Wednesday, March 21, 2018
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In transit

Thirty-three hours. That’s exactly how long it took us to get from vibrant Ho Chi Minh City to pleasant Hanoi. It was my smart idea to take the train for the sake of experiencing a long-distance journey in one, like they used to in old movies. Past the beautiful coastline of Da Nang and the vast fields of rural Vietnam, it was all fun and games—until the first few hours trickled by so placidly and we realized that we were not even halfway there.

They say that life is not meant to be lived in just one place, that we are bound to move from one point to another. Yet why is movement uncomfortable? When did the concept of stability equate to “settling down”? I wonder at which point in history humanity ceased to be nomadic and started to live a stationary life instead. Perhaps when we began to grasp the concept of property and acquired land for agriculture?

If that were the case, humanity may have indeed “settled down.” But other forms of living things, with whom we share this planet, have not.


Earlier this year, a video of perhaps a million baby crabs migrating to Christmas Island went viral. Dots of pink baby crabs clambering over or toppling each other were a sight to behold, as they followed adult crab migration in November and December 2017. In Minnesota in the United States, nesting eagles started to congregate in that same November. The best time to view these great birds would be up to this month. In Cambodia, row after row of nets line up in Tonle Sap River from October until March to catch bounties of fish as they flock downstream.

Migration, to the human eye, is indeed a beautiful sight to behold. National Geographic Society photography fellow Joe Riis captured animals in movement in his recently released photo book, “Yellowstone Migrations.” Pictures of identical antelope heads in a seemingly organized disarray and a line of elk going down a steep snowy path form part of Riis’ impressive portfolio.

But for most of us who cannot see this flow in action, an app called Animal Tracker shows the movement of migration as it takes place on the map. GPS units attached to migrating animals have made this possible, allowing us a glimpse of the long and treacherous journey of wildlife.

Unseen to the observing eye, however, are the perils of migration, as animals brave weather conditions, changing terrain, and long distances for the cause of survival. Wynne Parry writes that among migrating salmons, only one in a thousand may live.

But things are beginning to change.

Earlier this year, a research led by Dr. Marlee Tucker of Goethe University in Germany revealed that mammal migration has declined in areas where there are high human activities. This is partly because human infrastructures such as fences and roads have restricted animal movement. But this is also because when humans give food or leave leftovers for these animals to eat, they are no longer compelled to find food somewhere else.

Researchers at Florida Atlantic University have also noticed a huge drop of migrating blacktip sharks this year. Where there would normally be 15,000 migrating sharks in Florida waters from February to March, there were only 4,000 this year.

Likewise, Rothamsted Research published a study earlier this year showing that bats are migrating mid-March, two weeks earlier than the customary late March.


One thousand, seven hundred twenty-six kilometers. That’s the distance of the railway from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi. That’s nowhere near half of the 8,000 km that humpback whales travel one way on their migration. Animals in transit are telltale signs not only of their nature but also of ourselves. Aren’t we the ones who claimed land for ownership and rooted ourselves in our distinct locations? Recently, it seems like we have compelled others on this planet to do the same thing. For all of us breathing, living things, being in transit is being in touch with who we were made to be.

“To pass safely and freely,” say our passports. May we provide all beings the same circumstances.

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TAGS: Da Nang, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, long-distance journey
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