What came first, the music or the misery?
– Nick Hornby, High Fidelity
About the Mixtape project
Mixtape #1: Interpol, “NYC”
Mixtape #2: Violent Femmes, “Kiss Off”
Mixtape #3: Cyndi Lauper, “All Through the Night”
Mixtape #4: Towa Tei, “Technova
Mixtape #5: Teresa Teng, “The Moon Represents My Heart”
Mixtape #6: David Bowie, “Soul Love”
My passport is a mess. I have been to five countries in less than two weeks. In Luang Prabang, the hills and sweeping waterfront views remind me of San Francisco. I eat at the night markets—grilled fish, noodles, coconut pancakes—and drink intense coffee and fruit-and-condensed-milk shakes out of plastic bags. I try to avoid European and other North American tourists, going undercover as an Asian American tourist in Asia, eavesdropping on their casual racism as they complain about how they’re being ripped off, being charged the equivalent of an extra 20 cents US for fruit. I don’t want to be lumped in with them, but I am, though they probably don’t realize I can understand everything they’re saying. This is why I’m always so uneasy about travel and tourism: in many ways it’s an exercise in enacting colonial fantasy.
Yet I love to travel, I have the ridiculous privilege to travel, a remote editing job that allows me to work wherever I want, and I love to travel alone. I’m on week two of a three month trip through Asia, which will eventually end with an extended stay in Hong Kong, an extended break from having to make any decisions about my relationship, career, and subletted apartment back in New York.
The bus from Luang Prabang to Vientiane is nine hours of hairpin curves. We pass houses on the edges of mountains, men hauling bricks, children playing on a bright Saturday afternoon. My seat-mate, a Canadian tourist I’ve just met, shares his iPod with me and we each take a headphone, bumping over the dusty hills on a rattly bus. There’s a man with a machine gun in the seat in front of us. Across the aisle, a woman repeatedly pukes into a paper bag from motion sickness.
Bowie’s “Soul Love” comes on the iPod. “I love this song,” I say, and we play it again.
Vientiane is a small, sleepy capital city, and I have a series of misfires with guesthouses, each one progressively worse than the next. It’s here that I hit a wall in my travels, feeling exhausted and ready to just be in one place for a while, a place that isn’t here.
Maybe I, think, I travel so much to satiate some subconscious, still-buried teenage self, for all the stories I wanted and thought I’d never have. In 1989 I was 14 years old and listening to “Soul Love” on repeat on cassette while sharing a motel room in South Jersey with my parents on Saturday night while my mother sold clothes at the local craft fair one weekend. Someday, I thought, I’d be older, and things would be different, possible. Someday I would be able to go wherever I wanted.