Forget over-hyped H1N1… Lately I have been suffering from something far more severe. My need for travel has risen again, and it should be noted, we are talking to a degree of epic proportions. I am a chronic sufferer of this condition. I would say I have wanderlust mostly just for the opportunity to be subtly prurient and slip lust in here, but truthfully the etymology of the word doesn’t fit for me. It comes from the German, wandem, which means to hike; and lust, which means to desire. I do not actually desire to hike. More accurately described, I have fernweh – an ache for the distance. Semantics aside – I need to take a trip.
I am not sure what actually brought this on, but there have been a few things I know contributed. First, I have taken two completely, stupidly abbreviated trips home in the past few months. While a seemingly good idea at the time, both excursions only served to remind me that I have not had a real vacation in way too fucking long. Next, two very cool people that I have the good fortune to have in my orbit, recently embarked on two vastly different but equally inspiring journeys. One chose to move herself and her life to the other side of the world (and the other side of the HDI, frankly) for the opportunity to see something new and pursue a passion. The other, after losing his job, opted not to freak out, but instead to break out and headed for Europe with an open mind and an open heart. In both cases I feel tremendously proud to know these people, and benevolently envious.
Possibly even more influential than all of the above is that I have recently been exposed, through a multitude of situations, to a bunch of people suffering from Good Will Hunting Syndrome (GWHS). Not familiar with this malady? Let me explain it to you: This is mental condition whereby people of a generally pretentious nature (though as I have, on occasion, been accused of having a bit of attitude in this vein, we will not allow it to dominate the diagnostics) wax on (semi) poetically about why they want to travel and where. These people are undoubtedly well versed in the cultural nuances of places far and wide. They speak longingly of the cuisine, the music, the experience. To listen can be intoxicating. They cast aspersions at the more provincial people that surround them for being lowbrow and limited and unable to see the vastness of the world around them. Further, the sufferers of GWHS often accuse those around them of having no interest in the world beyond their daily experience. They pontificate on the features and benefits of different kinds of travel, they know all “the” places to go. They discuss all this in earnest over a cold PBR in designer denim and hipster t-shirts (or perhaps even an appropriate logo T like Beer Lao or Chang.) They are tortured by the limits of their circumstances, but man, they know what they would do – and so it goes. You can generally accurately diagnose a sufferer of GWHS from one of three main symptoms:
- When innocently asked why they don’t actually go to these far off places and DO these amazing things, they have an instant reason (generally to do with the constraints of a job or intellectual pursuit that you just wouldn’t understand.)
- They always have strangely specific knowledge of something that, even if you have been to the place they are discussing, you find yourself going… “Wow, how did I miss that?” [This oddity can generally be found listed in the “Off the beaten track” section of the Lonely Planet Travel Guides.]
- Finally they often make a small (yet discernible to the true sufferer of fernweh) gaffe, like a misplaced quote, locale, or dish that indicates that their real peregrinations have been of the imaginary variety designed to up their cool factor and disparage others. My current favorite is the notion of pad thai being so very representatively ethnic. People who have been to Thailand know where you get good pad thai – on the street in the Koh Sahn area – and only the touristas are eating it, btw. (Feel free to insert random Indian dish best served in London not India here as well.)
I have also recently been going through all of my travel photos from the last four-plus years in an effort to help a friend of mine put together a slide show for his cultural geography class. So I have revisited Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bali, Malaysian Borneo, China, Macau. Cities and the country, people and cuisine, strangers I met and strangers I only watched from far away. Heartbreaking beauty and frightening devastation. Sunsets on the Indian Ocean, sunrise over the Chinese interior. I have been lucky – but I want more.
On top of all of this, I have been watching many of my friends in Hong Kong embark on all sorts of new adventures and I feel ready. I usually choose my destinations based on available time, because there are some places I just know will require a certain kind of chrono-commitment. I have also spent most of the last few years exploring Asia because, well because I live in Asia. At the moment the top choices for the next stop are Northern India or the Iberian Peninsula. My desire to explore South America is so huge it is tangible… but I think I may save that for when I am back in the Western Hemisphere.
So… Ladakh? Leh? Barcelona? Andalucia? When I first landed in Asia I had intended to go to Spain. I did not get lost on the way, I am a geographer after all… I was redirected. At the time I was listening over and over to a song by Kristy MacColl called Bad. The words still resonate with me just as much as they did in that summer of discontent.
I want a brief encounter in a stolen car
A hand on my buttock in a Spanish bar
I want to meet the man who wants to go too far
For a token of my affection
I want to taste excitement, smell the danger
Get swept off my feet by the perfect stranger
I want to try something that I’ve never had
Oh look out world I’m about to be bad
I am considering taking some unpaid leave in order to accomplish all of the above if I need to. At the moment I am sort of hanging in the balance, waiting on a couple of things to become more apparent, but rest assured I do not suffer from GWHS and I will be out there soon. Very soon.
And to all of you GWHS sufferers? Quit talking… start walking… I love brainz as much as the next person, but your intellectual largess will never compensate alone for your limited life.