First, huge, huge thanks to Bryan, Rachael, Ian, Shani, and Dylan for holding things down while I was gone. I’ll admit to having dipped out of my self-imposed vacation internet moratorium occasionally to check in on them, and I hope you had as much fun reading them as I did.
Second, I was sitting in the airport in Seoul yesterday morning (well, it would have been the night before last here then, but it was morning there, so I’ll count it as such), dazed from lack of sleep, disoriented by the sudden cold, and scribbling down a few notes from my last ride on the back of a moto through Phnom Penh (this was a trip for stretching limits, people), when it struck me what a fantastic album about travel official blog obsession Bishop Allen’s The Broken String is. “Like Castanets” isn’t my favorite track on the album, but it’s a good evocation of what it’s like to explore a city. And goddamn is “The Chinatown Bus” an astonishing encapsulation of the kinds of things big travel does to your brain:
Perhaps it’s just me, but this feels exactly like how my thought processes work when I’m disoriented and on the road:
“And I remember Shanghai
How I wasn’t sure just what was safe to eat
The chickens pecked and wandered
At the barefoot ankles of the children hawking figurines
Of workers smiling
What’s the Chinese word for cheese?
I watch the sidewalk butcher
His instinctive understanding
Made the carcass snap and clarify
Beneath the nimble hands that held the knives…
Two AM in Tokyo
And still too soon to call back to the people
Who will soon begin the day I polished off
And I will walk a mile amidst the neon lights that advertise
I don’t know just what they sell.
I tell the taxi driver ‘To the Parker Hyatt-o’
And his gloves are pristine white
Just like the girls I used to know would wear
To dance their first cotillion.
Everyone of them named Jennifer.”
In Seoul, I wrote in my travel journal (yes, I am an old lady. I am so painfully aware.) that the song “captured my feelings on my moto ride back to Julia’s house last night, the overwhelming combination of the rush hour traffic; and the decaying block of apartments festooned with cheerful drying laundry that may be the most archetypal slum I’ve ever seen; and the huge new building behind it that’s outlined its skyline in yellow neon; and the row of stores selling Cambodia’s ubiquitous wicker furniture; and the puppy, named, of all things, Dino, who wrote in the backwards-facing seat of the tuk-tuk Julia and I took home from dinner; and stopping on the moto ride to buy a liter of gas from an old glass Pepsi bottle; and the general overwhelming sensation of this insane mishmash clicking into place, something that changes Phnom Penh, and Cambodia, and Cambodians not at all, but me quite a bit.”
And this line: “And I / I am no passenger tonight / I watch the world from inside” is the perfect encapsulation of what you achieve on an ideal trip: you stop watching, and are part of whatever it is that you’re experiencing.
Of course, and this is one of my continual frustrations about solo travel, you can never quite explain to someone else what it is to be there. And for that feeling of slight isolation, you’ve got the lovely and sad “Flight 180”:
That repeated chorus, “If you feel like dancing / dance with me” is a lovely expression of universal desire. Of course, the song’s about travel only in so much as it’s set on a plane, but I think travel is a process during which a lot of us feel a bit lost, even when we’re on our way home.
In an effort to share and express what I can, though, there will be a fair bit of Cambodia culture-blogging here over the next couple of days, along with the regular menu of things. I’m so glad to be back with you guys.