Writing a City, and Other Boons of Travel

A street in Little India glows in the night, as it celebrates the Deepavali Festival in October. (Singapore, 2011)

I look at travel as a necessary and surprising indulgence. In a new city for a few days or a few weeks, I find my senses are more alert than usual to the ordinary and the mundane which take on strange but not altogether unwelcome coloring. If that statement resonates, it is because somebody had said this about travel once: “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things” (Henry Miller). There is a different feel to the experience of waking up in a different bed in a new country, (for Freya Stark, one of the “pleasantest sensations”!), a texture to the days that is not quite as familiar as at home, a rhythm in the hours that does not proceed as regularly–a late lunch can easily spill over into dinner in JustAcia in Dhoby Ghaut in the company of fellow travelers–and not mind it. The cerebral cortex is also more receptive to storing sensuous images to be recollected at some distant time or, if one blogs, to re-create scenes witnessed and impressions made by writing about one’s travel. “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living,” states Miriam Beard.

Tracks of the tram in a station in Grand Theatre, in Talence. (France, 2009)

Bitten by the travel bug early in the millennium and happily wallowing in the disease, I count myself lucky for the boon of travel provided, in large part, by generous individuals and institutions, richer and thankful for the experience of being in the heart of a metropolis surrounded by peoples at home in their cultures, and blog about it. A cold and hazy late night out in a karaoke bar in Seoul, the twilight walk along the Seine, and the rush to board the train back to Schiphol in Amsterdam may not be the stuff of poetry but in my mind they stand out equally memorably as seeing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre or the Terracotta Warriors in Singapore or hearing Julia Fordham sing live in Alabang. In fact, it’s there on a level with cradling JC’s five-pound weight in the crook of my arm for the very first time.

Another brrrr-y cold late morning in Amsterdam central in September. (The Netherlands, 2009)

There are, of course, hazards to travel, red and raw blisters on one’s feet the least of one’s worries. Lost GST receipts, amiable transactions devolving into ugly spats over defective merchandise, threats of violence in an inhospitable airport can put a damper on things. (There is that other matter of being surprised, simply looking at the Total Amount Due on one’s Mastercard weeks later!) No matter. The traveller, whether seasoned or just starting out, can console herself with a return to her comfy bed and soft pillow, when her sojourn is over. So take heed Mark Twain’s advice and set off on an adventure, “throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Mahogany trees line this winding country road. (Bohol, 2011)
A beach in downtown Waikiki, in the gathering dusk. (Hawaii, 2009)

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