Friday, March 22, 2013

How to Travel Like An Asshole

Something about the last entry's maudlin drippiness really annoys me, so I'm reviving this blog in order to push it further down into the past. (I stand by the sentiments expressed - just not like, all the time.)

I recently came across a published article I wrote about my trip to the UK and Paris last year, and was embarrassed to find out how bitchy and privileged it sounded. I wrote it at 2 a.m., fact-checked it right afterwards and sent it in to my editor. I didn't really get a chance to think about things like "tone" and "not coming off like a pretentious asshole". (Obviously, I've never learnt my lesson about not doing things at the last minute.)

But the truth of the matter is that although I live in public housing and don't have a car, I really, really like travelling in style. When I'm researching a trip online, nothing makes my eyes light up like "100% organic Egyptian cotton bedlinen", "Michelin-starred", "private plunge pool"... you get the drift. I still can't afford to fly first class or even business class, but I'm always ready to spend on things like hotels and fine dining. Whether it's Edinburgh or Bangkok, I want curated in-room playlists and designer toiletries (no hotel-branded shampoo, please).

It's not something I reveal to people around me, unless I'm close to them. At work I dress modestly and remind my students to write on both sides of the paper, in order to save the environment and the cost of purchasing yet more foolscap. I keep an eye out for store specials when shopping for groceries. I try not to take cabs unless necessary. You wouldn't imagine that I was the same airhead who picked The Zetter based on its mood lighting, borehole water and vintage Penguin paperbacks (the shallow part of me was very taken by the coolness of it all).

In the spirit of total honesty, I also pack like an asshole. I plan every day's outfits right down to accessories, and I write everything out in a list to bring with me. I take a great deal of comfort and pleasure knowing that I'm dressed appropriately - Antik Batik tunic for Bali, Aubin & Wills cardigan for London, Equipment shirt-dress for Paris. I travel light compared to most people, but my suitcase is never short on eye-rolling pretension.

The inevitable question: why do I do it? I can only take vacations rarely, partly because my way of travelling is obviously not cheap, and I don't believe in going into debt. Sometimes the things I choose to do on vacation turn out to be a heartbreaking waste of time and money (I remember a certain restaurant in San Francisco that served radishes three ways on edible 'soil' and resembled a hipster livestock barn - definitely not worth scuttling through the Tenderloin for).

What I love about transforming temporarily while abroad is the transformation itself. I love that I can inhabit a different side of myself - embrace my inner asshole, if you prefer. And then I can go home and be my everyday self again. It's the fluidity of the change that reassures me. If a simple tuition teacher in a suburban community centre can savour Heston Blumenthal's meat fruit at the 9th best restaurant in the world, then I can tell my students with a mostly clear conscience that life can be good to them, that they will succeed and see the world. All they have to do is work for it, and believe in it. The dream is real.

(Mother Teresa reasoning aside, it really is just a shitload of fun as well. Try it and see.)

I once interviewed a music teacher at a neighbourhood school. She had studied in London and travelled Europe, of course, visiting all the cities of classical composers - Berlin, Vienna, Salzburg, etc. "I tell my students about those places," she said earnestly. "My students, especially, need to hear things like that." Then she blushed, no doubt realising how condescending she sounded.

But I understood exactly what she meant - perhaps a little too much so.

No comments: