The Sweet Sorrow of Travel

I am spending this week in the US to attend some planning and strategy workshops — which means being caught in the no man’s land of business travel. For me, travel (for business or pleasure) is both exciting and frightening — no matter which country that I visit. It is something to do with the crossing of borders — of leaving one’s homeland and venturing into the world of another — for whenever I leave my country, I am also leaving my "self". It makes me wonder who I will find/arrive as, at my destination.

And whenever I travel, I am always, always reminded of Helene Cixous’ beautiful writing on borders:

When I cross a border, it’s my border I’m crossing, though I don’t know which one I’m crossing or which side I end up on. This is the charm of crossing the border. It is also what can constitute its distressing side: Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing, p 130.

The "distressing side" was never more clear to me than when I first visited Beijing, for while I had done some travel in Asia and visited the USA many times, it was my first visit to China which made me realise the true nature of borders — and the fact that they are not porous, but resolute. And while they exist only in our imaginations, or as dotted lines on maps, they also signal completely different ways of looking at, engaging with, and being in the world. Borders are ideas made concrete.

And understanding this makes me a much more curious passenger. It makes me more observant of those passing through. It makes me wonder about the stories carried within and around my fellow travellers. And it makes me aware of the fine tension that we all share enroute — caught in the out-of-placeness of airports.

So while I was sitting in the lounge waiting to board the plane, observing, I could also hear some gentle notes being picked out on an instrument. Over in the corner was a group of musicians, and one of them was plucking out a melody on a uke. To my surprise, I found it very relaxing. Soothing. And when I Twittered something about this, Brent Dixon responded with a link to Jake Shimabukuro’s rendition of While My Guitar Gently Weeps. And while I didn’t see it until I arrived, it was worth the wait. Amazing.

Goes to show that some things cross borders seamlessly — data, ideas, money. But for me? I hold my breath with every crossing.

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