams was to travel around the world, especially Asia, and to discover new things. You know, Chile is a little country, full of nature, big mountains, ocean, but still far from the rest of the world.
How was your life in Chile before?
Well, after my business and economy studies I used to work in Santiago, the capital of Chile. I had a good job, a very good and comfortable life, with my own apartment, car, and all you are supposed to need in life.
So you quit all of these things after deciding to go on travel?
Yes, I quit my job and sold everything to focus on and finance my journey. I only had my bag and clothes left. Also, after finishing my journey I want to start a new life as an artist, a painter.
Oh, that’s a huge change.
Yes, it is. I started painting some years ago during my business studies at university. With my job, I didn’t have enough time to concentrate on it. So now I am also doing this journey to gather some inspiration for my art. I want to express emotion and feelings through images.
You said that you had a special interest in Asia. Could you describe this fascination?
I always found Asia to be full of ancient culture that is still alive, and thus can be explored in its living form. Furthermore, I was interested in the idea of just living in simple conditions, and going away from the material world. In the western world we are all focused on material stuff. We just think of more things to have. But I wanted to get free from this, and instead connect with the real world.
Do you have a certain road you want to follow during your Asia travels?
No, I want Asia to be a discovery for me. So I didn’t gather that much of information before I came here, neither do I have a road. I just arrived to Hong Kong and since then, decided spontaneously where to go next.
So, after 6 months of traveling without any plans, what is your conclusion until now?
I got really impressed how different each country is from each other. In Asia, every country is big, but very independent and rich in its culture. So every place I visited gave me a different experience.
How did you get along with the people in every country?
In the beginning of my journey it was hard for me to not only understand the people during conversation, but also their ways of life. The way of thinking in every country is different. People have different religions and cultural habits. Still, after a while you get to understand how it works, and then you notice, that actually, no matter how different the cultures are, all people have the same feelings and emotions. There are more similarities than differences, and in the end, you start loving and respecting the people from deep in your heart.
So how did you get used to the different kinds of people?
It is very easy, you just have to listen and try to understand. For example, in China it was very difficult for me in the beginning to communicate. I wasn’t able to speak the language, and also the people only knew very little English. I only had a little dictionary as an aid while trying my best to communicate with people. Still, no matter how big of a language barrier there might have been, I never felt alone in China. There were always people around me, and making friends was actually very easy.
How did this kind of communication without knowing the language look like?
Everywhere you go, people are very interested in you. They want to know what you are doing in their country, and try do understand you as a person. Sometimes, they even look at you with admiration, when they know you’re coming from a very different culture. So, after my travels in China, I recognized that the best way of getting to know a country is talking to the people. Traveling is not just walking around and taking pictures: it is rather integrating into people’s lives, sitting down and talking to the locals.
So you really are a fan of Chinese people?
Yes, I think people in China are lovely. People always tried their best to communicate and understand me. They always put your needs above their own. If I needed something, they were more worried about me than about themselves. They helped me a lot, trying to make things easy for me. For example, while I was riding on a train, I tried to communicate in Chinese with some local people, and they taught me some of their language. Since then, riding on a train is the best lesson in Chinese I can imagine.
Did this also happen in other countries?
Yes, it happened almost everywhere. For example also in India: People there have been really nice with me. We always had good conversations. Just sit down, and you’ll meet enough new friends, although you didn’t know anyone at the beginning. I also had the luck that I lived with a very nice Indian friend I met through couch surfing, and who integrated me into his life.
So how was your life in India?
I lived in Chennai, very chaotic a city, and in the beginning it was very stressful for me. But I recognized that this was my friend’s life, so every time I went out in the streets, I began to listen, listen to the sound of India, and I thought: Okay, it is very noisy, but it is my friends place, his life, and I am really enjoying it.
And after you changed your attitude, how did you experience India?
Well, India is a great country. Very crazy, like really everything can happen in India. But also I have never seen a place as poor as India. You get to understand, that you actually don’t need any material things to be happy. You just need the basic things, like clothes for not being cold, and food for not being hungry. They really seem to not need the material things like in the western world to be happy. I think it has to do a lot with the Hindu spirit.
What do you mean by Hindu spirit?
In India they have a concept called ‘Swadharma.’ It means that you have to do what you are born for. Everybody has a purpose in life, so everybody has to find his vocation. It also was an important lesson for my decision to be a painter when I am back in Chile.
Did you also make other special experiences in other countries?
Actually, every country taught me something different. For example, when I went to Sri Lanka, a country where Buddhism is very much alive, I had good conversations with the people in my guesthouse. They taught me a lot about their value of nature. In Sri Lanka, if there is a spider on the roof, or a dog with flees, they will not kill it. They respect that everything is a living being. Another thing I have learned there is that I really can live on my own.
How do you mean, live on your own?
Well, in Chile I was never alone. I always was with my family or friends. So, loneliness was something I was very afraid of before starting my journey. But after going to Sri Lanka, and visiting a non-touristic place, thus a place with very little people to communicate, I learned that being alone is wonderful. First of all, the irony is that you are actually never alone, because you are with yourself. You can do what you want, enjoy things by yourself, be with nature and be with the unknown people of the place. And in the end, the people of that place have become your new company and family.
So the lessons in Sri Lanka were very valuable for you?
Yes, because there I learned one of the most valuable lessons until now in my journey. It’s not to be afraid of being alone, because you actually never are: there is nature, there are animals, and new people.
How would you describe your current life in Japan?
There is no other country like Japan. Japanese people are very polite. You never feel insulted, they are very respectful, in every sense of the word. There is a lot of rules they follow, respecting every one’s space, are very clean and try not to interrupt the life of other people. They don’t want to make other people feel bad. That is actually a huge contrast to my life in Chile before.
In what sense?
In Chile I think I had more freedom. When I wanted to go somewhere, I just went, when I wanted to shout or sing, I did it. I Japan you rather not do that, because if you want to integrate into people’s life, you have to obey their structures and rules. Actually, that is just a little detail of my life in Japan, but after a while you get to understand that it is very good for you. I started valuing it, because Japanese people are not invasive, but very nice and friendly.
Right now you are living in Kyoto. How would you describe your life there?
I’ve been living in Kyoto for one month, because I wanted to stay longer in a place than just a few days. I wanted to experience how it is to actually live and not only travel in a foreign country. Until now, Kyoto is one of the most beautiful gifts life gave to me. Every day I walk by the river, see the old temples and see geishas walking along the streets of the old city center.
How do you finance your life in Kyoto?
I work at a hostel to have free accommodation there. Furthermore, no matter where you are, most of the best activities aren’t very expensive. You don’t need to pay expensive tickets, because to get in contact with the culture, you just need to talk to people, and that is free. Concerning food, the most delicious and cheapest food, the food which really lets you experience the flavor of a place, is street food and the traditional cuisine, and that is not expensive.
During your journey, have there also been some dangerous situations?
Well, there has been one. In India, there was a dog that bit me. I went to the train station, with my bag and all the paintings I had made until that moment. Then, I saw a dog coming, but I wasn’t able to move because of the heavy stuff, and then the dog bit me in my ass. That was the one moment during my journey where I recognized that I should stop full-scale painting until I am back in Chile and hence concentrate on photography and gathering inspiration.
So what did you do with the pictures you had with you?
I gave some to the people that were nice to me, others I sent back to Chile.
There is still six months to go, so what are your next steps for the journey?
Well, I haven’t really decided yet. I think I will continue traveling around Japan, and after that maybe go to the north of China, as I have been only to the south. I’m also interested in Indonesia, as it is a place where different religions exist next to each other.
What do you think is the value of traveling?
Traveling helps you making a change in your life. It lets you see your life as it was before from the outside. You can process your thoughts while being in a different place with different people. You can get a whole new direction in your life, as traveling is always a new experience. It makes you richer, you become open minded for new experiences, as you never know what happens next on your journey.