Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Another Day, Another Airport

The rocking of the train, the humming of the plane engines; sometimes I think the traveling is my favorite part - when you have already left but have not yet arrived, when you are still free to comtemplate where you are coming from, where you are going, what you've left behind, where you're heading.

Those few minutes or hours when none of it is real yet or anymore, when only you connect the dots in preparation for what is to come, with memories of what has transpired, or not at all.

At JFK airport in New York, I would go to the same spot every time -- a specific chair in a specific cafe. I have no idea what the place is called, but I'm pretty sure I could navigate my way there blindfolded. When I lived in New York, it was part of my travel ritual: check in, go through security as calmly as possible, head directly to my fabricated oasis amidst the chaos for a cup of overbrewed, poor quality chammomile tea. Somehow my chair was never occupied when I got there. I would order my tea from the same aggravated waittress, sit for as long as I could, watching the world swirl around me -- take off, land, transfer -- and write about nothing, about sitting in that same chair. "Here I am again" I would start.

Here I am again. In another airport, heading for yet another completely new experience. Mother India as they call her. It makes me wonder what they would call Israel: the cousin with problems nobody wants to talk about?

I am flying in to Kochin where I will be staying at an organic farm, learning the art of vegetarian and Ayurvedic cooking, tea growing and other regional customs. That is the only plan I have made so far for the next five weeks as the one thing I've been taught again and again on this trip is that everything is constantly changing -- from my moods to my options, nothing stays the same for long.

For the past 6 days, I have been hiding out in an ivory tower, regrouping behind fortified walls of luxury and massages, practicing yoga, making up for the meals I missed the week before. I did no sightseeing in Bangkok as I will be meeting D here in five weeks and we plan to do all of that then.

What was interesting, was how naturally I found me way on public transportation. I am a city girl after all and navigating a subway system seems ingrained in me, even in places I have never been before. In that way, Hong Kong, Bangkok, London, New York -- as long as the line you're on is the right color, you'll get there eventually.

Besides, after a venture as a passenger in a suicidal tuktuk, a cab ride with a maniacal, pill popping cab driver, and the lines of never-ending traffic, I have to say that in Bangkok, the Sky Train really is the best option by far.

I am tired. I am homesick. And I am ready to move forward, discover what's next as this journey continues to reveal itself. I have to admit that my very foundations have been shaken. There is nothing to hold on to out here, no safe option, nothing familiar to take refuge in. I watch as memories create themselves, knowing what will stick in my mind as events are taking place. It's a strange feeling: to remember in the present, to constantly think "I'll never forget this moment" as it is happening.

There are so many ways to travel, I realize now. As I planned the trip, it was all about what I would see -- the famous sites, the places so beautifully described in the guide books and on countless Internet sites. Now that I have been here for a little while, however, I do not want to explore yet another temple.

I am a nomad at the very core of my being. I don't need to buy the t-shirt and I can virtually guarantee that the mug will break in my bag. I am not interested in bargaining yet another street vendor down. What I seek is more difficult to describe and sometimes I think I could just as well have sought the same things back home -- in fact I probably do.

Because it's not sites but rather experiences that I am after, the moments that will change me, even just a little bit, forever.

A conversation, a song, a piece of food given to me by the person who cooked it, a connection that will teach me something about my self that I may or may not have known deep down. Maybe some of those are hidden in the incense coils of temples or under the flies in the market stalls. Maybe I'll find some in the person seated next to me on the plane; at the check in desk of my next guest house. I don't know what I'm looking for, only that I am -- looking, searching for something. Of course there are glimpses of it, like lightning bolts sending electric shocks up and down my spine, prying my eyes wide open, making me want to sing at the top of my lungs, and dance.

Like I did on Koh Pan Ngan after my first massage a hundred years ago -- or four weeks. As J, K and I descended the stairs onto the beach, a sticky, silky trio, a group of young Thai men started playing what sounded like a sitar, shaking their maracas and singing at a table above us. I knotted my tie-dyed green sarong around my neck and started to dance, skipping lightly down the sand as I whirled around, holding hands with my new friends. We laughed and waved at the guys who sang louder in encouragement. Over the ocean, the sun was slowly setting, colouring the water a silvery shade of blue and making our bodies glow from the oil.

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