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Hi Richard

I am you, five years from where you are now. You are about to travel to Asia for the first time – to Malaysia. I know you are excited and have absolutely no idea what you will encounter there. But know that it will be the start of a way of thinking that will come to consume you as the years pass. You will journey much more, on paths much further than that you now confront – and it is in this spirit that I am writing back to you. To give you a thought on your travels – borrowing a few pages from that other famous speech about life that routinely does the rounds on the Internet. If I could give you only one piece of advice above all others, it would be this.

Pictures of those bandages will bring a wistful smile to your face as you remember the things you saw

Bring dark glasses. Wear them when walking past places where you do not want to buy crafts, hire things, find a taxi, pet someone’s cute monkey or whatever other demands you would prefer to avoid. People who will try their luck to get you to purchase things will find it harder to know if they have caught your attention or not. People trying to scam you or emotionally blackmail you will not be able to read your eyes, and this will make their task much more difficult. You will also be able to look at things without moving your head. Though you may not realise it, or even use this skill very much, the fact that you can do it will make moneychangers a little more honest, people approaching you off the street a little less inclined to hang around in the edge of your vision first.

They will also, of course, protect your eyes from the sun. But you will not listen to advice on staying out of it, and will burn your legs badly in Cambodia three years from now. In retrospect, it will be a funny story, though you will not think so at the time. Pictures of those bandages will bring a wistful smile to your face as you remember the things you saw, did and felt as you lay on the top of that boat with no sunscreen for six hours.

You will regret missing out on these experiences and will go out of your way to try to learn and engage more with the people you meet. And then you will be scammed

In making life difficult for those who would take advantage of you, dark glasses will allow you to ignore sales approaches and offers of ‘help’ from strangers far more easily. You will escape being taken advantage of many times thanks to your glasses. You will also occasionally miss out on genuinely good-hearted people who will want to show you meaningful things, or share their stories with you. You will regret missing out on these experiences and will go out of your way to try to learn and engage more with the people you meet. And then you will be scammed again. You will discover that this is life. Dark glasses can hide you from the world, but then they will hide you from the world. Dark glasses will not provide an answer to this question, but you will come to enjoy trying to work it out for yourself.

Your glasses will break. You will lose them. Helpful people will sell you more. They will not be the same as the old ones. In fact odds are good they will probably be nothing like the ones you forgot or destroyed. This is alright. You will mourn their passing as much as you did the pair before, finding that their value ultimately lay in remembering the places you went together and knowing that the next pair will be just as loved. Some will last a year or more, others only a day. None will last forever and you will learn to be okay with this.

So when you land in Malaysia, buy yourself a pair of dark glasses. Do not buy expensive ones and do not wear them all the time. But find some and keep them close – there is much in having them that you will learn from.

Dark glasses. I think they are looking at Kenya at this point. Or possibly trying to keep the dust out of my eyes. Useful things, they are.

Dark glasses. I think they are looking at Kenya at this point. Or possibly trying to keep the dust out of my eyes. Useful things, they are.