Bhutan / Journey / Memoir

Introduction to the Awe-Moments

Travelling has to do much with the subjective. The desire to live through one’s experiences and in one’s journey. Paula said this very well in her post (A New Kind of Color), where she says that the attempt of writing our travels will fail because the stories are always changing and re-interpretations are always needed. I couldn’t agree more, especially because we are constantly selecting memories and emotions over others and while some will come to stay to shape our stories others may be lost. In this selective process, pictures are crucial (as a form of material culture) as they recollect emotional-pieces of the puzzle and shape our understanding of the picture-story. This is also why the timeline concept of Facebook is such a bad idea: because it seems to evoke the idea that there is only ‘1 story’ to our lives and never any need for retelling, reframing, reselecting or layering of stories.
But travel is also about the freshly experienced emotions and bustling affects and about the changing rhythms. For me, there is a beautiful ‘becoming’ that happens when we leave our place of comfort to experience a sudden burst of life through the senses. Of course, our places of comfort are also places of obligations and duty, in which affects and emotions have to be somewhat repressed so that we can move on with tranquillity in our lives and ‘get things done’. Work, especially, can be demanding on our sensuous lives: during work we are often implicitly asked to shut down our senses in order to work more productively and enter the routine.
Thus, travelling becomes not just a way to visit places but a way to free the senses from the bodily imprisonment that often occurs in our daily lives. Its here that we can say that life is being lived, that we are living experiences from which we are truly learning – and here I’m not necessarily referring to the museum-learning. And once we let our body be affected, the mind will follow in powerful realizations. Its in these moments that we reconnect with deep-seated ideas that life is actually much greater than the simple routine we live circularly in our daily lives, no matter how successful it is. Travel can free our mind from the ‘normal’ means of perceiving our lives, and can lead to great and beautiful ‘becomings’. You can only imagine the moments of awe I had while looking at this surrealist landscape in Bhutan…
I think travelling really should give us these unexpected awe-moments, it should leave us stunned and we should let ourselves be stunned along the journey.
Though I think travelling will always exist and these moments always accessible, I am also concerned at the level of commodification that travelling – becoming tourism – is going through. I have the feeling that travelling is becoming packaged into standardized, normalized sanitized global commodities giving the same bodily experiences/stories to all tourists, while the point of travelling is to make it as subjective as possible. As global multinationals take over the developing countries’ market potential, we can see how there is an overarching homogenization of the travel experience. For example, I was shocked to see a McDonald’s and a Starbucks in the middle of the Plaza De Armas of Cuzco, Peru, (the former capital of Peru and the historic capital of the Inkas). Thankfully the buildings were intact because of Peruvian law, but the ominous presence of these corporate ‘bodies’ felt threatening to my experience of the place. So, for me tourism and travel do go in opposite directions.
There are many stories of travel I would love to revisit and retell in this blog, and to do this with Paulinha will allow me to share stories with her and to help me rethink them in more interesting ways. I really think that our many travels could really enrich this blog, and our background in anthropology can lead us to bring forward very thoughtful, fun, diverse, critical perspectives to already lived travels. I wish to bring insights from phenomenological theories of lived experiences that try to understand culture from the frame of the emotional and bodily affects. I would also love to study ‘meaning’ in our journeys and in the diverse cultures we came in touch with.

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