Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Excerpts From Travel Journal

From February 4th to March 24th, I traveled via budget airlines and trains through Berlin, Paris, Madrid, Lisbon, Rome, Florence, Vienna, Salzburg, Hallstatt, Prague and Amsterdam. I saw other cities, mostly on day trips, but the ones I listed are where I stayed for at least a night.

It's been a while since I last posted, and I have reached that state of deep procrastination where I have convinced myself that the next post must be something big to make up for lost time, that it must relate everything that has happened in my life since September 2011. After a certain length of time, this self-assigned task becomes onerous; my mind shies away from it.

What I post now is from my travel journal.

Feb 15: Paris

Versailles. Such grandeur! A case study of how to take decoration to its extreme. But also serving a purpose: to impress subjects and visitors. Soft power in the age of kings. Question: why did it backfire?

Asian tourists are now richer than ever, but what a terrible brand of tourism!

Feb 17: Madrid Airport

Words fail me. Just images of Madrid: two old ladies speaking with R and eating chocolate churros, old men in leather, hideous prostitutes, gay waiter, bemused waitress with no English, epic views, sand, sun, blinding, garden, children, street performers in costume, huge legs of ham and a flamenco dancer, standing on his toes with arched back, drooping head and spread arms as if suspended.

Feb 24: Rome, MAXXI Museum

My body is changing. My face has grown darker and more gaunt.

White everywhere (here in MAXXI), the focus is on space and form. Similar to that suburban dystopia, but very different effect. If this place was dirty and stained, the starkness of design would amplify, not mitigate, its filth. Basic principle? Minimalist, abstract designs are heavily dependent on cleanliness, which implies either serene environment or diligent maintenance. If I am to develop a sense of style harmonious with my life, this is something to consider.

(The following is an excerpt from the annotations a physicist, John March Russell, made in an art book on display at MAXXI, Rome)

"I find it odd how we think of one object being older than another. Fundamentally all things are the same age--better, they have no age--it's only the rearrangement of something pre-existing that defines history and succession."


I am either lost or stuck in a rut. I prefer the former.

If there is something most American in me, it is that I hate to wait for waiters and barristas. Hurry up!

In the Italians I see Roman decadence but not Roman discipline.

Unspoken worry: I'll miss the "must-see's." What is a must-see? How many must-see's exist in the world? Is everyone who has not seen a certain # of must-see's somehow incomplete as a human?
Must see's are what a place is known for, but are they what truly reflect the essence of a place? And what do we define as Rome? We say we have been to Rome but we have only traced an infinitesimal path through a mostly 2D space enclosed in an area many people call Rome. Our infinitesimal path is expanded by the web of humans interacting with each other, through panoramas, culture, history and thought. Travel is not a spatiotemporal phenomenon only. It's a subjective act, like art, using the space of a place as its medium.

Feb 25: Rome, Trastevere

Italians less comfortable with prolonged eye contact than the French.

Balconies everywhere! Balconies facing balconies. High stakes game of catch possible. More space between buildings. Potted plants everywhere. Traveler as voyeur. I hate being in touristy areas because I feel like I'm being watched. Here, I feel like I vanish into the background.

(Now, sitting at Piazza Navona)

...for a moment, I imagined her by my side. All throughout my travels I've found places that were best experienced alone, and places that seemed designed to evoke loneliness in the lone.

One simple way to define good taste is: a resistance to gimmicks.

Most futile conversation topic for a group of tourists: where to eat.

Mar 4: Sienna

Just binged on gelato, pizza and pan forte. NEVER AGAIN. I feel awful.

Mar 6: Vienna

3 Euro coffee. I've not only crossed a geographic border into Austria, but also a socioeconomic one. Well dressed man smoking in this cafe, Lutz--is it cafe or cafeterria now? I'm all mixed up. I like this setting. Very warm, very modern. The key is lighting. No direct lighting; everything is either filtered by glass or scattered off of a white or brown surface.

This trip has ruined me. I've acquired a fondness for fine things. I have seen how good life can be when spent in idleness. I have realized how little I've seen, how much more the world can offer. I've experienced so many states of being that I hardly know who I am anymore, but at the same time, especially in recent days, my old preferences reassert themselves: reading, thinking, shyness. The core remains and perhaps is strengthened by being tested and probed on all sides, like skin that hardens after a blister.

Mar 10: Salzburg

Woman in white. Her auburn hair matches her bag and shoes.

Squat, fat man with a rough face. His cheeks and neck bulge out and fuse into one.

My sleep has not been restful. Damn hostel beds. Will take melatonin tonight.

March 11: Hallstatt

What does it say, that when I was for sure out of earshot of the nearest human, which had not occurred for as long as I remember, that the first thing I did was to cry, harder than I have my entire life?

(The following is an excerpt from an info sign in the old town)

"But why is it such Beauty is found only here, where there is hardly a stretch of flat land--apart from the Lahn--to be found? Where after an earthquake in 1808, even the alluvial soil of the Muehlbach sank into the water? Where in early winter the shadow of the Dachstein Massif lies over the valley and on certain days the sun disappears completely? Where one used to joke that there were only two forms of death here: drowning and being hit by a falling stone?"

How old am I?

Chronological age (from birth): 20
Bodily age: 30
Experiential age: 18
Temperamental age: 40
Preferred age of companion: 27
Intellectual age: 30
Educational age: 24
Social age: 12
Emotional age: 16

217/9 = 24.1

I am 24.1 years old.

March 14: Vienna

But in the end, not to take it so seriously. Careers are forged and fortunes are made out of our culture's insufficiency to deal with that uneasy feeling that things aren't as they should be. How much of my striving has been a liberation, and how much has simply been me being dragged ( mostly by myself) in chains?

Some places bloom for us, while others are unripe, waiting for us to reach a state of mind, a destination in our internal journey, before they show us their highest form.

Born simple, grow complicated, learn to be simple again. So a childish state is the goal, but a child is fragile, always vulnerable to any complicating factor that enters his life, whereas an old human has achieved stability. Unstable vs. Stable equilibrium and in the approx. 70 years between, a mess of chaos.


Americans are paradoxically more accepting of diversity and less at the same time. When I meet an American, he/she does not automatically assume I am foreign. He/she sees me as very much like him/her, assumes that we can talk freely and get along. So American friendliness and American tolerance go hand-in-hand. But it also makes Americans seem presumptious. To them one might say: "How dare you assume you know or even have a right to know who I am, which I share only with my true friends!" That is the German attitude. Which is not to say Germans are completely standoffish. It is only that they require either a process or a context (e.g. University) for another person to enter the Freundzone. Americans are also more insular and ignorant, so almost by default, they simply do not see the wide gulf between themselves and others. Here we see more paradoxes arise in their attitude towards other cultures. Tolerant of diversity, yes, but only of a kind of limited diversity that is essentially still American.

But I take for granted the privilege I've been given, to grow up Asian-American rather than Asian in Germany. For I am treated in America first as an American, with my differences "discovered" anew every time someone gets to know me. In Germany, I would always be viewed first as Asian, with my Germanness discovered instead.

It's in many ways easier not to be aware of racial issues, to suffer injustices unknowingly. Then it's like living with an ugly boil on one's nose, a fact of nature that one deals with. To be instead a member of the righteous minority is tiring. The entire world becomes a project, a cause, which one is either fighting for or neglecting.


(At Porgy and Bess, a jazz venue in Vienna)

The jazz crowd is younger, hipper than the opera crowd. They dress eccentrically, comfortably. Many of the women have short hair and many men, long hair. I could see them as college professors. The opera crowd I could see as diplomats, state officials. Deep rich red. Very strong, easy way to create sensuality and deep relaxation, but also all to easily slips into hellishness. Red is a strong, dangerous color.

When you're with company, the atmosphere of a place colors your conversation. When you're alone, it colors your thoughts.

March 17: Prague

An idea: take oft-repeated maxims that seem to contradict each other and show how they are particular ways of describing a deeper truth--that is, reconcile them.

Thoreau: travel at home; it's just as good
Travelers: there's nothing like traveling the world, makes you a better person

Disillusioned academics: Academia is awful, get out while you can
Everyone ever: Follow your passion!

City: Dressing well is important
Some people: Fashion is a waste of money and time

Perhaps what I'm looking for, the insight that will change me, is not a thought, idea, philosophy, feeling or action, but the absence of certain of the aforementioned. Then the idea is simplicity, but how? and what? or I look for just the right way to neutralize a toxic idea that has taken root.

(No more entries.)

1 comment:

  1. you must know the question that remains at the end of reading all this...
    who is she?