I will start with a 2007 road art film you may or may not know. It’s called “My Blueberry Nights” directed by Wong Kar-wai, a Hong Kong director internationally known for both the emotional depth and the cinematographic stylization in his films. Elizabeth, the protagonist, is heartbroken from her boyfriend’s betrayal and goes to Jeremy’s diner late at night for his blueberry pies. She then abruptly leaves New York City for a journey to Tennessee and Nevada. On her way she meets different people and becomes involved in their stories. She finally makes her way back to Jeremy one year later and realizes her love for him.
I haven’t watched this film for years, yet I remember lots of scenes and dialogues that somehow speak to me about a journey of self-discovery and self-healing and also about the fact that it is important to enjoy both the journey and the destination.
At the age of twelve, I was sent abroad for an exchange program and all of a sudden being exposed to this whole new world out there, I was culturally shocked. I spoke very broken English and barely knew how to interact with people from a different background, despite my curiosity and my fascination with their western lifestyle. So I was trapped between a new experience that never quite accepted me in, and a comfort zone I was also reluctant to fully lay back in. This internal dissonance never truly went away. Five years ago, I decided it was time for me to start a journey. I wanted to go to a place where nobody knows me, leave behind all the unresolved issues, and perhaps find out who I really want to be. So my initial drive for travelling was simply “to leave”.
Elizabeth: “How did you say goodbye to someone you can’t imagine living without? I didn’t say goodbye. I didn’t say anything. I just walked away. ”
It was not easy to simply let go of everything you hold dear all your life and I meant not only family and friends. At every place there are unfinished business that you leave behind when you go away – untold stories, unsaid words, undeveloped possibilities and unrealized dreams. I tell myself I could live my life one way and I could as well live it another, yet whenever I set off on a journey I essentially close a door to open another. At age 17 I left home. I didn’t say goodbye to anyone, except my closest family.
Elizabeth: “I guess for Sue Lynn, leaving this town was like dying. I wonder how many people would remember Arnie. When you’re gone, all that left behind are memories created in other people’s lives, or just couple items on the bills. ”
But to leave was really the first step. A different place makes me feel different about myself, but it doesn’t change me into a different person. I kept on searching for new places to go and new things to learn, and in turn use what I have learnt to reconcile myself to my past or losses. Some travellers deliberately move from one place to another and others do so because of reasons beyond their control. Either way, I have a sense of admiration for those always on the road, dealing with endless arrivals and departures – their stories begun and ended, their love found and lost, their chapters opened and closed and they move on and on and on. At some point, a journey becomes their own choice to be somewhat lonely. In the day, they share their laughters and tears with those precious souls they came across on the journey; at night, they snuggle down beneath their thick layers of memory.
Elizabeth: “It took me nearly a year to get here. It wasn’t so hard to cross that street after all…”
In Memphis, Elizabeth meets police officer Arnie, who is an alcoholic and cannot accept that his wife Sue Lynn has left him. He threatens Sue Lynn with a gun but fails to stop her from leaving. Later, Arnie dies in a car accident where he and Sue Lynn meets for the first time and Sue Lynn reveals to Elizabeth that she is heartbroken and misses Arnie.
In real life, a traveler may never become so much involved in a dramatic story, but other than the landscape, one’s journey is indeed given life by the culture and the encounters on the way. The stories of others always become part of me, as I test out countless possibilities by observing a different way of living. That is, travelling allows me to imagine and explore myself with a whole new identity. As I explain this, I think of the the famous film “Lost in Translation”, in which the protagonists get lost in the big and strange city of Tokyo. Isn’t this always how you truly confront yourself in a journey? It’s always a strange new place that fascinates you, draws you in but rejects you as well because you are never fitting in. You will have stories and encounters but you will know when it’s time to leave.
Time and again I have to become a witness to other people’s life, accepting the fact that I may never truly be one of them. So, perhaps I am a witness to my own life as well. Whenever I look out of the train and see the fast changing scenery, I think what I am really doing is passing by. I get scared that I would be forever stuck on a moving train, watching all the wonders of life passing me by but never finding a place where I truly belong.In the end, I’d be ‘just couple items on the bills’. Having heard of my concern, a friend of mine laughed and said, “But it’s a good thing! You can belong everywhere!”
I learn to embrace that sense of freedom and let go the impossible, until I am left with the real me. Then once again, I would gain faith in myself to move on.
Elizabeth takes one year to finish her “longest route” to cross the street. That is her journey of self-discovery and self-healing. In the end of the film, she still chooses to trust others and to embrace love. What about you? Are you on a journey as well? Where are you going?
Freya Ziyan Lu
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