Why I Travel the Way I Travel


  • I travel alone most of the time. Being alone gives me the space to discover things at my own speed. It gives me the freedom to do what I want. Don’t get me wrong, I also travel with other people but the experiences would not be the same. I find everything more intense when I am alone on the road.

Me taking photos in Jerusalem, 2014.

 

  • I buy a book (mostly a novel in English) whenever I am in another country. This allows me to roam endlessly in different bookstores to enjoy the atmosphere and to see what kind of books local people read. Last purchase was in St. Louis, USA, January 2015: Best American Short Stories 2014. Quite a good read.

  • I send postcards to my family, friends and myself. In most cases I send them just before I have to leave because I want to recapitulate and summarize everything in a few sentences.
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My parents’ fridge with some of the postcards sent by me and my sister when we are on the road.

  • I learn the basics of the language spoken in the country that I visit: this gives me the chance to talk to locals. One of the best parts of an adventure in another country! Tip: YouTube is a very good source.

  • I take a picture of an apple with the visited place in the background: it gives me the feeling that NYC is always with me wherever I go.
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Big apple with Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco 2013.

  • I don’t have a plan when I travel: having plans will not allow me to enjoy randomness which I love every much. In fact, it’s randomness that makes a journey more interesting.
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Why sticking to a plan when you can roam aimlessly? Like this stray dog in Addis Ababa, 2013.

 

  • I walk most of the time: walking is the best way for me to discover a foreign place. Period.

    Just me and the road. Well, almost. Kyoto, 2010.

    What about you, fellow travelers? Any special behaviours when you are on the road?

Lost and Found


Hi,

I hope life has been treating you well. Okay, probably not because you are in high school now and I know you are going through a hard time because you are still in that small town in East Germany. I know you hate it. I know some of your classmates are using you and you let them use you because you just want to fit in. I know some of them are making fun of you just because you are different. I know you are a little bit lost.

I just met a girl. She was like you. A loner. She reminds me of you. I know you can’t hear me now and I know I can’t help you because you can’t read the lines that I am writing right now. But I hope they might help other boys and girls who are going through the same thing. I know it’s easier said than done but you gotta do your best. Promise me you will.

  • Don’t let other people’s voices drown out your own. Especially your Asian parents’ voices. You know they care about you but their thinking is from the past. If you like languages and want to study American literature, then do it. Your parents might think it’s rubbish but you can prove them wrong. I know it’s hard to do this but you have to stay strong and have faith in what you do. Find your own path. I repeat: Find.Your.Own. Path.
  • Be proud of yourself. Don’t hide who you are. You are you and you are awesome. If you like reading books (mangas are books too!) all of the time, then do it. Don’t be afraid of other people’s reaction. If you like getting good marks just because you are ambitious and just want to fulfill your dreams while your classmates just want to get drunk and do ‘fun’ stuff, then do it. Seriously, you might have noticed that some of your classmates are just a bunch of losers. They are not worth your attention.
  • Dream lots of dreams and have the courage to fulfill your dreams. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do. Never. Period.

That’s a lot, huh? Hey, I know you are gonna have some doubts. Oh you will be so doubtful and insecure so many times in your life. For example, when you think that you are not good enough for that scholarship. Or when you just end your non relationship -relationship because, well, it is too early and too late at the same time. Or when you apply for jobs and don’t get invited to interviews. Or when your friends start getting married and having kids. But in the end it’s your happiness and you have to define it yourself. I’m sure you will make it because I wouldn’t have been the person I’m today if you hadn’t made it. You have done a good job of loving me and embracing all my rough edges.

Keep swimming, will ya?

Me.

PS. I’m in Berlin now, thinking about my next trip to the US and Canada with two of my bunnies ( it’s not what you think!). I did get that scholarship that you are thinking about. I have been to a lot of other countries, went to graduate school in funf**kingtastic NYC* (Oh don’t get me started why it’s awesome!),  worked in Tokyo (awesome!) and Indonesia (awesome!). I am now planning my next move (pssst). Of course it is not always a bed of roses but I can safely say that I am leading a happy and privileged life. Thanks for believing in me.

* Yes, I know you want Ireland because your love for Oscar Wilde but somehow it turns out to be NYC!

Ode to Paris 2


Dear Paris,

Morning came and the sound of the AC woke me up. It was 7 am. Perfect. I surprised myself by getting out of bed without regret and hesitation. I felt new. I was ready for another round of randomness, spontaneity and coincidence. The events of last night somehow encouraged me to set out for another walk after work even though my feet hurt like hell. I couldn’t resist because it was you, for crying out loud ! And I am crazy and stupid (no camera !) and stubborn enough to succumb to my conventional unconventionalism. My plan was quite simple: I wanted to learn as much as I possibly can by simply focusing on three activities.

None of these plans worked out. Let me explain to you why:

1. Getting invited to one of Mr. Heynes‘ famous dinners.
The fact that they take place on Sundays somehow slipped my mind. Silly me.

2. Finding the hotel where my family and I once stayed when we visited you.

Yes, you heard right. We did meet. Our first encounter was 18 years ago. I told myself to stay in the present and…here I am…digging up the past. Now please excuse me for my tendency to make references to films but it sounds like an encounter with a long-lost love, straight from the script of Before Sunset or even The Notebook.(Again with writers as protagonists! Why do these things always happen to writers??)
The biggest difference is that I was a kid when I met you and I don’t remember much of our first meeting, only fractions: Me eating my first baguette (it was delicious even for someone like me who doesn’t care much about food!). Us visiting the Eiffel Tower (very windy!). My sister and I jumping like crazy on the bed ( it was fun!) of that Vietnamese-run hotel somewhere in one of your Chinese neighborhoods.

We spent almost two weeks there before heading off to Germany to start a new life.

The strange thing about this is that everything seems to happen too fast and I somehow feel like it was only, well, not yesterday, but a few years ago. A few years became 18 years. 18 years became a new life. They are long enough to make it impossible for me to find the hotel. As I walked around the 13th arrondissement, admiring the convergence of modernity and tradition of the area, I couldn’t help but think about Manhattan’s Chinatown. I checked out every building, searching for familiarity among strangeness, hoping for a sudden clue but none of them appeared right in my eyes. I knew it was there but I couldn’t quite put a finger on it. My search ended when the sun disappeared from the horizon. I left the neighborhood with a lingering feeling.

3. Visiting the graves of Édith Piaf, Gertrude Stein, Molière and Oscar Wilde (don’t worry, I won’t kiss his tomb) at  your famed Père Lachaise Cemetery.

The path to your largest cemetery was a quiet and relaxing one in contrast to the busy roads of the 13th arrondissement. As I walked your cobblestone streets and stood in front of the entrance I finally realized that luck was definitely not on my side this time.

Oh forgetfulness, how you ruined me.

It was a comical moment to stand there realizing I had no one to blame but myself for not looking up the opening hours. Even the dead need a break. Randomness showed its ugly side. I took the train home, disappointment and sullenness following me. Bravado left me all of a sudden. But as with many things in life, you can’t always have a happy ending.

The next morning came to soon. As I took the train from Champs-Élysées to Charles de Gaulle airport you decided to show me another side of yours. It was a short tour but I saw the contrasts nonetheless. As I sat by the window, I noticed the colorless housing blocks standing next to each other. Only five stops (ca. 20 minutes) away from all the luxury and wealth, from the majestic buildings that have made you you. A scene I used to know from  Berlin’s districts Marzahn and Hohenschönhausen.

As the plane took me away from your very heart, I felt closer to you.

My friends would ask what I have seen and laugh at me for ignoring all the landmarks but I don’t mind because I saw the wonderful complexity that is you.

I will be missing you until then.

Ps. Tell Celine I almost missed that plane!