“The more I think about it, the more travel tales seem like love stories.”
Twosocks was sipping his cup of Aceh Gayo with much fervor while I talked a mile a minute, as usual. That last sentence caught his attention, however. He put down his cup and asked me what I meant. So I told him this.
The best travel stories, the ones you remember, are always the one written from the heart. No matter how long or how brief, no matter how mundane or how exotic the locations are, you connect with how genuine the writers give meaning to their experience.
There are the summer flings of travel stories, the most common kind. A summer fling is almost always told in a light hearted way, like romantic comedies if you will. There might be a few mishaps here and there, but one would overlook personality flaws for that one or few magical romantic moments that would make a great snippet when retold many years after. The same goes for many travels. After all the saving and waiting to finally have a trip somewhere new, most travelers are determined to make the best out of the trip and try their best to develop a crush – or even fall in love – with the destination. And to be honest, a few days or weeks somewhere is not enough to reveal the many layers of a place that are not all pretty. So it’s fairly easy to revel in the newness of a place to then come back to one’s hometown with great pictures and enough colorful anecdotes to say, “I had the most amazing time!” or share stories about “that one time I was in Syracuse” with fondness in the years to come.
Here in Dusty Sneakers, we definitely write this kind the most. I don’t think we have ever found a place we do not like at all, but we have been refraining from commenting on less happy things we found along the way. We did not share that we got scammed by a tuktuk driver in Hanoi, the discomfort of being stripped by the eyes of strangers in the streets of Bangalore no matter how covered I was, or observations on just how patriarchal the culture in some places could be. Part of this is because we felt like we did not stay long enough to justify the observations and actually stating them out loud. But the main reason is because we usually fell in love with these places and decided to only keep the highlights in our mind. There is nothing wrong with the summer flings of travel stories, I told Twosocks. I just want to recognize them as they are.
Then there are the bittersweet kinds of travel stories. These are the ones that bring melancholy with them. The ex that you still couldn’t quite get over, the one that got away, that one night you keep playing over and over in your head, the love that once was. You know you are grateful to have them in your life, but you can’t bring yourself to tell these stories without a sharp painful pang in your gut. These are the kind of travels where conversations and revelations so personal take place so you can’t find the words to share them. Using metaphors is not quite right and reducing the magnanimity of the experience to another fleeting summer fling feels downright criminal. This is exactly why I could never bring myself to write about The Hague, the city I so love and has given me so much in return. This is why I found it harder and harder to write about my trips in Europe taken with people I had come to love and knew that I only had few moments like that with them left. This is why I have never written about Bangalore or Taipei, where I learned to own my femininity, sexuality, and heritage.
But you know what, when I think about these bittersweet love stories, I think Sondre Lerche got it just right. In his ever melancholic song ‘Minor Details’, which is also my ode to The Hague, he sang about all the details that seem so minute but are actually major in the way they represent all the unspeakable feelings and usher in the entire memory. It’s the breaking of the waves that were about to carry some place, a misty morning on the L train, the sun on the left, and the piano on the right. I told Twosocks, this is how I can honor my bittersweet travel stories, through all the major minor details. I could share pictures and a few words, much fewer than what we are used to writing here. Images don’t feel that personal to me, but words are my thoughts and feelings and they make me feel naked. But I want to, I have to share my bittersweet travel tales, because they too are love stories in my life and should be part of the memory vault that is The Dusty Sneakers.
Finally, there are the lifelong love stories. These are the sagas, the journey that never ends, the ones where commitment features as much as passion and companionship in the love being shared. This is like Before Midnight, the latest in Richard Linklater’s incredibly romantic Before series, in which the mystery of attraction and connection have given way to a long term marriage where the logistics and challenges of day-to-day togetherness can be ignored no more. These love stories are more difficult to tell, because it is a continuous journey that can never be told in its entirety. There is no end to this just yet. But these love stories are also, in a way, the most uplifting kind, because they are stories of deep, enduring love that most of us yearn in life.
This, to me, is definitely the kind of relationship I have with my hometown, Jakarta. In the Dusty Sneakers, we have written here and there about the joys the city could bring, but boy, it does take commitment to love this mall laden, heavily polluted, perennially jammed city. I fell out of love with Jakarta after I came back from The Hague because the pollution took its toll on my lungs, the in-your-face inequality hurts, and I have actually lived in a place where these don’t have to be the norm. It took some time to re-commit to a relationship with Jakarta and, like in any long term relationship, it requires work. I learned to dedicate some time to see Jakarta with a traveller’s eyes, using my summer-fling-tinted-glasses, if you will. Just like how married couple should never give up on date nights, Twosocks and I remind each other to explore the city. This has worked. I am now in love again with Jakarta, with all its glory and flaws. I told Twosocks that I want to write more about our Jakarta escapades here, because in the great travel stories of my life, Jakarta is the greatest of all because it is the one that I will take a lifetime working on.
Twosocks ordered another cup of coffee. The Aceh Gayo had gotten cold in the time it took me to tell him all the above. “You have to write this, Gypsytoes, and then go and share your bittersweet and lifelong travel love stories in the Dusty Sneakers.”
So I did. And I will.
Jakarta, 13 October 2013