So I’m sitting here in Vancouver International airport, drinking a decaf coffee and soaking in the serenity of what seems to be a cross between an airport shopping center and a 5-star spa retreat. The bubbling of a native-american themed fountain and the soft croonings of the latest Usher album are the only sounds to accompany the typing of my keys. What a nice change from the typical airport scene that usually interrupts your half-hearted 4 hour layover slumber with shockingly loud announcements about airport security regulations and every flight that isn’t yours, “now boarding.”
Here, everything is in both French and English. Getting off the plane, I overheard some Belgian businessmen discussing whether or not they should invite “la fille mignonne” (me) to join them on tomorrow’s boat ride they have planned here in British Columbia. Little do they know that a) I am continuing on to Hong Kong, and b) I understand French.
The peaceful ambience here, complete with a slow-moving aquarium and diaramas of indigenous peoples rowing down streams that meander under voluptuously carved bridges in their woodwork canoes, may be partially responsible for my remarkably low level of anxiety at the starting of my big adventure, but there also seems to be something internal that has transpired. This morning, I woke up feeling excited– not apprehensive or stressed as I thought I might. The hazy vision of my trip (which has at times appears to me in nightmares as a small, lost, anxious girl paralyzed with confusion and fear in the middle of an impersonal and bustling Chinese city– hot, lonely, and miserable) is now becoming clearer as I remember the seemingly difficult to grasp concept that in every place in the world there is familiarity and pockets of calm. To plant one’s feet on the ground of another country is very, well, grounding… it helps to dissipate the media-driven fear that “foreign” means “dangerous, unfriendly, and other.”
In fact, I remember feeling the very same way while spending a semester in Israel and Palestine: what may from the lens of Fox News or the New York Times appear as a war-torn battleground, replete with suicide bombers and desert explosions, is also a home to millions of regular people just like us. Who shop, who relax, who party, who have loving relationships.
So now, I am challenging myself to envision my trip one step at a time. Hong Kong is not ALL TERRIFYING ASIA!!!!!, rather it is Hong Kong, where I will eat dinners and explore neighborhoods, and shop in air conditioned buildings. Vietnam is not MOSQUITOS MALARIA OH MY!, but rather a place where I’ll rendez-vous with Adam and dwell in the abode of a generous couchsurfer named Steven, and see beautiful sights, eat cheap delicious food, and visit ancient temples. Though now, as I document this mental exercise, I can see myself slipping into the ever-so-alluring tourist trap– which allows one to exchange all the discomforts and political realities (colonialism.sexism.racism.disease.poverty.psychological trauma) for capitalist escape (voyeurism.exploitation.exotification.consumption.privilege.whiteguilt), I hope that I can find a balance– between tourist and victim of culture shock. And I hope to experience a deep sensation of unity through the equalizing vision of humanity that travel can yield if you keep your eyes open in the right way.