Friday, 15 August 2014

Silence & Noise

Travelling alone allows you to disconnect from your regular life in a way nothing else does - to spend days in a city that you never planned to visit, that you barely know anything about, and with people you never expected to meet is an incredible feeling.

Have you ever been in a city where no one you have ever known knows you are there? You are free in a way that you cannot get in your regular life; even if you switch wholesale careers, friends, families or apartments. You still know the streets of your city, you still know the culture, and you still have all the memories of events and people in your life that have defined you. In this strange new city there is nothing; no expectations, no memories and no one to connect you to the world you are from.

One of the most subtle - yet most important - feelings when travelling is the feeling of silence. When you are in a country where you do not speak the language or understand the cultural norms, even the busiest city squares seem strangely peaceful. Your ears and brain have been acclimatized to your native language so all the sounds of other ones tend to blur together if you don't know them. The sounds of thousands of people chatting, yelling and screaming all around you begin to gently fall on your ears as your brain gives up searching for something familiar to interpret and understand in your own tongue.

After a while you realize it is not just the sound itself. Your own sound is quieter. With few people to talk to, words become scarer and more valuable. Cultural expectations and norms soon melt away; you are too far removed from the only place you truly understand thousands of kilometres away. You eventually lose the voice in your head trying to figure everything out to not seem out of place or commit some horrible cultural faux-pas; you just live in this strange world without thinking. That doesn't mean you know all the rules, it means that you don't mind that you don't.

Soon even the loudest voice in your head starts to quiet as well. All the ideas, schemes and concerns of your regular life are slipping farther and farther away.

They don't even know where you are.

This peaceful bliss can envelope you in a cloud of silence for days or weeks; only pierced by the excitement of a new and confusing place or meeting an interesting travel friend along the way.

It all comes to an end rather abruptly. One day you are at the base of the Eiffel Tower watching the dazzling light show with a girl from Texas and an Austria body-builder with such a focus to reach the perfect viewpoint for the 10 PM light show there is nothing else in your mind. Even one of the busiest places in the world seems calm and quiet:

The next day you are in a crowded Toronto Pearson International Airport seating area waiting for a delayed connection home, surrounded by a cacophony of people chatting, people complaining and intercom announcements. Your brain must now switch back into listening mode and interpret this loud and chaotic world as fast as it can. Your brain doesn't have a choice; five weeks off will not undo 25 years of conditioning to activate to familiar sounds.

Noise - like silence - is neither good or bad; but I think it is important to realize whether it is noise or silence you have more of in your life.

You should experience the other one from time to time.

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