Alexander Hartline_UniMelb_TowsonI rolled out of bed with my eyes glued shut, creeped lazily down the stairs, and poured myself a cup of coffee. After stuffing a heaping bowl of Rice Krispies down my throat, I climbed into the basement, and went back to paradise.
In the cozy basement of my home, I raced around a crowded and dangerous city, battled monsters at the top of a volcano, and explored the seas. Every moment was an adventure. And the best part was that I could do whatever I wanted. I was not limited to one world; I had the entire realm of gaming to explore.
Loafing around and playing so many games made me need to get up and move. I climbed back up the stairs, took my bike outside, and put in earpieces that brought me to a different paradise. Suddenly, I was a great hero with epic music as the vessel of my imagination. I braved perilous journeys to fight ancient monsters and save cities from ruin.
After riding around for a while, I went back home and returned to paradise in my basement. I was exhausted — probably because of such a long day of adventure. I ate dinner and then got into bed, where I would sleep the night away. Life was perfect.
The next day I got everything packed, said goodbye to my friends, and left paradise to go to Australia. For the next few weeks, I would struggle to feel a connection with people that I meet. I would sit down to study, and then find myself with no progress an hour later. I would struggle to make it out of bed and feel relieved to return halfway through the day. It felt like I had been away from paradise for too long. I went to JB Hi-Fi, bought a computer mouse, and set up my laptop in my room.
Finally, after three long weeks in Australia, I was home. I was back to the world of adventure. There were no limits, no troubles, and no stresses. For the next month, I would continue to travel in between reality and paradise. It started as an hour every day, then two hours a day, then four hours a day. With each week, I grew more and more comfortable with paradise, and spent all my hours in reality wishing I was back with my laptop. Before I even noticed, it was already time for mid-semester break.
My friends planned a nice trip to Bali. I was somewhat reluctant to go, but I figured that the trip would be good for me. We all met up, got a taxi to the airport, and got on the plane. And on that plane ride, I died.
No more adventures. No more paradise. The world I created for myself was set aflame, and would continue to burn indefinitely. I was no longer the Alex that traveled from each imaginary world in my head, free of any care. He died on that plane. From that moment forward, I would embark on a struggle that I have been facing my whole life. I needed to ground myself in the world that we all live in. I wanted to be present.
I constructed paradise for myself because I did not want to face reality. The truth was that my basement was not cozy, it was cold and damp. On my bike I was not adventuring. I was rounding the same 5 cul-de-sacs that I had been rounding my whole life. For the entire summer, I lived the same day over and over. And in Australia I was squandering my time on hiding in my room. Each day was a groundhog day to be lived repeatedly. The only way to escape paradise was change.
Each hour needs experiences that I have never had before. Each day needs conversation with friends, who mean everything to me. Each desire that I have needs an attempt to be fulfilled. I need constant change in order to survive and in order for paradise to stay dead. My trip to Bali would be the beginning of my journey back to reality.
After arriving in the airport, I went to pass through customs. The line was fairly short, since they had more than a few customs officers. One of the custom officers smiled in my direction — he looked fairly friendly. I went to approach him, but someone in the line next to me went ahead. So I went to another desk, and was confronted with a man with a relentless frown. After giving him my passport he said, “hjk dfs erdfg fasdk return ticket?” I gave him a confused look and asked him to repeat himself. He prompted me again, but I just could not understand, so I chuckled nervously. He called over the senior customs officer, and I was escorted to the customs office.
Completely confused, I figured that the issue was that my return ticket was on my phone and not printed out. —Failing to print the ticket was a mistake that would come to bite me twice, but more on that later.— I asked if that was the issue, and he said “kjhl asd kjnbsd liuads.” I was thinking, “Great. I am already in trouble because I cannot understand, and here I am again.” I told him I did not know what he was saying. Frustrated, he said to me, “You do not know that word? ‘LAUGHING.’ L-A-U-G-H-I-N-G.” Apparently I was pulled aside because my nervous chuckle was interpreted as a disrespect of authority. I apologized profusely and was passed along without further problems. I met back up with my friends, and was eager to get to the villa that we were staying at.
To make travel easier, my friend Jack rented a car for the trip. Half of our group got in a taxi, and I joined the group that rode with Jack. We got behind the taxi to follow him to the villa, not knowing what we were getting ourselves into. The taxi flew off, and we floored it to keep up with him. The taxi swerved between cars while scooters passed us on both sides. We hopped lanes every few seconds to keep up with the maniac, but somehow kept up fine. It seemed as if we were going to make it there safely.
“Empty?! They gave me a car with no fuel?” Jack exclaimed with a few omitted expletives. We were low on options. We had no idea where the gas station was, were still struggling to keep up, and had no line of communication with the other car. We could only think of one possibility. Jack put the car in high gear and managed to overtake every car ahead of him until we were parallel with the taxi. Stef, who was in the front passenger’s seat, rolled down the window and managed to scream to the taxi that we needed fuel. After he got his point across, we promptly found a gas station and got back to the villa, somehow, safely.
Back in paradise, I had played racing games all of the time, but I never experienced anything like this. I felt real fear, real excitement, and real relief to be alive. I felt connected with the people that I rode with. This was a good step towards realizing how badly I needed to come to reality.
The next night was one of my favorite nights there. My friends and I discovered a Balinese pastime: Bintang. We got 6 crates of the Indonesian pilsner, and bonded together all night. I had a few too many, though, and ended up chundering all over my phone and breaking it, which is the funniest phone death that I have ever heard. This worked well for me, though, because I was no longer attached to my phone for the rest of the trip. I was truly present.
Over the next few days I would encounter experiences that I have never imagined. I rode an elephant, surfed in the ocean, snorkeled at a reef (where I found Nemo), climbed to the peak of an active volcano and watched the sunrise, peed in the cauldron of that active volcano, visited temples, bartered at markets, skinny dipped in the villa’s pool, and feasted like a king. With each exploit, I felt more connected to my friends and to reality.
The trip went by quickly, even though I did so much each day. In the last few days, my friends would slowly return back to Australia as their departure dates came. I was scheduled to be the last to leave, along with a few of my friends. Or so I thought. Turns out I booked my ticket to be earlier than the last group. Since my phone was filled with chunder, and I did not print out my return ticket, I did not bother to check on my laptop until the date of departure. I had to buy a one-way return ticket. For some reason, premium flatbed was cheaper than economy. I managed to fly business class, but spent $360 USD for the new ticket.
My friends and I all made it back to Australia safely, but Rob and I got stuck in a slow customs line, so we were the only two left at the airport. Rob bought some duty-free goods while I waited at baggage claim for a cling-wrapped cardboard box. The box never came, and I asked around until I learned it was at oversized and fragile baggage claim. Rob went and got it for me, and we got in the line to exit the airport.
“I’m glad we got my box, it has all of my gifts for friends in it. Wait… DUTY FREE.”
Rob looked at me, and then looked down. The bag of duty-free items he bought was missing. He hopped out of the line and frantically raced around the baggage claim area. I lost track of him and proceeded through the line to exit the airport. After ten long minutes, he emerged with a triumphant look on his face and a green duty-free bag. We had made it out of the airport and went on our way home, somehow without a major crisis.
In reality, I live in a world of adventure. Video games are no longer my paradise, life is. All of the experiences that I had in games do not even compare. In Bali, I raced around a real city, climbed a real volcano, and explored a real ocean. There were no limits set out by some game developers; I set my own limits. This trip to Bali and Australia brought me back to the world that I want to be a part of. The Alex that was addicted to paradise died on the plane ride there. The rest of me survived and has something to prove. And so far, I am just getting started.