The Sweetness of Triviality

People have ambitious missions for themselves when traveling, such as finding their real selves. But is it always about something big? I think otherwise.

The Sweetness of Triviality

I love getting lost in the crowd. By getting lost I do not mean to lose the sense of directions, but the evaporation of self-consciousness and the inability to identify yourself as a separate entity from the crowd. You become only what you see: all that was left of me was my pair of eyes. There are many ways to it. It doesn’t have to be that you jostle your way through a hunger strike; neither does it have to be that you sit on the always-packed Piazza Navona, licking off gelato as different people pass you by.

It can happen on a bus. I was on one from Paris back to Maastricht. All passengers’ heads wobbled in waves, looking fragile as never before. I joined the rhythm, with them I returned to the state of a simple being: quality sleep after good fun. You look at their tedious faces and it felt like they were you. Who you are does not matter, just like any other second in a solo trip. You do not have to be funny with your friends, you do not have to be righteous for the society, you do not have to be your mother’s daughter. You are just one of the people dozing off and yearning for a bed. This is the side effect of overdosing on individualism. As a French sociologist Alain Ehrenberg’s penetrating title for his book, “weariness of the self”: tired of such self-consciousness of attaining abilities, fulfilling life goals, responsibilities and becoming “complete beings”.

Or you can get lost in conversations, which takes a little bit more effort than just being among other human beings. The movie Fight Club taught us a handy term: “single-serving friends”. It exactly names the group that constitutes the key element in the recipe to feeling tiny or getting lost. There is an absence of overdone socialization since a long-lasting relationship is implicitly agreed to be unnecessary, where the tie ends when your ride does. It is a pleasant awareness of how not every conversation has to lead to a relationship. You listen and immerse in another perspective as they share what’s happening on the other side of the world, and you exchange your experiences with that. There is no construction of your own image or character in the story, personal sorrows or joy are skip-able. You may protest but you do not insist on things that you disagree with, you do not expect them to understand completely so you basically just hand them a rusty silhouette. Details of your life are too much for a stranger, so you exchange a large horizon for another unexplored large horizon. You get lost in both. You are part of everything you said but only a part. These single-serving friends occupy only a small juncture of your life, almost resembling a flash in a movie. Yet, they will forever have a place deep down in your heart, coming to your mind in a random morning.

During my stay overseas, I took the chance to hop around in Europe. Throughout the journey, I have come across quite a number of single-serving friends. On my flight to the Netherlands, I met a Kashmiri who now lives in the UK working as an Internet engineer. He tried to convince me of becoming Muslim, a most well-intended attempt to save me from hell. As an insider, he trusted no media: he tried to stay away from manipulation. There were others who care less about critical minds: a Dutch man who now works in Liege once sat cheerfully next to me on a night bus and made full use of the time that was meant to be wasted anyway to brag about his satisfaction with life, mostly measured in terms of wealth. On my train to Budapest, I met a Dutch young man who sees a lot of problems in his motherland on the contrary and is still striving hard to improve the lives of his people. Halfway through my wandering in the alleys in Rome, a young Israeli-Italian young man invited me to his shop as he saw me taking photos from the outside. Lights and ornaments made of Murano glass and blown glass from Egypt were dangling all over the place. He bought more than he sold, as he grinned and half embarrassingly told. We exchange kind words upon farewell, where it might as well be the first and last time before our deaths. I felt my own disappearance among the moments we conversed. All of them are my peepholes to other walks of life that I would never be engaged in. The way their lives are in motion as mine is, makes me feel like one among a million. We are all trying. Hard at times. This is when all the pain and troubles become light.

They say traveling is a way to figure out your real self. But I see it otherwise. Feeling tiny and let loose can also be a purpose. A true escape from reality. To do so you do not need to stand in front of magnificent views or architecture that makes you bow. You get lost in the herd.

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Emily Wong

Currently attempting to recover from the weariness of the self. 

See all posts by Emily Wong