Traveling in circles
A rambling by Melinda Lau,
August 1999

I was getting rather well acquainted with insanity, I was sure of it.

A month and a half since the start of summer and I was suffering acute cabin fever. I was ready to hijack the next bus of tourists that rolled into the city, demanding they take me back with them. I didn't care where, really, just get me out of here ... away from the bottled water-drinking, health club-going, gourmet coffee-sipping, bread-garden eating, briefcase-toting, commuting minions of the city in which I live. I was surrounded by yuppies with nowhere to go.

I had various reasons for staying where I was for the summer, all of them sensible and practical, but despite the iron grip with which common sense held me, I longed to travel. Wanderlust had hit me hard over the spring and had developed into something akin to prolonged agony over the summer. The gypsy in me had stuck a match in my shoe and had set it ablaze without further ado. I was itching, or rather, burning to get out of the city.

I don't know what it is that makes me want to travel, what it is that causes me to crave the lure of the road, of making myself less foreign to people and places (as opposed to my merely visiting a foreign place and people). Whatever it is, there is something altogether alluring about falling asleep to the sound of crickets in the rainforest, or walking the crowded streets of a bustling night market.

I bore this well in mind, knowing that one friend had gone to Australia, another to the east of the country and yet one more had gone to Turkey. All the while, I sat at home getting post cards from them, thinking of delivering Molotov cocktails to their respective houses.

This was getting decidedly serious. Maybe I like to torture myself, but I pored over maps, read travel magazines and nearly made myself sick looking at pictures from trips to Italy, Greece, France and bits of Asia.This was hardly a cathartic experience, but I knew how entirely I wanted to elsewhere, exploring the sprawl of old cities, traipsing around ruins and eating really, really great food!

The lack of change in my situation was unfortunate; however, this doesn't end badly -- even if I haven't yet gotten out of the city. Inspiration seems to come of longing, and I've been thinking and appreciating where I've had the opportunity to go over the years. It never occurred how much a part of me the people and places I'd seen were and how much I relished the influence of things outside of my own North American culture. I realised that in my neurosis, or at least in the time I've had to think, I'd effectively been going somewhere without travelling.

I miss my nights in Southeast Asia, but mostly in the physical sense. The spirit of the atmosphere stays with me always. The warm perfumed air with only the faintest stirring of an evening's cool breeze, the occasional bark of a dog, and the calm without the stillness. Then, over across the city, from the mosque in the distance, the cry of the muezzin rises from the height of the minarets. Archaic, unspeakably beautiful, timeless. It echoes through the city and rises up towards the stars, travelling beyond the reach of wanderlust.

[ by Melinda Lau ]