Home > Whatever > Travel is such a bore nowadays

Travel is such a bore nowadays

1243368354-sc-533My last two trips were, to my frustration, completely uneventful. Not that the destinations were to blame. One was Rio de Janeiro – Rio, for crying out loud. Where else can be exciting if that place is not? The other was Chicago. Navy Pier, one of its landmarks, is ranked among the top ten most popular destinations in the US. And Frank Lloyd Wright called it home.

I had five days in each town. I covered all recommended landmarks and attractions. I took dozens of good pictures – they would be my desktop background, one by one. I had good food. I even had some surreal moments when some local artists got on their feet and danced a near-erotic version of samba, or when I walked into a rundown jazz store hearing “dance me to the end of love.”

But at the end of the second trip, while lazing around the B14 waiting room in O’Hare airport, I felt so painfully bored and empty. Not even a scan through the taken pictures could chase away such feeling.

I had had high expectation of travel. My first foreign trip was at the age of 13. My Dad took me and my brother to Phnompenh, Cambodia, for a week. We were loaded onto a big old truck with some twenty Cambodian students, driven across the border along with an armored convoy of Vietnamese soldiers. It was in 1987. A person in charge was anxious to make sure we crossed the Nietluong ferry station at noon so as to make it to the capital before nightfall. Back then in Cambodia, with nightfall came nightmare – crossfire could break out from nowhere and last forever. We stayed near the Royal Palace. Our two-storey building had Cambodian and Vietnamese guards on duty 24/7. On the eve of the Lunar New Year, in the absence of fireworks, the guards fired up their AK-47 for some ten minutes for celebration.

Being 13, I knew nothing – from no knowledge of history to no sense of direction. But, being thrown into an environment where one had to solely rely on own eyes and ears to build up experience, I quickly learned to ask questions and look for answers. Fifteen years later, on my second trip to Phnompenh, I found my way to most of the places I had been, this time with no assistance. The city changed so much, but all the shock-and-awe feelings came back vividly. I still trembled in front of the Tuong Sleng prison walls.

My subsequent trips to other countries after Cambodia were never as clueless. I learned to make plans. I learned to get a tourist map on the arrival terminal, quickly read through the recommendations on the map, mark the places of interest, and check transportation options. Then I learned to buy second-hand Lonely Planet from the used bookstores. Many times, sitting in a random coffee shop at a random city corner, I looked around and found people reading the same guidebook, taking notes and writing journals. When our eyes met, those strangers and I nod in recognition as if we belonged to the same secret cult – the avid travelers. That was exciting in itself. I felt good.

Enter the Internet. The World Wide Web. The era of information flow. In recent years, planning a trip no longer requires much time and effort. Everything is there to look for (the phrase itself is an oxy-moron). We know intimately about a place long before we actually set foot on its soil. I can now visualize the subway maps of Bangkok, Singapore, Berlin, New York, and know which station to get off to get a cup of coffee (or a dose of aromatherapy massage in the case of Bangkok). The where-and-what-to-eat, where-and-what-to-see, where-and-how-to-sleep, or even where-and-how-to-meet-certain-people are nowadays so readily available at our fingertips that it has become increasingly challenging to find something we want to do that has no guide on the Web. There’re even the off-the-beaten-paths recommendations – just type in the phrase, or the alternative the-hidden-germs phrase, and we see hundreds of discussions about places no one thinks others know. The World Tourism Organization estimates that over 900 million people traveled to a foreign land in 2007. Always, some of those human beings manage to proudly announce their discovery on the Web.

In my meticulous preparation for the Rio trip, I followed a link to a YouTube clip featuring the aerial view of the city from the deck of the Christ the Redeemer statute. The clip was fantastic. When I got up to the deck a week later, it was a cloudy day. Part of the city disappeared. The other part looked blurry and lifeless. I look around the deck and saw my sentiment reflected on everyone’s face. It was not just that we had thought the scene would look fantastic. We HAD SEEN it looking fantastic. What a failure, our own experience.

The jazz music store I ventured into in Chicago (don’t even want to write down the exact name here – googling would sure take you there) boasts to be the most complete collector of all things jazz on the earth. The smell of the store made that statement believable. I asked the guy at the counter for an album of “the old man who originally sang Dance me to the end of love.” The guy looked puzzled. “What’s his name, you remember?” he asked. I said no, can’t. “Let me check,” he said. I thought he would dive right in the universe of old and new albums he had in the store and magically pull the requested one from a hidden corner. Instead, he stood right where he was, typing, frowning, and eventually looking up. “Ah, Leonard Cohen, Ma’am,” he sounded almost happy to give me that piece of information, “sorry we don’t have him here.” I said, I thought you found his name in your database, so you would have him, no? He said, no Ma’am, I checked the title on the Internet – you can order him online, Ma’am.

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Categories: Whatever
  1. grass
    26/05/2009 at 5:32 pm

    I have a weird habit: I refrain from reading too much about the place I will be and often enjoy the freshest and most original feelings from seeing something new. I do that with reading books, too. I don’t read comments before reading the original writings. I read about the places and the books later. Of course sometimes I have a bit of regret for not knowing and doing this and that. But the feelings is fun, almost like a child’s :))

  2. Giang
    24/06/2009 at 9:19 pm

    e cung co thoi quen la gan nhu khong tim hieu gi ve dia diem se du lich va khong len ke hoach ky luong… de cho “cuon theo chieu gio” xem the nao

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