The last line in my last diary entry of my last night in China read, ‘Is it all downhill from here?’. Despite going on to spend a year in Prague, and now currently enjoying my lifestyle that consists of an office job and seeing family and friends, I fear that the answer was, and still is, yes. I came to the realisation that there are 5 key memories that lead to a visited country becoming your favourite, and so here they are.
- The smells
You will notice peculiar smells will take you back to all sorts of memories. It can be as brief as remembering walking past a canteen, or as enjoyable as the best night out you had with your friends. It can be of things more general, too; for some reason, whenever I smell my hand sanitizer it reminds me of Beijing in the winter, and of the night markets, as that was when I first arrived in China and tried to be very aware of any ‘hygiene’ issues. Certain smells of certain materials suddenly transcend you back to that place, and make time-travel real.
2. The noise
Beeping of horns, overhearing conversations, listening to the radio, the sound of the pedestrian crossing. Noises take you back to how you moved around an area, and how you breathed in its streets. I will always remember the clicking sounds of the pedestrian crossing in Prague. They did this so that blind people could hear when to walk. When my friends came to visit me, they were so irritated by the constant clicking, but as I walked around the city as much as possible, gazing up at those fantastic buildings, although I kept my wits about me (safety first, readers), I became acclimatised to hearing those clicking sounds.
3. The food
It’s an obvious one, isn’t it? And it ties in with the smells. Don’t deny it, as well as trying some amazing meals that you probably tried to recreate back home, you haven’t really travelled until you’ve tasted some frightful dishes too. Mine was tofu. I really couldn’t stand it, and thinking about it now still makes me feel sick. The worst was when it was mixed in with other ingredients and I naively thought it was a piece of chicken! You will always remember eating that one dish, perhaps how you ate it or who you were with or what you did that day; but the meal remained in your mind for you to salivate over whenever you were wanderlusting.
4. The sights
Maybe you picked your country to visit their famous tourist attractions. The Bund in Shanghai, Prague Castle, The Great Wall in Beijing, Buckingham Palace in London. But then something else swept you away as well, and that was the ordinary, even if you thought that was what you were trying to escape. Various buildings that you not only photographed, but ones that hosted your social gatherings, that you went to the pub to, that you hid from the rain in, that you watched people working from. Standing on top of a hill, looking at the views and spotting where your hostel was or where else you’d been. Maybe you saw something that made you uncomfortable, and it opened your eyes to an issue you hadn’t thought much about before. You saw the ways a country worked and got it.
5. The people
This had to be the most significant one, right? You became fascinated with how such ‘different’ people had so many similarities (and a lot of differences) with you. As you waited for your coffee to arrive, you watched friends shopping, old women talking, owners watching their dogs tirelessly sniff the grass. You met characters that you would never have met in the real world, and they didn’t dress or act like you and you’re not even sure if you had anything in common, but somehow you spent the majority of your time with them, and when you look back, you miss them a bit. Even if they were quite pessimistic or rude or didn’t know that farting loudly in a dorm room was NEVER acceptable. You adjusted.
I’m not hopelessly emotional about it though, don’t worry; I know that I will return to China one day, whether it’s for a month or a year or a lifetime. What made it my favourite country was an accumulation of these 5 memories, as if these different factors were coming together to tell me that this was what I had been looking for.
What’s your favourite travelling moment? Leave your story in the comments below!