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.


5 - 12


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 rural Sichuan Province was a spiritual journey of discovery. Growing up, I had a lot of problems with my identity because I was raised in two countries. Splitting my time between the United States and China has caused a cultural split because I cannot fully know where I truly belong.

The divided life made me feel like a tourist in my own home. The neon lights of Beijing never really suited me, and the appeal of the slow Vermont countryside has never left me. My whole life, I’ve felt like a traveler who was never able to settle down in one place for too long. I came to understand this as the modern way of living, always on the road. However, I also came to understand something else: what I was running from wasn’t the places where I’ve been—but myself as a person.

Perhaps 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. They were a sort of mirror I’d use to judge myself. I once asked friends with backgrounds like mine what they thought of Beijing and its people. The response wasn’t entirely surprising: “I hate this place and everyone here. I wish I was back in the States.” Or something along those lines.

Walking with Paul was one of the most spiritual experiences of my life. We traveled along the rural roads of Sichuan Province, each kilometer filled with nothing but the silence of my thoughts. One night, I gazed into the heavens and saw a thousand glimmering stars. It was a sight I realized I’d hardly noticed back at my home in the Vermont hills. Every evening, we ate meals with local people, who were very lovely and surprisingly friendly to foreigners. There was one older couple, both about 70. The woman, warm and energetic, 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. Witnessing and translating the conversation, I felt an emotion I couldn’t describe. Here, a woman who grew up in rural Sichuan was connecting patiently 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 pleasurable experience. I felt as though he had seen it all, and I told him so. He merely laughed and said, “No, Luke. I have not even seen half of everything.” He understood my problem about coming to terms with my identity. He had faced the same situation when he was young, growing up in Mexico and moving to the United States. He told me to cherish it and see it as a gift. “If you can understand not one but two cultures, you can fit in anywhere.” Hearing this wisdom from a man who has embraced so many cultures in his life was truly 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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Luke Luo
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

May 9, 2024

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