I can’t say I’ve ever had epiphanies as harrowing as Theroux’s, but I have felt many realizations while traveling, even if it’s just little ones. For instance, as an airline miles hoarder, the realization that one of my flights has a flight share code with a Sky Team or One World alliance excites me. It seems like such a first world issue (and it is), but international travel is almost something I’ve gotten used to.
Last year while in London, I traveled to over ten countries in my short time there. I constantly find myself internationally traveling, which is definitely a peak experience of my time in college. However it’s finally gotten to me – traveling to the airport early in the morning to catch a flight to Bangkok warrants more apprehension, and the excitement only kicks in when I step off the plane in a new land. I have to keep reminding myself that this isn’t normal, that about 50% of Americans don’t even have a passport, and until very recently, I was one of them.
When I think about how much I travel versus many other people, I always try to take a step back and acknowledge how blessed I am to be in places people dream of going. The Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai is right next to the mall, and every time I make my way over to go shopping or to get my nails done, I’m weaving in and out of people trying to take the perfect picture. As a New Yorker, I roll my eyes and move along, occasionally pushing people out of the way. But then it hits me – I can walk by the Pearl Tower every day and not be fazed by it. The same is true when I’m in New York and walk past the Empire State Building. I think why is this line here outside this building?, and then I look up and see the Empire State Building.
Probably the moment where I experienced an epiphany like Theroux’s was a few weeks ago on a Tuesday night. I was sitting in the back of a cab with my boyfriend on our way to the IFC Mall, simply observing the city passing us by. I looked at the Chinese characters written on the signs on the inside of the taxi and pondered what they could mean. I wondered if the taxi driver was literate, or if he was ripping us off. I tried to piece together his life in my head: did he live in a compound with his family? Did he like being a taxi driver? When and what did he do for dinner? I looked out the window behind me and fireworks went off (literal fireworks, that’s China for you). I realized that at the moment, I had everything I wanted. It was almost as if I was in a glass box and I wasn’t in my body anymore, but I was perfectly happy in the back of a dirty Shanghai taxi, surrounded by things I did not understand.