A weekly digest of varied conversational musings on day-to-day life, society & whatever the world throws our way.

Posts tagged ‘Travel’

Cityscape

Okay. I know that it’s been all quiet on The Y Variable front as of late. I have a decently good excuse though for my silence on the blog. I was on work-related travel, so it was an intense few weeks, meaning many things outside of that sphere may have slipped. I hope I will be forgiven. 🙂

But I’m back now and in a decidedly reflective mood after having had the opportunity to get away, especially after months of a seemingly endless Canadian winter that is far from abating. The trip was an opportunity to get a sneak peak at the spring that currently eludes us and to revel in my temporary life in some other cities. In my other existence, I was becoming proficient in ‘big city’ life, navigating trains, the metro and the Underground like a pro – well, trying my best anyway to fit seamlessly with the locals – and luxuriating in the energy one finds in the ebb and flow of crowds that I ordinarily disdain. For some reason, crowds ‘elsewhere’ are welcome, more interesting, meriting a longer gaze, and more analysis from my foreign eyes.

One of the more interesting aspects of travel is seeing how other societies construct their cities. The shape of a city – its roads, buildings, walkways and pathways – all signal what a people consider essential to their way of life. The shape of a city – both its physical and cultural sides – also demonstrates that society’s core values. Is it a biking city – with plenty of bike lanes or bikes for rent? Is it a driving city or a city where metro is paramount? Are there are as many recycling bins as garbage bins? Is the cultural scene vibrant – with festivals galore and access at one’s fingertips to theatre, galleries, or street art? All of these characteristics drive how citizens will design their own lives and creates a remarkable push/pull effect. A city’s form will attract some, creating a unique devotion to that location, but will deter others, causing them to pick up and leave for a locale more in line with their personal philosophies or individual drumbeats.

I always enjoy a good walk in a new city. There’s a particular joy that comes from exploring an unknown place; where being a little bit or very lost is more than okay because what you may find around the corner could be better than anything you may have planned or set out to see. On those walks, especially when on my own, I imagine what it would be like to live in that city that I’m coming to love even more. Am I seeing only a veneer? Do the tourist goggles cloud my vision? Perhaps life in that city isn’t as great as it may be in my mind’s eye? I doubt it, however.

Of course, an escape to another city, whether for business or for relaxation, must always come to an end. The passport has to come out again, that marker of otherness, permitted officially to visit, but signalling that your stay is only temporary and that you don’t fully belong.

On my return to a home still covered with ice and snow I try my best to carry that ‘travel status’ life with me and integrate those things I loved in my life here. And as the snow falls and as I hear neighbours shovelling their driveways for the umpteenth time this season, I think of my time away and the pleasure I found being elsewhere.

Signing off,

Y.

Travelogue -Part II

AirplaneI’m writing this post over what is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada. I’m now several weeks into my trip to Asia and I’m feeling overwhelmingly grateful for the experience. So many people would love to be in my shoes – to have an opportunity to experience different cultures, to get on a plane and within hours be in a new time zone, to change their world view.

Some people will never have a chance to leave their country, let alone their city or even the ten block radius of their home, while I get to visit several places on a different continent. It’s easy to take world travel for granted, especially if you’ve grown accustomed to it. Boarding a plane, staying in a hotel – after a while it can seem mundane, even commonplace. On this trip, I’ve tried to remember how I felt the first time I travelled – the sheen of glamour in packing a suitcase, the trepidation during take-off and landing, even the alertness I exhibited decades ago during the flight attendants’ safety demonstration.

So, amongst all of the other things for which I’m grateful, this opportunity, this month in Asia is certainly high on the list. So too is the great hotel bed – there’s nothing like a good night sleep when one is on the road!

Signing off,

Y.

Travelogue – Part I

AirplaneAlthough we’re no longer in the heyday of glamorous international air travel – given increased security concerns and the tightened belts of nearly all airlines – I still get excited about the prospect of packing my luggage and boarding a plane to visit a far flung location somewhere in the world. I look forward to seeing and learning new things, to having my perspective challenged and perhaps altered, and to change the mode in which I live my day to day life. Mixed in with this excitement too is a bit of trepidation, as I always wonder how I will be received, especially when visiting a place in the world where I will clearly be the “other”.

I recall visiting Asia as a teenager with my mother and brothers at a time when my dad was working and living in Asia – dividing his time between Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia while my family stayed behind in Canada. It was a big trip for us as we had never really vacationed per se as a family. Summer vacations between new and old school years mostly consisted of seemingly eternal days outdoors with neighbourhood friends or long day trips in the car where my brothers and I would make up backseat games to while the time away. But this year was special and different and it was a vacation extravaganza: first a stopover in California to go to Disneyland and Universal Studios and to tour Los Angeles a bit and finally the long plane ride to our first of three stopovers: Jakarta, Indonesia – a place I’d had only heard of on the news.

Our “otherness” – so obvious to each of us both on the plane and in the airport – was again made “known” to us by individuals working in the airport who asked us where we were from as we made our way to claim our luggage. The questions, the looks, the stares – perhaps a better description of their gazes – were never malicious, but came from sheer curiosity. Our difference was unique. We weren’t white foreigners – they had seen those often before. We were African, black, and clearly far from home.

Some of the clearest memories I have from this several week tour of Asia are the various instances where people just looked at me. They looked at the braids in my hair – one couple came and stood directly behind me to stare intently  – fascinated by the intricacy of and multitude of braids in my hair. Were they wondering how I did it? Were they comparing me to black people they had seen in movies or on television? I’ll never know because they didn’t speak to me directly. The gaze was usually distant. Sometimes a hint of a smile crept up on a face; sometimes a finger raised to point. I remember that we were never invisible or inconspicuous there. There was no hiding or blending in. We were a five member troop of “others” marching to a different beat.

As I make my way to Asia again, seated in a plane a mere hours away from my destination, I wonder: what will await me this time?

Signing off,

Y.