Doesn’t that departure gate at the airport look visually and sensually tantalising? The gateway between local sights and sounds, and the promise of a new, unseen environment. Haven’t we often transcended the spaces between the departure gate, and the holding areas themselves? For a holiday, or a business trip, or a simple getaway from the problems/issues/matters that we have in the places that we find so familiar. In every possible, legal way that we can think of to exit a place of familiarity, we have to pass through a port of departure. A barrier of which when we pass through, things become a little different, in how we feel and what we see; we are finally on our way to somewhere that we are going to.
I’ve been very intrigued by how we behave in a certain way, when we are at a place that we deem familiar or home-like. Like our own home countries, or our houses and places where we live, sleep and eat. Or our own everyday suburban and central shopping malls, where Singaporeans like myself wander around without feeling a sense of constant unease. We build our own identities around the places where we grow up and feel comfortable in. Our communities, our desires, our hopes. Our dreams, our friends, our neighbours, our sources of solitude and despair. The home that we are in, builds us into a certain identity, coupled with our specific relationships and interactions between people and things in our own lives, creates the life that we lead. Shielded by a (fixed) territorial boundary which demarcates our own home country, we grow up and may even think, that this life, is the only sort of life that we can ever lead.
But here’s the intrigue that I then see, when I imagine the departure gates at the airport. The barriers enacted between the free-to-access parts of the airport and the flight departure/holding areas seem to afford a sense of mystery and imagination, despite having transcended them several times in my life so far. I don’t have the liberty to access them on an everyday basis; I cannot fly as and when I like or love. But when I do, I think of the possibilities that arise in front of me. Just what is there, in store for me, somewhere, some place, far, far away? Who are the people, the places, the lifestyles that I can experience, which is different from this current life that I lead?
In the departure areas, past the barriers which I have to present my passport and ticket to transcend, I will constantly wonder about who I would meet. Behind me lay everything that I constantly see and experience, feel and hear, on an every-day basis. Here is where the mystery begins: who could I accidentally and subconsciously bump into, to make a meaningful conversation? Would it be a random Irish bloke, a PRC mid-forties lady, or a fellow random and lost traveller who would just be embarking on another journey, just like myself? What would I see, when I enter that trans-continental flight? Would it be an experience to forget, or one to remember?
But….above all these questions, how would I change?
The intrigue beyond the barriers of the departure gates cannot answer the persistent question that I will have, even as I return from the places that I would eventually go. How different would I be? How would being in London, or Beijing, or Melbourne, Paris, New York, Tel-Aviv, Brussels….change me? The excited voice of mine starts to quiver, the mind swiftly darting in its imagination from a (virtual) place to another. Who would I meet, who would change my life? Would the experience of life, change again, once again and for ever and ever?
I start to recall my own voyage as an exchange student, for just a mere few months. I think of my life, as being extended into two different spheres; the life that I have at home, and the life which I have outside of it. Whenever I pass through those departure gates and barriers, I feel myself shifting into the other, out-of-home life that I thought I’d lost for good. That individualistic, daring, explorative life that wouldn’t be me in the comforts that I find so familiar. That wilder, riskier life that I would lead, to find the things, places and people that I would never find, if I lived that original life that I always had. I would be more alone, separated from countless people whom I constantly see more as acquaintances and backdrops of the art-piece of the world, than an active agent or factor of the art-piece of my own, messy and yet beautiful life. For that period in time, I would think that I was another person. Another person, another community, another life. How alluring, how dreamy, how liberating, how mysterious. No one back here would really know the life that I lead outside of the country that I see as home; would they ever really…know?
Perhaps we can think of the state of our own minds that we would be, when we pass through the barriers which separate home from work, home from a journey, or from somewhere familiar to another place of the unknown. The feeling of being away, does change us, shape us, mould us differently. Maybe we would lead double lives, and we shapeshift into each of them whenever we depart from places too known to ourselves. Maybe one day, such lives would transcend into each other, creating a mess that we could ever hardly clear.
But that’s the point of it all, perhaps? To escape from a life we grow tired and frustrating to lead, we travel. To find ourselves and seek solace? We travel. To search for another life, via education or work opportunities abroad? Yeah, we travel indeed. The world may be becoming so similar, but it’ll never be completely similar; that’s like saying we’re all going to be robots. But we are human, and we can love some mystery in one way or another. We’re constantly tired, constantly seeking for something to understand us, constantly finding ourselves, constantly getting lost in ports of departure, in deserts, in planes high and wide over the sky, in our own imaginary worlds where people cannot see or feel. For all our own efforts in trying to carve a life worth living for ourselves, we often crave to be people who could be more than they appear or seem to be. Perhaps this is the constant shroud and mystery around Geography; would you really know who I am, when you’re somewhere far, far away from where I am right now, at this very moment?
I can imagine the calls of departure booming over the airport’s surround-sound system, signalling that my flight’s last call for boarding is upon me. Maybe the other life that I thought I’d buried for life, is finally returning to me, in my heart, body and soul.
I feel different, I feel that alternative life descending upon me.
Perhaps, that departure gate is truly a transcendence, to another life that I never thought that I would ever have.