Space Out

For quite a long time travel for me was a lot about the destinations. I would spend hours planning out the trip, making sure I checked as many boxes on the list as possible.

But my last trip to the UK was quite a different experience. Before the trip, I was so busy that I didn’t have time to make any plans, nor did my friend who traveled with me. When it was time to take off, we had no choice but to follow our instincts and curiosity.

Surprisingly, this “disorganized” trip turned out to be one of the most unique experiences I have ever had. Since the trip was so spontaneous and even to some extent, slow, I had a lot of free time when I was wandering around the city, sitting in a car, or just laying on the bed of our Airbnb. These windows of time became a perfect chance for me to escape my rational mindset and space out into a vibrant world of imagination filled with random and quirky thoughts.

Our first few days in London, we wandered the streets with no particular destination, spontaneously exploring different areas of the city like Spitalfields, Covent Garden, Hyde Park and so on.

At first, frankly, I wasn't expecting much from London because I spent most of my life in big modern cities and city scenes were nothing new to me. Yet gradually, as I spent more time in the city streets, I found myself deeply intrigued by London. Here, the old and the new seamlessly blend together, creating contrasting energy and tremendous elegance. One moment you’re in a modern, minimalistic coffee shop, and the next turn the corner to see a train station with hundreds of years of history, proudly standing there with elegance and an admirable endurance proven by time.

This beauty lured me into carefully observing the city and letting my thoughts flow freely as I walked around the city. Then I started to notice the wittily designed posters on the billboard, cute earrings worn by a beautiful lady passing by, a perfect ocher color brick wall with tiny cracks in it, and other small details that I normally don’t have the energy to pay attention to back in Seattle.

After a few days in London, our journey continued when we took the train up to Edinburgh and decided to take a tour around Scotland with a local guide.

Halfway through a short hike up Arthur’s Seat for a bird’s-eye view of Edinburgh, I found myself intrigued by how fast the clouds were moving with the blowing wind on the Highlands.

I stopped to stare at them and asked my friend:

What if I could tie myself to the moving cloud and just flow around the world with it?

She replied with laughter and asked me why I always have such weird comments on things. I laughed with her and told her if she were to look into my mind she would probably find it crowded with crazy, clueless thoughts.

This conversation out of nowhere somehow became an inspiration for me. The night after the hike, I started to sketch out all the random ideas I have throughout the day as a very abstract journal of the trip. I discovered a sense of secret joy as I drew out these ideas that no one else may resonate with.

The further we traveled into the Scottish Highland, the more my imagination ran wild. The Highlands are a truly magical place where the grandeur of nature and beautiful history strike my soul constantly.

I found it hard to fall asleep in the car, even when I was tired and sleepy – the beautiful landscape kept changing and changing, and Gill, our knowledgeable guide, was always telling us the history of the Highlands. We heard the stories of the famous Whiskey distillery, the fairytale of the Kelpies, the names of the flowers and animals we ran into, the wars fought on the land, and so much more...

I drew all the interesting notes and thoughts in the car….

Would I lose my soul if I ran into the Kelpies? Does the yellow Gorse flower that smells like coconut also taste like it? Do the herons ever get bored or cold when they stand by the river and hunt for food? Can I ever witness a tremendous volcano eruption without getting killed?

And sometimes the thoughts went beyond just interesting random ideas and into a reflection on what I encountered. As I learned about the history of the land, I realized there was so much more to know about the mountains and rivers besides how pretty they looked. The land used to be the livelihood of the indigenous people, and the people took good care of it in return. For hundreds of years, the ‘Glen’, or the villages, thrived along the rushing rivers and on the windy hills. A rich highland history and culture matured as the mountains aged. But then the privileged claimed the ownership of the land and drove people off of the land that they had been living on for generations by prohibiting them to practice farming. The farmland then became the playground for the wealthy. Not many trees are planted on the land after a large amount of wood was cut down for various wars; the landowner wanted it empty so deers would have nowhere to hide from the wealthy hunters.

It was heartbreaking to see the batches of boldness on the mountains. Though the mountains are still tremendously beautiful, they were left with scars and wounds.

I wanted to write or draw something about this, but every time I try, I find it hard to depict the emotions or ideas around such a heartbreaking story. Even till the end of the trip, I failed to articulate what I think of this, but instead just have more and more questions:

Do we as humans really have the right to claim ownership of the land? Is there another side of the story I haven’t heard of? Have the people fought back? What happened to those who were pushed out of their homeland?

With all these questions flooding into my mind, I realized I might not be able to find an answer to all of them on this trip. But that is okay – they are not meant to be answered hastily. Eventually, they became part of the thoughts and ideas that I carried home with me after the trip. Whether funny or somber, these thoughts definitely became my best memories of the trip, and they will continue to grow in me. Just like how I picked up these questions on this trip, the next trip awaiting ahead will perhaps reveal to me the answers to them and at the same time bring forth a set of new inquiries. I discovered that such an infinite circle of exploration and learning is the essence of travel.

Cynthia He, Lead Layout