Throughout our journey, I have made it a habit to find a special spot in each place we stopped. We would often have several hours to ourselves each day to wander, sleep, or do what we please. I spent this time wandering the streets until I found this aforementioned ‘special spot’. It was clear to me, each time, intuitively.
Each spot is different, but many share the same unique quality of allowing me to see while being fairly unseen.
Some examples were: a bus stop shelter, a small alleyway between two houses, an abandoned condominium building, a cement table under the awning of someone’s house, a bamboo bridge across a river…
Accessing many of these places bordered on trespassing, but I got the impression that, even if they saw me, no one particularly minded my presence. These vantage points awarded me some of my most memorable views of the entire trip. I saw children sprinting home in the rain, a man hauling water from his well to wash his clothes, people singing to themselves, ladies gossiping, monks sprinting to Evening Prayer.
The thing is, I would often spend hours in these spots without seeing any of the rest of the town/ city.
I have begun to wonder, did I really see those places? How do we know once we have seen a place?
Are the Lonely Planet recommendations a must? What about the destinations offered by tour-guides? What about if I follow around a ‘local person’ going everywhere they go? Have I really seen the place? If I go to Cambodia and I miss Angkor Wat, can I say I have seen Cambodia? Who am I saying this to anyway?
Or is it even possible to ever fully see a place? Can people even say they have seen their own hometowns? Perhaps no place is static enough to be fully seen; it is all dynamic color and change…
And why all this talk about ‘seeing’? To really know a place, must I feel, hear, smell, taste and touch it too?
I am unsure if I can say that I have seen, or have even begun to know any of the multitude of places we passed through and stopped in during the last 10 weeks.
What I do know, however, is that there are places that I felt immensely connected to, and others where I felt alienated, moved, inspired, intrigued, scared, disgusted, hopeful.
Perhaps these feelings came from inside me, and perhaps they came from the place. Alas, is there any view without the viewer?
Those moments, those feelings, are what those places are and will remain for me. I think that is enough… for now.