Category Archives: Travel

economy travels

I am back from Shanghai, adjusting to the jetlag that sneaks up on me like a ninja at the most inopportune times – like right before dinner.

This is a post I was writing on the plane ride to Shanghai, but thanks to the tyranny of censorship (wordpress, like blogspot, tumblr, twitter, facebok, is blocked in China), publication is delayed until now.

I have just spent 15 hours confined to a space I couldn’t and wouldn’t tolerate for more than 20 minutes under quotidian circumstances, but alas, the constraints of travel and modern accommodation. More than 2,000 miles later, I have arrived in Shanghai[1].

If our identities change along with our contexts, it is no wonder that travel writing has become its own genre – rumination on the implications of the temporary displacement and perhaps transient identity crisis being a natural byproduct of travel and human perception.

I won’t contemplate those issues.

Between my last final and my departure, there was a flurry of visits with friends whom I’ve had the displeasure of the typical compulsory estrangement during a law school semester. These rendez-vous were punctuated with a “so, what are you bringing me from China?”, facetiously delivered – something between a “a bientôt” and a “bon voyage”.[2]

The real testament to gratuitous capitalist consumer culture is not the speed of fast fashion, or ostentatious label touting goods of a higher caliber, it is souvenirs with its artificial manufacture of a larger experience which eludes capture. I don’t reject the sentiment behind this kind of gifting that despite the distance and extraordinary time difference, here is an object that reminded me or invoked in me some essence of a faraway you. To this romantic manifestation in a material object, I have a profound affinity

But we all know that most souvenir shopping is not done this way. More likely, it is done in a frantic manner. I don’t object to souvenir shopping if I really did find some kind of token of remembrance that’s meaningful, but inevitably, and especially at a place like Shanghai, that’s nearly impossible.

What is the difference between symbolism and commodification?

If you can’t have the real thing, why bother?

which is to say, i didn’t get any souvenirs for ya’ll.

[1] To be honest, I am an hour away from destination – all of this being prospectively written on the plane to wile away the last hour of transit

[2] This is not meant to be a critique of these friends, though they did give rise to the reflection on the more general concept of travel, especially I do not except myself from the characterization I will set forth infra.

(are footnotes in a blog post entirely pretentious? If so, how would you characterize comments referencing footnotes – a sort of a footnote to a footnote? Does it speak to the trainings of my trade that they are becoming more and more instinctual and less an exercise in appeasing academic norms?)


Nawlins Pralines


Earlier this month, I took a short jaunt to NOLA. I’d never been and didn’t know much about it except for Mardi Gras, which is still a vague reconnaissance. Fortunately for me, we stayed in the French Quarters where every night sees a circus-like ambiance of drunken debauchery. I’ve had my share of debauchery in life but something about Bourbon Street nightlife is almost pathetic. It’s like misplaced and feigned enthusiam, but that would be my projection since I can not at all imagine such deliberate lack of self-regard/awareness. It is the 20 year college reunion of every college third tier fraternity/sorority wherein they do the same thing they did as 19 year olds.

Otherwise, the most unsavory aspect of traveling to tourist driven areas would be how often tourism can make caricatures out of a place, which is natural when there is a high concentration of kitsch “embodiment” of a city’s specialty or whatever. If your initial contact (and it is often the case) is with that setting, well, it’s hard to see the charm behind such syndication. I find it a little insulting that people choose to just proliferate and peddle a formula without standard rather than try to find new ways to appeal to visitors and draw them in.

Not that it’s completely without its redeeming qualities, many areas of the city are beautiful.

It goes without saying that visiting the site of Katrina is moving in the way that seeing the aftermath of any tragedy can be. I think this is especially true after having witnessed 9/11. My reaction to any tragedy – all human tragedy after all – has become much more visceral.

Last observation: I’m not sure if it’s because I live in New York and am just accustomed to seeing the kind of poverty that New Yorkers show or have just accepted them as a part of New York’s social fabric or the city is organized in a way that it’s never that outstanding or if New York’s obsession with image extends to every socio-economic class. But every other city, the state of the impoverished is always very jarring. This is true for NOLA, many cities in Europe, Shanghai and Beijing. On the plus side, this manifestation made the tour guide’s pride in NOLA’s low unemployment rate and resilience sound especially optimistic.

Have you ever

been on an extended flight where your mind is just BRIMMING with thoughts on your trip and life in general, but you couldn’t write it down because your fountain pen has run out of ink and when the kind stranger next to you offers you a pen, you’re too flustered to be a big homo with your leatherbound journal, because he’s like a totally suave italian gentleman whose musky scent was distracting you from having an intelligent thought, so instead you fill out the customs form and promptly return the pen and now, because you’ve been sick and jetlagged, you are scrambling to gather any remaining ideas in your head into a post, but also regretting cutting down the convo with handsome stranger because you were feeling about as sexy as a walrus who’s just been shot and feeling like a tool on both counts.

anyway, I’m back.