The spreading of this underground art form is greatly due to our generation’s willingness to travel. The train was not always moving and writers were not always able to travel with such ease. Prior to jet-setting, these artists would only travel as far as the train tracks were laid…hopping from yard to yard with the hopes that admirers in far away cities would recognize their efforts. Now, more than ever, the art is in the travel and the understanding of the skies, the roads, and the tracks. It takes this love to truly be recognized on an international level and as your art may be spread, so is your mind. The following writer has spread his wings and his mind across this earth, desperately seeking and finding art wherever he lands . Whether you are a graffiti writer or not, you will be able to truly understand that curiosity and the creation of our memories is just as much an art form as what you may see on a passenger train or old brick building. Take a moment to read this short story by jet setter Nicholas Lozito…
The roads are paved and the airplanes are on schedule, yet we still gravitate towards the trains.
I had just come back from a 6 country trip where I visited Burma, China, Macau, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia and was now sitting in the airport in Malaysia trying to express to the counter agent that I wanted to get out of the country and just go to whichever country/city has the cheapest flight. For these agents, who struggle on low wages and have to deal with arrogant travelers, they cant quite grasp how some scraggly white fellow would want to just fly anywhere. “Don’t you have a place you need to go, or work you need to do?” I could see them thinking, the usual odd looks we get while traveling. There are many thoughts they have towards us foreigners, but I would suppose the two major ones are “There is a white guy, he must be rich” and “Why is he taking a picture of that, it is very normal.” The cultural gap between the lands is far wider than the oceans that separate us but the spread of technology and rise of curiosity allows us with a smoother road to travel amongst our fellow people in these places that were once only ideas we could read in books.
I stood at the counter with a fellow traveler who was also decked out in clothes bought in the night markets and a backpack that probably cost more than these workers made in a month. He helped me to explain my quest to the young man behind the counter, “He wants cheapest flight to anywhere, maybe special sale?” We dumb down our timeless language in order to help them understand, yet it is not always the language that is the barrier, sometimes it is the mere idea. It is not difficult to spot the seasoned traveler; he will always speak the English that is understood by the travelers and the individuals of the world. It is true humor to see a well-spoken American speak as if he just learned English, even to another English speaker. We adapt this language to converse with the taxi driver, the pretty girl, the guy giving us directions, or the tour guide who answers our questions with a smile then put out his hand as you begrudgingly hand him a tip in his native currency. Our broken English is as ridiculous as the English we use to communicate with foreigners in our own land; we don’t try to better explain ourselves, instead we just repeat the question even louder and get irritated when they don’t understand. The agent finishes some typing, then, “Oh yes sir, not a problem. The cheapest fare we are currently providing will take you to either Bangkok or to Hong Kong. We also have specials going to Europe, but I suppose you are trying to stay in the Asian countries.” His English comes out so perfect, like a fine gentleman holding a leather travel case in one hand and a cigar in the other…perhaps that is the description of the British man who teaches so many of these people our language. The counter agent’s voice is so controlled and perfect while his demeanor shows agitation and impatience. It is common to get this respect that is often followed by agitation. I can only imagine how much they all must truly hate us foreigners, with our scraggly beards and shiny teeth. Our country promises so much, but our rugged travelers stand with foreigners and envy the carefree way of life and true sense of freedom; sometimes expecting others are interesting simply because they speak a different language or have a different religion.
I end up picking a flight to Bangkok, leaving in two hours. I step away, even though I feel the compulsion to tip the man, and head towards the gates. There is just enough time to grab a last meal from this country before I board the airplane for the 90 minute flight. There are a few other westerners around, we catch each other’s eyes but hesitate before nodding. Here, we are all the same. Whoever has the most visa stamps, wins. But when we go back home, we are the craziest dude in the group…the guy who has “been everywhere” and is always the butt of the “where is he now” joke. We share camera chargers in the airport terminal, or shampoo at the hostel…always ending with more knowledge of somewhere we have not been, and now wish to more than ever. One may brag while the other listens, or the both may discuss how an aspect of the culture is frustrating. “Ya, I cant believe they would think following you around and nagging you to buy something would actually work.” We bring our culture with us everywhere, forgetting the gap and the hungry nights of so many. Meanwhile, we sit in the terminals of billion dollar airports with other western travelers and compete to see who has done more or has done the most exciting adventures in this land that we never knew exist. Somehow we know more of these places then its’ own people; we have seen more and done far more in this one trip than most of the locals have done in a lifetime. Now, in this terminal, we are all hungry to go live it all again. Each country we step into, each town we stumble upon, is as if we are born again..that very moment. No knowledge of life, language, meaning. We travel until we forget about our own, then travel even longer until we create a new culture that exists within us.
I catch the flight and sit in the aisle seat next to a well dressed man from Singapore who speaks perfect English. He asks me about my travels for a few minutes, then begins to tell me about the problems with his country and rambles off political issues and names that mean very little to me. I pretend like I am asleep for the rest of the flight. When we land in Bangkok I make my way downstairs to catch a taxi back to the condo I have been renting here…my home base for the time. It quickly feels like home, yet the road feels even more like home after just a few weeks. I ask myself what I would really do if I do head back to the condo, or why I even came back in the first place. Chiang Mai, just 500 miles north, seems to call my name. The distant jungle is a great place to unwind, read, and explore. I see the flight schedule listed, only $29 for a flight leaving in just a few hours. I have never flown there before but I have taken the bus and the train a few times. The bus is perfect, 7 dollars with comfortable reclining chairs, the ride is barely 8 hours. The bus is far more comfortable and practical than the train, which takes nearly 13 hours and is about as uncomfortable as a wagon pulled by horses must have been. I remember the old proverb, “the journey is the real destination.” Who would I meet on this train, where would they take me? I wont sit next to a well educated man from Singapore, nor will I sit next to a Thai girl on the bus…the girl who works in Bangkok for many years and decides to finally go back North to her hometown to see her mother who is getting sick. The train, filled with every character and every genre of traveler, will take me to Chiang Mai. The bumps and screeches of the wheels will be the music of the night; the constant stops and men selling hot tea will now replace my book. I head outside to make my way to the train station, with my backpack slung over my shoulder and my Nikon camera around my neck….shining like a beacon to the hungry taxi drivers and scammers. I hop in a pink taxi cab, the first one I see. The driver asks me “Where to sir?” without turning around. We speed off and weave smoothly into the ongoing traffic. We drive towards the train station, with the air conditioner running cold and the music blasting in a language I don’t understand.