ann's back

Sunday, June 2, 2002

During a time when many Americans were fearful of flying across the country let alone traveling overseas, Ann Ostendorf was touring the nations that were making news headlines: China, India and Pakistan.

During her yearlong journey, Ostendorf said she seldom worried about her safety or feared any political wars. She spent time in China, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan and India before returning to the states May 25.

"I was never scared or worried about it because it was so far removed," she said. Many of the villages and cities where she camped, hiked or visited were too rural to be concerned with international events.

Radio and television news just didn't influence their lives, she said. "They worried if they'd be able to eat or get their crops in," she said. "That's what's important to them."

Ostendorf toured the continent as an independent traveler, not with any organized touring company. She and a companion met in England, where they stayed for a month before heading to Pakistan. Her family kept track of her stops using a map and travel guides from their Cape Girardeau home.

Now that she's back home, life seems like it stood still here but Ostendorf has changed, she said. "It's like there was a time warp for a year and I changed, but everybody else stayed the same."

Her house is the same as it was a year ago, the phone rings and friends call, just like they used to. "I'm kind of numb," she said.

Some of her reactions are to be expected. Life in America is more hustle and bustle than the lives of people in Asia. Yet sometimes, the cities there were so overcrowded and bustling with activity that a person could get lost in the crowd.

There were days that Ostendorf didn't leave her hotel room in the some Chinese and Pakistani cities because going out was a sensory overload, she said.

Even riding on the buses and trains was often overwhelming. There weren't driving standards as in America; the roads often were just carved from cliffs in a mountainside.

If anything had happened to her, it likely would have been an accident on a bus or train, which were always overcrowded with people, Ostendorf said. People here would be amazed at the number of people who could fit on a bus. "They were hanging off the roof, out the windows."

Despite all the native people surrounding her, Ostendorf said language wasn't a barrier. Many people were more than willing to speak to her in English so they could practice their skills.

It was easiest for her to travel in India, Pakistan and Thailand because so many people spoke English. And in most places -- even the remote sites -- people who wanted tourist business had learned enough English to get by.

In China, she faced some of the greatest challenges because so few people actually spoke English. To get to her travel destinations, she copied Chinese characters from her guidebook and used the notes to buy tickets for the train or bus.

One Tibetan boy stayed with Ostendorf and her traveling companion for a few days in China so he could practice his English speaking skills. She gave him a book at the end of their time together so he could continue learning.

Ostendorf intended to camp throughout her trip, but that wasn't always possible. She did the most camping in northern Pakistan and in Thailand, where she spent several weeks on an island.

She didn't travel much outside the beaten path in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam because of concerns about minefields in the countryside.

Ostendorf said she had no definite plans for how long to stay in one place or another; she tried to be flexible, which is important in places were buses don't always run on the posted schedule and plans must be changed.

"If we liked a place then we tended to stay there more," she said. Some cities they just passed through or only stayed for a day.

Ostendorf said she liked Laos the best, but there wasn't anything spectacular about it. It's not a very developed country and still has its natural beauty, she said. "It's not stunning, but it's beautiful," she said. Visiting there was like a trip to the countryside.

Though Ostendorf tried to get a picture of what Asian life was like while traveling abroad, she was always a tourist. "We were tall and dressed in funny clothes and had cameras."

Yet she would encourage anyone to travel overseas and will likely go again herself. "More people should travel because we have no idea what the rest of the world is like and it's hard to explain it."

Some of the words she'd use to describe a country -- poor, dirty, beautiful -- are so loaded with preconceived notions here that Americans don't have a true picture of what she means. "It's just a different way of living," Ostendorf said.

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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