Andrew Christensen found a common thread throughout his recent travels through Asia. Everywhere he went, he saw that statues of gods and animals were always portrayed with odd numbers of arms or legs.
He said the odd numbers meant good luck, like the Scarab statue he walked around three times to ensure good health.
“Here, people always seem to pick even numbers,” he said as he described intricate carvings of a multi-armed god in a Cambodian temple. “I think this is just so beautiful.”
From Feb. 16 to May 10, Christensen traveled from the pyramids in Egypt to the turreted churches of Moscow. He was often out of touch with his family and friends, and saw — and ate — things he might never have imagined in his lifetime.
But, after three months of learning history, rituals and cultures of eight African and Asian countries, the 30-year-old Craig resident also learned a significant lesson when he returned home.
“There’s not one thing in my life I want anymore,” he said. “I’m content with everything I have.”
His mother, Laura, said her son was elated when he returned home.
“It gives him some new perspective, to see the world,” she said. “He’s always loved to travel and when he went I think it opened up a can of worms and he’s going to want to do it all the time, or it might have just satisfied his need to see it all.”
Journey falls into place
Traveling was something Christensen always wanted to do.
He wanted to see the places he saw in photos, but it wasn’t until a high school friend, Dustin Parrish, died at age 24 that Christensen was motivated to do something about it.
“After he passed away, it’s something that’s been set in my mind, to just get out and see stuff,” he said. “I don’t want to pass my life without doing something I’d regret not doing.”
There were a few things standing in his way, including his house and a job at Trapper Mine.
When a new job prospect didn’t pan out and his house sold in the fall of 2009, he saw an opening and took it.
He booked his trip through a travel company called Intrepid, which set him up with small groups and local tour guides in each country.
He began his trip in Egypt, followed by Jordan, India, Cambodia, Thailand, China, Honk Kong and back through China on his way to Russia.
Before he left, Egypt was where he had always wanted to go, but he discovered things of interest in other countries as well.
“Cambodia really sparked an interest,” he said. “ I was only there for five days. I wish I would have spent more time there.
“The people were awesome, the food was great. The temples and stuff were unreal. It was unbelievable.”
In Cambodia, he was impressed with the detail in the carvings of the Buddhist temples.
In Egypt, it was the simplicity and sheer size of the pyramids.
Thailand was a sea of neon lights, and Russia was tense, yet beautiful.
In every place he found something different and unexpected, like a man carrying two live pigs on a motor scooter.
He ate crickets and took a balloon ride over Egypt. He rode a donkey named Whiskey and was swindled by cab drivers and street vendors.
But, he found a way to deal with the unexpected and handle the loneliness that sometimes came with world travel.
“I laugh,” he said. “It was non-stop laughing. Especially some of the people you meet — everyone’s out to have a good time.”
The value of travel
The people he met — Australians, Swiss and Englishmen — were on their own journeys of discovery, but for most of them, travel was a part of their culture.
Christensen said Americans are used to getting about two weeks of vacation. At Trapper Mine, employees receive four weeks of vacation after working there for 10 years.
But, he learned that in Australia, nearly everyone receives five weeks or more of vacation each year.
“They value travel big time,” he said. “I think it’s a great thing. I think more people need to get out and see what’s out there.”
He noticed Americans value hard work, and that many of his friends and neighbors in Craig were surprised to hear of his expedition.
“When people talk to me and they find out that I did all this traveling and that I did it all by myself … they think it’s crazy,” he said. “I don’t think people need to be scared. There wasn’t once where I was so scared I didn’t want to do anything. Russia was a little scary at times, but it ended up Russia was one of the countries I really wanted to go back to. I fell in love with it.”
Since returning, Christensen has gone to work for his parents while waiting for school to begin in the fall. He wants to study to be a firefighter.
His mother said this is because he feels a conviction to work to help others and make a small difference in the world.
“When he was abroad, I think he really sees the humanity in things,” Laura said. “Now he (wants) … to get on with his life, but a part of him will always be there.”
Christensen knows he has to make a living, but he knows that while he works, there is a whole world around him, turning slowly while children work in rice fields and angelfish swim under a turquoise sea, while tree roots swallow ancient ruins in Cambodia and street vendors hawk their wares in the hot Indian sun.
There’s a world out there that is different, unexpected and even amusing.
“It’s great that we work hard, but we need to value that life isn’t just about work,” he said. “There’s so much more to life.”