Travel as Cognitive Stimulation

Travel as Cognitive Stimulation

One of the reasons that my wife and I love to travel is the stimulation of seeing the world through different sets of eyes. Routines of life at home provide a framework each day that feels good. It can often be challenging but also limiting. Often our routines feel good (secure) to us, but don’t push us out of our comfort zones. They can feel stagnating. That is why vacations, or going on “holiday” as the Brits would say, can be so rewarding and rejuvenating.

One of the most stimulating ways of vacationing is travel. Being exposed to a different culture, different foods, and different ways of looking at things opens the mind to new possibilities…new thought patterns.

Recently my wife and I went on a group tour of Southeast Asia. Countries we traveled to included Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam. We enjoyed all of the varied flavors in cooking food with huge influences from India and China.

Our guide in Vietnam highly recommended us seeing The War Remnants Museum while we were in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). It was very powerful to see the “Vietnam War” through the eyes of the Vietnamese. They called it the “American War.” Of course they would, as they were fighting Americans. The museum was filled with pictures of the devastation created from bombs, napalm and Agent Orange. Many photos were painful to observe. Looking at the horror filled my eyes with tears. Walking around me were school children seeing the same scenes.

What a juxtaposition to be an American surrounded by Vietnamese children and all of us seeing the havoc the war wrought. The collective guilt I felt almost led me to apologize. But I reasoned that these feelings I had were generated in me and they would probably not understand. The one thing I could do across the cultural and language divide was smile. I smiled at them and they at me. Some even waved. A great feeling of connection in spite of the devastation witnessed.

In Hanoi we visited The Vietnamese Women’s Museum. The part of the museum dedicated to the American War showed women involved in setting booby-traps and armed with grenades and rifles. Some American GI’s I had interviewed over the years had talked about how they didn’t know whom the enemy was. Sometimes women and/or children would try to take them out. In an occupied country with a predominantly agrarian economy just about anyone will fight to regain their freedom.

It was all an eye-opening experience and an increased level of understanding. Some in our group would convene and talk about the information we were exposed to including some Vietnam veterans. We were the better for having made the journey there and attempting to see the world through Vietnamese eyes.

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