I turn thirty in a few days and I have been to very few places in the world. I rationalise this as a counter-cultural decision, a radical resolution to stay put. Of course, it has more to do with a certain strange inertia. I also make myself feel better by getting irked at my peers who are always on the move, always restlessly preparing for the next big trip to Europe or Asia to find themselves.
I once lived with a Singaporean girl in student village who was contemptuous of how little I had seen of the world – and I was only twenty then. ‘You don’t understand the world yet,’ she said. But once I asked her about atheists in Singapore and she asked what an atheist was. When I explained, she said she didn’t know there were people in the world who didn’t believe in God.
I will see the world, don’t hassle me. But I’m also uneasy about the idea of tourism. I don’t think it’s possible to experience other places. Of course it’s possible, but what I mean is, it’s nothing like the experience of actually living there, it is only like the experience of visiting there. How much does it tell you of what it is to live in Perth to visit King’s Park or the Bell Tower or the Perth Mint? And then again, who wants to spend several decades living in a house with a view of a cul-de-sac in Belmont or Bibra Lake and getting stuck in traffic jams every morning, which is more like what actually living in Perth is like?
I have this nostalgia for Thomas Hardy’s village life. They didn’t travel very far in those days. (It’s always ambitions beyond one’s station which destroys Hardy’s idyll, ambitions like seeing the world.) And then I have a soft spot for Isaac Asimov’s detective who had never been further than thirty kilometres from his house in his whole life. I think he was stuck in a wheelchair. I read a number of his stories sitting in the sunlight in the brown hues of the Collie Public Library some time in 1996. I cannot remember the detective’s name, although these days I could so easily find out.
Don’t worry, I will get to Europe. I will go through the motions. I will take in the sights. But I’ll probably still be questioning the value of seeing. I’ll be outside looking in on me as a tourist and not liking it. What I will try not to do is come home and try to convey my experience to others, those long winded travel narratives people tell each other. So often masked boasts and so often self indulgent.