Travel, Love

All this traveling is messing with my emotions. I’m a disappointing three hours into my flight home, sitting next to an elderly Taiwanese couple from Santa Monica who seem so at peace with the journey. Their expressions say, “Oh these long flights are just a part of life,” and they’re right. 

The woman ate her meal with modulated gusto, then after fidgeting with the entertainment system, decided to put her energy towards blowing up one of those inflating neck pillows. She is quite thin and, I’m guessing, on the cusp of seventy so the process strained what weak neck muscles she had. I wanted to help her out but it didn’t seem sanitary. My eyes darted back and forth between the small screen in front of me and the slowly inflating neck pillow until it reached a fullness she was happy with. She secured it around her frail neck and promptly fell asleep, leaning slightly forward so that the neck pillow seemed moot. Her husband is watching “Django Unchained,” which I just finished. It was a little too bloody for me, but that’s Quentin Tarantino for you. I thought, this is a love story in disguise.

Also a (creepy) love story in disguise. 

On the escalator in Eslite bookstore yesterday, I turned to my cousin. 

“This is so weird.”

“What’s weird,” she asked. We were going down to the food court to buy my uncle a salad for his lunch tomorrow.

“It’s weird that today, right now, I am in The basement of Eslite buying a salad, eating a green tea ice cream…”

My cousin turned to look at me, “So?”

“And tomorrow, I’ll be back in my room in California, going through my mail and reading my magazines.”

We stepped off the escalator and turned left to the food court, walking past the little stands of trinkets and then Bonjour Bakery, one of my aunt’s favorite bakeries in Taipei. Parisian taste, but I associate it with Taipei. 

“You need to thank the people who invented the airplane,” my cousin said. 

Indeed.

Travel is in my blood. I recall my grandfather’s photo albums in which he is pictured standing in front of every known tourist destination: Disneyland, the Singapore mer-lion, safari in South Africa, the Sydney Opera House, the list goes on and the photos fill dozens of albums, some in which he is photographed alone, others with his fourth wife, others with his fifth, and others, as a much older but no less robust man, with us, his blithe smiling grandchildren who are only faintly aware but will soon give into their growing appetite to see the world. 

2.5 months of traveling.

Does anyone remember that episode of “Sex in the City” when Carrie says that she’s dating more than one guy and her friends go, “What for?” And she says, wiggling into some couture, “I’m trying them on.”

It’s kind of like that, except instead of men they are cities and each one I visit I not only try on for size but also size them up: Could I happily live here? Do I like the air and the taste of the water; do the flora and fauna appeal to me? Do I like these roads and this public transportation system? And the people, could I love them? Is it strange that I smile at strangers in the street? (In most cities I find the answer is “Yes, but don’t stop smiling.”)

At this point the question is not yet ripe – or perhaps my experiences do not warrant the question. I don’t deserve it yet, just as I don’t deserve citizenship aside from the citizenship I currently possess because I haven’t given any city a fair chance.

A week each in London, Paris, and Berlin, and more recently, four days in Hong Kong, three in Seoul, just two in Shanghai (spent doubled over in bed), and even less than that in Singapore. And not just abroad but at home in the larger national sense of the word “home” – Berkeley, San Francisco, New York, Boston, Ann Arbor, and yes, even that glittering place of excess (for millions it is home!), Las Vegas. I am beginning to feel the roots of my current home begin to unwrap themselves from the ground and slide out, however slowly, like a giant taking off an old pair of shoes and on the hunt for some new kicks. 

I do it intentionally, so as not to get attached – what if I fall in love? Like really in love, head over heels – I’d have to stay longer than that to really learn about a place, wouldn’t I? 

Too attached? A violent vine in Taipei. 

Isn’t that the most terrifying thing about falling in love? That the object of your affection could absorb you or swallow you whole then melt and dissolve your flesh and bones with its saliva, a potent mix of smog and trees and foreign but friendly looking children in strollers or prams, depending where you are? Like a Venus Flytrap but on a much larger scale. And by then you’re no longer a tourst – strictly speaking, you’re not necessarily a citizen, but you see yourself as such because you understand the ways and the roads and the tongues; you accept the weather because that’s how it is. 

I accept you, oh beautiful, blooming bougainvillea!

I have such a relationship with Orange County and Taipei, but at the same time these places are two faces of one mother: familiar, loving, taken for granted. Unless the earth swallows them whole.  

Back to my question. Not just “where?” but also “what if, if the ‘where’ is found?” The long answer is the one I’m still writing. The short? It’s a mystery. 

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