(Written last week, posting only today!)
It’s hard to pack when one hasn’t unpacked, I tell myself as I examine my suitcase whose contents have not been voided in the past four weeks of transience in Manila. I had left Korea and am now en route to Singapore for another project. I chide myself, because the reality is quite the opposite. As the ninth (?) move, I realize my luggage hold the memories of my most immediate past. There is little to give away, and little to buy. Everything I need is in this big red bag that has traveled the world with me.
It is a suitcase that has known many stories, from its first trip more than 10 years ago, when I visited Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory as a potential graduate candidate. (I didn’t get in, but it was amazing seeing Barbara McClintock’s lab!) This bag was with me in the interrogation room in the train station in Barcelona, when security, in their amusement, told me I was not allowed to bring training sai during my trip. Outraged, I pointed the blades to my neck, took a stab, and cried, “Mira! Mira! No sangre! Estan no peligroso!” (Look! Look! No blood! They’re not dangerous!) They let me take them in the end. I brought this bag with me again to New York, with my Fulbright bag tag on the strap (I figure if potential thieves think it’s just full of nerdy books, they will never take it.)
A few weeks ago, a couple of well meaning friends asked me where is home? It’s in my heart, distributed in pieces, all over the world, I gamely quipped. It was midnight, and I was working like mad on my computer, beating another deadline. I stopped thinking about this question in recent times.
These past few weeks have been a sharp change from the constant busyness and preoccupation in Korea to the downtime and quietness in Manila. From mowing a mountain in a monsoon and getting swept up in the flurry of goodbyes, I finally had a lot of time for thinking about how things might be in the next few months. And I realized I didn’t have a clue.
When one starts out with the mentality of an explorer, of going into the unknown (and the fearlessness of a child with that nagging curiosity of sticking her finger in an electric fan) it is difficult to discern where one will end up. In between the lives I’ve led, I found it necessary to have moments of reclusion—of, as I recently coined to a friend over dinner, my “armadillo mode,” to refer to the shell I have to ensconce myself to have time to process what just happened.
There are few things one can take with her when the airline only allows for baggage weighing 20 kg. I suppose we leave part of ourselves behind with the people we love and take only what is necessary for the next life.