no man is an island


“Heyyyy! I thought that was you!”

I didn’t recognize the man who had appeared out of nowhere beside our table.

“How’s that arm?” He touched my shoulder. “Your dad was so worried about you—and not just about your arm, about your life! How long ago was that, anyway? . . . And how ’bout Hong Kong? Your dad told me you were over there. What were you doing there? Bet ol’ Placerville feels small now! I’ve never been to Asia. Born and raised in SoCal; moved up here and never left. Did a rotation in Dublin once, though. One of the best times of my life. What ya doin’ in ol’ Placerville?”

I wondered, briefly, how the man breathed. His lips hardly seemed to keep up with his mouth.

We had finished eating and were standing up to leave. The man’s family was at a table nearby.

“Hey guys! Look who I found! . . . This here is Steve and his daughter, Jessica, and—I’m sorry, what did you say your name was, son?”

“Nick,” said my friend.

“And Nick!” the man beamed. “Jessica was in Hong Kong last year. She was a teacher—right?” I nodded. “Hong Kong, can you believe that? Such a world traveler. Hong Kong! Wowww.

His wife and daughter looked impressed. Their faces were totally blank.top_map_of_asia2

Hong Kong. Wowww. A few years ago, that would have been my reaction, too. Hong Kong? If you’d asked me, I couldn’t have found it on a map. The same was true for Taiwan.

How much I’ve learned about the world in just a few short years.

How much more there is to learn.

That, I think, has been the hardest thing to explain: How much there is to learn. Or, perhaps more importantly, why it’s important that we learn.

Here in the States we live in a world wrapped in self. We lead busy lives and can hardly stop to consider someone else. In a country with one of the highest standards of living, where people sleep in soft beds and drive fancy cars, the images we see on TV—images of starvation and inadequate housing—hardly seem real.

But it’s more than that, too. Even if all the world’s economies were the same, would everyone everywhere lead similar lives? Of course not! Cultural differences abound and are a huge part of who we are. Perhaps you imagine your life will never be touched by people far away. But consider this: When was the last time you saw someone from a different ethnic background? Did you wonder about their lives? Would knowing about their culture improve your understanding of who they are and your interactions with them?

There’s a scene in the book “Life of Pi.” Pi has just arrived in Canada and is eating with his fingers at an Indian restaurant  (underlining my own):

“The waiter looked at me critically and said, ‘Fresh off the boat, are you?’ I blanched. My fingers, which a second before had been taste buds savouring the food a little ahead of my mouth, became dirty under his gaze. They froze like criminals caught in the act. I didn’t dare lick them. I wiped them guiltily on my napkin. He had no idea how deeply those words wounded me. They were like nails being driven into my flesh. I picked up the knife and fork. I had hardly ever used such instruments. My hands trembled. My sambar lost its taste.”

We are not islands. This world and its people may be deep and vast and varied, but we are all connected. And that, my friends, is what makes this life so beautiful.

No Man Is An Island

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.

Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

John Donne

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it solely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” — Mark Twain


“There was hardly anyone there!” (Times Square, Hong Kong)


View of Victoria Harbor and Hong Kong’s skyline from “The Peak.”


“Hmm. Let’s go to the red one. Or the yellow one.” (Hong Kong)


Traffic jam on the way to work (Taipei, Taiwan)


Grocery shopping at Tung Bo Foods (Hong Kong)


A day at the races. (Dragon Boat Races in Stanley, Hong Kong)


School bus (Taipei, Taiwan)


Church (Po Lin Monastery, Lantau Island, Hong Kong)

Island image credit: Tourism Fiji


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34 thoughts

  1. ‘…we live in a world wrapped in self.’ This says it all. When you get away from where you are and see how other people live, it’s easy to understand that. Really nice photos and I like the quotes. Thanks for an interesting post.

    • Yes, it’s really sad. If we all spent more time thinking about how other people are doing instead of ourselves, think what a wonderful world this would be… Thank you for reading. I’m glad you liked the photos!

  2. Great piece Jessica. I love reading about your journey’s. Traveling beyond my own world has been the best classroom of all. My first great journey found me in a canoe on the Rio Negro off the Amazon, thinking, this could be worse, I could be in the middle east. I was young and afraid…snakes overhead, fish with precision teeth beneath the dark waters, in an unstable vessel. Now, have lived long enough to have traveled far and wide, and my favorite place is the middle east! Last Nov, while in Brunei, against advice of tour director, I donned a “loaner burka”, and entered a dazzling mosque, experiencing a mysterious and foreign culture…I loved every minute of it. I wish you endless journey’s that take you far beyond your known world!

    • Thank you, Karen! Yes, traveling is the best education a person could ever receive. Good for you for donning a burka no matter what the tour guide said. You and April must be related! ;)

  3. Excellent thoughts and insights Jessica.

    And you have now gone from “a blog I subscribe to” to a “must read.”

    No pressure. :)

    • You flatter me! Thank you so much for reading. I have been searching for my niche. I’m hoping that travel and culture will have something to do with it.

      Thanks again. I enjoy reading your blog, too!

  4. This one gets better each time I read it. So well written – the time you spent was worth it! I am always better for reading what you write.

  5. It is a surprising post! It began like a thriller but ended on a philosophical note, what with John Donne and Mark Twain thrown in. Those are excellent photos -‘School bus (Taipei, Taiwan)’ is my favourite.

    • I’m glad you liked it! Your comment that it began like a thriller had me laughing. :) And yes, isn’t the school bus picture great? It’s not uncommon to see two or three people on a scooter in Taiwan, but five? That’s pushing it! :D Thanks for commenting!

  6. I’d already decided to comment, but before I scrolled down, I did not know or had forgotten that an angel will now earn a nice pair of new wings just through my humble effort. (Must say, i’m delighted) Anyway, nice post, great pictures. and hard to get tired of that poem by John Donne. It never really loses its power, does it?

    • No, it definitely doesn’t. It’s an awesome poem. John Donne is great!… I’m glad you liked the post and pictures, and, yes, somewhere up there an angel is VERY grateful to you right now. So, on behalf of us both, thank you! ;)

  7. I loved the way you concluded your thoughts.

    “We are not islands. This world and its people may be deep and vast and varied, but we are all connected. And that, my friends, is what makes this life so beautiful.”

    It’s so very true! I think it kind of sums up everything.

    Really well written Jessica.

    School bus (Taipei, Taiwan) is my favorite too. :)

  8. “But consider this: When was the last time you saw someone from a different ethnic background? Did you wonder about their lives? Would knowing about their culture improve your understanding of who they are and your interactions with them?”

    It might be hard for some of us living in North American big cities, but there are still large pockets of people in North American who have not yet known anyone personally on a regular basis from a different ethnic, racial group.

    • You are right, Jean. I think of small towns in Wyoming and Nebraska I passed through driving across the country back in college. This makes me sad. People who have never encountered people of a different culture don’t know what they’re missing.

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

    • Wow. I’d never heard that song (or heard of Devendra Banhart, for that matter) before. Thanks for sharing. I like this. And I can see how it relates.

An angel earns a pair of wings every time you comment.

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