One can only wonder what Ethan Taub had in mind. Was he going to skateboard down Mt. Everest? Shoot hoops with Mother Teresa? Dribble all the way from Kenya to Katmandu?
Why was Taub trying to stuff his skateboard and basketball into the same backpack he was about to lug around the world for a year?
“I guess I figured the skateboard would be a cool toy to bring along,” Taub, a Tustin track standout, says with a smile. “And the basketball, I don’t know. I figured I could get good at dribbling?”
Taub laughs. His priorities have changed considerably since he traveled around the world with his father and brother two years ago. As has his perspective. Before the trip, adventure travel meant riding the bus with his friends to Newport Beach. Culture was something you studied in school. And Orange County? It’s the center of the universe, right?
Taub remembers feeling that way. It seems so long ago. Back when his entire world was friends and sports and school. He thought his dad, Lanny, was kidding when he asked him and his older brother, Aaron, about the trip. Travel the world with backpacks? Stay in hostels? Survive on $10 a day? Sure, Dad, sounds cool--just let us bring our Walkmans.
Taub says his father tried to prepare him for what to expect. The traveling was going to be difficult, the accommodations not at all like Club Med. The idea was to experience the experience, to let adventure take its course. They would need to expect and accept dismal conditions. Cockroaches and cold showers be damned.
They stayed in a commune in India; they slept (and only slept) in a brothel in Hong Kong. They spent a week camping in Kenya, where lions stalked gazelles nearby, and elephants strolled inches past their tents. They rode camels in Egypt, rickshaws through Asia and survived more wild taxi rides than they care to count. Train rides were never-ending, some more than 24 hours long. They walked, they hiked, they climbed volcanoes. Some days they slept till noon.
But traveling--real traveling--isn’t just making your way here and there, it’s about experiencing sights and sounds, even when you find them appalling. It’s about opening your mind to cultures and beliefs different than your own. It’s about letting a part of some place else seep into your soul.
Taub kept a series of journals, 384 pages in all, to keep the memories fresh. The pages--some stained by drops of curry sauce, others scrawled with sketches of pyramids and peace signs--detail huge Malaysian butterflies and perfect Bali beaches. Fishing off an outrigger in Indonesia and being chased by a wild boar in India. Seeing cat, dog and hedgehog on a restaurant menu in China, watching live fish flop atop his bowl of rice. Offering a Nepali leper a plate of food but no spoon, because you can’t tell whether he has fingers.
In Bangkok, Taub wrote of seeing cows that were “as tall as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and as fat as John Candy.” He kept track of the movies he saw (average admission: 15 cents)--"The Bear” and “Uncle Buck” in Thailand; “Born on the Fourth of July” in Tel Aviv and “Nightmare on Elm Street 4" in Karachi, Pakistan. In China, Taub wrote, hundreds of locals surrounded him when they saw him writing with his left hand--something that is officially discouraged. He detailed the drudgery of doing all his own laundry--by hand.
But it was India, Taub says, that he will never forget. Throngs of people crammed together with cows and chickens and cars and smells you can’t believe, beggars asking for the smallest possible donation, hungry children sleeping on straw mats on the sidewalk, people smiling in spite of it all . . . it was at once surreal and too real. “I’m taking so much in here,” Taub wrote, “that my mind is about to blow.”
Two years later, he says the images--and lessons--from India remain with him.
“The people there who have absolutely nothing at all, but still they’re completely happy,” Taub says. “I really learned from that.”
Apparently so. When Taub--the county’s top quarter-miler--experienced hamstring problems this season, he didn’t get down. He shrugged it off as if it were a simple inconvenience. Had he not won the open 400 at Saturday’s Orange County Championships (he did), he no doubt would have shrugged that off, too. He says after witnessing what the world’s impoverished people go through, he hardly feels it right to gripe about a bad race.
Taub says he hopes to travel again. He wants to return to India before he starts college. He would love to take another trip to Bali. But the location isn’t that important, he says. It’s the people that make a place special; it’s what you learn that makes a trip significant.
And when you pack, the most important thing to bring is simply an open mind.