Denmark has steadily been opening up, which allowed me the ability to indulge in one of my favorite pre-quarantine activities: thrift shopping.
To my peruser’s delight, one of the largest thrift shops in Aarhus is just up the street from my house. In it is a who’s who of knick-knacks and brick-a-brack and other hyphenated nonsense words that merely sit on shelves and collect dust until a hoarder like myself gives it a new place to collect dust.
Among the wreckage of stained pottery and rotting books was a wealth of souvenirs collected over the generations. Countless Buddha heads from Thailand, wooden Safari animals from all over Africa, and the occasional yerba mate gourd, never used and left for junk. Whether or not these items ever held sentimental value or purpose remains a question, but their current position is certain: on a shelf in the discount section of a Danish suburban thrift shop.
This got my thinking…what useless souvenirs will I eventually end up putting on an anonymous shelf in sixty years?
Luckily for me, the cheapo backpacking lifestyle has afforded me no space in the backpack or wallet to allow for leopard pelts and porcelain tea sets but it has forced me to think outside of the box in terms of what I bring back home from every trip I take.
So I looked around the house, and I encourage you to do the same to see how you live your travels every day in non material ways. How has travel shaped the space you live in?
Going it Slow
Being mindful enough to take my time with life found itself a space in my mental backpack early on in my adventures. By this, I just mean taking a couple minutes here and there to just let my brain daydream or think about absolutely nothing. Simply allowing myself the freedom to wander mentally came from hours of waiting on the road hitching, spending long hours on cramped buses, or generally in times requiring a mental escape. Things just take time, and at the end of the day that concept is useless, and the faster I learned that the faster I could enjoy time.
But time is a strange thing. It’s a completely human concept with no real physical application other than the dying and regeneration of cells and the rising and falling of the sun. At the end of the day, time is a great invention of controlling people. You work from hours x to y and you can relax from hour z, then sleep and wake up in time to work again at hour x the next day.
Understanding time as nothing more than a human concept for which to set our schedules has freed me up quite a bit. It’s helped me deal with everything from waiting for the bus to allowing big life decisions to come my way in their own time.
It’s a fact that many of my travels have an afterlife on my palette. I’ve got the Buddha sculpture, yerba mate gourd, and carved elephant on my tongue rather than my shelf. You can live in New York and have access to some of the best cuisines in the world, but I guarantee the best Vietnamese restaurant will never compare to how it tastes on the streets of Hanoi. It’s just not possible. And once you return to your favorite restaurant in NYC, it feels somehow plastic (but still tasty) compared to what you had just experienced.
Eating engages all of the senses, which for me is why it’s made such an everlasting impression on my psyche. The smells, tastes, sounds, textures all sitting beautifully on a plate can last in my mind and mouth far longer than any other souvenir in my opinion. My pantry is filled with homemade kimchi, packets of Ras al Hanout, gooey fish sauce (the smellier the better), bags of corn flour for making tortillas, and everything in between.
Food is my way to transport back in time to a particular moment in travel. When I make spicy Korean chicken stew, Sundubu Jjigae, I’m instantly transported back to a cold December day wandering the streets of Seoul marveling at the shiny buildings and choppy clouds of steam coming from frosty chimneys. When I make sweet milky teh tarik I’m taken back to Borneo drinking tea late at night while two drag queens frown at me over plates of fried noodles. Every time I put my tajine in the oven, I’m taken back to the smell of spicy olive oil dripping slowly from warm bread as the piercing Moroccan sun warms my flesh on an arid morning. And while my renditions pale in comparison to the real thing, they serve as an instant time machine and teleportation device to another time in space.
Travelers have to give a lot of introductions, and therefore listen to a lot of introductions as well. I’ve met people who eat air, believe in a flat earth, have called me Jesus, and many many former ex convicts. I’ve had to listen to a lot of bullshit, but I’ve always tried to listen with an open mind…
1. because I love stories and want to hear them all —
2. Sometimes they bought me a beer so I had to listen.
The skills of listening are going out of fashion in this Social Me-me-media day and age, so the talent of actually listening to understand rather than to respond is slowly dying.
Many conversations I have with new travelers consists mainly of someone waiting for me to finish so that they can give their own opinions or stories. I’m tired of this, so now I listen and try to fill every nook and cranny of my small brain with as much nonsense from these wary wanderers as possible, to set a good example while learning some funny stories and maybe to get a free beer.
What metaphysical souvenirs have you taken back?
Thank you for reading, and I hope you have a positive day 🌞
P.S. I have a Twitter now! I promise not to shitpost, unless I get a bunch of followers in which case I will definitely start shitposting.