On some long and lonesome ancient road, in some ancient capital, of some ancient medieval Asian kingdom long since forgotten. More scorpions than kings, more monkeys than priests, and more Buddhas than Buddhists. Welcome to In Broken Footsteps.
Good afternoon and hello!
Welcome to the first public Travel/Research Journal I’ve ever written. Usually I keep these private because I tend to get quite angry at various things while travelling, but considering that I’m trying to see more of the positive these days, this gives me a reason to get less…Tourette’s-y…when I get frustrated while travelling. So, this is all really a great exercise in personal restraint, inner peace, and to introduce my two projects.
I’m still more than a month and a half from hopping on a plane to Beijing, where I’ll start this archaeological odyssey on January 3rd, 2017, but WordPress is going to have some dinky “First Post + Sunset Photo” image unless I type something in. So I guess I’ll introduce myself:
I live in a small basement apartment, near Dufferin and St. Clair, below the first floor. My name is Andrew Harris. I’m 27 years old.
(Do you like Huey Lewis and the News?)
I wish I was a 1980s yuppie. Hold the schizophrenia though, Bateman.
I’m actually a Canadian PhD candidate in Anthropology from the University of Toronto in my third year studying the archaeology of medieval Cambodia (aka the Khmer Empire, the civilization which built Angkor Wat). I’m born in Toronto as well, so this PhD is thankfully going to be my last hurrah in this city until I find a postdoc somewhere else. That’s the great thing about the University of Toronto: they really only tend to hire outside hires, so it gives you an excuse to expand your mind and go live somewhere else.
Problem is, I’ve felt at home everywhere else for as long as I can remember.
I caught the wanderlust bug around the age of sixteen after a volunteer trip to Ethiopia in the summer of 2006 (thanks Mom and Dad!). My eyes were opened, my world was changed forever, and I found out how poor people could possibly be – the answer was very. It was a pretty simple voluntourism trip – we taught a botched curriculum to an orphanage of HIV positive children ages 6-16, went on a hike through some pretty scenery up in the Simien Mountains, and really didn’t give anything back to the kids besides for attention that the nuns running the orphanage only gave in fits and starts. But I came out there wanting to see more, and eleven years later that spark has never faded.
(Sixteen-year-old me, second from the right, for some reason with a frown on my face…oh yeah, it was the last day at the orphanage and I had to go back to Canada. Wanderlust achieved!)
I became interested in Cambodian archaeology, meanwhile, when I was twelve years old. I went to a private boys’ school called Royal St. George’s College for eight years, from fifth to twelfth grades, and in Grade Seven were supposed to do yet another year of Canadian History. But this incredible History teacher, Mr. John Birkett, scrapped the curriculum and got us started with our first World History textbook (in some later entry I’ll post a photo of it). Now, the Khmer Empire of Cambodia, my field, didn’t quite get a full chapter, but between…the Vikings and the Crusades?…there was an excerpt on the Khmer civilization with a giant image of Angkor Wat. I was hooked. I had to do something with that.
And fifteen years later here we are. I’ve traveled to 25 countries (and will add another three in 2017 – this excludes territories like Scotland, Palestine, and Hong Kong, of course), twice back to Africa (Zambia and Morocco), and I’m four years away from getting my PhD in archaeology while focusing on those very same temples in my seventh grade history textbook. What a journey!
Of course, there have been some ups and downs along the way, but so far my life has followed a pretty linear trajectory to get to this point. Here’s a quick synopsis:
When I was a kid I loved to explore, run around like a madman, climb up trees and jungle jims, and play in the sandbox. By the time I was five I wanted to dig up dinosaur bones for a living, and I had my heart set on becoming a palaeontologist after watching Jurassic Park (and the sorely underrated Lost World). At ten I wanted to write in newspapers as an investigative journalist, and that was when I first started to try to keep a diary, which in turn was followed by a bit of an emo period during my early-mid teens where creative writing dominated my life. And, finally, at eighteen I wanted to save the world and enrolled at Queen’s University poised to be a Global Development Studies, or Devs, major.
Yeah…then that all started around 2008, so I ditched the “everything is colonialism because intersectionality because anti-capitalism because I need to combat hateful ideas full-time and my schoolwork is getting in the way of my activism” diatribe Development Studies was pushing on us and majored in good ol’ History instead. Let’s be honest, I was never really going to get a warm welcome into that department as a fairly privileged white man, and I wasn’t prepared to give myself over to activism at the expense of my marks, as was expected at the time.
The fourth-year Devs core class in 2006/2007 apparently skipped their final exam to go protest in Quebec…and they all got zero anyway…on an exam worth 30% of their total grade…
You get an 6/10 on the Robert De Niro WTF Face Scale, DEVS 400!
While studying History was incredibly rewarding and was integral to the beginning of my interest in China, what got me firmly on the archaeological track was my minor in Classics, and through my professors I was able to volunteer on a dig in Jordan excavating a Roman bathhouse. It was, admittedly, partially an excuse to go see Petra…
(What experts in my field often refer to as an “archaeologasm.”)
…but also a way to test out whether this whole archaeology thing was for me. And it was, even though we spent six weeks digging in the hot-as-hell Arabian Desert at a small Roman garrison site called Humayma. Our trench came up with nearly nothing, despite being 10cm away from another trench that excavated the entire plumbing system of both the bathhouse and the Roman fort, but the skills I picked up there were basic yet integral in my future career as an archaeologist.
So I kept on going with it, and was accepted into the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, UK – that story we’ll save for another day, but it made me take a couple of years off to work – another story for another day. Sorry, I’ve got to get at least six months out of this thing, and there are a lot of things that will connect with events between the ages of 21-27 that will pop up as we go along.
Okay, what more can I say today? Alright, how about this: after two years of working, I was accepted to the University of Toronto as a PhD student to study Archaeology (as a branch of Anthropology) full-time with a funding package and plenty of grants to apply for. I’m currently three years in, I defended my Thesis Proposal at the end of September this year, I’ve had some in-class training in Khmer, Cambodia’s official language, and I’m heading off into the field very, very soon.
I’m excited, yet anxious for all that I’m getting to do in 2017 – this’ll be the most important year of my entire PhD, and will shape my academic career for years to come. But, as I mentioned, I usually feel more at home away from home, so despite the ups and downs I’m incredibly antsy and want to get started. I’ll be posting relatively frequently once I’m away, but for now it’ll be maybe three, four more to frame the narrative for the upcoming five-six months. Also, in the next entry, I’ll mention a bit about my research and the places I’m going (China, Cambodia, Thailand, Sri Lanka thus far) in an entry called “My Dissertation…zzzzzz”. So watch out!