30-Day Travel Challenge, Pt. 1

I did this at the end of 2011. I was originally gonna post it here on New Year’s (and then after SOPA Blackout Day), but initially decided against it because I wasn’t satisfied with it, but it turns out it holds up okay on its own terms. Since stuff changes over four months, there may be an annotation here and there [like so].


Day 1: What were your travel goals last year? Did you accomplish them?

I had a lot of stuff fall through for 2011. I originally wanted to do a school trip to India but I didn’t have the money; I applied to—and was rejected from—four different summer research thingies (CA/HK, WA, MI, & NY state); a grad school visit to Rochester was cancelled at the last minute; I was gonna go to a grad school fair in NYC but couldn’t get time off work; and I was gonna visit OWS again over Thanksgiving break but then the Eviction happened. Okay, whatever. These things happen, and most of those were major long shots anyway.

Besides, it wasn’t like I was stuck at home all year:

  • February: Delaware, for the first time in ten years, to visit family. Also Katsucon 17 in Nat’l Harbor, MD, where I was out of commission all of Saturday thanks to an unholy combination of con crud and caffeine withdrawal.
  • April: New York City, to see Mary Poppins, which deserves a Tony for set design. [It wasn’t Mary Poppins. I think it was Billy Elliott. I’m really not sure.] Then Washington, DC for the cherry blossom festival, during which my friends and I were hailed on (a retreat was staged to the front of the White House and eventually the art museum). Pretty sure there was a visit to the Franklin Institute in there somewhere.
  • August: Myrtle Beach! I got sunburn on top of another sunburn, which sunburns promptly started liquefying; the iPod took a swim; and there was an earthquake. We had to leave early because of Irene (mirroring the time we were down in ‘04 and Charley was rolling in), and on the way back entered West Virginia for the first and [so far] only time.
  • October: Philly! Twice! The first involved the Art Museum and some plates made by people of class, and the second involved a [sadly departed] tent city/sit-in/protest in front of City Hall.
  • November: New York City, because OWS was happening and, y’know, that was still a thing back then; and Cleveland, because of reasons, and also my old man had never been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

What travel goals do you hope to accomplish this year?

The only thing that’s more or less set in stone is Katsucon 18 in February. Beyond that, it’d be cool to spend a week in a foreign country sometime in May/June, but that’s still up in the air. [It turns out I also went to New York City for a day in January, and I’m going up to Albany-ish for a grad school visit tomorrow. The spring trip has been postponed to 2013, but to compensate, it turns out I’ll be moving this summer!]


Day 2: Change can be exciting and bring new joys into our lives. But it can present challenges that frustrate or annoy us. How has travel changed you in the last year? Did you welcome these changes or resist them at the time, and how do you feel about them now?

The big change didn’t happen over the last year, it happened while I was moving to Australia in 2009, where I learned a lesson about the problem with stuff.

Since I was moving lock stock and barrel down to that antipodean wonderland, I was intent on bringing as much stuff as I possibly could without having to pay for it. So: besides the two checked suitcases full of clothes and toiletries, I had a backpack stuffed with books and folders and an industrial-size laptop, and a gym bag which had a printer and cords and a desk lamp and more books! That’s forty pounds of junk I was lugging around everywhere. Even to the bathroom, since I was traveling alone and didn’t trust anyone to not steal my stuff. And, since neither New York nor Los Angeles had free internet (at least at the time), and the anticipation of going to another country meant I couldn’t concentrate enough to like say read a book or anything like that, I found myself walking up and down the terminal. Constantly. With forty pounds of stuff hanging from a pair of extremely sore shoulders. It’s a bit of a miracle I didn’t have a heart attack or something.

But anyway, what that taught me more than anything else was the value of traveling (and living) light, and, really, how much of a burden having a metric ton of stuff really is. It keeps you anchored to One Place, and…well…I don’t like that. I’d feel trapped if I wasn’t able to pack up and leave at a moment’s notice.

What I would like to do is go down to about the Paul Erdos level and fit all my earthly possessions into a suitcase (clothes/toiletries) and a backpack (electronics/books), but I don’t know how feasible that is right now. [It still isn’t, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a long-term goal of mine.]

PS: This is part of the reason why I fawn over very small and very efficient living spaces. If you don’t have a lot of stuff, you don’t need a lot of room.


Day 3: Music and travel memories often go hand in hand. A song can inspire our explorations, or it can take us back to a specific place and time. Tell us about your travel playlist and what it means to you.

Ooh hoo hee boy! *rubs hands together delightedly* This should be fun.

*cracks knuckles*

Okay, with me, it’s not playlist, singular. Playlists, plural.

I’ve written about how I associate certain songs/albums/artists with places before. Like, a lot. So I’ll try not to repeat myself here. In fact, if I wind up giving my whole entire playlist I’m pretty sure Tumblr will break. So I’ll try and focus on a few specific songs/albums/artists/musical…thingies.

3.1: Songs that inspire our explorations

Here, have a whole album.

We’re Here Because We’re Here — Anathema

It’s kind of complicated, but it boils down to this: I love 5 Centimeters per Second. It’s a heartwarming and gut-wrenching tale of two perpetually separated lovers who just…can’t…seem to…get back together. It’s also extraordinarily pretty. [Spoiler alert.]

It also has one of the most maddening endings in the history of anime,* which ending is the entire reason why I can’t deal with the perpetual physical separation of two lovers anyplace else (like say Old!Amy in The Girl Who Waited or the old man in Whisper of the Heart). The big reasons the people who go “it’s supposed to reflect reality, where things don’t always have fairy-tale endings” bother me so much are (a) I’m scared they’re right,** and (b) even though I’m aware that reality is harsh and cold and unforgiving and everything doesn’t wrap itself up neatly with a nice little bow, I am a stubborn son of a submariner and I refuse to accept the ending anyway, because (c) I read the manga, whose ending is more concrete—if still extraordinarily elliptical—and from said ending I constructed an enormous and meticulously-researched four-page headcanon*** about what happened after that crossing, and those events are what happened afterward and are the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me God. [Which by the way if you read the manga it almost seems like, unless Chapter 11 was there to please angry fans, Shinkai found himself resisting the ending’s message, too.]

Sorry about the soapbox, there. But anyway I was listening to We’re Here Because We’re Here more or less on repeat while I was writing this silly little headcanon up, and I realized three things. First: that album, as I have mentioned many times before, sounds like Vincent and Danny discovered Takaki’s poetry and set it to music. Second: because of this, that album brought the story of Takaki and Akari alive in a way that nothing has ever have before. And Third: Takaki lives in Yoyogi (I even know where the railroad crossing is). And now I know where I’m going if I ever wind up in Tokyo again and I have some free time.

[Ever listen to Untouchable, Pt. 2? The last half synches up okay with that movie’s ending, and the lyrics (I feel you outside at the edge of my life / I see you walk by at the edge of my sight / I had to let you go / To the setting sun / I had to let you go / And find a way back home) almost makes it seem like it was done on purpose. The fact that the song’s a duet between Vincent and Lee doesn’t help matters.]

3.2: Songs that take us back to a specific place and time.

Lots of those. Follow the links up there if you want all of them. But let’s focus on one which baffles me as much as it does you:

Every album Porcupine Tree has ever released.

Despite the tons upon tons upon tons of very, very clear evidence saying that Porcupine Tree frontperson and/or benevolent dictator Steven Wilson is the Englishiest Englishman to ever English, which evidence no rational human being would ever seriously push away or discount…his music reminds me of Japan more than anything else.

In my head, PT’s “ambient” phase (~1990-1996) was “set” in Hiroshima, the “alternative” phase (1996-2007) was “set” in Kyoto and the “metal” phase (2007-2011)**** was “set” in Tokyo. Specifically…

  • “Radioactive Toy” and “Moonloop” are both in the middle of Hiroshima City, east of the Peace Park and all that stuff.
  • “Dark Matter” in the tangle of expressways leading out of Hiroshima.
  • “Even Less” is in Kyoto’s center, “A Smart Kid” is around the north end of the Karasuma subway line, while “Pure Narcotic,” “Collapse the Light Into Earth,” and “Mellotron Scratch” are in the suburbs around the Shimogamo Shrine, and “Lazarus” and “Feel So Low” are on bridges over the Kamo River.
  • “Deadwing” and “Trains” are set on the Shinkansen between Kyoto and Nagoya.
  • “Way Out Of Here,” “Sleep Together,” the solo track “Abandoner,” and pretty much all of The Incident evoke wandering around Roppongi at night. On the other hand, “Normal,” especially that acoustic bit at the end, has more of a “day” feeling than anything else. [Parts of Grace for Drowning are in Tsukishima.]

It goes without stating that I have visited most of those locations up there, so when I listen to those songs I think back to the time I spent in those places.

Anyway, this also says a lot about how I process music: it has nothing to do with the lyrics (“Even Less” explicitly mentions English geography, for example) and everything to do with the music, how the music itself has a certain aesthetic about it that I, for example, strongly associate with Kyoto, even when the lyrics themselves are about serial killers. I can’t explain it or break down why that particular jumble of notes reminds me of that place—I’m not a neuroscientist—it’s just how I’m wired.

So that’s my playlist.


*See, most people would say End of Eva shares that title with the last two episodes of the series it was supposed to end, but I’m not so sure about that. If you watch episodes 25 and 26 and the movie back-to-back, they sort of work together to create something comprehensible. (Incidentally, two hours after watching End of… my computer experienced catastrophic system failure.)

**Let’s not mince words here.

***Which you will never see because it’s mine and mine alone. And it’s exceptionally sappy and probably has more holes than Swiss cheese.

****Two things. One: though yes I know PT have been leaning that way since In Absentia, the metal elements didn’t really take over until Fear of a Blank Planet. And two: the Heritage/Grace for Drowning/Storm Corrosion thing he’s been doing with our man from Opeth suggests the next PT album [currently slated for 2014 dangit] might not be as metal as the last two.


About theoditsek

I like going places.
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