The Transit Lounge Effect
How did I unfurl the Transit Lounge Effect (TLE) in all the above-mentioned destinations? And why?
When I plan a holiday, I pack for my other self. The thinner, happier, more productive little person who will make an appearance as I land on the tarmac of a foreign country. In the case of Bot River (2011) and Simonstown (2012), there was no tarmac. I drove away from My Old Self and arrived as My New Self. But the hotel always lets my old self in. Before I know it, there are two of us in my hotel room. They charge for one, set the table for one, but everywhere I look, my old self tags behind. When I travel with company, we end up as a threesome. My old self, my new self, my partner and for all I know, his old self too. As they say on Facebook, it’s complicated.
The Transit Lounge Effect arises as I juggle these two selves in between wondering whether I should move permanently to the TLE destination or book out earlier.
This involves see-sawing between:
This place sucks
How soon can I resign and get a transfer to this place?
You’d think that after a few times, I’d have got it, but no. Last year a friend gave me a beautiful plate engraved with the following:
There is no such thing as clarity until there is. Why didn’t she give me that plate sooner?
There are three stages to culture shock. Honeymoon. Shock. Acceptance. In most of the above places there was euphoria upon arrival. Boracay, however, was honeymoon-free. When the boat dude dropped us in the water and I had to swim to the beach holding my luggage above my head, I was in shock, and I never got to acceptance either. Boracay was one long shock, and trying to cut short my stay on the island that has been voted, more than once, as having the most beautiful beach in the world, was tricky. However, after three days, covered in mosquito bites, I managed to pay someone a lot of money to carry my luggage to the boat that was the first leg of the journey back to Hong Kong.
But I digress.
The fact remains that it’s the honeymoon I’m after. That’s my fix. And given that my memory is selective, and that I remember edited highlights, even though the holiday may have contained more shock/acceptance than honeymoon, it’s either the honeymoon I remember or I convert the shocks to honeymoons. (Except for Boracay)
Does the Transit Lounge Effect occur only on holiday? Given how much easier it is noticing other people’s patterns, let me usher in a prime example of Longstanding Transit Lounge Effect (LTLE): Jeremy, my very good friend on Lamma Island, invited me to a party shortly after I moved back to Hong Kong after a three year absence.
I was still in Hectic Honeymoon Phase (HHP). Jeremy had been living on Lamma Island for well over a decade.
‘Where’s your bookshelf?’ I asked, pointing at the piles of books in the kitchen. ‘And why’s your TV on bricks?’
‘I want to be able to pack up and move out in a few hours, if need be’, he replied, offering me a spring roll on a paper plate.
Then there’s Dennis, a former colleague who’s in Hong Kong for his second stint. He lived there for eight years, left for five, and returned, now going on for his eighth year of the second stint. ‘Hong Kong is like a university town for me. I work here, but my real home is the UK.’ Yes, he owns property in the UK, he spends summer holidays in the UK, but how many students spend sixteen plus years in a university town?
When do we unpack, and what prevents us from engaging fully? And to what extent do travel agents, travel magazines and the media encourage and glorify the TLE? Where does the TEFL (Teaching English as Foreign Language) industry fit in? And why do so many of us yearn for a sense of home, belonging and roots at the same time that we are planning our next vacation abroad?
In my twenties I spent eighteen months in London. I moved eight times. Nottinghill, Battersea, Fulham, Clapham South, Fulham, Battersea, Earl’s Court, Battersea. Even by my standards that was the TLE On Steroids (TLEOS). Granted, I stayed in furnished homes so moving involved a cab ride across town. I stayed with friends and family filling in for tenants and flatmates that had gone on holiday, and on one notable occasion I moved in with the brother of my British boss. There was something magical about moving so often as I got to see more of London and to this day, when I visit the city, those neighbourhoods feel familiar. And yet, how different would London have been if I’d stayed in one place for eighteen months?
One of my best memories is of the week I spent in a guest house in Earl’s Court. I’d popped over to Amsterdam on a visa run and upon my return I booked into a large room in a very old house. There were five beds, and a grand piano in one corner. An Australian and I shared the space. I can’t remember chatting to her in the day, but we used to lie in our respective beds, on opposite ends of the room, and chat until the early hours of the morning, in the dark. I remember walking to work and wondering where I’d be staying the following week. It was a glorious feeling.
In Peter Hessler’s exquisite book Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West, he describes how the Chinese movers packed up his Beijing apartment after he and his wife decided to move to the US after over a decade in China. ‘They packed the shipping container as tight as a jigsaw puzzle, and a truck carted it off into the night. Suddenly I felt wonderful: all our possessions were gone; we no longer had an address; we could live anywhere we wished.’ I know that feeling all too well. It becomes addictive. And at some stage ‘anywhere’ becomes ‘somewhere’. And then ‘somewhere’ becomes ‘Let’s Go Anywhere but Here.’
As I wave goodbye to the TEFL teachers I work with, who’re off to live in cities that until recently they’d never heard of, I feel envy and longing. I want to curl up in their hand luggage and gatecrash the party. Luckily a large part of me (let’s say 90%) wants to hear their stories from a very great distance, as I stay behind, water the garden and agonize over whether to plant Green Globe Artichoke or Oriental Salad. In my case, that’s a relief. So why do I still feel as if I’m missing the party? Somewhere across a border or over the ocean, there’s a party, and I wasn’t invited. (I hate parties). For now I’m going to stage my own Garden Party. No one else is invited. It’s just me and my artichokes.
Photo Credit Anne Townsend @ Bangkok