THE CONNECTION WE MAKE WHEN WE TRAVEL
TRAVELING GIVES ME A SORT OF STIMULATION I CAN’T FIND ELSEWHERE...
Traveling gives me a sort of stimulation I can’t find anywhere. I love to observe how people dress at the airports—in their business suits, hoodies and smart casuals. Some travel for work, others for pleasure. No matter where you meet these travelers during your courses of travel, chances are that you’ll never see them again even at the same place.
Nevertheless, for a moment, you mutually share with them a brief window of our existence. You might board or land in Paris, New York, Bangkok, or Beijing, but the location doesn’t really matter because all airports look nearly the same. It’s up to the travelers to make human connection if they so desire.
The Airport is a “non-place,” to which no one cares to feel belonging. A non-place is nobody’s own territory, but at times it serves to hatch an instantaneous bonding that lasts longer in our memory than the ones we create at “the place,” like our work-places or clubs. The non-place of an airport can be turned to the place when two strangers meet and get engaged in a brief moment of communication.
I LIKE THE SURGE OF EXCITEMENT THAT FLOWS THROUGH ME WHEN MY EYES CATCH SOMEONE.
There’s that moment of wonder: Who are they? Where are they going? What’s in their luggage? How many stamps have they collected on their passports? I check the hands. No wedding ring. I scan their face for an indication of age. Divorced? Single? Is their trip for fun, work, or something more complicated like finalizing a divorce or attending their mother’s funeral?
When I was 18, while I was sitting alone in an airport waiting for my flight, I kept glancing at a beautiful traveler because of her elegant appearance and dress. As I stood up to board my flight, she walked toward me and said: "You have the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen.” Then, she walked away. I never saw her again, but that her voice remains in my mind.
I once flew to Berlin, and, owing to a layover, I ended up finding myself at the airport bar chatting with a businesswoman. Her name is Pauline. We bonded quickly over a few drinks and similar taste for music. She wore an expensive dress and very high heel shoes. “I usually never talk to anyone when I travel but this, this is exciting.” She said as she was programing my email address onto her iPhone. We had great conversation and changed the “non-place” of the airport into our “place.” We said farewell and I left for my boarding. Pauline never emails me, but the thought that she—a stranger—and I share something similar has made me fulfilled for long. Isn’t it natural to many of us? Anytime we travel, we generally look for sharing something similar with people we meet.
Even in the days when smartphone can create the place out of a non-place for me anywhere, I would choose to ignore its company and turn my observation mode on. Yeah, with free wifi and amidst inundation of social media, hardly would anyone leave their eyes from the small screens where they are creating their place. While I could barely find any strangers to initiate a conversation, my urge for connection continues albeit shifting to only a pure observation.
ON THE PLANE, I SUNK INTO A DEEP THOUGHT
I thought about the other travelers I talked with in the past 24 hours. I thought about the street performer from Osaka who told me my horoscope. I thought about a woman who asked me to pray with her before her flight. I thought about a grad student on the way home to see her parents; about the 60-year-old female artist who told me that at 28 I would be in the prime of my life; and, about the engaged couple who were heading to Mexico City on a backpacking trip before their eloping. The non-place of airport became my place and lasting memories.
The experience of observing a dynamic movement of travelers, meeting strangers, and, waiting together to head off toward different destinations creates a feeling I long for outside the airport, if only could I find such human connection beyond the glass windows overlooking the incoming flights.