Travel opens doors and windows to the world. There is no denying that visiting a different place opens you up to new experiences, new sensory stimuli, new cultures, new ideas.
But the darker side of being exposed to all the new horizons is that it removes the detachment factor. When it comes to international terror, travel makes it personal.
Yesterday’s bombing at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok feels very personal to me.
This tiny sliver of Bangkok is “my” neighborhood. Though I’ve stayed in many neighborhoods in the city, my preference is to stay at the Grand Hyatt when visiting.
I’ve come to know the couple of blocks around Erawan well – “my” drugstore, “my” foot massage stall. I’ve drafted two fantasy football seasons while sitting at the McDonalds next to the shrine at 4 am (literally the nicest McDonalds I’ve ever visited – it is furnished like a nice cafe). Not a day in Bangkok goes by for me that I don’t walk by the shrine a half dozen times.
And I stop in to visit the shrine daily while there. Something about it calms and centers me. I often purchase flowers to leave as an offering. At the very least, I offer up my own namaskar.
I take yesterday’s attack very personally.
My sensory memory is working overtime to process the incident. I made the mistake of watching camera phone video of the blast (shot accidentally) and I felt like I was there… my senses kicked in and I thought could actually smell the air while the scene unfolded.
This isn’t the first time that terror has hit so close to somewhere I’ve trekked. I’d visited the WTC three months before 9/11. I’d been near the Pentagon the weekend before. I sat on the patio of Paddy’s in Bali six months before the bombing there. I was on the floor of the Madrid train station a year (to the date) prior to the blast there. I found myself retracing my normal London Tube routes when terror struck there.
But it’s not just terror that consumes me.
I have become accustomed to doing a quick inventory of travel friends after every plane crash and ferry accident. After every earthquake and building collapse.
I’ve been on the receiving end of those checks too. I was at an airport hotel waiting for my am flight to Tokyo when the devastating earthquake hit. My phone blew up with calls and texts despite the late hour.
Travel brings the bad things in the world closer to home.
But it because travel also heightens our ties to places and spaces. It tightens our relationships to people and cultures. The personal connection is unavoidable.
Incidents like the one at Erawan will always hit me hard because they feel like they have hit my neighborhood, even when that reality is presently half a world away. But they won’t change my desire to travel and connect with the world.