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ARTICLE

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On the Walking Trail, a Young Man Ponders His Divided Identity

On the Walking Trail, a Young Man Ponders His Divided Identity

One of Paul Salopek's walking partners reflects on how his mixed Chinese and U.S. upbringing has impacted his identity and his feelings about walking with Paul.

Grades

5 - 12

Subjects

Geography, Social Studies, Anthropology, English Language Arts, Storytelling

















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In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of Paul Salopek's first steps on his Out of Eden Walk journey, this dispatch is now available for educational use in fifth- and eighth-grade reading levels. The original text is available as the default reading level, as well as on the Out of Eden Walk website.

By Luke Luo (3/13/2023)

For me, walking with Paul in the Sichuan Province countryside was a journey of discovery. I had a lot of problems with my identity when I was growing up because I was raised in two countries. Splitting my time between the United States and China caused a cultural split, because I cannot know where I truly belong.

It has made me feel like a tourist in my own home. I never liked the neon lights of Beijing, and I still like the slow Vermont countryside. My whole life, I’ve felt like a traveler who was never able to settle down in one place for too long. I thought that always being on the road was the modern way of living. However, I also came to understand something else. I wasn’t running from the places where I’ve been; I was running from myself as a person.

Maybe I’ve seen too little at my young age to understand much about myself. I’ve met many others who have faced the same problem. I used their experiences to help me understand my own. I once asked friends with backgrounds like mine what they thought of Beijing and the people there. The response wasn’t entirely surprising: “I hate this place and everyone here. I wish I was back in the States.” Or they said something like that.

Walking with Paul was one of the greatest experiences of my life. We traveled along the country roads of Sichuan Province. Each kilometer was filled with the silence of my thoughts. One night, I stared up at the sky and saw a thousand glimmering stars. I realized I’d hardly noticed the stars back at my home in the Vermont hills. Every evening, we ate meals with local people, who were very lovely and friendly to strangers. There was one older couple, who were both about 70 years old. The woman was warm and lively. She was very interested in Paul and wanted to talk with him. She asked him questions about why he was doing the walk, where he was going, and where he grew up. I felt an emotion I couldn’t describe as I listened to and translated their conversation. A woman who grew up in the Sichuan countryside was connecting with a man of mixed origins in Mexico and the United States. It was beautiful, to say the least.

Speaking with Paul was a very enjoyable experience. I felt as though he had seen everything, and I told him so. He just laughed and said, “No, Luke. I have not even seen half of everything.” He understood my problem about my identity. He faced the same situation when he was young because he grew up in Mexico and moved to the United States. He told me to see it as a gift. “If you can understand not one but two cultures, you can fit in anywhere.” These words from a man who welcomed and understood so many cultures in his life were inspiring.

Luke Luo, 17, lives in Beijing. He joined the walking trail in Sichuan with his father, Luo Xin, a historian from Peking University.

Media Credits

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Author
Luke Luo
National Geographic Explorer
Editor
Oliver Payne
Web Producer
Bayan Atari, National Geographic Society
With help froms
Clint Parks, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Kate Gallery, National Geographic Society
Instructional Designer
Dan Byerly, National Geographic Society
Text Levels
Last Updated

January 22, 2024

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