Stopping by the side of the road and driving into the forest. Playing Bon Iver and this song. Lying on the hood of my car and looking up at the stars.
Driving through the Deschutes National Forest by myself during a snowstorm, putting my hand out the window to feel the freezing night air and smiling the whole way through.
Stay with me as we wind through eucalyptus trees. The wind’s in your hair, and we’re leaving it all behind. We’ll call these mountains home as we’re sleeping under stars…the color of your soul and mine are the same.
There’s nothing like biking down the Seine at sunset on your own. Headphones on, the city of light comes to life. At every turn a sparkling glow breathes life into the streets where Parisians walk, unaware of the magic in their sky. For the first time, I’m my own again.
It’s brightly lit in my bedroom, where I’m sitting and writing out my latest blog entry from under the throes of a pretty severe cold I contracted on the flight back to San Francisco from Shanghai. It’s strange to think about how just a few days ago, I was in Shanghai at TianZiFang, having pizza and applying deet to avoid mosquitos. Even more recently, I bought my last Costa Coffee at the Beijing airport before boarding my final flight that would take me back home.
The only visible remnants of my trip are my pretty solid suntan from Ko Phi Phi, and now the cold I brought back on the plane ride. When I got back to the city, I became overwhelmed with how “white” everything seemed. People everywhere were speaking English, and (surprise), I got service with an actual smile at the arrivals counter in the SFO airport. Getting on BART was shocking. The transportation system seemed so inadequate, small-town, and quaint compared to the metro systems of Shanghai and Hong Kong. A voice with a southern drawl and bored tone announced each and every BART stop we were approaching. I had grown accustomed to hearing electronic voices and seeing blinking lights announce stops in Shanghai. “Now approaching, South Shanxi Road.” “The next stop is XinTianDi.” “Please mind your belongings.” All this had changed into: “Neeext stahhp, Col-muh. Col-muh stay-shin.”
San Francisco seemed like a quiet, deserted little town compared to the buzz and immense energy that is Shanghai. When I arrived in San Francisco, I noticed how broad the streets were, and how few people and cars were on the streets. There were no gargantuan marquees with television blaring from the buildings…no bikers, no pedestrians, and no cars trying to run everyone over. After being on a 12 hour flight, I immediately wanted a massage. I was tempted to walk over to the Jin Healing for Women massage center near my house, and tell them in mandarin, “Give it to me for $15. I know how you people work. Don’t shit me – I just got back from China. $55 is way too much.” I felt somewhat sad knowing that this tactic would probably result in failure.
Today, missing the tastes of Shanghai and hoping to clear my sinuses with a little Sichuan food, I drove my near bedridden self to Sichuan Home in the Outer Richmond district, a few blocks from my apartment. I ordered the ShuiZuYu, or hot chili oil fish, and found it to be a bit of a disappointment compared to similar dishes I’d had in Shanghai. Guess I’ll have to get my spicy fix next time.
Upon return, however, I’ve delighted in familiar conveniences I’d been without for two months: fresh produce, well stocked and easy-to-navigate supermarkets, home cooked meals, yummy avocados, readily available medicines and an extremely comfortable bed.
Not to mention, my beautiful girlfriend whom I’ve missed so much. It’s so nice to be able to fall asleep next to her every night again.
With that, I leave you with a song that reminds me of vacationing and exploration – a song I heard while being whisked away in my father’s car to a Halal restaurant in Shanghai.
7 days ago, I was on a flight headed for Ho Chi Minh City. “Headed for” are the key words here. What I was really doing at the time, and what I was unaware that I was doing, was that I was headed on a flight to Beijing where I would miss my connection to Ho Chi Minh city and have to spend the night all by myself with a stranger in a less than delightful hotel room in a less than delightful city.
The time between leaving San Francisco and arriving in Ho Chi Minh city was spent completely alone, since Tracy was on a different flight. I found myself idling away hours in the airport, walking through dozens of duty-free shops, bookstores and travel stores. I purchased a simple alarm clock, a small container of hand sanitizer, and a few pens so that I could write whenever I felt the urge to share something with someone. I thought about the title of the popular travel guide series “Lonely Planet,” and decided that it was aptly named. As I made my way slowly to my gate and noticed the travelers streaming past me, I felt an incredible sense of loneliness, but simultaneously, a strong sense of lightness and freedom. Having left my devices at home, with nothing to entertain me other than reading the manual for my cheap travel clock or scribbling down my thoughts in the notepad I’d purchased, it dawned on me that there was no way for anyone to reach me, and that I was in an airport alone, flying to a foreign country alone. I watched as families and couples walked past me, many of them excited about the trips they were about to take, scurrying around in a frenzy to reach their gates on time.
Most of the time, I am well aware that it can be lonely on this planet we live on. For anyone who has ever felt alone in a crowded room, I am sure that it is easy to relate. Traveling alone brings this awareness to a whole new level. Stripped of the distractions and the people we depend upon to quell this feeling of loneliness, we become completely aware of the artifice of the constructions we have made around our lives, and how easy it would be to destroy those constructions and build new ones. The lightness is all at once freeing and unbearable.
Richard Bach once said, “Every person, all the events of your life, are there because you have drawn them there. What you choose to do with them is up to you.” As I wandered by the shops and restaurants, I became increasingly aware of the truth in this statement.
A few foreigners standing in front of me in line at a Starbucks attempted to order a coffee in broken English. I walked to my gate, sat down, pulled out a book and began to read.
25 Semi-productive and pleasurable Things to do during a five hour layover (without a computer, wireless access, a phone, sleeping in compromising positions, or reading trashy magazines.)