In high school, part of art history, we learned about the “less is more” principle. I can’t remember the specific artist or art period, but I just remember the words “less is more”. Only years later the words started to sink in and it got meaning.
I had the honour once to fly first class. It was a short flight from Seoul to Shanghai with a small price difference between the first class and economy ticket. I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford a first class ticket any other way and to fly first class is just one of those bucket list items you think you’ll never be able to tick off, so I booked the ticket with China Eastern Airways. Unfortunately I didn’t have a lot of time to spare before I had to board the plane and I had a friend with me who flew economy, so I gave the first class lounge a skip. I got on the plane and the cabin crew showered me with friendliness, I got a glass of juice (in a real glass) as soon as my bum hit the seat and got my food on real china, on my way to China. As I fidgeted with the buttons of the reclining seat, I burst out in a silent laughter. Here I am on my way to Shanghai, flying first class and there is a suited Chinese businessman sitting behind me with a leather briefcase tapping away at his fancy laptop, but I can see my toes peeking from the front of my shoes. I curled up my toes a bit and just smiled, knowing that I will never fit the picture and glamour of a first class flyer. I returned to Seoul with no-hole-shoes that I got at a market in Shanghai, cheap All Star knock-offs. My kind of thing. Unfortunately – or fortunately – my cheap knock-offs are starting to tear a bit after more than two years and I foresee a new hole coming soon. My kind of thing.
My whole dogma about traveling changed a lot over the years. I went from booking hotels on Agoda to winging it and haggling for a price right on the spot. I went from eating in restaurants to enjoying amazing food from street vendors or having ikan bakar (grilled fish) on the beach with locals. I went from taking a ride in a taxi to hopping on a stranger’s scooter or hopping on my bicycle for hundreds of kilometers. The most important thing of all, I learned to stop being tourist and start being a traveler, to stop engaging in tourist activities and start engaging in the culture. I learned that less is really more.
Lately I have seen how people measure their worth by the possessions they own – cars, fancy label clothing, overpriced phones, shiny jewelry, big flat screen televisions, gimmicks and holidays with butlers, cocktails and posting that Mauritius glam photo on Facebook.
This made me realise the things I think are important. Each to his own. The car I’m driving is more than 10 years old and it’s serving the same purpose as a new car. The most expensive piece of clothing I own is a R200 jacket and it keeps me perfectly warm. My phone is about 9 times cheaper than the newest Samsung Galaxy and I can call, send messages and go on the internet. My “jewellery” is strings of Buddhist beads or braided “somethings” wrapped around my wrists I bought in some country, with a shell from Bali that has been hanging on to a black rubber band for the last three years. My TV is probably just as old as the car, but where I’m based I don’t have any reception with a normal aerial, so I’m not watching anything on TV (and honestly, it’s liberating). To my recollection I don’t own any gimmicks, only two pairs of cycling shorts and let’s face it, it’s just clever to cover your bum. And I don’t daydream about white sand beaches at fancy holiday destinations, but I daydream about doing bicycle trips in third world countries, hitchhiking and taking a photo of the water buffalo that chased me.
Some people need the glitz and glamour, others long for it but I don’t need it. “Less is more” has its own meaning to every individual – each to his own. That’s just my interpretation.
Sometimes even when you have some of the glitz and glamour you realise that you would be perfectly happy just owning a bicycle and a backpack, that you would be perfectly happy even to let go of the not-so-fancy-items you own.
Less is really more.
I don’t need the glitz and glamour.