Ghosts Abroad

This post has been revised. 
A word possibly derived from a Medieval toponym, of the place where horses were raised that were hired out for work, hack, I think, is a word that could be applied to many people who travel today and seek to make money from their "observations" sold to any genre of publication. These people do not see the irony of living at enclave addresses or gathering at places approved by Facebook: even offbeat venues play to some tune of conformity, just like the average traveller of Victorian times would follow in the footsteps of those who wrote travelogues. Perhaps those journals are more transparent than ours that claim everything: we can ask ourselves how much of the local was experienced in the 18th century when ladies were travelling with their own baths (portable amenities today are tiny by comparison). I write as one whose childhood travels involved my mother learning and teaching us native languages and one who learned to keep balance on two planks over deep pits. The family shunned tours, once almost driving off a cliff in a rented jeep in Thailand because the map did not account for recent landslides.
We are 鬼佬; "ghost geezers" (white people), but my father joked at one of the 西貢 restaurants that his wife was the only white woman in the room. Maybe we became ghosts too well, not even seeing ourselves, silent cultural observers always looking to pass through barriers (to thought).
But sometimes it is we who block out all the wrong things: we composite narratives, like stereotype blocks, and it takes courage to discard it, so hard to give up ideas or furniture one has become comfortable with, and begin again. For example, one might feel as if the foreigner is often the target of a kind of hellish treatment and feel isolated, or resentful. Then one fine day, one might discover that even locals are exposed to this same hell, Dorothy Parker's "fresh hell."
Rather than travel in the ruts, it is necessary to be exposed, like the teeth of yesteryear. While I doubt ghosts have a need to laugh, already relieved of terrestrial gravities, the "west ocean ghost" seeks endearment through deprecatory humour.




And it is precisely the haughtiness of so many of today's travellers that is irksome. They think they can live in a place for a few months or years and know it. Stereotypes are set. This is not a new complaint, and is its own stereotype: in Innocents Abroad, Twain criticises the tourism industry that manufactured and sold history.
Still, there was a period a few decades ago marked by the eccentric traveller who never promised objective accounts but the symbiosis of whatever their extreme personalities, or specific context and character, would bring out of a place (Gore Vidal, Jan Morris' geographies-some invented, Marguerite Duras), rather like the travelogues of Montaigne, who brought descriptions of his bodily functions to a place, always him in it, no claims of mind over map, but him moving through scenes.
If "abroad" means away from home, the hearth, then perhaps this is why the ghost gets nearest to new destinations. Some aspects of a place will always remain invisible, and this is what the ghost knows, this is why the ghost is suspicious of the stereotype, preferring instead the furniture that blocks out empty spaces. A place, like a person, is always only just coming into itself, to that clearing where something can be defined, before it shifts. So the stereotype block, which looks like a means to save time, to make things easier, is only confusing things.
A passage by Antonio Rosmini reads: "Knowing where the problem lies represents an important stage on the way to the attainment of truth, which cannot be assailed in its hidden stronghold unless the fortress defending it has been inspected from all sides." The ghost can pass through these sides, but the person, stuck in the dimensions of the body, can not always maneuver that well. As Gadamer pointed out in Truth and Method, man can never attain entire objectivity precisely because he can never leave his body.
To travel receptively is to be at home with ghosts, to be one. It is only scary insofar as it is sometimes less words than white spaces.



Brushes: Pfefferminzchen at DeviantART; Lauren Harrison.

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